Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 380-399)



  380. Even though personnel matters are delegated to them?
  (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 for it.

Kevin Brennan

  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 system?
  (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 be sacked.


  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 a time.

  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 Mottram uses.

Mr Trend

  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.

Mr Trend

  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.

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