Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)




  120. I am sorry we kept you waiting but we had to find our way around the territory again first. Thank you very much, the three of you, for coming. We have Jonathan Baume from the First Division Association, Mr Jones from the BBC and Professor Weir from Democratic Audit. Thank you for being prepared to sit as a panel to talk about some of these issues. I am coming to Jonathan Baume first. I have just been given a paper that you have done. I am both delighted at having it and slightly alarmed by the length of it. I wonder if you were intending to simply repeat it or whether you could perhaps compress it. What would you prefer to do?

  (Mr Baume) I am in your hands, Chairman. In fact, this was just a note for myself which I had done this on the word processor, because it makes life easy. I did a copy which I gave to Chris for the transcriber and then it followed from there. I had not meant it to be a formal note but it was what I was intending to say.

  121. If you feel that it does cover the ground you want to cover then perhaps you ought to do that.
  (Mr Baume) I will move through it quickly just so it is on the record. Thank you for the invitation to give evidence. I have submitted a formal memorandum which raises a number of recommendations to help improve the working of Government, and in particular this issue of the relationships between Ministers, special advisers and civil servants and the interaction with the media. That does reiterate our strong support for a Civil Service Act. I am very happy to answer questions about that. I did want to make an opening statement, which I do not normally do when I have been asked to give evidence, because of recent events in the Department of Transport. It has been a very painful affair. It has been painful, clearly, for the Secretary of State and for individual civil servants, and it has also clearly damaged both the Government and the Civil Service. I do share strongly the view that we need to move on from this episode and I actually in all sincerity hope that I am not going to be accused of reopening the wounds of this week by what I am about to say. I do think that if we are to move forward we must learn the lessons to ensure that we never see an episode like this again, whichever government is in power. I have to say I think the key to understanding recent events does rest with one person, Jo Moore. It has already been mentioned that there are more than 80 special advisers, and almost all work very well within the Civil Service in a relationship of mutual respect. It is worth making the point that in the Department of Transport there are two other special advisers, Dan Corry and Michael Dugher, who throughout all of the period since June last year have had a perfectly normal and constructive relationship with civil servants in the department. There was, however, a serious problem with Jo Moore which dates back to her entry into Government as a special adviser in the Department of Trade. I genuinely regret, and I do mean this, having to say this, and I am only doing so so that people can make some sense of recent events. My perception is that Jo Moore was forceful and aggressive to the point where she bullied and victimised civil servants both in the press and in related policy areas. Her behaviour as described to me was an almost classic textbook case of bullying. She appeared to me to have no grasp whatsoever of the concept of political impartiality in the Civil Service or, if she had, she ignored it. She certainly did not understand the relationship between special advisers and civil servants and their respective roles. It was completely unacceptable. The problem was that it was never tackled. Although, to be fair, some people did work with her successfully, my perception is that was a minority. I should add, of course, these are very big departments and most civil servants in either department would have had no contact, they both employ more than 8,000 civil servants. Special advisers are subject to the normal grievance procedure and, as I explained in the memorandum, there is an enhanced procedure within the new Code for Special Advisers whereby any civil servant can raise concerns about the behaviour of a special adviser. In both DTI and in Transport, and this picks up a question at the end of Mike Granatt's session, civil servants did not raise their concerns through the normal procedures. I think that they did not do so because they did not believe that any action would be taken to tackle her behaviour as they believed that the Secretary of State offered her absolute loyalty and trusted her. Civil servants are always reluctant to raise concerns about Ministers or special advisers, whichever party is in power. Instead, people voted with their feet and, as Mike Granatt has said, people moved to other parts of the department, elsewhere in the Civil Service or simply left. Press Officers have transferable skills and in particular at DTI given the networks that people tap into day by day. Senior managers in both departments did become aware of these problems. They were not able to resolve them because ultimately they did not wish to confront—this is my perception, I hasten to add—or embarrass the Secretary of State. I think there are particular reasons in both departments in terms of their history. For example, Stephen Byers took over at Trade following the resignation of Peter Mandelson, which was obviously very traumatic at the time. Similarly, at Transport I think it was a very successful but difficult transition immediately after the General Election given the significant dismembering of the department on a far greater scale than people had anticipated, so people were keen to move forward with a new and unexpected Secretary of State. I think you will recall that Jack Straw was expected to take over at Transport. Clearly there was a very big agenda and very difficult problems facing the new Minister. Underpinning all of this reluctance by senior managers to tackle the Jo Moore problem was the loyalty of civil servants to their Minister. I would urge you not to underestimate that loyalty. It is not simply a paper obligation. I do not know a single senior civil servant who does not take a great professional pride in supporting their Minister and I do reject utterly some of the recent claims that there are civil servants in any way trying to undermine this Government or individual Ministers. I do regret having to make these comments about Jo Moore, I have never done anything like this before. I am not going to put forward formal evidence, I am not going to name names. I am asking you to trust me that I would not put my credibility on the line, or that of the FDA, in making these statements if I was not absolutely convinced of the truth of such claims. I only do so again so that people can understand what went wrong in the Department of Transport. I should add, I have spoken to people in the Labour Party and, to me anyway, they have confirmed a similar, though probably less extreme and less controversial, pattern of behaviour when Miss Moore worked for the Party. The consequence was that by last autumn a small minority of individuals within the Department of Transport clearly began to leak. I do not believe that this was an attempt to undermine the department in the round or the Secretary of State himself but it was obviously an attempt to undermine Jo Moore. It followed the departure of Alan Evans, the Head of Information, prior to Martin Sixsmith's appointment which people saw as a repetition of events that they knew about at DTI and Jo Moore's behaviour there. Of course, those leaks ended with Jo Moore's resignation announced later that day on February 15. Those leaks were wrong. On Friday 15 early in the morning I spoke on the Today programme and publicly condemned the leaks and made the point that they were damaging the Civil Service and the department, never mind the Government. The FDA always condemned leaks under the Conservative Government and we will be just as resolute in condemning them under this Government. I know that view is shared by the vast majority of civil servants. My point is simply that a small number of people obviously leaked, and I do not know who these people are, it is patently obvious that people were leaking, because I believe they were desperate, they believed the system was failing to protect them and they did not see why they too should vote with their feet. It was a collective failure. It was a failure by the Secretary of State to recognise the damage that his special adviser was doing to him and to the department, to recognise how unacceptable her behaviour was. I can only guess, but I assume that it was a consequence of his determination to deliver the Government's agenda, and I cannot condemn a Minister for wanting to deliver. The Civil Service failed at senior levels to resolve the problem and, therefore, left more junior staff exposed and I suspect that was primarily a consequence of the unwillingness of senior managers to cause embarrassment to a Minister and to make every effort, as people do, to ensure that the department works as the Minister wants. I will be honest, the FDA failed, and that is down to me. We did not tackle this issue properly, again because we did not want to confront or embarrass a Government Minister, and that would be the case under a Conservative or Labour Government. I should have personally intervened more effectively certainly after Alan Evans was forced to move. So what lessons can we learn from what has been a very painful and difficult episode? Firstly, that the political impartiality of the Civil Service matters. All of the major political parties are now in favour, so I would urge us to move quickly to introduce the Civil Service Act. I was not aware until Mike Granatt stated it of the commitment made by the Deputy Prime Minister yesterday but I very much welcome that. I do believe that an Act will be of benefit to the Government because it will remove any suspicion, if you want a political weak point if you look at it in that sense, that they are seeking to prejudice impartiality and then in practice it will act as a critical reminder to everyone of this underlying value of the British Civil Service. At the same time, and secondly, we must recognise that an Act in itself does not solve all problems. There must also be a political recognition that where problems arise in terms of the behaviour of a Minister or a special adviser, that these will be tackled and not brushed under the carpet. Civil servants must not leak and must not in any way seek to undermine the elected Government. They must, however, also feel that the system, their managers and Ministers, will protect and support them if they have genuine well-founded concerns. Thirdly, we should recognise that there is no crisis of relationship between either the Government and the Civil Service, or between civil servants and special advisers. I think the fact that we have paid so much attention to recent events illustrates how unusual they are. I can say that I have been around the Civil Service for almost 20 years, I have been with the FDA for 13 years now and I have never come across something quite like this. I do think the Derek Lewis affair was a different type of issue. It was so extreme that all of the normal protections failed. But there is a collective responsibility to ensure that relationships work day by day. I think Ministers must make the effort just as much as civil servants. There is an additional and linked point. The Government has recently made speeches praising the work of public servants. I think there is a public acknowledgement that reform of public services cannot succeed without the active participation of public servants themselves, wherever they may work. Yet in the heart of Government we are still seeing a drip feed of largely non-attributable comments suggesting that Ministers are dissatisfied or do not trust the Civil Service. Once in a while these are on the record. Jackie Ashley in The Guardian on 11 February interviewed Charles Clarke, who is Labour Party Chairman but also a member of the Cabinet, and she said that he was "vitriolic about the Civil Service". He apparently said "I think there are too many civil servants who believe that politicians are a kind of sub-species who are venal in some respect". I think that is rubbish, I do not accept Charles' view. Frankly, Charles has made other remarks in that vein. Such statements, whether attributable or anonymous, are wrong and damaging to the Government itself. I would urge the Government to put a stop to these kinds of briefings. They do damage the relationship between Ministers and civil servants. I do not think that any private sector employer, the people at the top of the organisation, would make comments like that about its own employees to the media. The FDA strongly supports the Reform Programme for the Civil Service and we do so because that is the overwhelming view of our members. Our work in taking forward reform, in trying to build partnerships at every level of Government, is not helped by this drip feed, it is corrosive, it is poisonous. In conclusion, I will make the point again. I have raised some difficult issues in this short introduction because no-one in the Civil Service wants to see these events ever again. I do share the view of the House of Commons and the Prime Minister that we should draw a line and make a fresh start in the Department of Transport. I can assure the Secretary of State, as far as it is within my remit, that there is enormous goodwill towards him in the department and a desire for the department to succeed. And that goodwill and determination to succeed resonates across the Civil Service. It is not party political, it is what the Civil Service is there for. Our job is to help the elected Government of the day, of whichever party, succeed in delivering its manifesto. That success requires mutual respect and mutual trust and I do think that respect and trust failed around the person of Jo Moore. Let us learn the lessons and draw the line and then, as I hope we are now, let us return to a serious and constructive debate about ensuring that Government is effective, about making sure that Government works. Thank you.

  122. Thank you very much indeed for that. I think we are so accustomed here to having witnesses who try to find a form of words to avoid saying what they really want to say that it is genuinely refreshing to have something argued so openly and directly. Could I ask you one or two questions and then we will broaden it with our other witnesses. Clearly the system simply failed and the procedures that we have in these Codes and all these things we have been talking about just did not count for anything when it hit a real problem. Why not?
  (Mr Baume) I have tried to explain it, and I should have because many of those senior managers are FDA members. I am not trying to embarrass people, I am genuinely trying to learn something from all of this. I can surmise, and I am not suggesting that I have sat down and interviewed Sir Richard Mottram or, for that matter, Sir Michael Scholar before he left the Department of Trade and Industry, so I do not want people to have the wrong impression here. I am making guesses here about what happened. People do not want to have a confrontation. There is a genuine feeling around that you do not make waves and I have to say that is sometimes about issues that are nothing to do with Ministers, where the problem is an internal Civil Service matter. You try not to make waves, particularly the more senior you are, you try to find a way to get round the problem and in the end you move jobs, you move departments, or sometimes people leave. You have that but it was clear, as I said a few moments ago, that problems were emerging. I cannot tell when it started to resonate more widely outside Department of Trade and Industry but it did begin to resonate. Again, you cannot separate anything in the Civil Service from the political context in which it happens. Both departments had a somewhat troubled history, it had not been a great time for the DTI, Peter Mandelson had been a very highly respected Minister and it was a shock when he left, having just established an agenda for the department. There were a lot of people in the previous Government and in this Government who would say "what is the point of Trade and Industry", those sort of debates continue, but Peter Mandelson had got an agenda set up for the Department and suddenly for other reasons he had to leave. People want to make a Minister a success. You watch your Minister in the House or wherever and you think "we want our boy/girl to succeed". That is how it works, particularly at senior level. People shied away from a confrontation. I think they perceived a very deep loyalty and trust between the Secretary of State and his special adviser which, again, I can only surmise, I have not talked to the Secretary of State about this, somehow blinded him to what was going on around him. At the centre of Government as well people do not want to have confrontation.


  123. I am just trying to get to the nub of how this ought to have been handled. You are saying there was a whole history here, a textbook case of bullying, trampling all over any kind of codes. Did it not require the Permanent Secretary, knowing all of this, to go to the Secretary of State and say, "Look, this cannot go on".
  (Mr Baume) In the end it does. I cannot comment, I do not know why the two Permanent Secretaries involved in this, Sir Michael Scholar and Sir Richard Mottram did not do so, that would be a matter you would have to raise with them. It is an about trying to make things work in departments, I suspect. It is about trying to build relationships with ministers, it is about not wanting to have that kind of confrontation. People do genuinely try to adapt the way they work, particularly in relatively close circles round the minister, perhaps not out there in the regional offices, but in the close circles round the minister you make every effort to adapt your ways of working to how the individual minister, secretary of state or junior minister, wants to work. Linked with that is the point I am trying to make, it is a recognition that in the future the government itself and ministers must recognise that some of these problems are serious. Partly because of the pressure of day-to-day events you put things to one side, I guess, and sometimes it is difficult for ministers to accept that things are going wrong in that way. That is the point I am also making, there needs to be a lead politically that we cannot allow this to happen again, we will not allow things to be brushed under the carpet, we will tackle them. In that way I hope it will always be done privately, within the context of proper procedures, not something that hits the headlines, because I do not believe that is the way to tackle these things. I believe that people felt that the systems were failing them and, as I say, in desperation some individuals took the step of leaking information, which was clearly wrong.

  124. This, in a way, is the most disturbing thing you told us, the failure to get hold of this issue at all that lead to what you described as a build-up to a stage where you say from last autumn a number of individuals started leaking to try to remove Jo Moore.
  (Mr Baume) That is certainly my perception.

  125. Yet this went on until it blew up, as it did, a week, or so, ago. That is an extraordinary failure of the system.
  (Mr Baume) I think it is an extraordinary failure of the system, this has been a very extraordinary event. We have to ensure that this never happens again, which is why I raised these difficult issues. We have to learn some lessons from that, that is a collective lesson, politically and administratively for Unions like my own, not only the Civil Service.

  126. Could it only have happened in the area of press and media relations or could it have happened with a different kind of specialist adviser doing different kinds of work?
  (Mr Baume) I think it was compounded because it was in the press area and because it became more public in many ways. It could have happened had that particular special adviser never had any contact with the press, a lot of it was about relationships, how you work with people. The FDA gets involved in a lot of bullying cases, most of our people are managers, half of our cases, I suspect, are people alleging they have been bullied and the other half of our cases, given the levels of people we represent, are accused of bullying. We see it from all sides. Almost every department over the last three or four years has developed pretty good effective anti-bullying procedures to deal with cases of bullying. Bullying takes place in every working environment. I am a trade union official and I look at what happens across the economy as a whole, bullying takes place. It happened in this instance to be a special adviser who, I believe, was doing that bullying, it could just as easily have been a civil servant. Had it been a civil servant then it would have been tackled, I know, because we get cases through regularly, through proper procedures. It was the fact that it was a special adviser. I do not think that was to do with the press. There was then, of course, separate issues about what the special adviser wanted people to do and, of course, a lot of that focussed round the interaction with the media, then you get into the propriety issue, whether it proper for a civil servant to take a particular action in terms of the code of the Government Information Service. I have to accept that it could have happened in other areas of work, it just happens to be particularly sensitive because, of course, with that press activity you do have to make judgments. That was a point Mike Granatt made in the past, in press areas issues like this need judgments to be taken, there are always grey areas and people ring up Mike, as he explained, to ask for guidance about what is proper and what is not proper. A lot of that, I am sure, is normal Civil Service matters, some of it perhaps will be about something that a special adviser is suggesting. It could have happened regardless of the press, I think the media side of it makes it more complicated.

  127. Can I ask you, although you are not going to tell me, was Martin Sixsmith involved in the leaking or did he know about it?
  (Mr Baume) I do not know. I genuinely do not know. I have talked to Martin Sixsmith, he is a member of our Union, and he is happy for me to say that, and he denies it. He has set out his case in the newspapers. I can only take that at face value. I should add that the FDA is not a union that claims that black is white. If Martin Sixsmith said, "I leaked it", I would have worked on that basis. He has said to me that he did not leak and I can only accept that at face value.

  128. If you are telling us it was going on for many months when he was head of the Department surely he knew it was going on?
  (Mr Baume) We all knew it was going on, we were picking up the newspapers, I commented on those leaks myself through the autumn. The FDA took nothing to the newspapers. We were asked originally about issues that had been taken to media, so there were clearly leaks going on. I think you would have to ask Martin Sixsmith about his personal management role in handling that.

  129. Let me ask one final question, you use a rather striking phrase, although I noticed you almost did not deliver it, which was, "This drip-feed of poison". I suspect you are going to be known for that remark, I am sure it is going to enter into the currency as a description of problems in this era. Anyway, there it is, you are saying there is this drip-feed of poison now from the political side in relation to the Civil Service side, what I would like really to do is to ask you and your two colleagues if they would come in on this, is there an argument which says that it was a drip-feed of poison from the political side, bringing certain kinds of people into the system—you have been talking about Jo Moore—that began this whole history that has now produced this response?
  (Mr Jones) There is no doubt from what we heard this morning from Mike Granatt, I thought the most significant thing in his evidence was his confirmation that 40 of these special advisers, like Jo Moore, are related to media work. That is directly contrary to what the Government has said to you as a committee repeatedly. The Director of Communications has been interviewed by you before and Mr Granatt has been interviewed by you before and they said the vast majority have no contact, that is special advisers, with the media. Only in December you were told as a committee that only 11 are employed. I think undoubtedly it is a case that the government has been in denial, Downing Street are in denial about these problems. As Jonathan Baume has said, ministers and Downing Street are in denial about the problems which have arisen through the great influx of special advisers. The other quick point to make is I thought the question that was put by your committee to Mike Granatt about the replacement heads of information, like Martin Sixsmith and the others, as you say I refer to the fact that some of them are party press officers, the question that is relevant is, would an incoming Conservative government be prepared to work with these heads of information? I think the track record would be that the incoming Conservative government would not be prepared to work with them and therefore you would have a repeat of the cull that we had at the start of the Labour government, when 19 heads of information were forced out.

Brian White

  130. And in 1979.
  (Mr Jones) I would accept that is what Mr Granatt said, therefore that is a reflection of the politisation of this information service, it has to have a set up where there are heads of information and special advisers who are prepared to work together.


  131. Let us broaden it out by asking this question, Jonathan Baume has given an account of this episode, which comes downs to, this is all a very unfortunate failure of the system but wholly exceptional and must not be allowed to happen again. When I listen to you I think your argument is there is something systemic going on.
  (Mr Jones) That is right. If you look at what happened at the Treasury under another form of spin doctor, Charlie Whelan, there was a root and branch feud, if I can use that word, involving the head of news, a lady called Jill Rutter, at the time, that was the kernel of the problem. The problem is that increasingly we have political appointees controlling the flow of information. From Downing Street it is the weekly grid of what the departments can or cannot say, that is implemented by the special advisers. The heads of information, it seems to me, often have to fall into line. We can look across the whole of the government and we can see how this has changed. This is what I think your Committee has failed to see, this transformation has taken place, it is increasingly a political appointee who is directing the flow of information from the government. It has caused this volcanic eruption in the Department of Transport because Sixsmith and Jo Moore clashed so violently.
  (Professor Weir) I suppose I am worried, in a way, when both civil servants and special advisers agree that they have a good relationship and it all works perfectly really, that means there is integration of a political element in government. If I were a special adviser with an agenda, as it were, then I would make darn sure I worked well with the civil servants because it is only by having a good relationship with them that I would properly be able to influence them. Can I take the systemic point you were asking about slightly further, the matter that has alarmed me most since the last election is not so much this tragic out pouring of anger, and so on, at the Department of Transport, but the huge accretion of powers to Alastair Campbell at the very centre of government communications. It seems to me that there ought to be genuine separation between a political appointment and the control and direction of government communications, marketing and advertising. I think it is wrong to have someone with a political licence in charge of the whole process, with power to influence it and to give orders to civil servants. In my mind it is rather like letting the fox run in the hen coup and I think the fox ought not to be allowed in there, there ought to be a genuine separation of function. There needs to be a much clearer definition of the functions of special advisers within government as well so that their role and their party political interests are clearly separated. I do believe that.

Mr Liddell-Grainger

  132. You certainly know how to catch the attention of the Select Committee Jonathan. I think this is an amazing document. What really annoys me is you say you think there should be a line drawn under that. I was just looking back and you have Alan Evans, Charlotte Morgan, Jane Groom, all of the DTLR, who have all been forced out as well, but I agree with Nicholas Jones, you cannot draw a line under it until you have a mechanism to do that because it is going to continue. Therefore, should we not be asking Miss Moore and Mr Mottram to be sitting there in a line explaining what on earth is going on at the heart of the Civil Service, which you are meant to be policing, quasi policing?
  (Mr Baume) What you have described are issues that arose within the Department of Transport with the context of the relationship with Jo Moore. Some of it was in the press, you only had to pick up the names, nobody is doubting that a number of people left. I mentioned two, Alan Evans and Martin Sixsmith, clearly other people left and clearly people left within the Department of Trade and Industry. My perception is, I have no evidence to believe it, that that is the pattern else where. Yes, there has been similar cases else where, for example after the 1997 general election heads of information. The reason for that then was it did lead to a review, there was a recognition there were issues round that area of government activity, there was a review chaired by Sir Robin Mountfield, the previous Permanent Secretary of the Cabinet Office, and that struck me as a very sensible review. I think there was also a need, generally, to review the work of the Government Information Service recognised by most people in it. I cannot speak for Mike Granatt but a lot of people did feel it was a rather neglected area of government when much of the rest of the Civil Service had been subject to quite considerable reforms during the Conservative years, and the FDA, by and large, supported it. It was an area that had been neglected. I do not want to comment about the individuals that left, I was involved in one or two cases, but it has been a lot more stable since the Mountfield Review. I am not suggesting there are not on occasions day-to-day problems between special advisers and civil servants, I say that in the formal memorandum. For the most part my perception is that those are the kind of tensions you have in any normal work place, you have tensions between civil servants, because I get involved in some of them. I am trying to reach a balance here. There will always be issues there but I do believe, quite genuinely, that the events of Trade and Industry and subsequently of Transport went way beyond anything I have experienced anywhere else focussed round that individual, who was a very, very difficult individual for people to work with. A number of special advisers are FDA members, which they are entitled to be, they are civil servants with special status, and I say hand on heart that most special advisers have a very good working relationship with civil servants. If it were not the case we would be aware of it much more obviously, and I am not aware of that. To repeat the point, two other special advisers in the Department of Transport have had a perfectly normal relationship since they came in in June last year and no one has ever raised a problem with me about the relationship, from either the special adviser side or the Civil Service side. They get on well and they are respected. I would say, I talk to Permanent Secretaries who actually praise the work of their special advisers. If a special adviser does their job properly they enhance the ability of the Civil Service to do their work, that is why the FDA supports the special adviser system. We do believe there should be some parameters set. We should have set numbers. I have said in the memorandum we have not got a number in mind but we want to have that discussion in the context of the debate about the Civil Service Act and the government has accepted that recommendation. I do make a number of recommendations, they may seem relatively mundane, I think they would be very helpful recommendations to improve the way the special adviser system should work. There is no formal training whatsoever for special advisers. If somebody applies through an open competition to join the Civil Service they are given a proper induction training, a special adviser turns up on day one and they just get pitched into the job, no training, no induction, nothing. One or two have, but very, very few of them, experience of government. It is a pretty novel and probably a very challenging experience and it would help to have that kind of structured training. It would help civil servants and special advisers to have some form of training about how they should work together, just as you might train people to take on contracting out initiatives, things like that. I do think the Government Information Service should consider further advice about how special advisers should deal with the media because I do think there are some apparent contradictions between the Special Adviser Code and Government Information Service Code. I do think each special adviser should have a detailed job description. Every Minister I am aware of uses the special adviser in a slightly different way and yet quite often there is no formal statement of what that special adviser is expected to do, what their role is within the Department, so that civil servants understand that and so that special advisers are clear about what their role should be. I do think that is a recommendation that would help departmentally but I do not believe that there is the problem in general about having special advisers in government. I have no reason, of course it is a matter for the Conservative Party, to assume that the Conservative Party would not have special advisers, the previous Conservative Government did. Let us make that work. The Civil Service generally believes that special advisers are an asset, with the usual qualification that they do their job properly. What I want to do is ensure that people are doing their jobs properly and at the same time that we do not allow something as extreme as what happened over the last three years to ever reoccur.


  133. To pick up a point, is there a problem about politically appointed people controlling information flows and information systems?
  (Mr Baume) There is a potential problem. Are you asking about the Alastair Campbell role or are we talking about more generally in the Department?

  134. We heard the argument put, essentially the control of the information flow of government has been taken over by the political side, of which Alastair Campbell sits at the apex of that.
  (Mr Baume) It was the Civil Service that suggested that Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell should have the ability to manage the Civil Service, that was a Civil Service proposal, not a Labour Party proposal. We had an open mind about that in the end we decided to see what happened. When I gave evidence to you, possibly last year before the general election, I said that the FDA now concluded we felt that it would be more appropriate that those orders in council would not be renewed after the general election, no doubt we will return to this issue with the Wicks Committee consultation document when it appears after the weekend. That was not specifically about the behaviour of Alastair Campbell or Jonathan Powell, people will make their own judgments about that. I can say hand on heart that I have never had it suggested to me that Alastair Campbell has been anything but a model of priority. He has followed the codes and where issues have been raised with him he has followed the Civil Service advice about what is proper and what is not proper. I do think it has set a precedent I do not want to see extended and anyway as the Prime Minister's, he was at that point, official spokesperson, he has to step back from that role. An individual like that will inevitably have enormous authority simply by virtue of being close to the Prime Minister and the role that the Prime Minister wanted him to play. I am assuming that the FDA would want to continue the line that we believe the Order in Council should not be continued, because it sets a precedent it could be extended else where. I would say that I am not doing an analysis in the way that Nick Jones and Stuart Weir have done of the control over the information. I can see why it should raise concerns, but I cannot say that I personally have evidence about this. I think it is a matter of judgment.

  135. Nicholas, that was a very long-winded answer. Is Martin Sixsmith a friend of yours?
  (Mr Jones) Not a friend, no, a colleague. I think I have meet him a few times. He was mainly an overseas correspondent.

  136. Do you feel as a BBC correspondent—and Martin Sixsmith is obviously a colleague—he has been previously let down, been used as a scapegoat to get what is a very difficult position sorted out, if possible? For a minister to say he should never work in the Civil Service again, do you feel that is unacceptable?
  (Mr Jones) I do not think I can get involved in a personal case because I do not really know the circumstances. I will answer the question as to whether or not what I think has happened is something that is a reflection of the sort of problems which are built into the system. I think those tensions are there. I know Mr Granatt acknowledged this enormous number of 40 special advisers talking to the media. What we have to understand is the way that special advisers work is that they can release information. If you look at the government's agenda, the Mountfield Report, government information officers now have to back up the special adviser if the special adviser is trailing a government announcement, trying to grab the agenda and you have this conflict whereby the special advisers are often anxious to start a story moving. What has changed now is that the government information officers now support that and that does lead to tension within the departments. To answer the question, I think that Martin Sixsmith was trying to approach it from the point of view of the Civil Service and he, of course, as we have heard just now from Mr Baume, met a very vigorous specialist adviser who was prepared, on media matters, to put another case forward.

  137. Do you think Mike Granatt's position has almost compromised his organisation, simply because they are now the whim of political expediency?
  (Mr Jones) I do not think they have come to terms with the change that has taken place. I do not think your Committee, Chairman, has come to terms with the changes that have taken place. We are moving to a position where many of these appointments are, I would have thought, the special advisers are political appointees, and to meet your point about the information directors, many of them are now seen as political appointments by the opposing parties. If we are going to move to that sort of system—

Brian White

  138. They should be!
  (Mr Jones) If they should be it should all be above board and we should know. Therefore, I do not think that we can have a system continuing whereby we have special advisers who can have this power, have this role and are not accountable. You have to understand as a journalist I am in a bit of a minority, most journalists like special advisers. You only have to listen to the radio and television or read the newspapers, government sources have never had a busier time, they are everywhere. I am rather in the dog house for being a spoilsport in taking the position that I do. I believe there a is genuine point that if the special advisers have this increased power that we should know who they are, that they should be acting above board, in the sense that if we were in the United States of America, where there are 5,000 political appointees, any body in public life in the United States is clearly shown to be speaking on behalf of the government, even the most lowly press officer. What I think you as Members of Parliament for all of the your constituencies are not accepting is that what has happened with the creation of special advisers goes against the trend of everything in public life in Britain. In your constituencies any headmaster, any headmistress, any hospital manager we now expect to see people in public service answering questions from the media, identifying themselves and having some responsibility. I feel that if we are going to create special advisers who have this tremendous power, they are paid for by the state, we should know who they are and they should be identified.
  (Professor Weir) Can I respond to the idea that it is a good thing for government information staff and senior staff to be political or have some political licence. I think that is a huge mistake. I think at the heart of accountability and, therefore, democracy in this country, ordinary citizens have disinterested and objective information on which to assess the performance of governments and the outcomes of its policies, and so on, so the more spin put on that kind of information the more damage is done to the basic idea of accountability and therefore democracy. I think the Committee needs to look at this question on two aspects, the first one is spin and the second one is control. These kinds of activities would be far less prevalent if there was genuine openness and public access to official information. We have the Freedom of Information Act that is going through and putting into law real barriers to public information about policy making, commercial dealings with government, and so on. On the one hand you have people licensed to put a political spin on government information and on the other hand you have the denial of straightforward government information to the media and to ordinary citizens. Those two things are mutually reinforcing. People would not spin with sometimes quite extraordinary lengths if they knew the information was available to others, that it was genuine, unadorned and so on. That was one potential check, one potential instrument of accountability that this government has denied all of its citizens and it enables them, therefore, to have more political input into the information that goes into public life. I think that is wrong and dangerous.

Mr Liddell-Grainger

  139. Sir Richard Mottram's position, he was trying to control a department which got out of control, is it not more important to see that permanent secretaries are supported, instead they are just becoming a mouthpiece of spin now, are they not?
  (Mr Baume) I know all of the permanent secretaries and I do not think any of them could possibly be described as a mouthpiece for spin. These are very capable, usually quite forceful individuals and I do not think anyone would suggest they were a mouthpiece. Do not overrate this. Do not overrate this relationship between a special adviser and a permanent secretary.

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