Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 640-659)

29 APRIL 2004

SIR RICHARD MOTTRAM KCB

  Q640 Chairman: —is talking about what is unlikely to come from the Science and Technology Committee. So it did not come from the Science and Technology Committee, as I understand it, because you say you had not seen it?

  Sir Richard Mottram: I am sorry, what did not come from the Science and Technology Committee?

  Q641 Chairman: This observation came out of the minutes of the Main Committee?

  Sir Richard Mottram: This observation came out of a discussion at the Main Honours Committee.

  Q642 Chairman: Yes. So it was not in the context of any kind of name that came through from the Science and Technology Committee over which you preside?

  Sir Richard Mottram: It could or could not have been, is the answer. I cannot say that, can I? It is possible. In relation to the main committee, I mean, just to be sort of bureaucratic about it, the way in which the system works is that names can come forward from the Science and Technology Committee, so there is a set of recommendations that come from the Science and Technology Committee, there is then a discussion at the Main Committee about those recommendations and about other names.

  Q643 Chairman: I know we are boxing around this a bit?

  Sir Richard Mottram: But we are only for a reason, I hope you understand, Chairman.

  Q644 Chairman: No, I see. As you say, you are being bureaucratic. You are a bureaucrat. We are not?

  Sir Richard Mottram: People often do not say that of me. I am flattered.

  Q645 Chairman: We have to ask questions of bureaucrats?

  Sir Richard Mottram: Absolutely.

  Q646 Chairman: Which is what we are doing. What I am trying to get at is that here is this person who works for the main committee saying that, in a kind of predictive sense, "The Science and Technology Committee were unlikely to recommend him." How does this person know that you are unlikely to recommend him if you have not recommended him, or have not discussed it, or not "black-balled" him?

  Sir Richard Mottram: Well—

  Q647 Chairman: They have just made it up?

  Sir Richard Mottram: Well, no. If we look at this record, which, as I say, I think is highly compressed, the punch-line of the record as published in the Sunday Times is he, that is Blakemore, should be looked at again. Why would a process that "black-balled" somebody lead to a conclusion that says, as reported in the Sunday Times, "He should be looked at again"? I am giving you a categorical assurance that Professor Blakemore has not been "black-balled" by any Honours Committee and, if we have to get into what I think is an extremely distasteful way of working, the leaked record, I think, also makes it clear that he is to be looked at again.

  Q648 Chairman: Thank you. But the reference to vivisection was completely gratuitous, was it not?

  Sir Richard Mottram: The reference to vivisection was gratuitous, yes.

  Q649 Chairman: It should not have been there?

  Sir Richard Mottram: Yes.

  Q650 Chairman: You have had conversations about this with the person?

  Sir Richard Mottram: When you say "gratuitous", I think that . . . What I do not want us to get into is an argument about who said what in relation to what: because if we do that what we are then doing is, eventually, step by step, you will encourage me in your skilful way, Chairman, to disclose the whole of the discussion, and actually the convention that I am trying to sustain here is that conversations about people are not to be debated in public. That is point number one. Point number two is, I do not think it would either be fair or constructive to get into an argument about whether this record, as written down by the committee's secretary, is or is not accurate, and the last thing that I would want to do is to in any way criticise the secretary. So I am not going to do that.

  Q651 Chairman: You will understand, though, that having a system that is said necessarily to be secret—

  Sir Richard Mottram: Some parts of it, I think, should be confidential, yes. I do not think the system has to be secret.

  Q652 Chairman: No, the discussion of names is always—

  Sir Richard Mottram: The discussion of names—

  Q653 Chairman: There is an argument about whether the people who sit on the committee should be—

  Sir Richard Mottram: The process, I think, should be more open.

  Q654 Chairman: Yes, but given the fact that the consideration of names is always said necessarily to be secret, you clearly would accept that it is absolutely essential, therefore, that gratuitously unhelpful things are not said about individuals as part of that process because they have no come back. They do not know that it is being done, the rest of us do not know that it is being done; so out of a particular case there is a public issue interest attached, is there not?

  Sir Richard Mottram: There is a public interest issue attached, which is would Professor—the case for an honour for Professor X, whoever it might be, be judged on the basis of 50 words? Answer: "No".

  Q655 Chairman: So there was a longer discussion. This is a compressed version. A longer discussion leads to this kind of conclusion, even if it is a compressed version of it.

  Sir Richard Mottram: There is a considerably longer discussion which leads to a conclusion which can be inferred from here. The weight you put on different bits of these 50 words depends on what you think about the conclusion that was reached. I think one of the difficulties we have had in this is that, because the process of discussing candidates is supposed to be confidential, it is, should be, confidential, when this material was published the natural response of a number of people, including me, was to say nothing, and I think that that, rather unhelpfully, then creates a vacuum which gets filled by speculation which actually made the thing potentially much worse. I think it is a very difficult thing to handle. I do not know whether I have explained that clearly. Normally you deal with a leak by—although you will not talk about the detail of it—you can brief people about it and so on. In this particular case, it was quite difficult to do that. I certainly did not do it. I think that it then got into a much bigger and ever more misleading story.

  Q656 Chairman: Have you had an inquiry about this leak?

  Sir Richard Mottram: I have not, because I am not in charge of this system, but I believe there has been an inquiry, yes, Chairman.

  Q657 Chairman: With what outcome?

  Sir Richard Mottram: I do not know the outcome. I could find out and let you know.

  Chairman: I will bring colleagues in. We want to ask some more general questions too, but I wanted, if we could, to get into that to start with. Ian.

  Q658 Mr Liddell-Grainger: Thank you, Chairman. Can I ask you: you have been around the Civil Service for quite some time, have you not, Sir Richard?

  Sir Richard Mottram: I have.

  Q659 Mr Liddell-Grainger: How many committees have you—

  Sir Richard Mottram: Not for much longer, I think, really.


 
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