Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 740-759)

29 APRIL 2004


  Q740 Mr Heyes: Does any activity take place in any form to try to establish the ethnicity?

  Sir Richard Mottram: It does. That is why I should give you some advice.

  Q741 Mr Heyes: How does it work?

  Sir Richard Mottram: I think I am not the expert on this—well, I know I am not the expert on this. When the recommendations of the whole process go forward in relation, let's say, to the Prime Minister's list, there is, I know, an assessment of the gender balance of those recommended and the ethnic balance of those represented. I think I should give you a piece of advice on how that is done.

  Q742 Mr Heyes: I am sure the Committee would welcome that. If you could include within that advice an explanation about the use of family names, surnames, as an attempted way of discovering people's ethnicity. From other investigations that we have carried on, we think that is one of the approaches to this.

  Sir Richard Mottram: Do you think it works?

  Q743 Mr Heyes: I think it is disgraceful, if that is the way it is being done, personally, but I would be interested if you could include a response to that.

  Sir Richard Mottram: Yes, I will. It is a very good point. It is a point we are focused on.

  Q744 Mr Heyes: What about the pressure that you get maybe from the honours secretariat and others to put forward either more or fewer names from time to time? This is in your role as head of the department: you present the names and I think you said there may be 10 or 20.

  Sir Richard Mottram: The way the system works is we know roughly how many names are going to be successful at each round across the whole system—and you have that data, I think, Chairman. The Honours Secretariat know roughly how many people it is sensible for the system to look at, so essentially they give indicative allocations of people, not in terms of successes—you do not get a pointer: you will get this many people—but a rough, broad indicator of how many people at each level you might put forward. If you have lots of brilliant candidates, it is fine to put forward more. If you have not many brilliant candidates, it is fine to put forward less. So we do not swamp the system. I do not enter 20 people for knighthoods out of the Department for Work and Pensions on each round, because I know realistically I will not get 20 knighthoods. In the Science and Technology Committee, as I said earlier, we might look at 10 or somewhat less each round, because we are realistic about what we are trying to do. It is partly for that reason, of course, that we come back to the point I was trying to make at the beginning, that people are often in the system for a while as they make their way through it.

  Q745 Mr Heyes: In what way is an intimation of the numbers that will be acceptable different from a quota?

  Sir Richard Mottram: It is the numbers that we put forward to be weighed. I am sorry; I have not made this clear enough. Imagine they say to me, "You can put forward 10 names," most of the people I put forward would go currently to a committee which deals with commerce and industry or a committee that deals with local services. The Honours Secretariat indicate to my Honours Secretariat, "Why don"t you put forward this many names roughly." There is not a quota for my department. Those names are then measured on merit, matched on merit, evaluated on merit alongside everybody else's names, and in the committee—because I sit on some of these committees as well, although I am not the chairman of them—you do not pursue—well, I certainly never do—your names; you pursue the balance that would produce the most meritorious outcome. So there is no quota for my department. We could put forward two names and they would both be honoured; we could put forward 10 names and none of them would be honoured.

  Q746 Mr Heyes: I will leave it there, Chairman.

  Sir Richard Mottram: Does that make sense?

  Chairman: We are making progress.

  Q747 Brian White: Some of us think the unfortunate thing is Blakemore is now bound to get an honour that he does not deserve—

  Sir Richard Mottram: I am sorry, he is what?

  Q748 Brian White: Bound to get an honour in order to rebut everybody else who has said that he is being black-balled. But we will leave Colin Blakemore out of this. Given that you are a permanent secretary and running a very controversial department—

  Sir Richard Mottram: Controversial?

  Q749 Brian White: Minorly so. —whereabouts in the order of your priorities as permanent secretary is the honours system?

  Sir Richard Mottram: That is a very fair question. I am the chairman of two committees. Chairing those two committees is roughly between half a day and a day's work on each. I am a member of the Main Committee.

  Q750 Brian White: Is that per week or per year?

  Sir Richard Mottram: Per year—roughly a day on each per year.

  Q751 Brian White: Including the reading?

  Sir Richard Mottram: Yes, but then I do the reading in my own time.

  Q752 Chairman: What is the other one you chair?

  Sir Richard Mottram: The Medicine Committee. Then I am a member of a number of other committees, and that is, again, half a day or whatever. So it is a sizeable commitment, yes.

  Q753 Brian White: The kind of issues that come up at the Main Committee—

  Sir Richard Mottram: The Main Committee would be about a day, if you allowed for the reading, but, again, I do the reading in my own time.

  Q754 Brian White: And the Main Committee is primarily the chairs of all these subordinate committees.

  Sir Richard Mottram: The Main Committee is the chairs of a number of these committees and some independent members.

  Q755 Brian White: So primarily permanent secretaries chaired by the permanent secretary.

  Sir Richard Mottram: Chaired by Sir Hayden Phillips.

  Q756 Brian White: When you are deciding who should go on committees, is that your decision as the chair or is that a process where you end up chairing the committee that you are given?

  Sir Richard Mottram: The reason why I ended up as the Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee and the Medicine Committee is lost in the mists of time, but I was asked to do it by the then Cabinet Secretary. I think the only logic I ever came upon for why I was asked to do it was two fold. One was that I was quite a senior permanent secretary. The second might have been—although I suspect I flatter myself here—that I had been the permanent secretary of the Office of Public Service and Science (of blessed memory) and knew something about science, not very much. And actually, thirdly, I could flatter myself that I do know quite a bit about social science. But whether the second and third of those reasons are anything to do with it, I do not know—probably not actually because all they want is someone who knows how to make a system work and can be an impartial chair.

  Q757 Brian White: Some people have said that the people who are close to the centre, you know them, and therefore you can discuss them quite reasonably.

  Sir Richard Mottram: Yes.

  Q758 Brian White: The further you go away from the centre, either into the regions or down the food chain, those people are not well known to you, so how do you judge them?—apart from the sheet of paper you have that may or may not be a compressed version.

  Sir Richard Mottram: Do you mean in relation to science and technology?

  Q759 Brian White: Yes.

  Sir Richard Mottram: The members of the Science and Technology Committee, because of the nature of the careers they have led, have good knowledge, I would say, of the whole system. As you know, the way those systems work is they try to pick up talented people across the whole system. As I touched on earlier, one of the issues in relation to the Science and Technology Committee is obviously we have real centres of science and technology excellence: Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial, etcetera, and you have to worry: Are those the only places that are going to be recognised? Look at our track record: lots of other places are recognised. As I went to, as this Committee knows, a provincial university, I do know that there are such things.

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