Examination of Witnesses (Questions 440-461)|
ROCHE MP, MR
MP AND MS
THURSDAY 25 APRIL 2002
440. All I am trying to establish is that when
that happens, and it does happen and it should happen, is there
a procedure by which an official would record the fact that a
minister has suggested a particular name, and the name might be
suitable, it might not be but it might be suitable, and then later
on in the process it is clear where that suggestion has come from
so that the Commissioner can actually be aware of how the name
was originally suggested?
(Mrs Roche) I suppose it would depend on how that
suggestion was made. If it was a sort of "oh, so and so might
be interested", that might get recorded in the Private Secretary's
note, it might not.
(Ms Ghosh) The straight answer is there is no formal
procedure, as far as I am aware. The whole point is once a person
has got in through the door, or rather put in their application,
in a sense you would not want them to be flagged up "this
is a ministerial case", you would want everybody to be considered
on the same flat playing field.
441. I am not talking about it being on their
application, I am talking about when Dame Rennie Fritchie is doing
her job of monitoring the propriety and the methods that are used
to appoint people to public bodies, would she be aware of that?
(Ms Ghosh) Not necessarily.
(Mrs Roche) Not necessarily.
442. Do you think she ought to be in order to
do her job?
(Mrs Roche) Certainly if there was a feeling on behalf
of the officials or the independent assessors that there had been
an impropriety, or even the suggestion, then of course Dame Rennie
should be involved. As I understand it, Chris is the expert here,
that is how Dame Rennie's relationship with the independent assessors
works, is it not, they are her eyes and ears?
(Mr Leslie) That is right, but ultimately ministers
are responsible and accountable for who they appoint and if a
minister feels that they want to make a particular appointment
then they account to Parliament for that, that is the way the
443. I am just thinking in terms of complete
openness and transparency, which is what we desire, as to whether
that piece of information is a relevant one for the Commissioner
to consider. I do not know what my opinion is on that, I just
wonder what your view is.
(Ms Ghosh) When she does her post hoc audit of the
appointment she would have access to all the relevant papers.
If it were a case where that was formally recorded obviously she
would be able to pick that up. As the Minister said, if the minister
happened to say "you might consider so and so, he" she,
I hope, "might be the right person", it is so informal
that you would not necessarily have a record of it.
444. We had some interesting evidence last week
from Mark Thomas, the comedian, I suppose, cum journalist or whatever,
who made an interesting suggestion about some public appointments,
that they might be done by some sort of lottery, perhaps we should
consider a random selection. I noticed recently with all the economic
problems in Argentina they actually had a game show whereby the
prize at the end of it was a job rather than money.
(Mrs Roche) The Minister of the Economy.
445. If you want to get genuine diversity rather
than self-selection into these sorts of bodies is not the answer
perhaps some sort of random selection, go out there, find them,
ask them, train them and pay them?
(Mr Leslie) I watched the Mark Thomas Product
on television, bits of it, last night.
446. I missed it. Did we get on?
(Mr Leslie) You were featured actually.
447. Thank you, I did not know that.
(Mr Leslie) I noticed the suggestion about a jury
style selection. My own view is that that obviously would radically
conflict with the principle of appointment on merit, that is getting
the best person, the best qualified person, for the job. Obviously
there are certain situations with juries where you have a trial
by your peers and so on, but if you look at the list of public
bodies some of them are very specialist scientific advisory groups
and it would be very dubious whether we would be serving the nation
well if we selected those at random. I can see the concept involved,
that you might increase diversity, but you might also have a detrimental
effect on other areas.
448. What he said to us in evidence last week
was that the way he sees it part of the problem with public bodies
is everybody comes from a similar background, and you are trying
to overcome that with some of the things you have described. He
said "They will not share exactly the same points of view
but they will have a similar value system. What you want on there
are people who do not have those values, who ask the wrong questions,
who have to have things explained and who have to start from scratch."
Is there not any argument that you can see for, I am not saying
appointing whole bodies in that way but for having an element
of random selection to bring a little bit of grit into the oyster?
(Mr Leslie) I think there is merit in having lay people
on the boards of some of the very specialist committees to serve
precisely that purpose, a non-executive director function of asking
questions, making sure things are explained in plain English,
making sure that the specialists account to those who are non-specialist
on those particular boards as part of the dialectic process that
goes on in those public bodies. I think you have got to get the
balance right and most people in this country would want the best
people for the job on some of these particular public bodies.
(Mrs Roche) I know Dame Rennie was saying, and this
may have cropped up in some of the informal seminars that you
have had, about the example of some of the lottery bodies with
the lottery numbers who had done it and a random selection of
people but then interviewed them to see if they fit into some
449. Apparently a barrister won on the lottery
and it did not really work.
(Mrs Roche) There is nothing wrong with barristers,
they have a role to play in life.
450. Just to probe one more time on this. Would
you consider having some pilots maybe on an element of random
selection to some bodies? If we are saying that the qualifications
that are needed in order to decide whether somebody is guilty
or not guilty of murder is to be a random citizen, that you have
sufficient expertise to be chosen at random as a citizen, is it
not the case that in order to serve on one of these public bodies
you could be a citizen?
(Mr Leslie) But if you are the Advisory Committee
on Ancient Wrecks and Monuments and you want to select from the
totality of the country at large, I do not know, you have got
to look at who you are selecting from amongst. Also the propensity
of people to want to get involved is important. Those boards that
will want to look at increasing their own diversity will obviously
be able to consider for themselves their own composition and make
recommendations if they wish to broaden out, if they wish to look
at things like this, that is what they have done in the National
(Mrs Roche) Just one comment and one observation on
that. The point with a jury is an interesting area but what a
jury is charged with is not to make a finding on the law but to
make a finding on fact as citizens applying some sort of test,
it is a finding of fact. What I think we require from appointments
on public bodies is to add value. Something that comes out very,
very strongly from the seminars from those women who are members
of the black and ethnic minorities who have got on to public bodies
and have then come along to the seminars to say how they have
done it, their advice is you do turn yourself not into the overwhelming
expert but being able to ask the searching and the penetrating
questions and you do gain experience from being on a public body
which may well equip you to get on to a public body which could
be more difficult technically, but using those analytical skills
that you have acquired from another body you can do that. As a
lay representative it allows you to at least put those questions
to people who have the technical expertise.
451. Just very, very quick. Our new friend,
Mr Thomas, and this was the main burden of what he said to us,
said it is all right having these codes that say all these bodies
should have registers of interest and things like that, but in
fact when you do a bit of work on it you find that they are not
properly reported, it is a bit hit and miss what people report
on. Who is monitoring this? He says that you cannot go to Dame
Rennie Fritchie because it is not her territory to look at this
kind of thing. Do we not need to do a bit better than this to
give the public confidence in the system?
(Mr Leslie) I had a look through the evidence that
he supplied to you when he appeared before you and I dug out the
guidance that we have issued from the Cabinet Office to public
bodies about requirements for registration of interests and conflicts
of interest. I think it is quite clear that there are requirements
for members of public bodies to comply with the law and also to
comply with best practice and have those registers kept. Certainly
I will want to look a bit more at what we can do to record those
efforts made by public bodies to open up their proceedings, to
be more transparent about their membership. I think in the next
edition of the volume we produce to public bodies I will certainly
want to see some level of summary included about transparency
452. The point is if people are not doing it,
or it is being done imperfectly as the evidence seems to suggest,
what happens now? What can you do about it?
(Mr Leslie) I have certainly started to look through
the evidence provided and I think we will discuss it with our
departmental colleagues who have responsibility for those particular
public bodies and look to see whether there are any intractable
difficulties. I have not spotted anything earth shattering. We
have got to keep bearing down to make sure that we do have open
registers and interests, I think that is an important principle,
I certainly would not quibble with that.
Chairman: We have not got time to explore this
in greater depth. Michael?
453. The Chairman indicated earlier that we
might cover other subjects and I would like to ask the Minister
a specific question about a slightly different matter which touches
upon her responsibilities. We heard earlier from the Parliamentary
Secretary that we were going to have the White Paper on regional
government in due course and he smiled.
(Mr Leslie) I smile a lot.
454. I am sure somewhere at the back of his
mind he knows.
(Mrs Roche) Shortly I think the Deputy Prime Minister
455. If there is a date in the back of his mind
there will be a flag going up saying "For God's sake don't
say 5 June" and that is the way the Government works, it
properly has its own confidential information. I wonder if the
Minister heard Mr Blunkett on the Today Programme this
(Mrs Roche) I did not, no.
456. He was on twice, once around the words
he chose to use yesterday, in which I thought he was very robust,
but he was also on on the question of a document which has appeared
in today's Guardian, a leaked document I suppose, about
questions to Lord Rooker in the House of Lords, what Lord Rooker
should or should not say. The advice was not to mention a matter
which had been very controversial for some Liberal Democrat peers
as far as I understand, and I am not an expert on this at all,
legislation was involved and clearly the Government was protecting
its position. But when given these facts, and David Blunkett clearly
knew all about this matter, he chose to attack the civil servant
and blamed the civil servant for writing such a silly thing and
it was a reprehensible thing to do. In recent times there have
been a number of examples of government ministers turning on civil
servants who are unable to reply for themselves or defend themselves
in specific cases. It may well be in some cases that civil servants
are to blame but the previous view that government should not
blame individual civil servants appears to be becoming somewhat
weaker as time goes on. I wonder if the Minister could at least
consider that the government has a responsibility to protect the
people who serve the government and not to leave them out to dry
in the way that I think the Home Secretary was doing this morning.
It is too easy to blame the civil servants.
(Mrs Roche) I think you raise an extremely important
subject. I do think that the subject is an important one. I did
not hear the interview this morning. I was in my office and, sadly,
the only deficiency I can find about the Cabinet Office is that
the aerial on my radio is so bad that I can hardly get a reception,
but there you go. I do not agree with almost the overall picture
that you paint of relationships between officials and civil servants.
I understand completely the point that you make that officials
are there to serve and cannot answer for themselves. I can only
speak from my own experience of a number of different government
departments to say that I do not think that this Government could
have got off to such a good start as it did in 1997 without the
help and support of the Civil Service. I thought it was quite
remarkable how they could suddenly implement a programme in the
robust and professional manner that they did. Speaking for my
ministerial colleagues, we are grateful to them. I think that
the system works best when there is confidence and respect on
all sides. In my general experience I think that is generally
457. The point I am trying to make is that any
of us who have been at all close to government know what politicians
ask for and need and require is notes of what to say, what to
say if pushed, what to say if pushed very hard, what not to say,
what never to say. That is just grown-up stuff, that is how it
works. When a politician is caught out on this, to turn around
and casually say the civil servant is reprehensible is too easy.
I think there is a tendency in government, modern government,
your Government, to do this more than was the case in the past.
I can think of other examples but this may not be the relevant
occasion to go into them.
(Mrs Roche) I do not think this is the case. I think
that generally ministers appreciate the fact that generally speaking
there is a whole reform that needs to be done, the whole thing
about modernising government, but generally speaking we are extremely
well served by our officials.
458. I would be content if you just heard what
I said and would consider if in this case, and perhaps in others,
people could be more careful because it does cause a tension.
(Mrs Roche) Of course, Mr Trend, I note what you say.
459. I have a few more questions. I want just
to ask about the question of payment to people on public bodies,
which seems to me to be a recurrent issue. We have not really
got time to do it properly now but very quick answers would be
appreciated. Would it not help first of all if there was more
standardisation because this is a completely random situation
at the moment as to which bodies you get remuneration on and of
what kind? Does this mess not need sorting out?
(Mrs Roche) It certainly came up from the DTLR research.
(Mr Leslie) We need to be fairly grown up about it
and rather than take potshots at appointees to public bodies,
who I think do a lot of good work, often on a voluntary basis,
we need to recognise if payment needs to be a consideration to
enable us to broaden diversity, to particularly engage lower income
groups and wider, more diverse social backgrounds then we do need
to eventually look at that much more closely. It is too easy to
sometimes throw figures around on salaries and remunerations.
I do think we need to have a more sophisticated debate about it.
460. Why do we not just cut through all the
target stuff on diversity and say that we should have straight
quotas and that there will be equity for men and women? At least
all the bodies will know what they have to do to do their job
and go out and do it.
(Mrs Roche) If you go for a quota line you then come
up against the question of appointment on merit. I think those
targets are achievable but what you need to do is put in the positive
measures in order to achieve them. I think that is the best way.
461. Okay. I wanted to get on to a whole lot
of other stuff on the Cabinet Office, PSAs, performance targets,
external reporting, league tables, but unfortunately we cannot.
It has been very kind of you to come along, we have had a very
interesting and useful discussion. Thank you for the offers to
supply more information to us.
(Mrs Roche) If you would like to come to the seminars
we would be very happy to welcome Members of the Committee there.
Chairman: I think we are discussing this as
a possibility anyway. We thank you for your invitation. Thank
you very much indeed.