Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 620-639)

29 APRIL 2004

SIR RICHARD MOTTRAM KCB

  Q620 Chairman: This was the record from the main Committee?

  Sir Richard Mottram: Yes.

  Q621 Chairman: So there was nothing that came from Science and Technology that enabled this to be said by the main Committee?

  Sir Richard Mottram: What I am saying to you is this is a highly compressed account of a discussion.

  Q622 Chairman: I understand all about the highly compressed—

  Sir Richard Mottram: Let me put it another way. Imagine there was a discussion which actually had, say, four or five themes in it about any given individual and this touches on one or two aspects of that. That, I think, leads to something which is potentially misleading and the way in which it was then subsequently treated by the media doubled up that effect. That is what I am saying.

  Q623 Chairman: Let me put it to you like this. If this was said about an individual, let us not necessarily talk about Blakemore in this context, and, for all sorts of reasons that are often given, this all has to be terribly secret, but if untrue and unfair things are being said about individuals in minutes which then reflect badly on them and prevent them getting honours which other people say they deserve—

  Sir Richard Mottram: Yes.

  Q624 Chairman: —and this does not come to light, nobody knows about this except if we get a leak, this is clearly not satisfactory. What I want to know is what I asked Sir David King: why did nobody, all these distinguished people on this committee, spotting a reference of this kind, say, "We cannot write this kind of stuff"?

  Sir Richard Mottram: The first thing is—. Let us take it as a hypothetical case. The discussion of a hypothetical person did not lead to a conclusion that they would not at any stage in their lives be honoured—hypothetically, alright—and I think that is quite clear actually, from even this truncated version of the discussion. The second thing is that this was a note taken of the meeting which was not cleared with the Committee, as it happens, and I would not myself, for instance, have used the 50 or so words that are in that record as the basis on which, at a subsequent meeting of the Science and Technology Committee, I could explain to them what had been discussed in the Main Committee about any of the people that might have been discussed in the Main Committee. In other words, there was a much fuller discussion which included more than one person. One reason why I attend the Main Committee is that I can take back from the Main Committee discussions about candidates and report them back to the Science and Technology Committee. I do not use that note as the basis on which I do that.

  Q625 Chairman: Who makes the note?

  Sir Richard Mottram: Someone in the Cabinet Office.

  Q626 Chairman: Who wrote this one?

  Sir Richard Mottram: A member of the Secretariat in the Cabinet Office.

  Q627 Chairman: Who?

  Sir Richard Mottram: Is it relevant, Chairman?

  Mr Liddell-Grainger: Yes. We might want to call him.

  Q628 Chairman: I do not think it is irrelevant.

  Sir Richard Mottram: It is actually on the leak, so you can read it in the Sunday Times. It is someone called Eleri Pengelly, I think.

  Q629 Chairman: Have you had discussions with this person?

  Sir Richard Mottram: I do not think it is "this person". I have had discussions with her, yes.

  Q630 Chairman: But given the fact that—

  Sir Richard Mottram: "This person" is not a nice thing to say about someone, is it? It is rather uncharacteristic, if I may say so, Chairman.

  Q631 Chairman: It seems to me an entirely neutral way of describing someone?

  Sir Richard Mottram: An entirely neutral way. Yes.

  Q632 Chairman: But having been told by Sir David King that this seemed to be inexplicable and that this note seemed not to have any rational basis, obviously one asks where did it come from? Who wrote it down? First of all, who wrote it down, and, secondly, did nobody, having seen it written down, say, "Hang on a minute"?

  Sir Richard Mottram: The first thing is—. I do not actually think this is—. What I was about to say is I do not think this is particularly helpful because I do not think it gets us anywhere, but the point I was about to make was that I certainly did not query the record because I never saw it. If I had seen it, I would, I think, have said of it: this is a very truncated version of a much longer discussion. But this is a slightly odd world we live in now, is it not, because, if I can make this point, Chairman, what we are saying here is here is a record that was leaked. The person who leaked it, I think, leaked it for malicious reasons. The conclusion I would draw from this, as I keep drawing in other parts of my official life, is you must write everything for publication and the piece of advice that I would have given the Secretary, the person who took this note, was either it has to be a lot shorter or it has to be a lot longer, because I think that was the issue about it, if you see what I mean. Because I regard it as highly compressed, it would have to be a lot longer, and even if it was a lot longer, it would be jolly helpful if it was not leaked: because what we are talking about here is leaking discussions about people which lead to deeply wounding conversations about them. This did not just arise in relation to Professor Blakemore; I can give you other examples where bits of that record were taken completely out of context by the media and disobliging things were said about them, and this is not a nice process, putting it mildly.

  Q633 Chairman: No, but leaks are very naughty things?

  Sir Richard Mottram: Yes. Well, I have been on the receiving end of leaks, but there are leaks and leaks. These are leaks about discussions about people, and it is not—I do not want to sound too prissy about this, but it was not a very edifying spectacle, was it?

  Q634 Chairman: No, but occasionally they do allow a little light to come in onto secret systems which allow questions to be asked about them which are not without public interest?

  Sir Richard Mottram: I agree about that, Chairman, but what I would say about that is that I think there are issues about the openness of this system, and I would certainly like it to be more open. The only point I am trying to make is I think it is quite risky to make big inferences from small parts of pictures. This is one little bit of a picture. It is leaked. People focus on it. Of course they are going to focus on it. I am not complaining about it. It is life. But it is not necessarily safe to reach a whole pile of conclusions from one little bit of evidence.

  Q635 Chairman: If you were Colin Blakemore—

  Sir Richard Mottram: If I was Colin Blakemore?

  Q636 Chairman: —and you saw this, you would not take this view, would you? You would say, "This is outrageous." You would say, "I am being commended on the one hand for doing brave work, being told by the Government I must carry on doing this brave work, and yet I see from internal secret minutes that I am effectively being black-balled because of this?"

  Sir Richard Mottram: Well, actually it does not say that he has been effectively "black-balled", if we are going to be doing exactly what I did not want to do, which is getting into close textual analysis.

  Q637 Chairman: I have read you the text. It seems to me that any plain reading of that would suggest—

  Sir Richard Mottram: If we get into close reading of the text I think the punch-line at the end is pretty clear, that he was not being "black-balled".

  Q638 Chairman: He thought he was?

  Sir Richard Mottram: Yes, he did, but this is the same problem, is it not? He is trying to infer from a very small thing, which, I agree, is not written in a very satisfactory way at all, something which I personally know, I personally know, was the wrong inference.

  Q639 Chairman: We have had Sir David King, we have had Lord Sainsbury, saying this does not stack up, something went wrong here. I am trying to find out what went wrong, that is all. It is a straightforward inquiry and it seems that someone, this person, who is the secretary of the Main Honours Committee, because this was a leak from the Main Honours Committee, was it not?

  Sir Richard Mottram: It was.


 
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