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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)

THURSDAY 22 OCTOBER 2009

RT HON LORD ADONIS, PROFESSOR LORD DARZI OF DENHAM KBE AND ADMIRAL LORD WEST OF SPITHEAD GCB, DSC

  Q100  Julie Morgan: And you are a member?

  Lord Adonis: I am of course a member of the Labour Party, yes.

  Lord Darzi of Denham: I do not think being a member is relevant here, certainly in my task. I said it earlier: this is the government which for 10 years has done huge amounts for the NHS, and I truly believe in the NHS's values and principles and what it is trying to achieve and contribute. With the Next Stage Review on High Quality of Care for All, one of the most gratifying comments I heard towards the end was that we had depoliticised the NHS. If you look at where we are as far as satisfaction rates of patients, public, staff—and I am not in any way claiming that it was because of me. One thing we have not touched on is that I felt very much a member of a team. I had a boss who was extremely supportive and sympathetic in everything I did, Alan Johnson. What I brought in my role was not party politics. It was NHS-related and how do we reform it, but I was very sympathetic to what this Government has done and always have been in relation to the NHS.

  Q101  Julie Morgan: So did you join the Labour Party?

  Lord Darzi of Denham: Yes, but I had no affiliation to any party before I started. I felt at the time it was very important. You are part of the government. You cannot just say "I have different views and I am out here." That is very, very important. You go in there to do a job and that is what I went to do.

  Q102  Julie Morgan: In the 20-minute discussion that you had with the Prime Minister did he ask you about your political sympathies and whether you were prepared to join the party?

  Lord Darzi of Denham: Absolutely not, no.

  Q103  Julie Morgan: Was at the same with you, Lord West?

  Lord West of Spithead: He said to me that as a minister I would have to take the government whip. That was all, and I understood that, and I think that is right. I think you do have to have a sympathy. I could not possibly do it if I felt everything they were doing in other areas was wrong. It would be impossible. You have to have sympathy with it all, or I do not think it would be possible.

  Q104  Julie Morgan: Lord Darzi, now that you are not a minister, do you sit as a Labour peer?

  Lord Darzi of Denham: I have not been back to the House, and I think all of that depends on what you are doing. I hold all sorts of other roles in life, leadership roles, and I think I would need to get the consent of different people to see whether that has any impact on my role as a clinician and an academic. I have not been back to the chamber.

  Q105  Chairman: Just on the roles, could you tell us, because we are looking at tsars and those sort of people that we do not quite understand. You have become something else, have you not? You have become—is it an ambassador?

  Lord Darzi of Denham: Yes, an ambassador for health and life sciences, which I was very grateful to receive. It took me a while to understand what it actually meant. Ambassador was not a title I was accustomed to before. What does that role entail? I have certainly been involved over the last few months in all sorts of different debates relating to health care and life sciences. I could go through them if you wish.

  Q106  Chairman: It relates to other people who have similar roles. Do you get support from the official machine to do that?

  Lord Darzi of Denham: There is one activity that I am doing at the moment called NHS Global, which is something we are doing the thinking through, and I have civil service support in relation to that. This whole concept is, if I can just say, all to do with aspirations. That is, I think, one of the things that I was very keen to bring to the Department of Health at the time. We spend £110 billion of taxpayers' money and any chief executive of any company which has a turnover of £110 billion a year should have some global aspirations. There is a lot that the NHS has done for the last 60 years that could be beneficial to many countries across the globe, and we are working on that piece of policy and I have support for that. That is not necessarily the ambassadorial role. That is a piece of work I am doing for the department. The ambassadorial role, if I need support, I could always contact certainly my ex-office or a couple of individuals whose names I have been given to contact. I could give you a few examples of what I did. I stepped down on 21 July and I decided for the first time that I would take two and a half or three weeks holiday, which I have never done before. I found myself within my first week, while I was on a beach somewhere, picking up the paper on the way back, and the headline was some of the right-wing attacks on the NHS and death panels and all sorts of things like that, which was quite alarming for me. The reason it was more alarming for me was because I work in the NHS. We recruit people from abroad and we actually send a lot of our gifted people to the US and other places. The NHS brand is very important for all of us. So I found myself while I was there writing an editorial with someone at Imperial for the Washington Post. My inbox was filled with 3,000 emails from the US. I went to the US to do an interview with CNBC, C-SPAN, just making the case for what the NHS is all about, and I felt very strongly about that. In actual fact, I feel more strongly about that than anything I felt very strongly about during my ministerial post, because this was the pride of our nation. That was not party political; to be fair, all parties actually supported that cause and what we were trying to do in defending the brand of the NHS. That is what I have been doing. That probably could be defined as an ambassadorial role.

  Q107  Chairman: And bits of surgery?

  Lord Darzi of Denham: Oh yes, very much.

  Kelvin Hopkins: Charles Walker rather stole my question, which was the question I was going to ask about whether you would serve under a Conservative government. I may say that the prospect of Charles Walker being a minister is for me one of the few attractions of a Conservative government.

  Mr Walker: No chance!

  Kelvin Hopkins: Seriously, you are three very distinguished, immensely able people and you have made a significant contribution, but was your role made easier by the almost infinitesimal philosophical difference between Tony Blair and the core of the Conservative leadership? I say this because it is not just my view. I was speaking to a senior Conservative backbencher shortly after the last election and he said, "If Tony Blair came to our party tomorrow, he would be our leader tomorrow." Did that difference make it easy to be a member of a government which was no different at the leadership level, from the alternatives? Did it make it easier for you, given that some of you came from non-party political backgrounds? Andrew obviously came from a party political background.

  Q108  Chairman: I think the question is, because the tent was so big, was it easier to get inside it?

  Lord Adonis: I was inside it already, Chairman, so for me it was not an issue. I think it is more a question for my colleagues who were not. Can I make one point about this partisanship issue? One of the features of the House of Lords which is simply a characteristic of an assembly that includes a lot of experts, people who have not fought elections, is that it tends to be less partisan than the House of Commons. So as a minister in the House of Lords, you tend to act in a less partisan way by nature of the assembly that you are part of. It does not mean to say you do not hold your views as strongly as ministers in the House of Commons but it does not operate as an essentially partisan assembly in the way that the House of Commons does. Ministers who act in a very partisan way in the Lords tend to go down very badly in the chamber. The House of Lords is essentially a chamber of experts in the way that it sees itself. It does not see itself as essentially a hard-edged, party political assembly. The bipartisanship can appear much more powerful in the Lords than in fact it is; underlying the extremely decorous proceedings and the absence of party political cut and thrust in fact are people who do have strongly held views, as you have heard from the three of us.

  Q109  Kelvin Hopkins: Partisanship we can talk about, but in the Commons there are two sorts of partisanship. There is tribal loyalty, "Ya boo, we are Labour, you are Conservative" and all that, but there are also philosophical differences between people who call themselves Social Democrats or Socialists and people who call themselves free market neo-liberals or whatever. That is the real difference.

  Lord Adonis: Of course, that difference is present in the House of Lords too.

  Q110  Kelvin Hopkins: Yes, but that difference can be evident when members put forward a view which is an alternative view to yours but even in the same party.

  Lord Adonis: All of the parties represented here today are broad churches and they have people who hold a range of views, but of course, there is a broad division between left and right which is as marked between the political parties in the House of Lords as it is in the House of Commons.

  Q111  Kelvin Hopkins: Lord Darzi mentioned democracy—he was I think the first of you to mention democracy. When the electorate votes, they are, in theory at least, offered a choice between two different philosophies, and these philosophies they expect to be represented in Parliament, both in the Lords and in the Commons. Has it not been a disappointment to the electorate that they have not got what they expected, and that people like yourselves, admirable and intelligent and capable though you are, do not present philosophical choice, if there is a swing to the left or the right?

  Lord Adonis: I think you have heard from the three of us, and speaking for my colleagues, that we do hold views strongly. We are not, as it were, above the fray, experts acting independently of ideological convictions at all. On the contrary; we hold strong views which are in sympathy with the party that we serve in government. I do not think the fact that we are not elected makes any difference to the strength of our convictions or the strength of the choice that is offered to the electorate.

  Q112  Kelvin Hopkins: Do you not represent the ultimate point in the drift towards managerialism in government, where there is no philosophical difference? In fact, you are managers representing a predetermined and decided philosophy, and you are all pursuing that. Would you feel comfortable, for example, if there were to be a government of the left elected?

  Lord Adonis: I believe there is a government of the left in office at the moment, and I am proud to be a member of it. I do not think I share that analysis. I think the issue in respect of ministers who are not Members of the House of Commons is whether they can add to the strength of the government as an executive. I do not believe that their role is to dilute the clarity of the choice that is offered to the electorate or to make the government in any way less committed to the programme on which it was elected.

  Q113  Kelvin Hopkins: Right at the beginning you said you were pleased to serve as a special adviser to the Prime Minister, as Head of Policy at Downing Street and so on. You were admiring of Tony Blair's drive, his determination to drive through a particular view from the centre. In the process, of course—and it happened before as well as after, but particularly after—those forces in society which act as a kind of break on wilful Prime Ministers have all been diminished. I am talking about the Cabinet, especially the Cabinet; the Civil Service, which has been brought into line in a sense, I think; local government, which has I think been cut off at the knees, trade unions equally so; the political parties—in our own political party there have been enormous efforts to strip out opposition within it. The only opposition that we finish up with is the media, which is why Tony Blair, no doubt, with your assistance, was so concerned about the media, because it is the one area which he could not actually control.

  Lord Adonis: I do not agree with any part of that analysis. Would you like me to go through it?

  Q114  Chairman: Unfortunately, we do not have time to explore it.

  Lord West of Spithead: I have to say I could not agree with that analysis either but one thing that has surprised me, because I was not aware of it before—I was not a political animal at all because I do not think it is right that you should be when you are in the services— is that I was surprised that Parliament does not have more power. I was surprised that the power of some of these committees, which I think are important to come before, does not seem to be as great as it should be, and it does seem to me that Parliament seems to have lost some of the power that I remember from lectures way back in time it had, and the executive is able to have really quite a lot of power.

  Chairman: I think we would like to hear more from you on that.

  Q115  Kelvin Hopkins: That was my last question about Parliament.

  Lord West of Spithead: There were some other things. I am sorry, I could not agree with a whole raft of those, I am afraid.

  Q116  Chairman: We might come back to what you just said right at the end, if we may, because that is extremely interesting for us.

  Lord West of Spithead: Mr Chairman, I have a problem and I will have to go shortly after 11.

  Q117  Chairman: In that case, say it to us now. Having dangled that in front of us, tell us how we could do better.

  Lord West of Spithead: I do not think I am able to say how—

  Q118  Chairman: Tell us how inadequate we are then.

  Lord West of Spithead: I just think that, bearing in mind that you are an elected House, which gives you huge power effectively, because people have voted for you and elected you, it does seem when I have been talking to people and seeing what is going on that an awful lot of the backbenchers have very little ability to actually impact on what is going on and the ability of the House sometimes to call the Government to account—and I approve of the things this Government have done but any government needs to be called to account, and I do not think we are as good at that as I think probably historically, but I am not, I regret, very knowledgeable of this, as you are, Mr Chairman, but I do not think it has the same ability to do that as it used to, and I think that is very dangerous if you lose that ability. I think we need to look very carefully at how that can be done in the future. I am not very clear, I am afraid, because I do not have great detailed knowledge.

  Q119  Paul Flynn: Can I ask something before you go? You were appointed as an independent expert. There was some speculation about a change of mind you had on the 28 days' detention and whether it was as a result of your own knowledge of security or whether there was any political pressure. Can we take the contemporary situation, where we hear opposition parties and the Government saying that the greatest security risks come from Afghanistan and from the Taliban when the evidence suggests that all the security threats to Britain have come from Pakistan and from Al Qaeda or are home-grown. Do you go along with what appears to be a self-serving political fiction of suggesting that there is a terrorist threat from specifically Afghanistan or the Taliban or do you go on your own judgement?

  Lord West of Spithead: I do not think the way this has been put across is exactly as you say. I have no doubt whatsoever that our actions in Afghanistan, the initial invasion, did actually stop huge training camps that were there. We actually dismantled laboratories that were beginning to produce some very nasty things. We drove the people involved in that, a large number of them, across into the FATA in Pakistan. I have no doubt whatsoever that if we just disappeared from Afghanistan tomorrow, just went, that that space would be filled again with a lot of those from the FATA and it would be a real risk for us. So I do believe that this has a direct relationship to this country. There is no doubt that 80% of all the cases that come across my desk have a link to the FATA area and therefore I do believe this has a real impact.


 
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