Goats and Tsars: Ministerial and other appointments from outside Parliament - Public Administration Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 68 - 79)



  Q68  Chairman: Let us make a start and extend a warm welcome to our witnesses, Lord Darzi, Lord Adonis and Lord West. As you know, the Committee is doing an inquiry into the whole subject of unelected ministers and sundry other unelected people who hold various posts. You all bring different distinctions but your unifying characteristic is that you are all unelected and you are all ministers, or have been. We would just like to ask you about some aspects of your experience. Could I just ask a general question to start with, which is, what do you think people like you, coming from very different backgrounds, bring to government that warrants you, as an unelected person, being brought in to help with running our affairs? Andrew, would you like to start?

  Lord Adonis: Thank you, Chairman. I would answer that in two ways. First of all, we have always had a proportion of unelected ministers because our constitution has two chambers and there have to be ministers in the House of Lords. The number of ministers in the Lords has not in fact increased much—I was looking at the figures as I was preparing to appear before you but I am also a constitutional historian and I know these things. We have 19 ministers in the House of Lords now; we had 15 ministers in the House of Lords 20 years ago, so the numbers have not changed that much. We need ministers in the House of Lords because of the working of our constitution in any event. What do we bring? We bring a range of different experiences. I had three careers, I suppose, before I became a minister. I was a policy adviser for the years immediately before becoming a minister in Number 10. I was a special adviser in Number 10 and then Head of the Policy Unit in Number 10. That gave me a great deal of experience of the working of government and I developed as a specialist area education and the public services and of course, I became Education Minister in 2005. Before that I had been a journalist. Being a journalist I suppose trains you for nothing and everything but I had seen a lot of politics and I had been an education correspondence so had worked intensively reporting the areas I was later to be responsible for as a minister. In my twenties I had been an academic. That was the range of experience I brought to bear on my life as a minister after 2005.

  Q69  Chairman: Do you think the experience of being a special adviser is a particularly useful career route into the life of a minister?

  Lord Adonis: For me, I found it invaluable. I found being a special adviser a kind of apprenticeship for being a minister. I worked very closely in the field of education specifically but also the wider public services for seven years before I became a minister, and I was engaging constantly on the development of the Government's education policy and wider policy in respect of the public services, and of course, I got to know the workings of Whitehall extremely well as a special adviser, and got to see a number of ministers, highly effective ministers, at first hand. I have to say, in my experience as a minister since, and now as a Secretary of State, being a special adviser was an absolutely invaluable apprenticeship, not only in the policy areas I was going to deal with but also in the art of being a minister, actually learning the trade. I have to say, if you ask me what was my second most useful experience after being a special adviser, rather to my surprise, I would say it was being a local councillor in my twenties. I was elected as a local councillor when I was 24 and I spent four years as a councillor, including four years on a planning committee, where you are dealing with very powerful vested interests and bureaucracies. Those four years as a member of a local council and on a planning committee were hugely useful to me in the trade of becoming a minister.

  Q70  Chairman: Some people say, not least people like Estelle Morris, that, even as a special adviser, you were acting like a minister.

  Lord Adonis: I do not think that is a fair description. I do not think it is actually a description that Estelle would herself subscribe to. The Prime Minister of the day had very clear views on education reform because, and in my experience, of course, advisers tend to reflect the preoccupations of their minister, where a Prime Minister or a minister has very strong views on an issue and is determined to put them into effect, of course, their advisers tend to come into the limelight in that respect.

  Q71  Chairman: This may all be wrong but I have David Blunkett saying here, "What is the bloody point of my being here? Who is the Education Secretary, me or Andrew Adonis?

  Lord Adonis: It was him, for the record, Chairman. It was not me.

  Q72  Chairman: Estelle Morris spoke of her frustration with what she said were "the Andrew Adonises of this world. Sometimes they were just plain wrong," she said. "It was my job, not their job. I was elected; they were not elected."

  Lord Adonis: She is absolutely correct. It was her job, and she was a very distinguished Education Secretary, who carried through big reforms. It was very much her job to be responsible for those reforms as Secretary of State.

  Q73  Chairman: Being a minister is a more natural role for you then being a special adviser, I think, is it not?

  Lord Adonis: They are very different roles. I would say rather than one being more natural, I found being a special adviser a very useful training for being a minister in due course but the whole point of being an adviser is that you advise. You are not responsible for implementation or the direction of policy, and it is important that advisers understand that. Where advisers want themselves to become players, then that tends to make the role very difficult.

  Q74  Chairman: Let me move to Lord West and ask the same question: what do you think someone like you brings to government?

  Lord West of Spithead: I think in my case I brought a deep background knowledge into the area that I was asked to be involved in. The Prime Minister asked me to come into government. I have to say, I was surprised when he asked me that. I thought when he asked to see me he might be asking me to give advice on something, and initially I was very reluctant to do it, for a number of reasons, not least because one is in the public eye, the media are always extremely difficult with politicians, and the family have to go through all of that. It actually meant taking a dramatic reduction in money. Money is not my driver but you have to think of your family in these things. It was a huge drop in income. Also, there are issues of security for my family and, actually, I knew I was going to have a very full and very busy programme. I had done that all my life, and I had had a nice break, earning lots of money and not having to work too hard, which was rather fun. Anyway, the Prime Minister convinced me how important he felt the security of this country was. I felt he really felt that. He showed me the latest threat assessment, which was really very bad, and he said, "I think you could do something to help make the country safer." I said, "I think there are probably people better than me who can do that." He said, "I don't know them, and I would like to ask you to do that." What did I bring? I suppose I had first fought against terrorists, although they were called Freedom Fighters then, 40 years before and I had been involved in counter-terrorism through my career on and off. I had a very deep knowledge of intelligence. I had had three years running naval intelligence and links with NATO, NATO intelligence. I had three years as Chief of Defence Intelligence. I was Deputy Chairman of the JIC for those three years, so very involved in the JIC and understood that. I knew a lot about crisis management, how to organise structures for that. I had helped with Cobra and those sort of areas, and of course, when one gets up to the top level within the military, you are dealing across Whitehall and I understood dealing with civil servants. I think all of those things together were very useful.

  Q75  Chairman: No minister has a fraction of that experience, so I can see why you would be turned to for assistance but you said yourself just now that you thought you might have been asked for advice; you did not expect to be asked to be a minister. What would be the difference if the Prime Minister simply said, "We want to tap your expertise. Come and advise us"? What is the difference and what is the advantage in being a minister rather than simply an adviser?

  Lord West of Spithead: What I found—and I was aware of it from when I was First Sea Lord, where one could debate and talk about things but you were very constrained in what you could actually do, because of control of money and things like that—is that as a minister you can actually deliver things and there were a set of things when I came to the job. I looked at what I thought was required, I laid those down in my own mind, I talked to the Prime Minister, and I think I pretty well delivered all that. There was a brand-new refreshing of our counter-terrorist strategy, a new national security strategy for the country. I was very worried about cyber security. We now have a cyber strategy and are pushing forward very fast with that, and a science and innovation strategy, because I felt we were not tying in industry and all the people in this country pulling together to confront terrorists. I was able to actually do that, and I have other things I do. Sometimes one has to be a bit delayed because some things need primary legislation, and I prefer not to get into the legislative thing; it is much better to have less legislation in a way. Some things are a little tricky so one has to be careful how one does that. However, if you are not a minister, you cannot do that so actually it does have utility, being a minister.

  Q76  Chairman: Had the Prime Minister asked you to go into the Ministry of Defence, would you have been troubled by that?

  Lord West of Spithead: I do not think that would have been appropriate at all. I know a huge amount about defence, if I may say so, but I think it would be wrong to do that. I would have been thoroughly hacked off if I had been the new First Sea Lord, or indeed any of the Chiefs of Staff, to find that West had suddenly lobbed in as a minister. Quite rightly, they would have been very hacked off by it.

  Q77  Chairman: Is that not the answer to the Dannatt issue? We had a former Cabinet Secretary sitting in front of us last week who said this was, in his words, "a major error". What do you say? You sound as though you think it is a major error as well.

  Lord West of Spithead: I do not know exactly what he has been offered and what he has not been offered or what is going on, to be quite honest.

  Q78  Chairman: Let us put it this way: if he were to finish up as a minister in the Ministry of Defence, as a former General ...

  Lord West of Spithead: Dannatt is a superb officer and a splendid man, who wears his heart on his sleeve. I think he made an error of judgement. He is still on full pay as an army officer until 22 November so he is fully in the army. The thought of saying, if he said this—and I am only going by what I read in the papers, that he is very much a member of the party and that there is an intention to make him a minister within the MoD. If that is what was said, if that is what is intended, then I think that is a terrible error. It was 14 months after I got my final pay packet from the Ministry that I was asked by the Prime Minister to come in, and even that was one of the issues that I thought about when I was thinking about it. I thought "This is quite close." He was asking me to be in a very different area where I think all my skills and expertise that I had got within the military helped, but it was not directly in that department. I know historically the last military man to go into government like that was Earl Alexander of Tunis in a Tory government in 1951 and he did go into the War Department, I think. So it has happened before but I do not think it is a good idea. I think it was an error and a mistake and I think he will regret it.

  Q79  Chairman: Thank you very much. Lord Darzi, could I ask you the same question about what you think you brought to government?

  Lord Darzi of Denham: Yes. To start with June 2007, as Lord West started, I was more or less in the same position. I got a phone call to see the Prime Minister. I had a 20-minute meeting with him. The first 10 minutes was about what I did in life. He was extremely charming, and halfway through he asked me whether I would serve in his government as Health Minister. I really did not know what to make of that. He caught me by surprise. I was reluctant to take office, for all sorts of reasons, but I understand in retrospect probably what his thinking was. If you take yourself back to June 2007, no-one would ever doubt what this Government has done in relation to the NHS when it comes to investment, when it comes to doubling its expenditure, a huge increase in the number of doctors and nurses—I could go on and on. In June 2007, if you look at the whole of the NHS and where it was, you come to one conclusion: the staff were not engaged, there were significant difficulties at the time that happened to some of the PCTs and their financial deficits, there was the MMC fiasco which was going on at the time. What did I bring in? Firstly, I am not a First Sea Lord. I was a private in the NHS, frontline staff, a working clinician, a consultant. What I enjoy in life is to treat my patients. I held the Chair of Surgery in Imperial, so I had a scientific background. What drove me throughout my career was quality and innovation. I did contribute to one piece of work as a clinician in London which I was very proud of, which was to lead the reform of health services in London. As you may know, the capital city has many challenges when it comes to health reform. That is really what I brought into the job. Whether I had to be a minister or an adviser, again, I had no feel as to that in June and in actual fact, I asked the Prime Minister whether I should be appointed as an adviser, and he was very reluctant to do that. His explanation at the time was that you needed to be a minister to make things happen and, in retrospect, I could not agree more with him. You can advise anyone. You have to remember as well, as a minister, as a minister I did receive advice from all quarters. Everyone wants to advise a minister but no-one is accountable to that advice and ultimately you have to make that decision. Being in a ministerial role, I felt certainly more conscious of that. You may know that I came in to do a project, a fairly large project, which was the Next Stage Review. It was highly focused. I had the support of all of my ministerial colleagues, so it was not just deciding on policy but I had the opportunity to implement, and that is very different. As an adviser, you do not actually implement things. You can advise people. I have always felt actually quite concerned about the minister I was advising because I knew that same person is being advised by all sorts of different lobbies, all sorts of different groups, and that is a very different role than a minister. So in retrospect I felt I made the right decision.

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