Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 340-351)




  340. Just as we end could I ask a couple of general questions. You have been in the Civil Service man and boy.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Too long probably!

  341. No, no, no, absolutely not. What I want to know is—and we have not got time to do justice to the question or the answer—there 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 that.

  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 disbenefits.

  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 territory, yes.

Brian White

  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, Chairman.

  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 bully—she may or may not have been—but 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.[2]

  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 Service.

  349. And it is unhelpful for Ministers to say these things?
  (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 know.

2   Note by Witness: I realise this analogy is a tremendous mistake. Back

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