Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 660-679)

29 APRIL 2004


  Q660 Mr Liddell-Grainger: Perhaps we should stick to Blakemore. We can hasten that, if you like. You may leave with Sir Lord Mottram!

  Sir Richard Mottram: Lord Mottram! I think that has a ring to it, yes!

  Q661 Mr Liddell-Grainger: I think we might come to that in a minute. How many other times in your career have you been heading a committee which has looked at the Honours? Have you ever done that specifically before?

  Sir Richard Mottram: I have been the Chairman of the . . . The way the system works is each committee has . . . The composition of these committees is rather different. We could talk about that if the Committee would find that helpful. Each committee has a Chairman who is a permanent secretary, and the permanent secretary is chosen usually because they are distant from the subject matter of the committee and, therefore, no-one would suggest they were pursuing the interests of their department. So a perfectly reasonable question is: in relation to Science and Technology honours why is not the Permanent Secretary of the DTI in charge of this process? Answer: because the Department of Trade and Industry, like other departments, puts forward names. The Department for Work and Pensions occasionally puts forward names because we have an interest in social science, in particular, but as a department we are not greatly involved. So the Chairman is an independent, so to speak, permanent secretary, and I have been the Chairman of this committee and the Chairman of a related committee, the Medicine Committee, since 1999.

  Q662 Mr Liddell-Grainger: Can I ask on that, have you recommended ever personally that somebody should not get an honour. Have you over that time thought, "I know the background to this character, or characteress (sic), I do not, therefore, me, Sir Richard Mottram, think it is a bad idea"?

  Sir Richard Mottram: You mean I would personally get involved.

  Q663 Mr Liddell-Grainger: Yes?

  Sir Richard Mottram: No.

  Q664 Mr Liddell-Grainger: If you felt there was some reason that a person should not get it, would you personally get involved?

  Sir Richard Mottram: I think the system would work slightly differently. I can quite see where your questions are coming from, so let me be clear about this. If I have a view about the candidates, I will express the view at the Committee; we have a discussion at the Committee. I generally do not have a view about the candidates actually, I try and distance myself from the candidates, but, of course, I know some of them. If I have a view about them, I will put it into the discussion at the Science and Technology Committee. The Science and Technology Committee, as I said in my opening remarks, works by consensus. So we will spend as much time as we need in order to reach a view about which name should go forward at each honours round. When I go to the Main Honours Committee, I describe the views of the Science and Technology Committee. What I do not do is say, they think this, but actually I think that, because I am not there in that capacity. I am there in relation to the Science and Technology Committee to explain to the Main Committee the views of the Science and Technology Committee, why they have reached them and take back the views of the Main Committee. I participate in the whole of the rest of the Main Committee's discussion because I am a reasonably senior permanent secretary and you put your views in, but you do not put personal views in, in the sense of prejudices, or, "I do not particularly like this person". Anybody who did that would not be part of this system. Does that answer your question?

  Q665 Mr Liddell-Grainger: No, it does not because "like" is the wrong word, is it not? You can like or dislike somebody. As far as we know from these links, Tim Henman was put on the list to make it slightly more "sexy", as I seem to remember the terminology?

  Sir Richard Mottram: That would be untrue as well.

  Q666 Mr Liddell-Grainger: How do we know?

  Sir Richard Mottram: You do not know, and when I tell you that is untrue you say, "Now would you tell us why Tim Henman was on the list?" I am not going to do that, but I am going to tell you that that inference was also untrue. The inference the media reached about why he was on the list based on those minutes, the inference that was drawn, was not the correct inference.

  Q667 Mr Liddell-Grainger: If you take the amount of tournaments that Tim Henman has won and what Colin Blakemore has achieved, there is a slight difference, is there not? One is a media star. The other one is . . . Well, it depends if you get bricks through your window that makes you a media star, but there are two different things, are there not?

  Sir Richard Mottram: That is a very interesting question, how you weigh people's contributions in different areas. Tim Henman is the most successful tennis player this country has had for a very, very long time, and it would not seem to me to be at all surprising if he got an honour.

  Q668 Mr Liddell-Grainger: But that is media led. He is somebody who is playing in front of the media. If you went out into the street and said to somebody, "Who is Colin Blakemore?" They would go, "You what?" "Who is Tim Henman?" "Oh, he plays tennis, does he not"? They may be quicker, but they will know roughly who he is?

  Sir Richard Mottram: I think they probably would know who he was.

  Q669 Mr Liddell-Grainger: Fair enough, but that is the difference, is it not?

  Sir Richard Mottram: I think the Committee has explored this before, and it is a very interesting point. There are different categories of people and this is a system that is trying to capture them all. In the case of the Science and Technology Committee what the Science and Technology Committee is doing is capturing, trying to identify, people whose contribution in the area of science and technology is exceptional, and then you are into interesting questions about how do you find "the most exceptional" within categories of "exceptional": because the Honours System forces us to grade people—I do not think this is inevitable but we can talk about it—forces us to grade people. So you get "graded grains make finer rice". You identify exceptional people; you work out how honours in particular categories would fit. There is a well-understood approach, I think, as to why certain very successful sportsmen get honours. I absolutely support that. I think that they are exceptional people. It is exceptional. It is success that is being recognised. In the case of science and technology, we have a clear series of criteria that we use in trying to identify the people who are most deserving and putting them into different levels.

  Q670 Mr Liddell-Grainger: So when you have your meeting about people going forward for honours, roughly how many distinguished people in your department that you look after would be put forward?

  Sir Richard Mottram: When you say . . . Which sort of system are we talking about here?

  Q671 Mr Liddell-Grainger: We are talking about if you are putting people forward?

  Sir Richard Mottram: Me, as a departmental permanent secretary?

  Q672 Mr Liddell-Grainger: Yes. How many people roughly would you put forward?

  Sir Richard Mottram: We might put forward about 10, possibly 20, at different levels.

  Q673 Mr Liddell-Grainger: All right, let us stay on the different levels.

  Sir Richard Mottram: I would have to go away and think about this, but perhaps more.[2]

  Q674 Mr Liddell-Grainger: Is that a secret?

  Sir Richard Mottram: No.

  Q675 Mr Liddell-Grainger: All right. If you then come back, they will put these into the melting pot and they will say, "Right, we need to get so many if we can from X discipline." Is that it?

  Sir Richard Mottram: Oh, right. Shall I say something about Science and Technology, because I think otherwise we are going to have a confused discussion? What happens in relation to Science and Technology is that some members of the public write in, but there is a well-established process which channels proposals through, and I think Sir David King and Professor Blakemore both talked about this in relation, for example, to the Research Councils, so that by the time it gets to the Science and Technology Committee or, indeed, to the Medicine Committee you have much smaller numbers of people to talk about, so we do not talk about hundreds and hundreds of people. Let us say, hypothetically, we might talk about five to 10 people, at K and DBE level and, I do not know, I cannot now visualise it, but, say, 10 at the CBE level and then there will be more at other levels, okay. We have a discussion which is focused down in that area, and then at the Science and Technology Committee and also the Main Committee there will be a discussion that says, "This is all very interesting. This is the list, but what about so and so? Why is not so and so here?" We would have another, for example, at the Science and Technology Committee we would look at other things. We would say, in looking down lists of recommendations we put forward, we would be saying, "Are these lists representative of the whole field? So are we over time picking up people in each discipline? Are they representative of science, technology, social science across the whole country, or are we picking up people in a sort of golden triangle?" If you looked over the last 10 years at successful people in science and technology, you would see two characteristics actually: one is that there have been a significant number social scientists honoured as part of this work, which I think is appropriate because it covers the Economic and Social Research Council, and the disciplines are each recognised because we think it is important that the system should be broadly representative. So we spend our time on two sets of things, three sets: is it representative in that sense, all based on merit, right; secondly, we look at individual candidates; thirdly, we ask are we producing a result that appears to be the appropriate result? At the Main Committee they would do the same thing; and no doubt at the DTI Committee, which Professor King talked about, they do the same thing as well. So that is what you are doing. You have a lot of evidence, because you have got a page on each person, but, above all, you have knowledge, in the Committee, in our case, we have knowledge of candidates. If we do not have knowledge of them, what we would tend to do is say, "We need to get more knowledge about this person", and one or more members of the Committee will go away and get more knowledge. Certainly what we never do is say, "None of us knows this person, so that is a no then, is it not?" I have a difficulty in this in that it is one of life's ironies, and perhaps I get more of my share, I do not know, but this is a system which is a well-worked system based on peer review, and, because of the way this record was leaked, people are asking questions about it. Funnily enough, it is, I think, a model for how I would see the Honours System going forward, that is lots of outsiders, relative to civil servants, peer review. Does that help?

  Chairman: Ian, could I bring Kevin in?

  Q676 Mr Liddell-Grainger: One last thing, if I may.

  Sir Richard Mottram: It was meant to be helpful.

  Q677 Mr Liddell-Grainger: That is the problem, is it not: because you cannot look into it. If you open it up, where would you open it up to? How far would you open it up?

  Sir Richard Mottram: How do you mean?

  Q678 Mr Liddell-Grainger: Make it more accountable, more open, so that people knew what was going on so that leaks would not—well, they would still happen, leaks happen in all walks of life, but it would make it less relevant if people knew what was happening?

  Sir Richard Mottram: I think in this case—I am so sorry to interrupt you. I think in this case the reason why this system is accountable—we can have a discussion about should it go to the Prime Minister, should it be an independent commission, and all that sort of stuff. In the case of this Committee, imagine that members of this Committee, one or two members of this Committee were pursuing personal agendas of some kind. There are six members of this Committee who are effectively distinguished scientists and the engineers. Some of the debate of this Committee is about getting the right balance—and those of us who have dealt with science and technology for a while will know this—between universities, between disciplines and so on. If you have this Committee captured by a group of people, or the Chair, as one saw suggested in a newspaper, for instance, the Committee would not put up with it. These are really distinguished people. I have got six of the most distinguished people in the whole of this field sitting on this Committee. The quality assurance of the process lies in the membership of the Committee, but we have a small problem in that the membership of the Committee is not disclosed, so you just have to take my word for it.

  Q679 Chairman: Would it matter if we knew who they were?

  Sir Richard Mottram: Well, personally, Chairman, I think it would be better if you did, and I think it would be better if the names of this Committee were disclosed, yes. I am not in a position to disclose them. I have talked to members of the Committee about whether we would all be comfortable with having our names disclosed. Mine is sort of disclosed, you know, and I am here, and they would be comfortable with it, yes, but the argument against it, which I think does have to be thought about by your Committee, and I know you have been discussing this, is whether, if the names were disclosed, some people would be very reluctant to be involved because they would get caught up in lobbying and back-biting and the politicking that goes with these sorts of things, and bad-mouthing about bias and so on. So people might say, "I do not want to be involved in it." That would be the down side. The up side obviously is we can have a discussion where you could say we do or we do not think these people are distinguished, you know.

2   Note by Witness: The Department for Work and Pensions might put forward some 60-70 names at all levels covering all kinds of service in which it has an interest. Very few of these names would be considered by the Science and Technology Committee. Back

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