Examination of Witness (Questions 340-351)|
THURSDAY 7 MARCH 2002
340. Just as we end could I ask a couple of
general questions. You have been in the Civil Service man and
(Sir Richard Mottram) Too long probably!
341. No, no, no, absolutely not. What I want
to know isand we have not got time to do justice to the
question or the answerthere are all these suggestions that
somehow things are changing fundamentally now, and you are better
placed than anybody to tell us whether this is so. I read an article
by Robin Mountfield in the Independent
(Sir Richard Mottram) I am afraid I have not seen
342. This extraordinarily distinguished just
retired Permanent Secretary talks about these issues of special
advisers and the politicisation question and he says: "Since
1997 things have reached a new pitch". Is that your sense,
that we are in different territory now?
(Sir Richard Mottram) I think that the Government
does work in a different way to the way that the previous Government
worked, yes. I take a rather simple-minded view about this. If
the Government wants to work in a certain way and it is within
the constitution and law, is that not the choice of the Government,
so long as they can carry Parliament with them? There are characteristics
of the way in which the present Government works which do mark
a fairly significant shift from where we were. Perhaps there is
more of a contrast between them and the end of John Major's administration
than some of the things that went on in the 1980s. This is a Government
that has a very strong centre and the way in which the centre
is constructed and the networks around the centre have a much
bigger input from non-civil servants, and I would say that this
brings with it significant benefits and some significant potential
343. You have been very helpful, I just want
to get the sense of whether we are talk simply about one of these
cycles that comes round when different governments are doing different
things or whether we are genuinely in new territory now?
(Sir Richard Mottram) I am not sure I can do justice
to that question, really. I think we are in significantly different
344. How much is that due to the changing outside
world, the business world and things likes that?
(Sir Richard Mottram) We are in significantly different
territory for a whole pile of reasons. Some of them are, indeed,
about the way the outside world works. We must show we can work
in that way, that is a challenge for us as an institution. I think
the Prime Minister and others at the top of the government want
it to work in a different way, why should they not, is my view.
345. Let me again, quickly, pick up the broad
question of special advisers from the Mountfield piece, he is
a very balanced observer of these
(Sir Richard Mottram) Is that an indication I am not,
346. I am putting you in the same category as
opposed to those in different categories. He says, "Although
nominally under the discipline and control of the Permanent Secretary
in practice it is almost impossible for the Permanent Secretary
to exercise any real sanctions over people who hold their position
by appointment of the Minister." Is that the verdict?
(Sir Richard Mottram) That is true, subject to the
point that I made earlier, subject to two points. It is true for
a reason I made earlier because one of the interesting things
about the Civil Service, which I do not think Ministers understand
sufficiently clearly, despite our efforts to constantly tell them,
is that it is a fantastically loyal institution to Ministers.
What the Civil Service wants, and I always compare it to a rather
stupid dog, it wants to do what its master wants and it wants
to be loyal to its master and above all it wants to be loved for
doing that and I am not sure Ministers understand that. When I
said "stupid dog" of course I meant a superbly, well-educated,
dog, particularly those brought up in Nissan huts. Out of that
flows our desire not to cut across Ministers in relation to issues
which might be very sensitive to them. If you said to me, "I
think you should have gone and confronted Mr Byers about all of
this", then I will say, well I might have done, but I was
also very keen to build as constructive a relationship as we can
with our Secretary of State who the staff think is a great person,
is doing a great job and we do not wish to spoil that relationship.
If you had a special adviser, let us hypothetically say you have
a special adviser who not only was, as Jonathan Baume implied
of Jo Moore a bit of a bullyshe may or may not have beenbut
if she does something that is quite contrary to the disciplinary
codes of the Civil Service, imagine hypothetically somebody misused
public resources, or whatever, as opposed to sending an e-mail
then I think you are in different territory. And I would not accept,
I am ruthless about these things, that misconduct could go on
in my Department , where it was of a kind that was completely
unacceptable in that sort of way. One has to recognise there are
different categories of behaviour that might or might not lead
a Permanent Secretary to say, "I cannot put up with this".
I could not put up with people who totally misbehave in relation
to staff or were abusing travel and subsistence, things which
are gross misconduct, the misuse of public money, I could not
put up with that, that is not acceptable to me. No Minister would
say to you, "bad luck, because this is a special adviser
it has nothing to do with you", you would say, "Fine,
in that case I am off".
347. This brings me to my very final question
and a nice link our dog, which I think could be probably a loyal
Labrador rather than a Spaniel, because they are temperamental.
(Sir Richard Mottram) I prefer to see it as a racing
car. I have always seen this as my role.
348. I am sticking with my dog, because the
masters have started kicking the dog, have they not? When I read
Charles Clarke's interview in The Guardian last month,
where he describes being vitriolic about the Civil Service, where
he says, "I think there are too many civil servants who believe
that politicians are a kind of sub-species..." This is not
how people treat their dog, is it?
(Sir Richard Mottram) If he said that, Chairman, I
think he has completely misunderstood the way in which civil servants
think about Ministers, certainly the ones that I am actively encouraging
to be a success, how they think about Parliament, how they think
about our whole constitutional structure. If people have those
attitudes as far as I am concerned they do not belong in the Civil
349. And it is unhelpful for Ministers to say
(Sir Richard Mottram) I do not think I should comment
on whether he said that or not, or whether it is helpful or not.
All I would say is my Ministers, including my Secretary of State
who could have been heartily provoked by some of the things that
were included in the Sunday Times, have behaved impeccably
towards the staff of my Department.
350. I would like to thank you. You were right
to say earlier on that it is not nuclear war we are talking about,
thank God ?
(Sir Richard Mottram) Absolutely.
351. But we have wanted to find out what was
going on and to see what some of the lessons were. We are very
grateful to you for coming along so readily to do that. You have
been and are a most distinguished civil servant and you have been
extremely helpful to us in all respects. We are very grateful.
We hope that we shall not see you again on a similar occasion.
(Sir Richard Mottram) I am always delighted to come
and talk about the future of the Civil Service Chairman, as you
2 Note by Witness: I realise this analogy is
a tremendous mistake. Back