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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 139)



  Q120  Paul Flynn: I am just wondering about the political pressure on you. Other judgements would be that the incubation areas for terrorism are Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and other countries there, and in fact the Taliban having a vested interest in excluding Al Qaeda and potential terrorists.

  Lord West of Spithead: I could go into the detail. The answer is that I am not put under political pressure to give evidence or advice. For example, this afternoon we will be having a sub-committee of one of the NSID(A)[1] committees talking about the Horn of Africa and the advice I give will be pure advice. However, having said all that, clearly, if you are in a government, there will come a stage, as it did when I was Chief of Staff, where as a Chief of Staff at committee you will make a corporate judgement, and you may have fought very hard against certain parts of it but, if you accept that, you either then resign or you accept it. It is Cabinet responsibility, the same sort of thing. Clearly, that does apply as well.

  Paul Flynn: At the Merchant Navy Memorial Service you were glittering as Baron West of Spithead in your magnificent uniform. Are you not tempted to add a little glitter to this Committee by livening our drab apparel up by wearing your uniform more often?

  Q121  Chairman: Paul's first question, this change in mind about the detention period, the story was that you were leant on.

  Lord West of Spithead: I can honestly say that I was not leant on. I had already organised to go to Number 10 that day because I was going there for a breakfast that was being given for the team who had worked with me on one of the aspects of safety and protective security. They had done some really good work and the Prime Minister said, "I would like to have them for breakfast". I made that statement on the Today programme and then, of course, I was due to go to Number 10 already. When I was in there the Prime Minister did say, "Do you really believe, Alan, we shouldn't have 42 days?" and I said, "It's something that I'm still looking into in great depth". He did not say, "Well, you've got to say this, got to say that". He did not say that at all.

  Q122  Chairman: You do not strike me as a man who would be easily leant on anyway. I know that you have got to go at 11, so please do. It was kind of you to come along. Thank you very much.

  Lord West of Spithead: Thank you.

  Chairman: We are grateful to you two for staying a little longer. I know Paul has a particular reason to be grateful to Lord Darzi so I am going to ask him to turn his attention to you now.

  Q123  Paul Flynn: Last time we met was under rather unusual circumstances. I was actually lying on the floor of the Members' Dining Room and, while I was comforted to see your presence, in my semi-conscious state I did have a moment of alarm when I remembered that you were a surgeon, but then noticed you did not have your instruments with you. You were extremely kind. It was the day after you saved the life of Lord Brennan in the House of Lords. You have had an extraordinary political career that most politicians would be happy to look back on after a lifetime in politics, but you have been there for just two years. Why have you left?

  Lord Darzi of Denham: Thank you. I was not sure whether you would remember because I tried to make sure you did not see my face! Sometimes surgeons are much more precise than physicians. On that note, I am delighted you are much better. It is very kind of you to say that. Within three months of my appointment—it might be an attribute of my being a surgeon—I was very clear what my objectives were. I knew exactly what my tasks were. I wanted to lead a major review of the NHS, re-engage the staff, the public and the users of the service, which took me a year of very, very hard work. For the first time I felt that we managed to communicate the messages of reform. Although I am not a politician, we were talking about the means of reform, but the language was not right. The language was about payment by results, regulation and foundation trusts. That is what the language of politicians has become whereas, in actual fact, the language should be what patients want and what politicians promise to deliver, which is quality care. For me, that was quite a big task to do and I was not sure what the outcome of that would be. My confidence was built more and more throughout that first year because I felt that many staff across the NHS were engaging with this. I had a lot of cynicism in the beginning, people were very sceptical, "Why do we need another review?" There was review fatigue when I first took this job on. Building that confidence and building this from the bottom up was my one and most important objective. As an expert you constantly need to pinch yourself that you do not bring your own ideas of what this should be because experts sometimes have baggage and you have to remember that. I remember reading a couple of books about this. I had to challenge myself in relation to the thinking. I worked with exceptionally bright people in the Civil Service. They still recruit the highest quality people. It was a fantastic year and was very well received by all the stakeholders, including the media who were very supportive of what I was trying to do. Once I did that I felt it was very important that at least I see through the implementation of some of the enabling policy that I could promise as a Government minister to make those local visions happen, so I stayed for another year to make sure I got all of those policies through. At the end of those two years I felt that I had achieved what I could achieve through my expertise, what I had brought to the job. I have never extended my stay in any role in life, and I have held many leadership roles in the past. It was time to move on. On an individual basis, I was doing two jobs. What brings me to work is my patients, that is what I want to do. That might sound very strange to a lot of people and even in my own organisation when I came back they said, "Well, what are you going to do now?" That is what I love, that is what I do, and I went back to what I enjoy doing the most.

  Q124  Paul Flynn: Can you consolidate the value of the work that you did in your new position now, particularly in the international debate that is going on in America? Are you satisfied that it is not over now and your successors are not going to trash your legacy, the effect will continue and you are in a position to influence the future of those reforms?

  Lord Darzi of Denham: Very much so. The privilege of serving has also provided me with future opportunities to keep more of the responsible guardian role in what is happening in reform, and I will always speak in any forum in relation to where we are going as far as the NHS journey is concerned, whether that is national or, more importantly, international. We have this hang-up. We have an amazing healthcare system and sometimes we may beat it locally in the odd newspaper but on an international basis we have a lot to share with other people and to learn from. Whichever way you look at it, certainly at a time of economic downturn the cost of provision of healthcare, healthcare expenditure, is challenging to any government across the globe. We have to share our experiences, we have to learn from other people and we have an important leadership role to play here in the external side of things. I have been given this opportunity to do that and I promise I will do my best to make that happen. I very much hope that we will keep that momentum because the NHS is great to its citizens but it has a much bigger contribution to make globally.

  Q125  Paul Flynn: We can look forward to you saying that on FOX News in the future.

  Lord Darzi of Denham: I would be delighted to. I have done that and I have had all sorts of weird and wonderful phone calls, but that is life and you just get on and defend what you believe we have in this country.

  Q126  Paul Flynn: Lord Adonis, we remember you well as an Observer journalist and a Financial Times journalist as well. You are the odd one out in this group this morning in that you did not come in with a body of expert knowledge on one particular subject but you rapidly became the world's greatest expert on education and you are now the world's greatest expert on transport.

  Lord Adonis: I would not describe myself in those terms, Chairman. It is very kind of Mr Flynn to give me that appellation.

  Paul Flynn: Nothing but the plain truth from this Committee.

  Q127  Chairman: I think there was the slightest hint of irony there.

  Lord Adonis: I think Lord Darzi may have a better claim to being the world's greatest expert in his area.

  Q128  Paul Flynn: Would you say the way you have sort of butterflied around from subject to subject, unlike the other two, makes you more of a politician rather than someone who is plucked from outside because of your expert knowledge?

  Lord Adonis: I think that is absolutely a fair comment. As a special adviser, of course, you develop a body of expertise. I had been a special adviser for seven years before I became a minister and a good part of that had been spent working with a particular focus on education, so when I arrived at the Education Department as a minister in 2005 I had a good body of knowledge both of the education world in general and of the specific reform programmes which were being carried through. Whilst I certainly would not describe myself as the world's greatest expert in anything, apart from myself, I did have a body of knowledge and experience of government that was immensely useful when I became a minister.

  Q129  Paul Flynn: You were associated with something call the ABA, which is sometimes known as the Adonis-Blair Alliance, I believe it was, or Axis, as a plan to wrest control of education from public authorities. Was that part of the truth of things?

  Lord Adonis: I have not heard that one before as a secret movement that had not been revealed to the public. The prosaic truth is that I was the Prime Minister's adviser on education and we were carrying through a big programme of reform in schools that did seek to change the relationship. I will be quite open about it. It was no matter of secret policy at all. We were quite open in wanting to change the relationship between schools and local authorities so that headteachers and governors of schools could play a bigger role in directly managing their institutions because all the evidence is that having strong and effectively managed institutions that are responsible for their own fate tend to produce better results. It was no secret alliance and I was fulfilling a perfectly legitimate role as the Prime Minister's adviser.

  Q130  Paul Flynn: I am assured that ABA stood for Adonis-Blair Axis among the polite or Andrew Bloody Adonis among the less polite, which is disgraceful.

  Lord Adonis: It is very kind of you to point that out to me.

  Q131  Paul Flynn: Looking back at your political affiliations, which seem to be malleable, you were in the Liberal Democratic Party, which was more or less a political party, and you moved from there seamlessly to the Labour Party. What does it mean to you to have political convictions? Are these superficial and unnecessary?

  Lord Adonis: My political views have not changed substantially in my adult life. I was a member of the SDP when I was a student; the SDP ceased to exist and merged into the Liberal Democrats. How can I put this politely? The Labour Party under Tony Blair came to have more in common, indeed a very substantial identity of interest, with the Liberal Democrats on ideological matters and much more so than some of those ideological strains in the Labour Party which had predominated in the 1980s. For me, it has not involved any change in my fundamental political views. I am a modernising Social Democrat now and I was a modernising Social Democrat when I was a member of the SDP in the early to mid-1980s.

  Q132  Paul Flynn: Finally, you seem to be not only willing but eager to answer questions in the House of Commons.

  Lord Adonis: Absolutely.

  Q133  Paul Flynn: Would you like to talk about that?

  Lord Adonis: I think it is right that ministers in the Lords should be as accountable to the House of Commons as the House of Commons wishes to make them. Since I became Secretary of State on this particular issue, to have a head of department in the House of Lords, I have made it very clear that I would be willing to answer questions in the Commons in any way that they wish to make that possible. I already answer questions regularly in the Transport Select Committee. After I became Secretary of State I agreed with the Committee that after each Question Time session on the floor of the Commons I would engage with them in a departmental question session in the Transport Select Committee. There are departmental questions on Transport in the House today and the week after next I appear before the Transport Select Committee so that they have an opportunity to question me directly. That is apart from any subject inquiry. I also appear before them when they do specific subject inquiries. After the Speaker made his speech in August suggesting that Lords ministers who headed departments might answer questions in the Commons I made it clear that I would be very happy to do that. Indeed, as it happens, I met him this morning to discuss the idea further and we agreed that if the House was willing to do so it would be thoroughly desirable that the two heads of department who sit in the House of Lords would answer questions in an appropriate manner in the House of Commons. The discussion centred on whether that might work best in Westminster Hall rather than in the chamber. As I say, since I am already answering departmental questions in the Transport Select Committee this will be just a next step along that road.

  Q134  Chairman: Lord Darzi, similarly I have your letter to the Speaker in front of me, a rather fulsome tribute to the new Speaker followed by this offer to appear in the Commons. I wonder if this is going to be true of all unelected ministers, whether they are going to express a similar willingness to attend upon the House of Commons, even in the Chamber of the Commons?

  Lord Darzi of Denham: I use every opportunity I can to engage as many people as possible. The Select Committee was probably the best opportunity I had to give and explain the policies that I was doing. As far as the Commons is concerned, the rules do not allow you to do so but if the rules changed I cannot see a problem. We have to remember there is a slight difference here: I was the boy, the junior minister in the department. I had a very able secretary of state. I always felt I was part of a team that defended the case and the cause of what we were trying to do through the Next Stage Review in the most eloquent way in the House of Commons. If the House of Commons wanted me to appear in a different forum, or even in the Chamber, I could not see any difficulty. In actual fact, I went off and engaged Opposition spokespeople during my review, to have coffees with them to explain what I was trying to do, which was also very atypical.

  Q135  Chairman: You are right to make the distinction between a junior minister and a secretary of state. It particularly arises in relation to a secretary of state. Despite the figures on the whole being consistent on the number of unelected ministers since the post-war period, I think we are at a high point at the moment in terms of non-elected secretaries of state and that is where the issue particularly cuts.

  Lord Adonis: It is true in that we do have two secretaries of state in the House of Lords but, of course, the Lord Chancellor, pre the latest reforms, was tantamount to a secretary of state. The Lord Chancellor ran a department, and a very important one. It was quite often the case that you had a secretary of state in the House of Lords and, of course, the Lord Chancellor, so having three Cabinet ministers in the Lords, of whom two headed departments, has been a frequent occurrence in recent decades.

  Q136  Mr Liddell-Grainger: I am intrigued at you taking something in a Labour Government because you seem to be so above the common fray. Had you given any donations to the Labour Party or had you gone to fundraising events?

  Lord Darzi of Denham: Before I started, absolutely no donations. Since I started there was the membership of some club, or something like that, which I registered to, but I had not given any donations before.

  Q137  Mr Liddell-Grainger: I am absolutely intrigued that you took it on. The other point that I find interesting is that you continued to work when you were a minister.

  Lord Darzi of Denham: Yes.

  Q138  Mr Liddell-Grainger: I have just been quickly reading something that says you like Top Gear and you have just about Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning to see your family, which I suppose resonates with some of us. It is a fairly remarkable achievement to be able to continue to work and push through some health reforms in two years. Were you completely knackered by the end of it?

  Lord Darzi of Denham: No way am I going to say it was not challenging, it was challenging, but it was very important for me to do my clinical work. I did say what brings me to work is to do what I do. Also, it kept me grounded. The idea of faffing around for three days a week and your private office and car and everything else, when I arrived on Friday the nurse in the theatre reminded me who I am; I was not a minister in the operating theatre. That was very important for me in all sorts of ways. I could tell you on numerous occasions I discussed ideas of policy with my colleagues. That was very important for me. You are right, it was very atypical. I have looked at the history of Parliament and I know that you have never had an active clinician holding a ministerial post.

  Q139  Mr Liddell-Grainger: That is the point I am coming on to. What makes it more remarkable is that you were doing two jobs. We are castigated for doing two jobs. You did it and you did it successfully, which I find remarkable. Could you have done four years if you wanted to? Do you think it would have been too much?

  Lord Darzi of Denham: Yes. I was giving it full drive for a period. You have to remember, I was operating all day Friday and all day Saturday. I finished work at seven o'clock on Saturday evening and then they would give me the dreaded Red Box on Sunday that you have to go through and be completely ready for the week after. It was quite tough. That was not the reason why I left, I must say, although that was partly the reason. I felt I had done what I was brought in to do and that was what was very important. It is a bit like surgery, you need to know when you have done the job and discharge the patient.

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