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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



  Q80  Chairman: Finally from me, looking at Lord Darzi and Lord West really, did it occur to you at all that one reason why Prime Ministers might like people like you on the ticket, a First Sea Lord, a distinguished surgeon, is to give a bit of glitter to the administration?

  Lord Darzi of Denham: I do not think that was in any way the motive of such an appointment.

  Q81  Chairman: No, but did it occur to you that that could be a motive?

  Lord Darzi of Denham: No, not at the time, and certainly not subsequently. What was important for me, being a surgeon working in the NHS, is the credibility in engaging the near enough 60,000 people that I engaged in the process of the review. We were speaking the same language and we were trying to really see how reform ... The whole purpose of reform changed, where government became the strategic adviser, empowering the consumer and allowing the professionals to exercise their skills and professionalism.

  Lord West of Spithead: If I may say on that, that did cross my mind because, of course, it does add a certain glitter and it would be stupid to think that might not be the case. That was one of the factors that I was weighing up when I was in two minds about not doing it. That is why I made certain that I was convinced myself that the Prime Minister did feel that the security and safety of the nation was the primary concern that he had, and when I had convinced myself that was the case and he had shown me that threat, I was happy to move forward. Of course it adds glitter to the thing; it would be silly to pretend it did not. I could see that there is that as well.

  Q82  Chairman: I do not want you to think, Andrew, that the glitter question does not apply to you.

  Lord Adonis: I added no glitter, apart from my name, which is very exotic.

  Q83  Mr Walker: You talk about your reluctance to accept a peerage. I have to say, it sounds like a dreadful job to me: no elections, no constituents, legislating for life once you finish being a minister. Who would want that? Seriously, given your reluctance to take on this awesome burden, do you think a future Prime Minister, for example, David Cameron, will struggle to find talented people who want to become peers? If that is the case, would it not be better to get rid of this peerage nonsense and actually allow people to become ministers who do not have to take a seat in the House of Lords, move more towards the American system, where we have the separation of powers, for example, so David Cameron or Gordon Brown is free to pick from a talented pool of 60 million people? You, Lord West, would come and serve for three years. You might even be paid more than you are paid now—indeed, I hope so—and then, at the end of three years, when you have either had enough of Gordon Brown or he has had enough of you, or you want to go and earn more money, you can say, "Thanks very much. I have served my country once again. Now I will retire back to private life." Would that not be a good idea? Lord Adonis, you have never been slow in coming forward.

  Lord Adonis: Do I think that would be a worthwhile reform? My personal view is yes, I would support such a reform. I think it would be thoroughly worthwhile to make it possible to bring people into government who are not Members of either House, provided they are properly accountable. There would need to be proper arrangements in place in this House and in the House of Lords for them to be questioned. I would support that but I am also a constitutional historian who knows that this mediaeval constitution of ours changes very slowly and I think it would take a huge effort to bring about such a change. I imagine that the Commons collectively and the Lords collectively would be opposed because of course it would breach the closed shop in both cases.

  Q84  Mr Walker: Lord West, what about an idea being proposed by my leader, that Lords if we could not make the constitutional leap, people come into the Lords, serve for three or four years as a sort of acting peer, and then, having finished serving, they would leave the Lords and go back to private life? Do you think that is something that is worth considering?

  Lord West of Spithead: I think it is probably worth considering, yes. I have to say, you talk about legislating for life—I do not intend sitting doing political work constantly when I finish doing the job I have.

  Q85  Mr Walker: But you will be a crossbencher?

  Lord West of Spithead: I will of course be in the Lords, so one has some involvement. One of the things I have found very attractive about the Lords is, although difficult if you are a minister, on any subject you talk about, one of certainly this country's greatest experts, sometimes the world's greatest expert, is there to fire questions at you. In the Lords you cannot shout "Ya, boo, you lot were rubbish last time." You actually have to answer the question. So it is quite tricky, and that is one of the strengths of it. I think the fact that one knew one was going into that chamber and would be in that chamber and how much you got involved in politics thereafter, I think that has an attraction. It is not the ultimate attraction.

  Q86  Mr Walker: I would be hugely attracted to it, to be honest.

  Lord West of Spithead: That does have an attraction and you have to make things attract because, as I say, actually, people step in from outside and although money might not be the driver, if you have always been in public service, although we are adequately paid, you suddenly discover how much money you can make elsewhere, and not doing that is quite a—

  Q87  Mr Walker: You did that for 14 months.

  Lord West of Spithead: Exactly!

  Q88  Mr Walker: You said you got your last packet and 14 months later you were in the Lords, but in between that you were earning fortunes.

  Lord West of Spithead: My income went up dramatically, yes, and I had to give up all that.

  Q89  Mr Walker: In the area of defence?

  Lord West of Spithead: No, in a number of areas.

  Q90  Mr Walker: Lord Darzi?

  Lord Darzi of Denham: I would have taken that offer if it was on the table when this was discussed in June but I have to point out in retrospect—because I have left now and I can say what I want to say—being in Parliament, the parliamentary experience, was a very valuable thing to do. I took three bills through Parliament. For me, the learning experience, standing on my feet, debating something—and you may call me an expert but I am not an expert in everything in healthcare—standing up, defending what I am trying to do, being held accountable in the chamber ... I was called in three times to the Health Select Committee on my own to defend what I was doing. That is what makes democracy in this country. Do not lose that. I would not do away with that accountability. That I think would have a negative impact. There is a bit of a paradox in the questioning because the Chairman clearly said what gives you the power if you are unelected. I think the accountability in the chamber and also in the Health Select Committee was what kept me, the steer. I enjoyed that, I defended it, and it gave me all the opportunities I needed. In the future, in the next 20, 30 years, whether I am going to be a contributor in debates, I will certainly be there for health debates. I think it is interesting; when I was in the chamber, when I look at the peers who were debating on my Bill, most of them, if I could just say, most of the ones who made some significant contribution to the Bill and improved the health of the Bill were previous and ex-ministers in the last 20 years. That is very important because that experience was very valuable to me in the chamber, but I also consulted many ex-ministers outside the chamber.

  Mr Walker: A 15-second question. I think actually the three of you are very talented and you have been huge successes. Would you serve in a Conservative government if you were asked to by David Cameron?

  Chairman: Who are you looking at?

  Q91  Mr Walker: All of them. Lord West?

  Lord West of Spithead: The yes-no answer is rather difficult. I have to say, probably because I am a military officer, I feel a sense of loyalty, and as I was asked to come in, I think that would be disloyal. However, if there was something that was actually, I felt, crucial to the security and safety of my nation, I would do a job and I would not care, almost, who I did it for.

  Q92  Mr Walker: We would be lucky to have you. Lord Adonis?

  Lord Adonis: No.

  Q93  Mr Walker: Oh, come on! Lord Darzi?

  Lord Darzi of Denham: I have done my bit as a minister but I am always there to assure the NHS's values and principles—that is what brought me in. I was not recruited for my political experience and expertise. I have none. However, I could tell you that medical politics is sometimes more vicious than politics in Whitehall! I was brought in to really deal with the values and principles of the NHS, and I would advise anyone in relation to the principles and values and how we keep the NHS going, but I am not pursuing a political career. I have no real interest in doing that and I have been frank about that from day one.

  Q94  Chairman: Fortunately, Charles will be available to Mr Cameron, so all will be well. Just on one aspect of that exchange, what I would quite like to know is whether when you had that initial discussion about becoming a minister anybody told you what being a minister was all about.

  Lord Darzi of Denham: No. I could just tell you also, if I appointed someone in my department, for the first three months, I would sit down and tell them exactly how it works. To be fair, my private office did a lot to get me on the level as far as the policy-making in the department but no-one took me to the side to say what it means to be a minister. To be fair, my views about politics and politicians and ministers and what they do completely changed, because they make a huge amount of sacrifices.

  Q95  Chairman: What you say about accountability is interesting. When we had Digby Jones in front of us, who does not, I think, count as one of the conspicuous success stories of the Government, his line was, "I do not want to do all these boring ministerial things. I do not want to give evidence to committees. I do not want to take bills through the Commons. I want to be off selling the country in trade missions, that kind of thing." If nobody explains what the grinding work of being a minister is in terms of this political accountability, it is a funny thing to sign up to, is it not?

  Lord West of Spithead: It was an enormous failure. You are absolutely right. It was like doing an A-level a night on some of these things, which were not to do with security. When I find I am answering questions on female genital mutilation, drug testing on gorillas, this is something I had not quite expected to do. It has been very good for my brain. I can actually learn poetry again now, that is not quite what I expected, I have to say, and it is a very broad spread. I think I am probably a better person for it at the end of it, because one has to get to grips with all of that and that is good.

  Lord Darzi of Denham: I think the success of a minister is to convert yourself from being an expert into a generalist. A lot of what I did in the chamber was a more generalist thing and I thought that was very useful, bringing an expert view into a generalist debate.

  Lord Adonis: On the issue of accountability, if as a minister you are not prepared to be fully accountable to Parliament, you have no place in being a minister. A good part of the job of being a minister is to explain the policy of the Government to Parliament, to answer questions and to engage in a constant dialogue. I think it was Attlee who said that democracy is government by discussion. Unless you have ministers who are constantly prepared to discuss, including in Parliament, you have no democracy. You asked what was the most surprising aspect of being a minister. I had been an adviser before so I had some idea of what the job of a minister was. What most surprised me on reflection, looking back at it over the last four years, was the impact that public exposure has on your life. As an adviser I had been occasionally in the news. I had not realised that you become public property when you become a minister. The first day I was a minister I had a bank of cameras outside my house, because it was an appointment of some transient controversy. Nothing really prepares you for that, except, I think, possibly being an MP. I think actually being an MP in terms of the public exposure probably prepares you for that side of being a minister quite well. There are very few other professions where you get the degree of public exposure and, at times, controversy, which prepares you for that side of being a minister. I know from some of my colleagues who have gone into the House of Lords and become ministers that that can become quite an issue. They suddenly become public figures to an extent that they had not realised would happen when they became ministers.

  Q96  Chairman: Yes. That cannot be true of Lord Mandelson, can it?

  Lord Adonis: He had had quite a lot of experience before.

  Q97  Julie Morgan: Following on from Charles's questions, do you think to be a successful minister you should be a member of the same party as the governing party, or at least have sympathy with the views of the governing party?

  Lord West of Spithead: I do not think you have to be a member of that party. Clearly, you have to take the government whip. It would be wrong to be a minister and not take the government whip, I think. I think you have to have sympathy. I think it would be impossible if every fibre of your being was against things that were their policy. I cannot see how that could work but I do not believe you have to be a member of the party and fully tied into it all, but I think you have to have a sympathy for it. If you are the opposite, I just do not think you could do it. I do not think you could be a minister of the government.

  Q98  Julie Morgan: So did you join the Labour Party?

  Lord West of Spithead: I am not a member of the Labour Party, no.

  Q99  Julie Morgan: From your responses, you would feel from a sense of duty that you would be able to serve under a Conservative government?

  Lord West of Spithead: No, I said I would not do it because I am a loyal sort of chap and I have worked for Gordon, but I said if in the future at some stage there was something where I felt and people thought they needed me to do something for the security of my nation, then certainly, as I think I did two and a bit years ago, I would do it, possibly—my wife might not let me but we would see.

  Lord Adonis: You have to be completely in sympathy with the ideology of the government to be a successful minister. Parties are broad churches and you often have members of parties that form governments who are not in sympathy with the predominant ideological stance being taken by the head of the government but you could not be a successful minister if you were not, and indeed, it would be a bizarre act on the part of the Prime Minister to appoint as a minister somebody who was not broadly in sympathy with the policy of the government.

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