Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
MP AND RT
27 JULY 2010
Q40 Chair: If you are taken to court
over this we will obviously have to come back to it.
Mr Maude: I think it would be
a great pity if this did end up in court. This is something that
should be negotiated. All the unions have accepted that the scheme
as it is is indefensible and not sustainable and it will be a
very great pity with the goodwill that certainly exists on our
side if we could not agree a long-term, sustainable and affordable
scheme which particularly builds in fairness for the lower paid,
which is really important.
Q41 Kevin Brennan: Just one very
brief question on what you said earlier in your evidence that
there were many people in the Civil Service who do not actually
have a job to do and it was unkind to them to keep them in a job.
Could you give us some actual examples?
Mr Maude: There are in most departments
I think what is called a redeployment pool, people for whom there
is actually no job who are kind of treading water. The reason
for that is the current scheme makes it prohibitively expensive
to go through the process of making them redundant. That does
not seem to me to be any way to treat people.
Q42 Chair: Any further questions
on the Superannuation Bill? We recognise its importance and it
is our only opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny and I am
very grateful for that. We have a number of other areas we would
like to ask you about in a slightly different order than you may
have been briefed. We have just approved two inquiries. We want
to ask you about quango reform, public spending cuts, the Big
Society and the work of the Cabinet Office. One of the two main
inquiries we have just approved will be about strategic thinking
and government and who does UK grand strategy. With the creation
of the National Security Council as the strategic part of government
for a broad definition of national security, would you say, as
Baroness Neville-Jones described it, that the National Security
Council is the primary body for developing strategy within government?
Mr Letwin: Perhaps I could answer
that, Chairman. I sit on the National Security Council and have
been considerably involved in the thinking that led up to its
creation. Yes, I recognise the description that Pauline Neville-Jones
gives of it. The intention behind the National Security Council
is to ensure that government does not think about the elements
of national securitydefence, foreign policy and diplomacy,
our international aid programme, our energy security, our intelligence
services and indeed our domestic security apparatus partially
operated through the Home Officeas separate blocs, which
we had analysed as being a problem for a very long time. This
is not a partisan remark about the last few years; we think there
has been a long-running problem in British government in not being
able to put together all those things in a rational framework.
The meetings of the National Security Council so far, (which incidentally
has met, I think I am right in saying, more than any other Cabinet
committee; I sit on almost all of the Cabinet committees and it
is certainly the one I am conscious of meeting much more frequently
than others), the meetings have covered a very wide terrain and
not only have looked at operational issues, principally of course
Afghanistan as is perfectly public information, but also have
begun the work of organising the thought processes of the Strategic
Defence and Security Review. It is through the SDSR that we hope
in the first instance to bring together consideration of all of
these elements of our security. The intention is to make sure
that instead of doing something because we have been doing it
or doing something because it is a departmental agenda to do it,
we instead work out what it is that we need to do within the envelope
of expenditure that the country can in present circumstances afford
in order to provide maximum security for the population of this
country. That is the starting point for all our investigations.
That obviously leads you into many areas which you, Chairman,
have had a long history of thinking about and many other members
of the Committee and many other colleagues in Parliament have
thought about, and needless to say some of those are very detailed
and some of them are very general and we are trying to put all
of that together in a rational outcome that allocates resources
where they are most fruitful.
Q43 Chair: Our inquiry will be concerned
primarily with the process of generating strategy rather than
with what the strategy actually is. You say we do all this thinking.
A Cabinet committee or the National Security Council is essentially
a decision-making body. Where is the thinking done? What is the
capacity that the Government has across the departmental strategic
thinking and how is the strategy developed and then sustained
in the light of events?
Mr Letwin: The first point I should
make is that the National Security Council is not actually just
a decision-making body, it is subject to Cabinet for that, but
it is also a place for thinking. These meetings that I am describing
may sound unfamiliar because it has not been how government has
been organised for a long time, but we are operating genuinely
a Cabinet government and the meetings are genuine efforts to discuss
things. Of course, they have to be supported by work going on
underneath, to which I think you are referring. Sir Peter Ricketts,
the Prime Minister's National Security Adviser, has a team working
with him drawn from around Whitehall, the purpose of which is
to bring together consideration from all the relevant departments
so that as the proceedings of the National Security Council either
operationally or strategically or in terms of resource allocation
proceed we are well-advised on what each of the department's views
are and on what objectives could be realised by different kinds
of action and, in short, the entire analytical apparatus is provided
to the National Security Council. I do stress that the National
Security Council itself is then engaged in a process of trying
to think through strategy, operation and resource; it is not simply
putting a rubber stamp on some thinking done somewhere else.
Q44 Chair: Does this have any relationship
with what the Cabinet Office call the Strategy Unit?
Mr Letwin: No. Perhaps, Chairman,
it would be helpful if I were to describe the various organisations
that are relevant here and their relative roles.
Q45 Chair: I am sure it would.
Mr Letwin: Within Number 10 there
is a Policy Unit. The Director of Policy, James O'Shaughnessy,
is in charge of it and that is linked with the Strategy Unit which
is part of the Cabinet Office but operates in close working relationship
with the Policy Unit. Between them they help me and the Prime
Minister to work on specific cross-departmental tasks or development
of policy tasks mainly in the domestic sphere. At the moment they
are not working, I believe, in any area to do with national security.
Q46 Robert Halfon: What is the difference
between the Strategy Unit and the Policy Unit?
Mr Letwin: The primary difference
between the Strategy Unit and the Policy Unit is that the Policy
Unit is composed of special advisers, who therefore bring to the
task a political and ideological orientation, whereas the Strategy
Unit is composed of permanent and temporary civil servants who
bring analytical orientation. The teams working on any given area
of policy review tend to combine those two aspects, much as was
achieved within the old Policy Unit under previous administrations.
It remains the case, as indeed it used to be with the Policy Unit
in days gone by, that that whole apparatus is not focused on national
security issues at all. The National Security Adviser, as I say,
has a group of officials (who do not include special advisers)
working under him and those people are working on national security
issues. There are of course from time to time the possibilities
of things interacting and discussions then occur.
Q47 Chair: How many people does the
National Security Adviser have?
Mr Letwin: He is building up his
group of people and I do not know exactly the number that are
working for him at present.
Q48 Chair: Is it five, ten, 50 or
Mr Letwin: No, I do not think
it is either of those. It is a smallish number but it will probably
grow to a slightly larger number. I do not think he has anywhere
Q49 Robert Halfon: Are the departments
working successfully and collaboratively regarding the creation
of the NSC and, if they are not, what are the barriers that face
Mr Letwin: I have to say that
so far as the national security discussions have gone, and I am
trying to recall all of them briefly in my mind, I cannot think
of a single instance in which anything we have discussed has turned
into a Coalition issue. There have been inevitably many points
of view but they have not been distributed on this side Liberal
Democrats, on that side Conservatives, but rather a point of view
of a ministry of a particular kind as opposed to a point of view
of a ministry of another kind. Maybe the Committee will wish to
pursue this further. I do not at all mean to suggest that there
have not been any Coalition issues in any field but in the natural
security context I cannot think of a single one. I think that
is partly because the two parties actually approached these issues
to begin with in a very similar way with the exception of one
or two issues which were resolved in our original agreement.
Q50 Robert Halfon: Other than what
you said about the Cabinet committees and the policy and strategic
point, in practice how do Ministers make strategy? What role do
they have? How are you supported in the way that is done?
Mr Letwin: The first thing I should
say is that in relation to the National Security Council I am
simply one of the members of it whereas Sir Peter Ricketts, who
is the National Security Adviser, has a very special role. Mine
is simply that of being a ministerial participant in the discussion
so I am simply supported by my private office in that function.
To try to capture the way in which strategy is made is of course
different, but I think I can best try to explain it by saying
that the role of the National Security Adviser and his staff has
been to ensure that the Council is faced with a series of questions
that emerge from the underlying question of how we maximise our
security. He is teasing out for us the implied questions that
arise from that and then in a rather workmanlike way we have been
working through those questions and emerging with tentative conclusions
on one set of questions which results in another set of papers
to ask further questions and related questions and so gradually
a view about how to proceed emerges.
Robert Halfon: How does this all fit
in with the ministerial departments' own policy teams and strategic
Q51 Chair: Can I just enlarge on
that question because it is a very important aspect of it. Government
departments tend to like to hang on to and control their bit of
strategy because it affects what they do. How do you make sure
that, for example, the Treasury is going to support what emerges
out of the Strategic Security and Defence Review?
Mr Letwin: Let me take first your
specific question and move back to the more general one. A thoroughly
workmanlike basis for proceeding with the Strategic Defence and
Security Review has been arrived at between the Treasury and the
rest of us, which is that a number of possible envelopes within
which the entire security spending, stretching right the way across
the relevant parts and in some cases the whole of departmental
budgets, needs to be accommodated, and within those envelopes
Sir Peter Ricketts' team, working with individual departments,
is now working up a set of possible responses in the light of
particular strategic attitudes formulated by the National Security
Council as a result of being asked questions about whether you
wish to adopt this attitude or that attitude or that attitude.
I apologise because it sounds slightly complicated, but, to you,
this would make abundant sense as you have been through that sort
of process, and that relationship has taken, I think, an enormous
amount of the heat out of what typically have been in the past
very arduous and sometimes public negotiations between departments
and the Treasury about matters relating to security. I think that
is symptomatic of the general answer to your general question
which is that there has been a remarkable willingness on the part
of colleagues from different departments not to think of themselves
as representing a departmental interest, but to think of themselves
as part of the collective discussion in the National Security
Council, of course bringing to bear the expertise and the briefing
of officials from their own departments, but seeing themselves
as part of the discussion. That is why I was resisting earlier
your line of questioning, tending to suggest that ministers were
simply stamping decisions. It really has not been like that. It
has been a very different sort of process and, I must say, has
worked as we had imagined it and much better than I had at some
stages feared. There is really a tendency to think of a continuing
discussion and to put things together, and the result of very
frequent meetings is that, as we discuss strategic issues, we
bear in mind operational issues and, as we discuss operational
issues, we bear in mind strategic issues in the round. It has
been really profoundly exhilarating to see the potential for Government
actually to act as a government and not to think of itself as
a sounding board in the argument for departmental interests.
Q52 Chair: Thank you, and we will
come back to that. Perhaps you could provide us with a note of
what is the nature of the team that reports to the National Security
Mr Letwin: Of course. I will ask
Sir Peter to provide it. Would you like, incidentally, to know
not only how it is, but how it is intended to be?
Q53 Chair: That would be extremely
useful, thank you very much indeed.
Mr Letwin: We will do both.
Chair: Moving on, our second inquiry
is going to be called "What do ministers do" and we
have one or two questions on that.
Q54 Kevin Brennan: Obviously, I had
no idea of the interest! When you spoke earlier on and said about
people rattling around Government with nothing to do, I thought
you might have been referring to ministers, which is why I followed
up. We have got too many, have we not?
Mr Maude: It does not feel like
Q55 Kevin Brennan: We have got too
many though, have we not, in our system?
Mr Maude: Have we got too many
over time and I think we could probably do with less? It does
not feel like there is any spare capacity at the moment, I have
to tell you.
Q56 Kevin Brennan: But there is a
big variation, is there not, in ministerial jobs, and some jobs,
like yours in the Cabinet Office, obviously I have done it and
it is an incredibly challenging job and you need very, very well-qualified
people to do it, but there are other jobs in Government really,
other junior rank levelsand you have probably read Chris
Mullin's bookwhere you are just a sort of ministerial governmental
sherpa, and we could get rid of some of those, could we not, and
save some money?
Mr Maude: It slightly depends
how you approach the job. If you just want to occupy the job,
occupy the post, you probably can and rubber-stamp everything
that is put in front of you, but, if you actually want to grip
the agenda and drive the policy agenda, then
Q57 Kevin Brennan: The recent report
by this Select Committee said that there are too many ministers
and said that it made the greatest demand on the public purse,
that it possibly harmed the good interests of Government, that
the number of ministers was corrosive to the independence of the
Legislature, and I will not press on to questions I know other
colleagues will have on that, and that it increased the size of
the payroll vote in the House of Commons. We have got 23 Liberal
Democrat ministers, for example, and we have got 119 Tory; that
is ludicrously overblown.
Mr Maude: Well, I think that is
a disgraceful attack on the last administration, which I could
not possibly comment on!
Q58 Kevin Brennan: On the serious
point, you said over time that you think it would be something
that might be worth pursuing. Have you got any plans to look at
this issue and the size, particularly in the light of some of
the constitutional changes that are being proposed?
Mr Letwin: Can I just give you,
without anything like your experience, the benefit of ten weeks
or something of experience to date, which has somewhat surprised
me actually and partly it may be because of the extremely high
level of activity of the Government which has come in and has
a very considerable programme to get through. My experience is
that ministers of all ranks in a wide range of departments are
much, much more involved in really arduous policy implementation
than might have been supposed. You might have thought that the
Secretaries of State and Permanent Secretaries with whom we have
been negotiating their structural reform plans and who are obviously
principally involved in making decisions about submissions of
departments on the Spending Review the two great parts of our
Government activity to date, you might have thought that the Secretaries
of State, therefore, would be doing all the work, but it is absolutely
not my experience. So great are the demands of the Structural
Reform Programme in which we are engaged that there have been
enormously important contributions made, and continuing to be
made, by ministers of state and parliamentary under-secretaries
right the way across Whitehall, and we even have examples in which
parliamentary under-secretaries of state are chairing inter-ministerial
working groups to get things implemented
Q59 Kevin Brennan: So you think you
could use some more ministers?
Mr Letwin: I have to tell you,
and you must have had this experience, that, as I get to bed at
about 3.30 in the morning, I do sometimes reflect that it would
be nice if there were someone else
Kevin Brennan: That is one thing I do