Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 680-699)

29 APRIL 2004


  Q680 Chairman: But we think the Government is going move towards transparency on this front, do we not?

  Sir Richard Mottram: I do not know the answer to that, Chairman, but you have a better means of finding that out. There is a review going on under Sir Hayden Phillips. I have talked to Hayden about it. I do not know what he has—I have not yet discussed with him how he is forming his views.

  Q681 Chairman: No, but you are saying from your bit of the woods that the sky would not fall in if these people were known?

  Sir Richard Mottram: The bit of the woods that I am "responsible for," in inverted commas, that I am involved in, which is two committees each of which is dominated by distinguished outsiders, we would be comfortable with the names of the members of these committees being disclosed. May I continue for one second? There would, I think, then be an issue which is, well, fine, now we have seen who these people are, how did they get selected? Should we not have bureaucracy about how they are selected? Should we not have a regulated process and perhaps a competition and all those things? We know why in many walks of life those things are desirable; the question we have to ask, I think, in this case is, would that be another reason why people said, you know, it is done in their own time, it is a serious commitment, people might say, "Well, look, it has now become too big a bureaucratic process." So I think the issue about disclosure would be now the names are in the public domain, who selected them and why?

  Chairman: Thank you for that, it is very helpful.

  Q682 Kevin Brennan: Could we briefly return to the Blakemore thing. You said earlier on that you thought the leak was made with malicious intent?

  Sir Richard Mottram: I do not know that though.

  Q683 Kevin Brennan: You do not know it?

  Sir Richard Mottram: No.

  Q684 Kevin Brennan: When you said it I thought—

  Sir Richard Mottram: No, since I do not know who did it, I do not know why they did it.

  Q685 Kevin Brennan: So you cannot say it was with malicious intent?

  Sir Richard Mottram: No.

  Q686 Kevin Brennan: It might have been done with some sort of public-spirited desire to open up the system a bit and show us what goes on?

  Sir Richard Mottram: I think that would be a bit—

  Q687 Kevin Brennan: Somebody might have seen this minute and thought, "This is outrageous and it is in the public interest?"

  Sir Richard Mottram: They might; but then somebody also leaked all sorts of other things, did they not, about this system. They leaked the names of the people who had refused. Why did they do that?

  Q688 Kevin Brennan: Perhaps the same, they think the system is rotten in some way?

  Sir Richard Mottram: All I would say about that is I do not know the motive of the person. I think the person that did it probably, in my view, had insufficient regard to the possible impact on a whole series of people of seeing their names banded around in this way, and I think also, although it would obviously have been a much lesser story, there was probably a way, once these papers were passed to the newspapers, of writing the story which did not drag in the names of individuals. So there was a way of opening up the argument. In any case, this leak is, in my view, completely unjustified because I believe you are already investigating this, chairman; so any reasonably sensible civil servant would know that it was under investigation by this Committee and it was therefore going to be ventilated, but I do not know.

  Q689 Kevin Brennan: To look at it a little bit more, to clarify what you mean, why should we not be able to discuss the specifics of this particular case with you?

  Sir Richard Mottram: Because the process is confidential.

  Q690 Kevin Brennan: I understand that in general. I understand the general principle about it. Given the fact that he has appeared before us and given his own views on the discussions the minute of which was leaked and has appeared in the press, is it not slightly bizarre that we then have to pretend that has not happened?

  Sir Richard Mottram: Well, I did not think the Chairman was pretending actually in the questions he asked me.

  Q691 Kevin Brennan: No, I do not think he was pretending. What I am saying is your answers to his questions were, "I cannot discuss this individual's case", as if we did not know about this individual's case, as if we did not know he had been recommended for an honour, as if we did not know this unfortunate phrase had appeared in the compressed version of the discussion that took place?

  Sir Richard Mottram: I would stick with the position that I was trying to outline, that I think it is quite tricky to infer conclusions about an individual case on the basis of these—if you are talking about Professor Blakemore—on the basis of these 50 words.

  Q692 Kevin Brennan: What I am saying is we know the bad things that were said about him in the 50 words, why can you not tell us all the wonderful things that were said in the discussion? Why can we not know that aspect?

  Sir Richard Mottram: Because what you are trying to do now is to get me to reveal the discussion, and I am rather constrained by the conventions of the way this works. Imagine, with each Honours List I could come along here and you could ask me, "Why was it so and so and why was it not so and so?" But let us take the case of Professor Blakemore. What I would say about Professor Blakemore is a number of things, that he is obviously a highly distinguished scientist with a very strong track-record, that he contributes significantly to the debate about science in the wider public and that that is something which is welcomed, and that he has just become the Chief Executive, he became about six months ago, I think, speaking from memory, the Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, which might suggest that the whole system has confidence in him.

  Q693 Kevin Brennan: They automatically get an honour, do they not?

  Sir Richard Mottram: They do not actually, no. Nobody automatically gets an honour.

  Q694 Kevin Brennan: Have any not got one?

  Sir Richard Mottram: No.

  Q695 Kevin Brennan: Who has been Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council?

  Sir Richard Mottram: No, no Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, as far as I know, has not received an honour. Chief executives of the Research Councils do not automatically receive honours. Another convention that I am rather bound by is I cannot talk about future lists either. What I would observe is you could infer something. People may think this is funny, but I am trying to preserve the confidentiality of people being discussed in public where I think, if this system turns into a debate about individuals, it will collapse. If I can make another remark which is intended to be helpful, you could have looked at Professor Blakemore in a completely different way just by looking at the list that was published, for example, where it was not much commented on that the Director General of the Research Council, a very distinguished scientist and engineer, was honoured in that list. He had been doing his job as the boss of the Research Councils for a number of years. I cannot remember how many years: let us say three or four years. After three or four years he was honoured. Professor Blakemore had just become the Chief Executive of a Research Council.

  Q696 Kevin Brennan: So he will get his in the future?

  Sir Richard Mottram: I am not saying whether he will get it or not. What I am saying is that you could have inferred from the facts—if people had wanted to, they could have looked at the record as it was published and they could have inferred something but it would not have been such a good story.

  Q697 Kevin Brennan: Would the fact that he gave evidence to us and discussed the Honours System openly and his own recommendations and so on go against him in a future discussion?

  Sir Richard Mottram: Go against him? Why would what he said to your Committee go against him?

  Q698 Kevin Brennan: I do not know. Is it not the done thing to discuss whether one has or has not been recommended—

  Sir Richard Mottram: But he was invited to appear by the Committee, was he not?

  Q699 Kevin Brennan: Yes. But in any future discussions on this—is he black-balled for the future?

  Sir Richard Mottram: As he was not "black-balled" for the past, I certainly would not "black-ball" him for appearing before your Committee.

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