Examination of Witness (Questions 180-199)|
THURSDAY 1 NOVEMBER 2001
180. Could I press on that point. Could you
clarify for the Committee the current situation on exactly how
special advisers are appointed?
(Sir Richard Wilson) A Minister considers a group
of possible people whom he or she might want to appoint, they
select whom they wish to appoint and they then draft or get a
letter sent to Number 10 which says, "My Minister wants to
appoint so-and-so as a special adviser", and the Prime Minister
gives a view and approves it or does not, and that is sent back
to the Secretary of State concerned.
181. What has interested me about the Jo Moore
case, and I do not want to talk about the specifics of what was
done, is that the process of appointment for special advisers
circumvents all normal Civil Service recruitment.
(Sir Richard Wilson) That is entirely correct.
182. And we were told during all of this that
the manner in which the disciplinary proceedings had been dealt
with was quite proper, the Minister, as you say, issued a reprimand,
but ultimately it was for the head of department to decide on
the sentence under the Disciplinary Code. What I do not understand
is what sense does it make if a Minister can summarily hire someone
but cannot summarily dismiss them. Where is the logic in circumventing
the firing procedure of the Civil Service once you have been hired
and you are in this very special strange status where you are
hired at the will of a Minister but cannot be fired at the will
of a Minister? Where is the logic in that?
(Sir Richard Wilson) It is always open to a Minister
to fire a special adviser if they wish to do so.
183. In this case the Secretary of State, had
he so desired, because of the way in which the special adviser's
actions had breached the Code of Conduct and embarrassed him,
could personally have fired that special adviser without invoking
the Civil Service Disciplinary Code?
(Sir Richard Wilson) The contract of special advisers
is set out in the model contract.
184. I have it in front of me.
(Sir Richard Wilson) And my understanding is that
if a Minister wishes to end employment, I think they have to give
proper notice and they would have to do it in accordance with
the law, but the Minister can terminate the appointment and ask
the Permanent Secretary to do it if he wants to do so. All personnel
management of the Civil Service is delegated ultimately from the
Crown to the Minister and from the Minister to the Permanent Secretary
in the department except to the extent that it involves the use
of resources, and the use of resources is a matter for which the
Accounting Officer has to account to Parliament personally in
the normal way. Therefore, it is up to a Minister if he wishes
to withdraw whatever delegation has been made to the Permanent
Secretary and exercise it himself and if he wishes to exercise
whatever the normal rules are about the dismissal of an employee
185. To be clear on that point, are you saying
that the Minister could summarily dismiss any civil servant in
the way you have just described, or are you saying that there
is a special way because they have been personally hired by the
Minister without any procedure being followed in the case of special
advisers? That is the point I am trying to clear up
(Sir Richard Wilson) Special advisers, as the rules
make clear, are exempt from the requirement that they should be
able to serve governments of any political persuasion and they
are exempt also from the requirement they be selected on merit,
but for the rest they are subject to the normal employment rules
of the Civil Service. It is certainly the case that a Minister
can, if he or she so wishes, sack somebody. I have been involved
in that episode myself personally some years ago when Michael
Howard sacked Derek Lewis. I wrote the letter but the decision
was one that Michael Howard took, it was accounted for in the
House, and that is all on the record. That is a case where he
exercised his very proper right to end the employment of a civil
186. So that it is absolutely clear, the Secretary
of State could in this case have exercised that power had he desired
to do so?
(Sir Richard Wilson) That is my understanding. If
I have found I have got the law wrong I will write to you. It
is a law, as I explained to you, I have had occasion to learn.
187. I want to check one other thing. You did
supply us with a list of the 81 special advisers that has been
so widely publicised. How many special advisers are there in the
devolved administrations that are not listed here?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I cannot answer that, I will
supply the answer.
188. I would be interested in what your role
is and the Prime Minister's role is in their appointment and any
supervision of their activities.
(Sir Richard Wilson) Could I let you have a note on
189. And also a note
(Sir Richard Wilson) A note on the issue of substance
that you raise.
190. If I might backtrack and come forward.
The backtracking is because I asked Mr Prescott two weeks ago
whether, in fact, there had been any sort of inquiry into the
civil servant's position and Jo Moore, and I said I felt that
if you could have the same sort of statement over Jo Moore and
the e-mail, that somebody has definitely investigated it, action
or no action has been taken, that there would be a line drawn
under it. I am still not clear whether in fact there has been
any internal inquiry on Jo Moore asking a civil servant to do
something which was improper.
(Sir Richard Wilson) Can I just do a little bit more
clarifying on that, Chairman?
191. If it involves telling us the answer that
is all right. We know you of old, you see.
(Sir Richard Wilson) May I read out a memorandum which
my predecessor sent this Committee on 21 November 1997 which is
about the disciplining and employment relationship of special
advisers. It may help to just remind the Committee it did have
a note on this because it showed foresight and asked for this
some years ago. It includes the statement that "The Head
of the Home Civil Service, therefore, has no role in relation
to specific disciplinary issues relating to special advisers in
departments other than his own". The terms "inquiry"
and "investigation" are terms which to me, and I think
to many of us, imply a very formal process which quite often raises
issues about whether individuals can have trade union representatives
with them, legal representation, whether records are taken and
so on. No inquiry or investigation of that sort has been undertaken.
However, you can rest assured that the Permanent Secretary of
that department has gone to great lengths to satisfy himself about
exactly what happened and has given me some account of it so that
I too may know what has been going on.
192. So we can conclude it has been thoroughly
(Sir Richard Wilson) But not in a formal investigation
is what I am saying, yes.
193. I wanted to move on because I am very heartened
to hear you say that you will be moving the agenda on as far as
the relationship between civil servants and special advisers is
concerned. I have got paragraph 22 in front of me which you referred
to earlier which is very clear when it says "any civil servant
who believes that the action of a special adviser goes beyond
that adviser's authority....etc., should actually raise the matter
immediately with the Secretary of the Cabinet or the First Civil
(Sir Richard Wilson) Yes.
194. That is really very, very clear what should
actually happen. I think you were implying it went through the
route of a senior civil servant in your answer.
(Sir Richard Wilson) Not to me though.
195. It did not necessarily have to go to you,
is that what you are saying?
(Sir Richard Wilson) No, it did not. It was raised.
The action went up the line from the individual concerned, yes,
that is my understanding.
196. My final question to put this to bed is
that in order to have any sort of a grip on special advisers'
conduct you are totally relying on civil servants to perhaps do
something which might not be in the best interests of their careers.
Is there likely to be a conflict in that area?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I think it is very important
that people who feel that they have been put in an improper position
should have the confidence to raise it with their senior managers
and should have the support of their senior managers. I know that
Richard Mottram told the individuals concerned in that case that
they were right to do what they had done, and I think that is
right. I think you are also right that people, if I am realistic,
do worry about their own position in relation to the Minister
and the senior members of the department if they rock the boat.
I think realistically I have to say we have to work at giving
people the assurance that they will be supported if they have
197. I am tempted to say, although I am sure
I should not, that they might seek a transfer then.
(Sir Richard Wilson) You are referring to Alun Evans?
198. Obliquely. I was trying to keep it general.
(Sir Richard Wilson) I do not want to leave false
impressions on the record so I have to address this directly,
if I may. Again, I have discussed this with the Permanent Secretary.
The question of Alun Evans moving from his job was in play before
the episode which we have been discussing. He is not a member
of the Government Information and Communications Service. He had
worked in the Strategic Communications Unit and he then became
Head of Information in DTLR. He is an able man and he also naturally
wants to go further. A number of us had the view that his career
would need to broaden out at some reasonably early point. The
fact that he moved was not itself the direct result of this episode,
it was something that was already in play. That is all I want
to say really because there is a limit as to how far I want to
go into individual cases.
199. Mr Byers was keen that he should have his
career broadened too, was he not?
(Sir Richard Wilson) It is very important for any
Secretary of State that they have someone in that job who they
work closely with and well. He stayed in that job until he moved
on to another job but it was something which we managed, yes.