Public Administration Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-133)


7 MAY 2009

  Q120  Chairman: Well, it is surely corrosive anyway, is it not, to brief against colleagues?

  Mr Byrne: Yes.

  Q121  Chairman: But we know it goes on, do we not?

  Mr Byrne: I do not.

  Q122  Chairman: You are the only person who seems innocent of this fact.

  Mr Byrne: Well, maybe I live in the circles that Gordon Prentice does!

  Q123  Chairman: I am talking in a generic way. We have just been hearing how this kind of thing is the stuff of politics.

  Mr Byrne: I can only comment on what has entered my own personal world, and that has not entered my own personal world. Maybe I should get out more—together with Gordon!

  Q124  Chairman: Well, someone needs to give some attention to what this phrase about "disseminating appropriate material" means.

  Mr Byrne: Well, if the Committee has advice on how the Special Advisers' Code can be strengthened still further, then please give it.

  Q125  Chairman: Would it not have been better just to say that any special advisers found to be in breach of the terms of the Special Advisers' Code will be instantly dismissed?

  Mr Byrne: I would be happy to entertain that suggestion, and let's not fall into the trap of believing that it is only that sentence that you have read out which constitutes the entirety of the Code. It is a pretty comprehensive document.

  Q126  Chairman: But it is the only bit that talks about sanction and discipline. The rest of it is exhortation. The question is what happens when, in Peter Riddell's phrase, someone goes wrong? What is the sanction that kicks in? Now, this is the first time you have had any kind of sanction and that is why I am asking what it means. I am saying to you, why not just say: "If a special adviser breaches the terms of the Special Advisers' Code, they are out". Would that not be simpler?

  Mr Byrne: Yes, but, as I say, if the Committee has suggestions like that then we should consider them and come back to you. It sounds a good suggestion to me.

  Q127  Chairman: I am trying to be helpful.

  Mr Byrne: I think it is very helpful.

  Q128  David Heyes: I have a question on process, really. The Gus O'Donnell letter, which you tabled earlier, you tabled as you began to speak. Why did you do that?

  Mr Byrne: Simply because I planned to—well, I did not want to read all of it out.

  Q129  David Heyes: My point is you must have had the letter when you arrived here at 10 o'clock. It would have been quite easy to pass that to one of the staff and we could have had the benefit of some time to read it during the earlier evidence. It is an old bureaucrat's trick to start to speak and then table the paper after the event, and it helps to prevent difficult questions. Was this a management consultant bureaucrat trick?

  Mr Byrne: It was not meant to be; it was meant to be helpful. I did not have to bring it at all, Mr Heyes.

  Q130  David Heyes: I will make the point simpler for future reference because it feels to me a little disrespectful to the Committee to table the letter dated 21 April—

  Mr Byrne: I shall remember not to bring letters with me next time. Maybe that will help your deliberations.

  Q131  Chairman: Well, you can bring appropriate material with you. We have had an interesting session.

  Mr Byrne: We have. I have followed it closely.

  Q132  Chairman: It has got the juices going, and I think we may write to you with some suggestions, having had the general session this morning with you and with the previous witnesses too, because it is clear that there are issues here that we could usefully give some thought to again so we do not just have to wait for the next incident to happen before we get interested in special advisers again. So, thank you for coming and talking to us.

  Mr Byrne: A pleasure. I do think it is a constant job. Since 1997 there has been a transformation in the way that we govern special advisers, and I do not think we should allow ourselves to fall into the trap of assuming that in any way that work should suddenly stop.

  Q133  Chairman: Thank you very much.

  Mr Byrne: Thank you.

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