Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)



  20. But you have explained that your central role is on propriety issues on the Government's Information Service. Here is a Director of Information who has gone for propriety reasons, and I am asking you why.
  (Mr Granatt) I am sorry, sir. I really do think that is a matter for the Department to talk about because it is them that will explain the reasons why that is happening. I am not his employer.

  21. So you cannot help us at all?
  (Mr Granatt) I can help you, sir, with on my views on what was happening, as set out in my letter.

  22. Is it a mystery to you why he has gone?
  (Mr Granatt) It is not a mystery—not at all—but I refer you to the facts as set out in the Secretary of State's statement yesterday.

  23. But has he behaved improperly? You are guarding propriety and here is a director of information. I want to know if he behaved improperly or not?
  (Mr Granatt) I have no specific information apart from what I saw in the Secretary of State's statement yesterday as to his behaviour and the circumstances which appear to have led up to his departure from the department. My role in this has been set out in my letter. My job in this case as explained in the letter was to ensure that he knew and everybody else in the system knew what my view was, the central view was, on leaks attributable to the briefing which could lead to the undermining of ministers. That is my central role.

  24. But the permanent secretary's letter does not help us here either because that does not tell us why he had to go apart from the fact that his position was said to be "untenable". It does not tell us where the breach of propriety has taken place?
  (Mr Granatt) Sir, I find it very difficult to continue down this path without referring back to what I said. The position was set out by the Secretary of State yesterday. The Permanent Secretary set out his position as well. I cannot add to what those, literally, said about that; it is a matter for the department. If somebody is going to leave the department at the requirement of the department or themselves, it is for them to answer that question or the department. My job is to set out here as, in that letter, the standards that we expect and the whole Service expects of people within the Service. That is a consideration of behaviour for everybody and a matter of fundamental importance, as I set out. The trust between ministers and civil servants is fundamental to the way we do our job. One reason why somebody might leave might well be that that trust and confidence no longer exists but if that is the particular case, between Mr Sixsmith and the department, then I would urge you to ask them that question.

  25. So you are inviting us to ask the Permanent Secretary?
  (Mr Granatt) I would, indeed.

  26. Reading your handbook, I do not see the word "spin" there at all. What do you think "spin" is?
  (Mr Granatt) I have answered this question before, I think, before the Public Committee on Standards in Public Life. It depends on who you are, I suspect. "Spin" in my calculation has always been a derived from the term "spinning a yarn". How do you define the emphasis or gloss that a spokesman or anybody else would put on something that is said on behalf of a Government department. If it is the process of ensuring that a journalist or somebody else understands the context in which a statement was made and understands the emphasis, then I think we would all plead guilty to spinning. If it is an attempt to mislead or not to tell the truth or hide the truth, then that is something that would be entirely outside what we should be doing.

  27. This is a bit of a bog, is it not? That is why we have to try and get our minds round it yet again. I heard Bernard Ingham, a civil servant, Mrs Thatcher's press secretary, saying that his job was to put what he called a "positive gloss" on things. What I want to know is, is it the job of the civil Service to put a positive gloss on things?
  (Mr Granatt) I think the job of the Information Service and the Civil Service generally in these circumstances is to provide ministers with the best platform possible for explaining their policies to the required audience, be it the public at large or specific audiences. I have heard other colleagues say that the definition is to put things in the best possible light, but I think this is a slightly dangerous definition. I think one has to make sure that, whatever one says, the merits of the case are well expounded and the truth is told.

  28. But "positive gloss" sounds to me like "spin", and I want to know if you think this is quite legitimate for civil servants to do?
  (Mr Granatt) I go back to what I have just said. I think it is legitimate for civil servants, and the guidance on the work of the GICS says this, to if necessary robustly expound the reasons why a Government believes a policy or a course of action is the right one, but not to the exclusion of the truth.

  29. But if civil servants working in your Service are able to do this kind of spin, because you were saying quite properly—?
  (Mr Granatt) With respect, sir, I am not talking about spinning in that way, and I am not sure I quite understand what Bernard was saying about positive gloss. I use my own definition which is what I said and provide the best platform for ministers to get their point across, and ensure that the merits of the case are fully exposed.

  30. But it is the glass half full/glass half empty scenario. Your story would be that it is half full, even if one could tell it like it is half empty?
  (Mr Granatt) If you believe what I am saying is what you would define as "spin", then I would accept your definition of it.

  31. The point is to know where this funny boundary line between what civil servants working in your Service can do, because you are describing all the positive presentation they can engage in, or cannot do, and what the special advisers engaged in information can do. If you can do all this, what is the missing bit that has to be done by somebody else?
  (Mr Granatt) I think the missing bit the special advisers can do is spelt out in the rules as applying to them through their model contract and their code. They are allowed to put Government information into a political context. For example, they can explain how the policy concerned fits in with the ideology of the party in power and how this meets with political priorities. Those are not things civil servants can do.

  32. You can see why we get into trouble here.
  (Mr Granatt) Of course.

Mr Trend

  33. You said earlier that you were content to take the lead of the Secretary of State on this matter, and you also said you did not think that Mr Sixsmith had behaved improperly. Yet there was no doubt that in the House of Commons when he was making a statement two days ago the Secretary of State was suggesting that Mr Sixsmith had behaved improperly. Are you not prepared to follow the Secretary of State in that?
  (Mr Granatt) Sir, I would stand by what the Secretary of State said in his statement. I did not say he did not act improperly; I said the detail in this matter was one for the department—particularly the Secretary of State and the permanent secretary.

  34. Would it be all right to ask you if you had involvement in meetings concerned with this and spoke to Mr Sixsmith yourself?
  (Mr Granatt) I , indeed, spoke to a great number of people during this matter, including Mr Sixsmith.

  35. The arrangement whereby two people leave at the same time is one which is not unknown in the Civil Service in order to resolve personality problems, but when you have a suggestion which Mr Byers made that the way the press was operating was also a serious problem, surely that would concern you in a professional sense?
  (Mr Granatt) What concerned me was what led me to write that letter which was the accusation that arose in the lobby briefing on the morning I wrote the letter that the integrity of the people working in the press office was being called into question. I felt it necessary, for reasons I have set out, to write to Mr Sixsmith and copy that around Whitehall so that all the people were reminded openly precisely what the considerations are in the work we do. But I do not have detailed knowledge; I have not conducted an investigation into what happened at the press office of the DTLR—that is something for the department.

  36. I think some people might feel that you do have a legitimate claim to investigate what happened and make sure it does not happen elsewhere in the Civil Service. Why are you reluctant?
  (Mr Granatt) Because I do not have the means or the authority to conduct such investigations. They are matters for the Secretary of State and the department and they are the people who are accountable for it. My role is as an adviser; it is to set out the rules; and if I was asked to take part in such an investigation I would do so.

  37. But you might choose to advise the head of the Home Civil Service that such an overview of Government would be suitable?
  (Mr Granatt) Indeed I might.

  38. Are you tempted to?
  (Mr Granatt) I think, before I took any such action, I would want to see what happens after this affair is concluded and to take a view on what is happening across the Service. I think it is reasonable to point out that what we are seeing at DTLR is not happening across the rest of the Service.

  39. No, but it has echoes of things which happened, as the Chairman mentioned shortly after the present Government came to power, and which must be unwelcome in that period of the history of the Civil Service?
  (Mr Granatt) Undoubtedly a time of that sort of change is unwelcome. I would also point out that there was a fair old turnover of people in that role after the 1979 election.

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