Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 20-39)

THURSDAY 13 MARCH 2003

SIR ANDREW TURNBULL KCB CVO

  20. And, as we sit here now, are you confident—as we sit here now—that that is the case?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) Yes, I am confident. What I am not competent to do is explain the full legal basis for the interaction of one resolution with another resolution, it would need an expert to do that, but I am absolutely confident that this undertaking which civil servants can expect will be fulfilled.[1]

Chairman

  21. Sorry, Kevin; and the advice from the Government's legal officers—
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) That will form the basis of it, yes.

  22. Yes; it forms the basis of what you are saying to us now?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I am confident, yes, that this will be based on good advice from my Government's law officers.

Kevin Brennan

  23. Can I ask, just on what you said about targets, on the dilemma which you said rightly that I had raised previously, about how targets will be used in business and in government, just one question on that, and that is, would you have any suggestions about how you would resolve that dilemma?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I think we will resolve the dilemma by recognising that each individual target holder strives to produce their target. But when you are looking at the totality of the report you do not brand as a failure something that, in fact, may be achieving 80, 90% of targets. You look at, also, where has this process, of which targets are a part, brought us, in terms of, for example what is the standard at Key Stage 2, what are the standards of GCSE, have those categories of crime gone down. You look at the outcomes at the point that you are making this judgment, compared with the way they were before, and you do not rely exclusively on the comparison between where you are and where you hoped to be, in terms of the target. You have got to bring the total picture into play.

  24. I will not pursue that myself, because I know that colleagues want to ask you a bit more about targets. You probably know we had the new Ombudsman in front of us last week, and we had quite an interesting session, and one of the things we asked her about was this whole area of ministerial gifts. And there have been some further press reports indicating that, following some of our discussions last week, a decision has been taken to publish ministerial gifts over £140 in value, backdated to April 2001. Is that the position?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) Broadly, that is the position, but I think I will disappoint you by saying that it was not following your discussion, this was a decision that was taken earlier.

  25. Right. When was the decision made?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) However, if you want to take the credit for it, that is alright.

  26. No, no.
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) Shortly; and the document is being prepared as we speak. Shortly, we will produce precisely that.

  27. When did you decide to do that?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) In the last few weeks.

  28. Can you explain to me why April 2001 was chosen as the appropriate date to backdate it to, rather than, for example, back to May 1997, or 1998, or 1999?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) The question is how much time and effort you want to put into reconstructing the record. Now you may say the record should have been kept, and I think basically this is taking it back to the beginning of this Parliament rather than the one before.

  29. I notice you have got some in-flight refuelling there; do you want to avail yourself of that, while we are at it?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) It says, June 2001, election, underlined; in other words, it is saying we will start from this Parliament. Basically, it is an agreement about how we go forward really, and then getting good practice.

  30. But do you think that is a sufficiently strong basis on which to choose a date, if I were to come along and make a request, for example, or ask for a judicial review of your decision on its reasonableness and logic of why you chose that particular date, do you think the two reasons you have given, one, that there was an election at that time, and, secondly, that that is probably all you can spare the time to do?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) That is always a possibility. In addition, there are two things to come out; one is, we are to produce this list, and then there is the Ombudsman's report. If the Ombudsman says, "I think this is unsatisfactory," then obviously you are in one situation. If she has taken the view that this is a reasonable response, and, what is more, entrenches some good practice going forward, then we are in a different world.

  31. Do you have any idea what sorts of gifts of a value of over £140 ministers tend to get from foreign governments, or businessmen, and so on, have you seen a list of any of these?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) Most of these come to either the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary. I think you will find there are remarkably few coming to anyone else. It can be anything, it can be art, jewellery or books, all sorts of things, I do not think there is any one way of capturing what they could be.

  32. As I understand it, if they are over that value, if the minister does not want to pay personally to keep them then you have to do something with them; so what happens to them all?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) Most of them, if they are very valuable items, are retained by the department.

  33. There was this case, was there not, of John Major, when he was given a horse by the Turkmenistan Government. It was last seen at the dog-handlers agency of the Ministry of Defence at Melton Mowbray, I understand; do you know if it is still there?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I have no idea. This illustrates the dilemma, that you are given gifts, and these are gestures of friendship, and you have to treat them respectfully, you cannot—

  Kevin Brennan: Send it to the knackers-yard, no.

Chairman

  34. Or ill-treat it?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) In answer to that, I do not know whether that story is true, I am just taking it as given.

Kevin Brennan

  35. One of the reasons we were told previously that there was a problem perhaps, or an embarrassment, about revealing these gifts was it could be embarrassing politically to the Government, if they come from certain businessmen, and so on, or possibly even politically embarrassing to foreign governments, if perhaps their gift was not as good as had been given by the Turkmenistan Government?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) We are going to list them; so I think we have concluded that this is something that we are able to do.

Mr Liddell-Grainger

  36. May I ask you about the e-Envoy; is he on target to achieve his targets by 2005?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) Yes, I think he is. There are two parts to his target; one is getting something like 700 services online by 2005. Douglas Alexander, an answer in PQ, said that, on the basis of the last survey, we are up to 54%. That was in the autumn. We are moving on, so we are probably round about the 60% mark, but we will have to wait for that figure until we get to the next survey. So we are moving on pretty steadily. The second is the change that was made to this target in SR2002. I must emphasise that there are two things; one is availability of these things, and the other is usage, and we have identified about ten major areas where we want to concentrate and drive up the level of usage.

  37. Because, last year, Mr Pinder was on an away day and he said that his feeling was that they would not have, and I will not say exactly what he said but, a chance of hitting the targets in 2005. He did go on to make the point that, in fact, of course, he was thinking of leaving in 2004, so perhaps it was not such a problem. Do you know if that is the course?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) We are working on the basis of getting up to more or less full coverage by 2005. Now squeezing out the last 10% is always the difficult bit in these things, but that remains the commitment.

  38. Is Mr Pinder under contract?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) Yes, he is.

  39. Is he going in 2004; do you know when he is due, under his contract, because it is quite a tricky question?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) His present contract runs till April 2004.


1   Note by Witness: The Attorney General answered a PQ in the House of Lords on 17 March setting out the legal basis for the use of force. Back


 
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