Examination of Witness (Questions 380-399)|
THURSDAY 14 MARCH 2002
380. Even though personnel matters are delegated
(Sir Richard Wilson) Yes, but I am saying that special
advisers are an exceptional case. That is what I am saying, yes.
Is that confusing? I know I am not meant to ask you questions.
381. I think it has probably turned out to be
confusing in practice, not necessarily in theory.
(Sir Richard Wilson) May I just say one thing. I think
Richard Mottram gave you really interesting evidence last week.
I have read it and there is a lot of wisdom in some of the things
he said to you.
382. He would make a good Cabinet Secretary,
would he not? Or he might have done a month ago.
(Sir Richard Wilson) I am not going to be drawn into
commenting on who my successor is going to be. I think the choice
of special adviser and their management is one where the minister
has a particular role, and in the case of Jo Moore Mr Byers decided
he wished to keep her. She was reprimanded after 11 September.
The Prime Minister supported Stephen Byers' decision and said
so on the floor of the House, and Richard Mottram therefore decided
that the right thing to do was to manage the situation rather
than anything else. It is the right of the minister to decide
what he wants to have happen and he is accountable to the House
383. The reason I am confused is that we have
been told various things. At one point we are told that Sir Richard
Mottram decided that it would be right to keep her; another time
we were told that Stephen Byers decided to keep her; on another
occasion we were told that the Prime Minister decided it would
be right to keep her. Did you have any role in deciding whether
to keep her or not?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I am not going to go into internal
discussions in government. I cannot now lay my hand on it but
my recollection is that the Prime Minister very clearly said on
the floor of the House in October that Mr Byers decided that she
should remain in her post and he supported that decision. Whatever
his words actually were those are the words that I think you should
be guided by.
384. You are perfectly content with the current
(Sir Richard Wilson) On special advisers? I cannot
see how, in a relationship as personal as that of a special adviser,
you could have someone else as it were deciding that they should
385. I am looking at the record.
(Sir Richard Wilson) Have I misrepresented it?
386. I think that is unlikely.
(Sir Richard Wilson) I am simply doing it from memory.
387. I am just looking at what Richard Mottram
told us about how he found this an interesting and difficult area,
the lack of clarity and so on. Is this not one of the reasons
why we are told we need some legislation in this area?
(Sir Richard Wilson) Yes. Again, the Wicks Committee
had raised this question of who is the special adviser accountable
to. I have just given you my interpretation. The question you
asked me was whether there was total confusion and misunderstanding.
It does not have to be confusing. I think there is misunderstanding
about it and one of the things I would like about an Act is that
it would give us all a chance to debate these issues and settle
them so that at least there was an answer which everybody knew
and abided by. If that is the point you are making, I sympathise
with you very much. Can I just say, because when I last appeared
before you on the Civil Service Act discussion I said there would
be something happening in the new year, that I have the Prime
Minister's agreement that I should make a speech about the case
for a Civil Service Act in the week before Easter, the Tuesday
before Easter. I shall be doing that and I do not terribly want
to anticipate it too much now. As you know, I believe passionately
in the Civil Service. I think it is a force for good in public
life. I think it needs to be a service that is on the move and
changing and I think an Act would have a crucially important role
in allaying some of the issues of the kind that Mr Brennan has
quite rightly raised, so that we can as it were be free to go
on and change without people worrying that something important
is being lost. I think there is a very strong case for an Act.
That is a personal view. I would like to elaborate a bit on that
case when I make my speech. In a sense, therefore, some of the
things I am saying to you will need to be seen in that context.
388. Just before we leave this point, because
when you came to see us last November you gave us to believe that
things were about to happen on this front, and we have seen some
consultation and then a bill and so on, and then everything went
cold. Now there have been rumours of you about to make a speech
for the last several weeks and now you are telling us that there
is to be a speech.
(Sir Richard Wilson) Yes.
389. In a week now.
(Sir Richard Wilson) I have given you a date.
390. There cannot not be a speech now because
now we know there is to be one in this week. Is this the beginning
of this process, long awaited?
(Sir Richard Wilson) Yes.
391. And the speech will be followed by a consultation
document and the document by a draft bill; is that right?
(Sir Richard Wilson) Yes, I would like there to be
an issues paper, a discussion paper, about what the bill should
cover and I think there needs to be a really good process of consultation
and discussion. The Wicks Committee is launching quite a big discussion
about special advisers, but there are other aspects of the kind
which are coming up in this discussion which also need to be addressed.
One of the real attractions of an Act is that we can have a proper
discussion of the kind that you are launching here. I do hope
that it can be a discussion that is not partisan. My one concern
is that we must not let the Civil Service become a political football
or an Act become a political football, and I do hope I have the
support of the Committee in saying that. That is my one worry.
392. I think we have given you from our point
of view that assurance before and I am happy to give it again.
We shall do all we can to approach it in that spirit. Just so
that we can finish off this little story, we have the speech the
week after next. When do we expect the consultation document to
come after the speech?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I would like it to be at the
same time as the speech. I think that would be quite good. I would
like that. I cannot promise it but I would like it.
393. When would we expect to see the draft bill
after the speech and consultation?
(Sir Richard Wilson) Let us take this one step at
394. I have to work out if that is a, "I
do not know" or, "I am not going to tell you" answer.
(Sir Richard Wilson) I think I am going to rest on
what I have just said.
Kevin Brennan: Politer language than Sir Richard
395. Sir Richard, can I dwell again on the unhappy
weekend in which Sir Mottram made a personal statement? We were
told by Lord Armstrong that it was an innovation in the public
affairs of this country. He, when interviewed last week, was clearly
extremely unhappy about this. He said it was an extremely bad
idea, constitutionally inappropriate. When pressed as to why he
made it, he said it was put to him, he was chatting to people
around and, when asked directly who asked him to do it, he said
he could not remember. Can you help us with this?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I was startled to see in the
press that I had given him an instruction. He was not acting on
my instruction. I have talked to him about it because I was concerned
about his concern. His understanding, which I think is right,
is that he was not ordered or pushed by anyone into doing it,
whether a minister or a special adviser or a civil servant. That
is his view as he has told it to me. That is right because it
is in the nature of that kind of statement that it has to be the
decision of the person making it.
396. He told us also that if he had a problem
the thing he would do is go and see the Permanent Secretary. Did
he talk to you about this before he did it?
(Sir Richard Wilson) Yes. Just to give you a sense
of that morning, which was a fairly crowded morning for me quite
apart from these events, I think it would be wrong to try to impose
on that morning more order than it actually had.
397. It was chaos.
(Sir Richard Wilson) Chairman, in your succinctness
you have gone to the heart of the matter. That I think is one
reason why Richard Mottram found it quite hard to remember what
happened. I certainly do not know everything that happened that
morning, and I think his description of chatting around is actually
pretty accurate. The idea of the statement emerged from chatting
around between quite a lot of people. The real problem was that
there was on the record in the Sunday papers an account of what
had happened on the Friday when the resignations took place, or
were alleged to take place, of what had gone on between two people
in a room, and it was an account by one of them and the other
person who could make that account was Richard Mottram. We had
one account on the record and we did not have the other account
on the record. When I was discussing it with him there were two
private notice questions pending, which I had thought would be
taken; in the event they were not. The real question was that
Richard Mottram, one way or another, his version of events was
going to need to be on the public record. That was the background
to what went on. I am not going to attempt to give you a blow-by-blow
account, (a) because I do not think it is proper, and (b) I rest
on what Richard himself said. Can I just deal with the other point
you raised about reluctance? I did not know that morning that
he was reluctant, but I can understand his reluctance and I share
it with him. I think that it was a wholly unusual situation. It
is, as Robert Armstrong said, pretty unprecedented to do it in
that way, although it is not unprecedented these days for civil
servants to say things in public. In all sorts of situations,
in inquiries before select committees and so on, we often have
to say things which in the past people in our position have not
had to say. I think that it was unconstitutional in the sense
that formal accountability for what happens in a department, as
I was saying to Mr Brennan earlier, is for the Secretary of State,
not for a permanent secretary. In the peculiar circumstances of
this case he had to do it.
398. I am sure there have been other peculiar
circumstances, as you say, in the past but there has been an understanding
that the Secretary of State will answer for the affairs of his
or her department and that did not occur this time.
(Sir Richard Wilson) It did on Tuesday.
399. Unsatisfactorily, many people thought.
(Sir Richard Wilson) It was unusual, what happened.
It was not improper but it was simply that you had got on the
record one account of what had happened in a room between two
people and, if I may say so, the media were pressing strongly
to know what had happened, and we needed to have a version of
events that was Richard Mottram's version of events.