Smaller Government: What do Ministers do? - Public Administration Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-101)

Q1 Chair: May I welcome you all to this inquiry entitled, "What do Ministers do?" Could you, for the sake of the record, please just say who you are?

Lord Rooker: Jeff Rooker, Member of the House of Lords.

Chris Mullin: Chris Mullin, a former Labour MP.

Tony Baldry: Tony Baldry, Member for Banbury.

Chair: And all former Ministers.

Tony Baldry: Yes.

Chair: Thank you.

Q2 Robert Halfon: Mr Mullin in particular, I've read some of your books, which have given me great pleasure over the years.

Chris Mullin: Obviously a man of taste and discernment.

Q3 Robert Halfon: In your diaries, you describe a junior Minister as a glorified correspondence clerk. Based on your experience of government, what would you describe the role of Ministers to be?

Chris Mullin: Well, you mustn't take things out of context. There is a huge variation in the types of junior Ministerial jobs. I had three. The third one, which was Africa Minister at the Foreign Office, was thoroughly rewarding and very worthwhile. Certainly, even when I was the lowest form of life in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, where life was a cascade of all the things one's many superiors didn't wish to do, there was still a lot to be done. There was no shortage of work. There was a great deal more to it than being a glorified correspondence clerk. For example, we had major legislation going through and junior Ministers were required to be on the Bill Committees. And I was continuously on Bill Committees from January to July, and at one stage on three major Bill Committees simultaneously. So it would be very difficult to cut that out. The only way to cut that out would be to have officials give evidence to respond to the Committee. In fact your Chairman was the spokesman for the Opposition on the air traffic control parts of the Transport Bill.

Chair: And I was right.

Q4 Robert Halfon: Would you say that the academic, more traditional descriptions of Ministerial functions of departmental management, accountability to Parliament, and being the public face of the department were accurate?

Chris Mullin: Yes, and you are of course the public face of the department or even of the Government, if you're in one of the departments that involves foreign travel, as I was in a couple of cases. Then you're the face of the British Government. And you might well be the face of the department as you go around the country. There is a vast range of things to do. There is, in my view, a certain amount of pointless activity that could be cut out.

Q5 Robert Halfon: And has the role of Ministers changed in the past 10 years, say?

Chris Mullin: I think there has probably been an increase in pointless activity.

Q6 Chair: What are the pointless activities?

Chris Mullin: Well, for example, I don't know how typical Environment, Transport and Regions was, but it was a vast department with eight Ministers and massive responsibilities. We received a lot of invitations for Ministers to address conferences, and it was clear that many of these conferences were concocted. There was no actual demand for them. Some agency or consultancy had put them together; often these consultancies were run by people who had been researchers or had worked here in some capacity or other. To attract an audience, they needed to say that a Minister was going to be addressing it and so I could find myself on any day of the week addressing, for example, 300 senior local government officers in a posh hotel in Mayfair on the virtues of "best value," which was then a twinkle in New Labour's eye. The trouble with all that was, first of all, it was an area with which I was entirely unfamiliar. That's the other thing: if you've got lots of superiors, these invitations tend to drift down until they reach the bottom. The same thing happens within the Civil Service too because nobody wants to draft the speech, so that gets passed down until you get to the guy who is on work experience. He has no idea what "best value," for example, is all about, so he googles it. The speech I was given on that day contained the phrase "best value" 43 times without ever defining it and I was expected to stand there and chant it like a Maoist slogan. That kind of thing is humiliating, I found.

Q7 Nick de Bois: Just going back to the number of conferences you addressed, was it in your power to say you wouldn't do them?

Chris Mullin: Yes, it was. And I was a big one for saying "no"; but when I'd been there about a week—I was under no illusions about my place in the pecking order—an invitation was passed down to me from Nick Raynsford's office, the then Housing Minister. He received lots of invitations. He knew more about housing than almost anybody and he was always accepting them. Brilliant man, Nick, but he always accepted these invitations, but of course when the day drew near, something more interesting or important had cropped up, so it would be passed down to me. When I'd been there about a week the private secretary's note was inadvertently still attached and it read, "This is a very low priority. I suggest we pass it to Mr Mullin." So I wrote "No" on it in large letters and waited to see what would happen. As I anticipated, within minutes someone was in my office explaining to me why it was of the highest priority.

Q8 Chair: Would our other two witnesses like to chip in on any of this?

Lord Rooker: Well, I say as a preamble, my experience might in some ways be useful to you; it may not be. My 12 years in government encompassed four years as a Minister in the Commons, followed by eight in the Lords, and it's an entirely different set-up, so I can explain it from my own personal experience point of view. Obviously, my Commons experience is some time ago, but unlike Chris I stayed in the Government during the period at the same level, but in six different departments. Almost twice I was the worst nightmare; I was the Minister who returned after about eight years. I started off in MAFF, but my final department was DEFRA, which effectively was MAFF minus the environment.

Q9 Chair: So you were a Minister of State throughout?

Lord Rooker: A Minister of State throughout, yes. A junior Minister, but a Minister of State throughout. And of course the Lords operates completely differently to the Commons. I have views about the Lords that are somewhat radical, and therefore a minority view about whether there should be Ministers there and what the role should be in terms of revision, rather than repetition. Chris's point about conferences is a fair one. I've thought, having read your previous two reports, and the activity does ebb and flow. My experience at MAFF for the first two and a half years was frantic because it was a change of government, like what's happening at the moment to Ministers. That period in your life will be different. After two years, when I went to DSS as Pensions Minister, I found I was implementing what was on the conveyor belt. The putting things on the conveyor belt had already been done by others. I'd started in MAFF initiating several, including the role I have at the moment—although it wasn't designed that way—in terms of legislation for the Food Standards Agency; we were initiating whereas in other departments you pick up what's on the conveyor belt. The chance to put something new on the conveyor belt doesn't arise that often, so you're implementing.

You mentioned management in the preamble to your question. Departments are different; I know that because the number I've been in, sometimes you felt that you weren't in the same government—the procedures and things like that. Ministers do waste time, in the sense that some of them think they're there to manage the department. They're not; they're there to govern it. One of my great advantages, prior to being a Minister, was I actually read Gerald Kaufman's book. The great advantage of Gerald Kaufman's book, How to be a Minister, is that Gerald was never in the cabinet; he was an engine-room Minister. He made the point about: imagine you're on the Government team first, and the department team second. I used to say this as I arrived in a new department—that I was on the Government team. That's not the way the department looks at it. They want you to do everything just for the department. Trying to get joined-up government is much more difficult because of that approach and you will end up doing conferences, meeting delegations, and all kinds of things—you sometimes wonder why you're doing it. I had occasions when I was doing meetings with stakeholders accompanied by a Member of Parliament. The MP got the right to a meeting with the Minister, but the stakeholders really wanted access to the civil servants who were accompanying the Minister. Now, they could have had that meeting quite separately, depending on the nature of it. They didn't need the interlocutory of the Minister and the MP to do that.

Q10 Chair: And there is the Minister who looks at the civil servants for an answer as soon as he is asked a difficult question.

Lord Rooker: Well, precisely, and the conversation, the technical conversation, on some of these issues would take place wholly between the stakeholders and the experts; you may be on some highly scientific issue. You wouldn't be dealing with political decisions—well, you might in terms of cost issues, but some of these were quite technical. So, those are areas where I can see there are lots of opportunities. There are far too many Ministers but you'll probably come to that.

Q11 Chair: Mr Baldry.

Tony Baldry: I was fortunate that I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary to Lynda Chalker and John Wakeham, which was a sort of apprenticeship. As a PPS you get the opportunity to see how your Minister or Secretary of State is running their department, and John Wakeham was an extremely skilful Secretary of State. Picking up from colleagues, I think the truth of the matter is that junior Ministers are engaged in earnest endeavour of different types. So, for example, the whole of my first task in the Department of Energy was project management. It was simply a year of doing electricity privatisation and there were occasions when I thought I ought to be almost paying the Government for allowing me to do this almost sort of PhD study, "How do you privatise an electricity industry?" It was entirely a project from year to year. Like other colleagues, I then went and did a four-year stint in the Department of the Environment, which as both Chris and Jeff have described, was very much about process management. As a junior Minister you were involved in making everyday decisions that had to be made in relation to local government or to government agencies that somewhere needed Ministerial authority, and those decisions had to be taken somewhere, and therefore they were taken by junior Ministers.

There were large numbers of conferences, in part because part of the currency of officials in their day-to-day dealings with NGOs, organisations, and others was to say to people, "Look, if you help us and cooperate, we'll make sure that the Minister turns up to your AGM," but actually as a junior Minister—because I was a Minister under Margaret Thatcher and then under John Major—when we didn't have a majority in the Major years, having to get up at the crack of sparrows and go down to somewhere like Torbay to speak at the annual conference of waste management disposal operatives was a hell of a flog, but in a sense it was part of the various trade-offs within the department of officials helping you and they helping the NGOs, the organisations that they were working with. I think Chris is perfectly right: at an Under­Secretary level, you do have to have a degree of humility. The department only actually works if junior Ministers are prepared to pick up the slack. When you get to a Minister of State level, you tend to have a much more coherent brief. Then sometimes, you're dealing with crisis management. My last Ministerial post was in MAFF. There is a story here, and it's a story about how incredibly kind John Major is. There came a time when—

Q12 Chair: I'll let you have one story.

Tony Baldry: It's a very short story, but it's an important story and it just shows how life can change. Things weren't going too well at home. It was the time of one of those ghastly things when there is a reshuffle; you're never quite sure if you're going to be sacked or promoted. John Major said, "Look, I hear things aren't going too well at home. I'm going to send you to the quietest department I can think of," which at the time was MAFF. Absolutely nothing was happening in MAFF at that time. Then, within a couple of months, we had BSE and fisheries with a vengeance. My last couple years in government were crisis management. So there is project management, there is process management, and there is crisis management. I think there is no way in which you can teach anyone; you just have to hope that you're going to have the relevant skills when it comes to it, and also the wit of collective decision taking with colleagues. I think one of the most important parts of the day in our time—and I don't know whether this has happened under Labour colleagues—was prayers. Immediately, first thing in the morning, eight o'clock, eight-thirty, half an hour to an hour spent with the Secretary of State, all the Ministers coming together, and we would all go through what we thought the trickiest political decisions we were going to have to take were. So we would say to colleagues, "This is the decision I'm going to have to make. What are colleagues' views?" So, you would get a steer from the Secretary of State, you would get a steer from colleagues, as to whether you were being sucked into an administrative process and losing your political touch. So you had to be willing to share views and take colleagues' views.

Chris is right: the thing that I found the most unbelievably frustrating as a Minister was the continuous turf war in Whitehall between different private offices and different Ministers. It is inevitable if you have a collective government, where you have a whole number of people having input on a particular decision, but it is awfully destructive and leads to briefing against colleagues. That bit is very frustrating and it takes a long time to learn how you actually manage that process.

Q13 Chair: Mr Mullin?

Chris Mullin: One thing you do have to bear in mind is that of course the demands on Ministers from Parliament have greatly increased in recent years. Westminster Hall didn't exist; I can't remember how long ago it came into being, but it was relatively recently, and that requires half a dozen, maybe seven or eight Adjournment debates a day, which you require junior Ministers to respond to. So, it isn't just a question of the work having expanded exponentially outside of this place. That's if you want to keep things like Westminster Hall functioning, and in my view that works very well.

Q14 Chair: It's an irony isn't it? Westminster Hall creates more work for Ministers, so we have more Ministers, so the Government have more patronage, and I don't know of a Westminster Hall Adjournment debate that has ever changed anything.

Chris Mullin: Well, in that case one of your recommendations would have to be to get rid of Westminster Hall. The only point that I'm making to you is that you can't cut Ministers and increase the demands from this building as well. You must cut both; that's all.

Lord Rooker: Well, if I might say, there is a partial solution to that, which I'm happy to come to later. This is the comparison that I have, but I was lucky enough to go from being a Minister in your House to the other place. It doesn't happen very often and actually Lynda Chalker was another good example, but she stayed in the same department. In the Lords, the Whips speak; you've got 17 Whips in this House and none of them speak. You can have a career in this place and go through a whole period in Parliament in the Whips Office and never utter a word. Now, frankly, if you cut the number of Whips in half and made the others speak, you could send them to Westminster Hall. They are attached to departments. Whips in the Lords do it now; their work rate is twice that of Whips in the Commons, in terms of performance. There are solutions to these intractable problems. You don't have to keep the same process that you've got today. All that people want in Westminster Hall for their constituents is an answer from the Government to an issue that can be reported back. That could be equally done by the departmental Whip as a spokesman for the department as it could be by a junior Minister.

Q15 Mr Walker: You were talking about speeches, Mr Mullin, and said that no one wants to write speeches in the department, so it goes to the chap on work placement. Did you ever get halfway through a speech and think, "Who the hell writes this rubbish?" or did you not read them before having to read out the rubbish and think, "No, I really can't accept the quality of this"?

Chris Mullin: Oh Lord—I am a writer by profession and I do attach some importance to words, so I always try to civilise them, but of course, if you're doing three or four a day, and they appear at the very last moment, on areas about which you know nothing all, what you can do is limited.

Tony Baldry: It is a bit depressing, though, that no Labour Minister or official under a Labour Government seemed to understand anything about the concept of "best value", but that is something—

Chair: Let's not have party political points.

Q16 Mr Walker: Moving on from that, would the three of you have judged your time in politics a failure if you hadn't become Ministers?

Lord Rooker: The answer is no. I entered this place on 28 February 1974. I had no expectation of ever being a Minister. As the long period in opposition came, I was on the Front Bench, until John Smith sacked me because I had radical ideas about student finance and that was the end of the matter. I enjoyed the role and I made sure that I used the work of representing constituents occasionally to change odd bits of law. Therefore, it's generational, because that long period in opposition made a difference because generations missed out on the opportunity, if you like. So, the answer is no. I had no burning desire. I really enjoyed my 12 years as a Minister, but it wouldn't have been a failure if I hadn't been. And the fact that I went from one House to the other, unplanned, and remained a Minister, certainly wasn't part of any plan; I was just incredibly lucky.

Chris Mullin: No, I certainly wouldn't. I attach great value to the role of Member of Parliament. I was one of those who tried to encourage the idea that the Select Committee route is an alternative to being a Minister. For example, I think my vote tipped the balance on the Liaison Committee, which was in favour of paying Chairmen of Select Committees, precisely in order to make it a credible alternative to Ministerial office. I went into government because I was curious to find out how it worked. I turned down the first two opportunities in 1992 and 1996 to go on the Front Bench, and I turned down the job I was given in the Environment Department as well, until the main person rang back and said, "Come on Chris, it's only for a few months and then I'll find you something more up your street in the Foreign Office or the Home Office," and I'm afraid I fell for that. So, no I certainly wouldn't. I think you could have, for example, a career through the Select Committees where you can make at least as much impact. One of the reasons I found the most junior role I first had in government so frustrating was because I had been the Chairman of one of the Select Committees, and I felt I had a greater degree of influence in that capacity than I did as a junior Minister, in every respect, until the Foreign Office, where, as I say, it was one of the happiest times of my political life.

Q17 Chair: Mr Baldry.

Tony Baldry: The telephone went one day and a voice at the other end said, "There is going to be a resignation from the Cabinet today, as a consequence of which there is going to be a cascade of minor Ministerial appointments. Will you be at No. 10 at 12 o'clock?" I was trying to get my mind around the concept of a minor cascade of Ministers, and I arrived at No. 10 and Margaret Thatcher was there and she said to me, "Tony, I can't understand why I haven't made you a Minister before." I did have to bite my tongue not to say, "Well, that thought had crossed my mind as well, Prime Minister." I resisted the temptation. To be honest, I think I would have been disappointed if I had spent a number of years in the House of Commons and never had the opportunity to be a Minister, and I was grateful I had the opportunity of being a Minister under both Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Looking back on it, it was enormous fun. There were times during the Major Government when it was enormously depressing and very frustrating, but I wouldn't have missed a day of it for the world, and I think most people in this House are right to harbour an ambition to be a Minister because if they didn't the system wouldn't work.

Q18 Robert Halfon: You mentioned in your remarks, Lord Rooker, that it wasn't the job of a Minister to manage a department, but when we had the crisis at the Home Office, John Reid said the Home Office was not fit for purpose, implying that the whole fault was the system and that his job was therefore to manage the Home Office to make things better. Can you comment on that, please?

Lord Rooker: Well, obviously, that was some time after I was at the Home Office. Two of the jobs I had were only for a year; I was lucky that most of the others were two and in one case three years, and that was much more effective. I was at the Home Office for a year with David Blunkett, so I would not compare the two periods. I think if there is a complete breakdown in the management of the department, then the Minister has got to take some responsibility because they should have been in a governance role ensuring that the permanent secretary, the directors general—the management board, in other words—was up to the job. I mean, that is their function. It's not their function to be involved in the day-to-day management of the department, but it's the governance. If there are warning signals, and they must have been there if there was such a complete breakdown, i.e. dysfunction between the then management board, the directors general, the reporting structure, Ministers should have spotted that, if they were performing an oversight role of the department.

Now, that can come in many ways. The Ministers themselves can have a discussion on a regular basis about the overall oversight of the department, and you can pick up weaknesses that might be coming and have a discussion about it. That presupposes, of course, as Tony says, that Ministers actually meet. I had a year in one department where the Ministers never met. On no occasion were the Ministers ever together in the same room, either politically, with a third party, with stakeholders, or at a team meeting. The fact is I've 12 years of detailed daily diary cards in my cellar and I can prove it. So, you can run a department even if the Ministers never collectively meet, but it's that governance factor that the signals should be there. So, that was a failure of Ministers that it got that bad, but they shouldn't have been involved in the management. They should have ensured that the management structure was working.

Tony Baldry: But at the other end of the scale, when Michael Heseltine was Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for the Environment, every year he would have a root and branch inspection of the department, right down to every single job. So he and Ministers would go and effectively seek to justify, and get officials to justify, every single post that existed in the department, which meant he as Secretary of State was confident that there was no fat in the department. It also meant that he was confident when he was negotiating with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. He could say, "Look, I have done this root and branch inspection of my department to every single post. I've relocated people from here to there, and therefore if I'm putting in this bid for money, I genuinely need it." So, I think it's a difficult conundrum and if one is not careful, if one doesn't manage a department to a certain extent, you can just get carried away. You find yourself on a conveyor belt of the process and the two things become rather disjointed—a political governance thing and the department going at its own pace.

Q19 Chair: We have had a lot of extemporisation and a lot of very interesting and full answers, but I think we want to get through more questions, so if we could have shorter answers I would be extremely grateful. In summary, what do you think that Ministers should stop doing that they do at the moment? Jonathan Baume, the FDA General Secretary, has said that civil servants sometimes make up jobs for junior Ministers to do to keep them busy. Have you got examples of that? What should Ministers stop doing to use their time effectively?

Tony Baldry: I think you'll find it very hard to find things that Ministers should stop doing because I think there are always going to be political pressures on Ministers. I think that Ministers are going to be told to get out around the country to explain their departments' policies over the next coming weeks. There is an exponential increase in Adjournment debates, Westminster Hall debates. There is an exponential increase in lobbying groups and pressure groups, and other groups wanting to talk to Ministers. I think it's very hard to find easy, convenient ways to say, "If Ministers stopped doing those bits of life, then you could have fewer Ministers." I just don't think that is in the politics of the possible.

Q20 Chair: However, in the real world, where we all know that the Executive should be more separate from the Legislature, there are a lot of jobs that Ministers do that could be done by other people.

Tony Baldry: But Mr Jenkin, in the real world people aren't expecting Ministers to go to and answer Westminster Hall debates. They're not expecting Ministers to take Bills through the House of Commons. Being on a Bill team, taking a Bill through, you're not just dealing with the broad politics of it, and the policy of it; you're dealing with the actual minutiae of legislation. One day—

Q21 Chair: Okay, how much time does a Minister spend doing media?

Lord Rooker: It depends on the department. It not only depends on the department; it depends on the flow. During my two years at MAFF, for example, early in 1998, so after the Government came into power, someone published an article about GM potatoes being fed to rats. All of a sudden—I know, because I've got the records—I did 21 interviews in one week defending the Government's policy on GM, i.e. we hadn't agreed any GM. The press cuts each day were an inch thick.

Q22 Chair: In the United States, you would use an on-the-record spokesman to do that sort of thing. You don't need somebody who is a Member of Parliament to explain what the Government's policy is.

Lord Rooker: Yes, but you need a government spokesman and in some ways the lessons that were learnt from that were that Ministers weren't the best people. Sometimes officials and the scientists are much better at explaining things to the media—and in terms of public confidence, by the way. That's the very reason that the Food Standards Agency was set up: to take it away from Ministers so they don't appear on the television—others can do it. Your question is a direct question. Now, you have to appreciate you're coming at it from the Commons point of view. In most departments there is a Lords Minister with a function of things to look after—their day job—and their night job is to do all the other departmental business in the Lords, all of it: legislation, questions, Select Committees. Ask yourself why one person in the Lords can cope but it takes six in the Commons to share the rest of the departmental work. Now, it's true the Lords doesn't have Standing Committees. It does have a parallel Chamber, so there are issues like that.

Chris Mullin: They don't have constituencies either

Lord Rooker: Ah, but hang on a minute. If the argument is that they don't have constituencies, then we're having more Ministers because they're spending time on constituency functions. Now in some governments, Sweden in particular, when you become a Minister you come out of that role, and someone else does it for you. You've got to make your mind up what you want people to do, but it still doesn't explain why there is a disparity in the size of some departments in terms of the roles they take. I will give you one final example of this, because it comes from my own experience. I had a year as a direct rule Minister in Northern Ireland. I know that direct rule is not like devolution, but there were 11 departments in Northern Ireland looked after by four direct rule Ministers. You didn't run the department; you couldn't, flying over there once, maybe twice a week. What you had to do, and what the civil service in Northern Ireland was used to doing, was fillet out the key strategic decisions that as a Minister you really had to do. So you didn't get all the minutiae that you got in the Westminster Red Boxes. You were highly targeted. Some of this was very public: key decisions such as cutting the number of councils—a highly contentious issue—cutting the number of secondary bodies, dealing with the health service. It forced you to do that. Now, I'm not arguing—

Q23 Chair: Direct rule in Northern Ireland does have accountability difficulties, doesn't it?

Lord Rooker: Yes, there was the issue of direct rule. You were coming back here to do the legislation. There wasn't that role in Northern Ireland. But I'm not saying it's black and white. What I'm saying is that there is another way of doing the role. So the box isn't full of all those minutiae every day, which is administrative systems that Ministers get involved in that could quite easily be done by other people.

Q24 Chair: But should we be using or basically employing MPs to be spokesmen and ambassadors for the department? That seems to me to be a useful use of patronage for a job that could be done by civil servants.

Tony Baldry: You're speaking on behalf of the Government and defending a collective government, and that is why you're there. Very often, the reason that you're there, rather than officials, is that you're having to defend political decisions and sometimes they are difficult.

Q25 Chair: But that could equally be done by, say, a Minister in the Lords?

Tony Baldry: It seems to me the conclusion that we're coming to is that all Ministers should go to the Lords and leave the Whips to do everything in the Commons.

Q26 Chair: No, I didn't say that. Mr Mullin?

Chris Mullin: You've asked what functions could be disposed of. Of course there are several departments—this is fairly obvious—where their functions have already been largely abolished. I refer to the Scottish Office, the Northern Ireland Office, and the Welsh Office. Yet they still seem to be represented around the Cabinet table. So one obvious first suggestion you could make is that there be one Minister for those regions and not three.

Lord Rooker: There's six, isn't there?

Chris Mullin: If you count the junior Ministers as well, but I'm talking solely about Cabinet at this stage. Another thing you could do—this would, I guess, require some reform to the law or the procedures of the House—is you could give the officials a right of audience before Bill Committees. So you have a Minister of State taking you through it, but instead of having to send notes backwards and forwards to the box, the officials, who are the real experts when it comes down to minutiae, could actually provide the answer. That would relieve you of the need to put junior Ministers on Bills. But that's something that you'd have to think about. You would have to change the functions. It's no good saying that we need fewer Ministers if you're keeping the functions the same; you have to address the functions.

Q27 Chair: Coming back to the Transport Bill 2000, I think we had two or three Ministers on that single Bill, plus the Whip.

Chris Mullin: It had hundreds of clauses. It was immensely complex; at least it was to my befuddled brain.

Q28 Chair: But one Minister could do it, supplemented by the right officials?

Chris Mullin: That was my view sitting on that Bill Committee at that time, yes. Remember, I was on three of those large Bills—hundreds of clauses in each case—simultaneously.

Q29 Chair: But Mr Baldry, if a foreign Minister of relatively junior rank is visiting this country, he still wants to meet a Minister, doesn't he?

Tony Baldry: Absolutely, and Ministers in the Foreign Office have to spend quite a bit of time overseas doing exactly that—representing us overseas.

Q30 Chair: So it would be wrong to regard all departments as the same in this respect?

Lord Rooker: Well, there is virtually no legislation in the Foreign Office, for a start—questions, but virtually no legislation.

Chris Mullin: But there was not a shortage of things to do, if you divide the world up regionally.

Tony Baldry: Again, it's all about accountability. It seems to me that Ministers have to be accountable for government and government policy, and of course you could have officials appearing before Bill Committees but it then raises questions about where the accountability and responsibility lie.

Q31 Chair: What about this political apprenticeship point? Do you think this is a legitimate use of political office—to use political office in government as a sort of training role? Is that a sensible use of political patronage? Mr Baldry, you described being a Parliamentary Private Secretary.

Tony Baldry: The House has had Parliamentary Private Secretaries for decades and it seems to me that it's a very sensible way of training people. It's also quite a sensible way of seeing whether colleagues can actually manage with the restraints and difficulties of collective responsibility. Let's be clear, being a Minister and having to defend every department—Chris went out to the regions—you would be going out and you'd be defending not just your own department but every single department in government, and that is not for everyone.

Q32 Chair: Mr Mullin?

Chris Mullin: Yes, you've mentioned PPSs; here you can take a bit of a scythe in my view. This has been an area that has grown exponentially and I can't understand why—

Tony Baldry: But they don't cost anything.

Chris Mullin: Mr Baldry says they don't cost anything, but they do cost one thing: they diminish the number of Back-Bench Members available for scrutiny. They enable the Government to get as many people as possible on to the payroll in order to minimise critical activity in the Chamber; that is part of the purpose in my view. That is how governments have used it. So there are an awful lot of people dependent upon the patronage of government. You have your 90-odd Ministers in the Commons. You then have 20, 30, 40—more than 50 perhaps—PPSs. You then have aspirant Ministers who get a stiff neck looking up at the fount of power, rather than over their shoulder at the people who put them there. In my view, no one who is not a Secretary of State should have a PPS. No Ministers of State need PPSs. The one that attached himself to me in a clam-like fashion when I was at the Foreign Office was a darn nuisance and I couldn't shake him off. What they do is, they plant questions, because they do not have enough to do, and then they plant the supplementaries for those who are high enough in the ballot. Then they forget to tell the hapless Minister what supplementary they've planted and you'd find out in the Tea Room on your way to the Chamber. So, there is scope for real reduction there. You need more of these folk on the Back Benches asking questions, not inside the tent.

Q33 Chair: But Professor Theakston in his evidence to us has suggested that in fact this degree of patronage is necessary in order for the governing party to be able to manage its party in Parliament. Do you think that is a legitimate use of Ministerial office and PPSs?

Chris Mullin: Absolutely not.

Lord Rooker: Absolutely not. That goes back to the Whips as well: why do you need 17 Whips in the Commons to do party management of the flock that is there? In some ways with the PPSs, it just makes matters worse. Chris is quite right. I was a Minister of State and in 1997 I was given a list just after the election, in the Lobby one night, by a Whip, who said, "These are the people you're to choose a PPS from." I said, "I don't want a PPS." He said, "You've got to have a PPS." So I chose someone, who was very effective for four years both at MAFF and DSS; it doesn't work in the Lords having a Commons Member as a PPS. I was never a PPS in the Lords. I was a PPS myself for about two years in 1974-1977, until I got the sack. I was PPS in the Law Officers Department and I was sacked because I voted the wrong way on the first devolution Bill. Just as an aside, this so-called apprenticeship bit, I was on the Front Bench for most of the 18 years. I came off deliberately because I had never been able to be on a Select Committee. I came off for two years and went on the Public Accounts Committee for two years; I learnt more about the machinery of government in two years on the Public Accounts Committee than I had learnt in 16 years on the Opposition Front Bench doing different jobs, so the Select Committees are a much more targeted and legitimate route in terms of scrutiny on behalf of the public, than it has ever been with PPSs.

Q34 Chair: Mr Baldry, I would just point out that the Prime Minister was never a PPS; the Chancellor of the Exchequer was never a PPS. There is a large number of Ministers that have never been PPSs.

Tony Baldry: I said we were very fortunate in my generation in being able to be PPSs. Chris is a natural rebel, so I can see why he'd take the line that he does. I take the view that the government of the day have a duty and a responsibility to seek to get their business through the House. I think PPSs fulfil an extremely valuable role in keeping Ministers in touch with what Back Benchers are doing, getting into the Tea Rooms, attending Back-Bench committee meetings. I think they're a thoroughly useful part of the process of the House of Commons.

Q35 Mr Walker: I have to come in here. First of all, it's a fairly recent trend that PPSs have become part of the payroll vote. In the 1960s, there were a number of PPSs who voted against their government; not often, but when they did they didn't lose their position as PPS. It is even more invidious than just making PPSs. My own party, for example—my God, they've created a number of PPS positions; they've created so many it's impossible to get a list because the Library can't keep up—when they've run out of PPS positions they then start handing out to new bugs vice-chairmanships of the party.

Chris Mullin: Yes, exactly.

Q36 Mr Walker: In fact, one of my colleagues said they're so meaningless that his has never been taken away. He has had it for six years. Then we hear of colleagues becoming vice-chairmen of the Conservative International Office. I didn't know we had an international office. So there is this creeping patronage to keep people onside, and I don't understand how we can call being a PPS the payroll vote when they're not paid. I'm sorry if I'm having a rant, but it does seem to me that the skill a PPS needs more than anything is to be able to fill up the Ministerial water jug. I mean, you see grown-up people coming into Parliament and filling up the Ministerial water jug. And the idea that you need PPSs in the Tea Room—I see a lot of Ministers in the Tea Room; they're rather partial to a cup of tea and an egg and bacon sandwich, but it is just a fiction that these people have any role with regard to government business.

Tony Baldry: With respect, Mr Jenkin—

Q37 Chair: Shall we let our witnesses speak?

Mr Walker: They've spoken a lot.

Tony Baldry: With respect, Mr Jenkin, I think Mr Walker does PPSs a disservice. I think that most effective PPSs will make sure that their Ministers know what is going on and actually they are a very good conduit. I think, inevitably, there are going to be some choppy waters ahead over the coming weeks. I suspect a lot of colleagues will have concerns about all sorts of different things, and it's not always going to be possible to get your hands on a Secretary of State or a Minister straight away, and a very useful person to be able to get your hands on to make sure that messages get through is a PPS.

Q38 Chair: But it could be easier to get hold of the telephone number of the private secretary of the Secretary of State.

Tony Baldry: But you can't always have a political conversation with the private secretary of the Secretary of State. You have to be realistic about the politics of it.

Q39 Chair: What about the special adviser, then? What role do they have?

Tony Baldry: I think special advisers do have a role, but special advisers don't have a role necessarily in keeping in contact with individual backbench MPs.

Q40 Chair: Well, they could.

Chris Mullin: We aren't—with the possible exception of Mr Walker—talking about abolishing PPSs, but we are talking about restricting them to the people who need them, and the people who need them are the very top brass. This is an area that has grown exponentially and it's grown for entirely cynical reasons. It's about sucking more people into the payroll. It's nothing to do with being a natural rebel that causes me to take this line; I believe the function of Parliament is to hold the Executive to account, and you can't do that if a third of the Parliament are inside the Executive.

Tony Baldry: At the same time, Chris, there is also the function of the Government to get its business through, and if part of getting its business through is ensuring that it can help to get its business through, then I think that is a perfectly reasonable thing to happen.

Q41 Chair: I think this is the tension in the argument we're dealing with. But my last question is—perhaps it's easier for you, Lord Rooker, because of your more senior rank at Minister of State level—can you each think of something that you've initiated in policy terms that you've seen through and delivered? Because presumably that's what Ministers are really meant to do: they're meant to initiate policy and then see that it is delivered. Mr Baldry—Energy for example?

Tony Baldry: I was also a Minister of State. I think during my time, under Michael Heseltine and others, everything from City Challenge, dramatic improvements of our inner cities—

Q42 Chair: Were they your idea, your initiative?

Tony Baldry: No, they were collective—seriously, on some of these things, collective initiatives between George Young, Michael Heseltine and myself.

Q43 Chair: At Energy you were doing what you described as "project management." Isn't that really the job of a civil servant?

Tony Baldry: No, because again there were a whole number of political judgments to be made. For example, in Energy we had to make a serious political decision about whether we at that time privatised the nuclear industry.

Q44 Chair: But that was the Secretary of State's decision, wasn't it?

Tony Baldry: I think it was a collective decision within the department.

Q45 Chair: But could he not have made it without you?

Tony Baldry: I'm sure John Wakeham could have made decisions—

Q46 Chair: When you were at Energy, what policy did you initiate, on your own, that became part of the Government's policy?

Tony Baldry: I think it's very rare for any Cabinet Minister to implement a serious piece of policy on their own because we have a collective government. Indeed, any serious piece of policy is almost certainly going to be resolved by a Cabinet sub-committee or by Cabinet agreement.

Lord Rooker: You're trying to solve problems in some ways. I had a serious think about this and looked at your earlier report. In terms of initiation, you may pick up an idea that is given to the Government and make a reality of it in terms of practical policy. I can think of a couple. The first was back in 1997 at MAFF, and it concerned the cattle tracing system. The big issue was: did we have it and where did we put it? I was threatened with an accounting officer's certificate for the decision I made, that it wasn't put in the home counties, but that was a decision I did initiate. I was so fed up with the options I was given that I went to the Tea Room of the Commons and said to the people there, "Has anybody got a building that will fit 120 bog-standard VDU jobs, brand new jobs, anywhere in the country, preferably not in the home counties?" Dale Campbell-Savours came back two weeks later with something on the West Cumbrian coast, at Workington. It has been one of the most successful operations; I've put more jobs into West Cumbria than anyone else, but against the desire of the plan at the time.

The other one: we were given a report by Professor Philip James when we came in in 1997 that we should dislocate food regulation from food sponsorship for MAFF because of this problem of sponsoring what you're regulating as a department. That was the genesis of the Food Standards Agency, which I took as a Bill, and as a department, to take it out of the department, against the wishes of some people in the department—not all—but that had to be delivered because No. 10 wanted it delivered as well. It wasn't always easy because there were clashes between Ministers. One other—

Q47 Chair: This would seem to be Minister of State level. You wouldn't be doing this at Parliamentary Under-Secretary level?

Lord Rooker: Well you would, because to be honest—this is the one point I would make—although I have six departments to draw on, the tone of the department is set by the person in the Cabinet; there is no question about that. In most of the departments I was in, you wouldn't have known any hierarchy between Parliamentary Under-Secretaries and Ministers of State. That's the honest truth. It's different if you're a Lords Minister because you're on your own as the Lords Minister and therefore you're doing work right across the department, but I never really saw this hierarchy that people might think. You're either in the Cabinet or you're not, and the person running the department, the Secretary of State, sets the tone of the department, and is the person who decides what roles the juniors should have. Sometimes they might get a junior with a big reputation halfway through a government. You get that kind of issue.

That hierarchy—you could abolish the ranking. It should be abolished. You should have the Lords Minister, but it shouldn't be ranked. The Lords Minister has a specific function. That's the designation, so there is no ranking. In the Commons, it could be exactly the same: you're either in the Cabinet or a Minister, call them Minister of the Government, call them Minister of State. Call them Minister because they like the sound. Parliamentary Under-Secretary doesn't sound like a Minister because it gets confused with parliamentary private secretaries, permanent secretaries. It's terrible: I went to see Yes Prime Minister last night, so it is still imbued in my head there, all the different secretaries, but you could flatten it out. You need to flatten the hierarchy. That's a way then of reducing the numbers both in the Whips Office and in government; you could radically cut the number of Ministers quite easily.

Chris Mullin: Your question was, could I name a policy that changed as a result of my initiation? Yes, and I can name quite a few.

Q48 Chair: But can you think of some of the jobs you—

Chris Mullin: I'm going to give you one specific example, because I think that's what you need. Two women MPs came to me who had a lot of young girls in their constituency—with a large Asian Muslim population—who were disappearing from school at the age of 14 or 15 to Bangladesh or Pakistan and coming back married to someone they didn't wish to be married to. They told me the simple way to deal with that was to raise the age at which spouses could be imported into the country. Initially they thought 18 would be something because these girls would then stand a better chance of fighting for themselves, so I got on to the Foreign Office, and the lawyers naturally said that this was completely against human rights etc., and even in the Home Office, where the decision had to be made, their lawyers said the same thing, but Des Browne and I did it. It proved such a success that it has since gone up to 21. A few months later I was visiting a school in my constituency that had a lot of Bangladeshi children at it and I said to one of the teaching assistants, a Bangladeshi herself, "Do you have a problem with girls disappearing and coming back married?" "Oh, we used to," she said, "but then the Government changed the law so that it doesn't happen now." And I thought, "Yes!" It's not often that you pull a little lever in government and live long enough to see the effects on the ground. That was one example, and I could draw attention to half a dozen others, many of which arose when I was Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee—I could point to a lot of things that have changed.

Q49 Chair: But is your junior Ministerialship the essential component of that success?

Chris Mullin: Yes, it was, the fact that I was a Minister; it doesn't matter where you are in the pecking order. The last point that Jeff was making is exactly right. If you've got a Secretary of State who knows how to delegate, as I did when I was at the Foreign Office, you're just left to get on with it. Everybody thought I was a Minister of State; I wasn't as it happened.

Q50 Chair: Was it the fact that you were a Minister and an MP? Was that the crucial component in that particular case?

Chris Mullin: I think it was, because I wouldn't have known about the problem if I hadn't really been an MP with a problem in my constituency. At the Foreign Office I dealt at Head of State level in Africa, and you can't do that if you're a junior official.

Tony Baldry: Mr Jenkin, I'd just like—

Q51 Chair: Very briefly.

Tony Baldry: I don't think we ought to underestimate the amount of process a Minister has to deal with. For example, there were some European elections in the mid-1990s where the Greens did extremely well. The Government got very worried and, if you recall, Chris Patten introduced a White Paper, This Common Inheritance. This Common Inheritance had a huge number of policy recommendations, which junior Ministers were then implementing in the Department of the Environment for about four years afterwards, because of course government, NGOs, everyone, were doing a tick-box exercise, asking, had each recommendation in the White Paper been implemented? The Government were being judged on their green credentials by whether they had delivered. Whether or not that was an effective process is neither here nor there; it was the process at the time. So junior Ministers going into that department had to continue seeing through that process until they got shuffled and moved to another department. I don't think one ought to underestimate the fact that junior Ministers very often are involved in implementing decisions that may well have been taken before they arrived in the department and will carry on being taken once they leave a department, and one is involved in a network, a mesh, of decision taking with other Ministerial colleagues, other departments and civil servants.

Q52 Nick de Bois: The Coalition Government got a little bit defensive when it was pointed out that they had more Ministers than the previous Government after setting up the government team. This really does require a short answer, I think you'll agree: do you think the current number of Ministers is too high?

Lord Rooker: Yes.

Tony Baldry: No.

  Chris Mullin: Yes.

Q53 Chair: Mr Mullin, was that a yes?

Chris Mullin: Yes; it was not only a yes, but if you're looking for a recommendation, I would enforce the Ministerial Salaries Act, which limits the number. Governments have got round that traditionally by appointing unpaid Ministers and there are a number in the current Government, you'll see. The previous Government did exactly the same thing—often rich people. Sometimes what would happen under the previous administration—and I have no doubt it happens under this one—is that the Chancellor would ring up after the reshuffle was over and say, "You've missed off my friend x," and x would then be added, but because all the allocation had been used up, he couldn't be paid. Or they would look at the team and say—this happened at the Department of Trade, or whatever it's called these days, Business—"Oh, we don't have a woman there." So they then had to find a woman—this is purely for decorative purposes—and she couldn't be paid either, so she was discriminated against. She had only been added for, as I say, purely public relations reasons. If you enforce the Ministerial Salaries Act, that puts a cap on the number.

Q54 Nick de Bois: And would you say that that is a limit that would be acceptable?

Chris Mullin: Yes, I think so. Get it down to that level first of all and then after that look around and see: does the Leader of the House require a deputy? Do we require three Secretaries of State to represent the regions? There are some easy pickings here.

Q55 Nick de Bois: Mr Baldry, you disagreed. Could I just ask you why you took the position you did?

Tony Baldry: Because, to pick up on Chris's point, it seems to me that the government of the day, the Coalition Government, are entitled to seek to get their business through the House. And it seems to me very good and sensible politics to have a Leader and a Deputy Leader of the House, with the Deputy Leader representing the Liberal party. This is the first time that we have had a coalition government for very many years actually working, in my view, incredibly effectively. That is largely because Liberal Democrat Ministers have been meshed into the Government. It presents some unusual circumstances and I think the Government have risen very well to those circumstances, and if their colleagues are willing to be Ministers and accept no pay, then I don't share the cynicism of Chris on this. I think that they're doing a very worthwhile and necessary job.

Chris Mullin: It's worse than that. Some of them are willing to pay to be Ministers.

Lord Rooker: I disagree with Chris, by the way, because I think the limit—I think it's 95—is too high. I think that is too high.

Chris Mullin: But it wouldn't be a bad starting point, would it?

Lord Rooker: It would be an excellent starting point, but frankly, 75—you could do it with 75.

Q56 Chair: Mr Mullin, I would invite you to explain your remark that some people pay to be Ministers.

Chris Mullin: What I mean is that some extremely wealthy people become Ministers because it's known—and often, occasionally, and I'm not naming names here, they're donors to a party or something like that—that they won't require a salary. They don't depend on a salary, and therefore they stand a much better chance of getting into government than the humble servant of the people who would hope to be paid. Just going back to Jeff's point, if you go down as far as Jeff is recommending, then you also have to recommend functions that have to be done away with, and you have to go down as far as saying that officials should be given the right of audience in Standing Committees and so forth. You can't just think of a number and cut.

Q57 Nick de Bois: May I follow up that point? Is there not a danger—I have seen this in business organisations and I know they are not quite the same—that with too many Ministers you also create an inertia and almost a self-justification? We have read some accounts in which junior Ministers have sat down and thought, "Goodness me, what have I got to do?" We were told that work could be created for them. Just by appointing a role for whatever reason, whether it's just to look pretty or whatever it is, you're going to hurt decision making because we don't have the level plateau at the moment, do we, that you were referring to in management terms.

Tony Baldry: Well I don't think in eight years of being a Minister I ever had a sense of work being created. I don't think there was any time when one wasn't working as a Minister pretty hard.

Q58 Nick de Bois: What about frustrating decision making though?

Tony Baldry: The frustrations of decision making are very often the frustrations that we are a collective government. For example, if you're a Minister and you are making a decision, you have to get clearance from a whole number of other departments. Very often, for example, when I was in the Department of the Environment, you had to get clearance from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—their Secretaries of State had to tick the box. Very often that could be very frustrating and very difficult. That's the frustration. The frustration is not about not having sufficient work to do.

Q59 Nick de Bois: Could I put the same question to you in a different way, Lord Rooker and Mr Mullin? Many successful business organisations, since particularly the early 1990s, have been stripping out layers of executives with a view to not just cutting costs but increasing the efficiency of decision making. It seems to me that with a duplicate parallel civil service running alongside Ministers, we have room to do that, particularly if we cut back on some of the roles you have talked about. Would that not be a more efficient way of running a department?

Lord Rooker: Looking at the original evidence that happened before the election, I think Lord Turnbull was one of the witnesses to this Committee and he was asked that question and I think he gave the answer "three". I have read the evidence. There is no discussion about the fact that we're a two-Chamber Parliament. You've got a real dilemma. You could be really radical and give Ministers the right of audience in each other's House. I have to say I would warn Members of the Commons, Ministers, on going to the Lords, because they will crucify them because the level of scrutiny in the Lords is greater on Ministers than in the Commons, in my view. However, you could be radical and say that a Minister is a Minister in the Government, and therefore the same Minister answers in both the Commons and the Lords. Now, that would be a fairly radical move, but it is one you could do and it would be very sensible because it would have the effect of squashing the layers. It isn't just a cost-cutting exercise; it's from a convenience, administrative point of view, and to be honest, political consistency that the same person is dealing with their bit of the department in both Houses. But the right of audience—the Commons has got to ask itself whether it wants a Minister of whatever level coming down from the Lords to answer questions at Question Time, things like that. You could do that; there is nothing stopping you recommending that. This place needs a shake-up. There is no question about that.

Chris Mullin: I've already given you what in my view are areas you could start with, the regional Secretaries of State, and enforcing the Ministerial Salaries Act. I would also dramatically get rid of 30 PPSs without much bother. After that you're going to have to decide what functions you're going to cut out. You can't just say, "Oh, 75 is a good number, we'll go for that." You have to change the functions because otherwise you just heap more work. Even when I was the lowest form of life in Environment, Transport and Regions, there was no shortage of things to do. It wasn't that there was a shortage of things to do. Nobody was inventing work particularly; some of it did seem to me to be pointless. It was very hard work, so you have to reduce the functions. I was the king of the Adjournment debates in the year 2000; I replied on one occasion to more than four in a day, and it's no good saying, "We've got to get rid of you." Someone else is still going to have to do that work.

Q60 Greg Mulholland: Taking slightly further the point that Tony replied on, and also taking Charles's point earlier, do you think, being blunt, the fact that we have a coalition government is leading to a danger of the proliferation of Ministers because we have a very large proportion of the Liberal Democrat party who are Ministers, and at the same time we have, let's face it, lots of disgruntled Conservative Back Benchers who were hoping, and probably expecting, to be Ministers had it been an outright Conservative government? Do you think that that very tension means that we have more Ministers then we need?

Tony Baldry: Well, I think there are two issues there. First, the coalition Government is unusual, and I think there have quite clearly needed to be various mechanisms put in place to make sure that it works. Having a Leader and a Deputy Leader of the House, for example, seems to me a very sensible way forward. It doesn't seem to me to be unreasonable, on the Conservative Benches, that colleagues are engaged in supporting the coalition as effectively as possible. Everyone in this room—those of us who are still in the House—over the next few weeks, are going to be dealing with an enormous amount of work as a consequence of what is going to be happening tomorrow and so forth. In that regard, I think we will all find that having a number of PPSs, having a number of Ministerial colleagues, is going to make that task much more effective. I think there is a tension there: this Committee and the House have got to decide this. Is the role of Parliament to give the Government the toughest time possible, or is the role of the governing party in the House of Commons to make sure that the governing party or the coalition party gets its business through the House? I personally see it that the governing party has a responsibility to seek to get its business through the House. I was a Minister in a government that didn't have a majority. Towards the end of the Major days, we didn't have a majority; it was unbelievably frustrating and I don't think it was in the best interests of Parliament and certainly not in the best interests of the country.

Lord Rooker: I disagree with that. I was once lectured by the late Enoch Powell after, along with Audrey Wise, I upset the Chancellor's Budget in 1977 in the interests of poor people because the tax system had gone against them. He lectured us in the Chamber, that, as a Budget, the Chancellor was entitled to get whatever he put in the Finance Bill and the House had no role in interfering. Well, I disagree with that entirely. My view is the former view. You've got to separate. We've got an Executive born out of the Legislature—that's our system, but you've got to have some dividing lines and some walls. And frankly, you get a better government if it's under better scrutiny. One of the big problems of 1997 was that our unexpectedly large majority meant that we didn't really have a proper Opposition. I once said that to the Prime Minister; in fact I thought I was sacked before I went out of the door because I almost said we have to create our own Opposition because our own scrutiny level isn't sufficient. That is a really serious issue. You get a better government the more forensic, the more rigorous, the scrutiny—you will get better decisions. People might complain at the time but when you're back in the department and you're looking at the fallout, you will tend to agree privately, "Well, actually this is a better route, subject to better scrutiny." I don't think this has got anything to do with the Coalition Government.

Q61 Chair: There is a balance to be struck between scrutiny and paralysis, which I think is what is being said.

Lord Rooker: Yes, but I don't think it's got anything to do with being a coalition government, by the way. I would have given exactly the same answers if it was a majority government or a coalition government.

Q62 Greg Mulholland: I was going to say, it's interesting but it's not an answer to the question I've asked yet. Let me perhaps take it on and push you to answer it by answering the next question, because I think there is a concern that there is certainly a resistance to reducing the number of Ministers because of the need to balance two different parties. Of course, today we have the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill going through the Commons, and of course part of that is to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600, which is 8%. Therefore, regardless of the needs of balancing the grievances of Liberal Democrat and Conservative Back Benchers, surely we need to reduce the number of Ministers by 8% also.

Chris Mullin: I think two out of the three of us here agree with that proposition on the whole. I don't think it's healthy for there to be a creeping growth of the Executive. There have also been a lot of phoney special envoys created in recent years; there was one for the rainforest in our time, and one for Cyprus. It tended to be either the disappointed or people who had been ejected from government after only a short time; it was to keep the folk happy and that is not a healthy way to manage, in my view. As Jeff says, Parliament benefits from a higher quality of scrutiny, and if you've got all the most intelligent people neutralised, because they're half inside the tent or wholly inside the tent, then the quality of the scrutiny is thereby diminished. That is not healthy in a democracy.

Q63 Greg Mulholland: Tony, you were shaking your head so presumably you think it's okay to have the same number of Ministers and have fewer MPs to hold them to account?

Tony Baldry: What colleagues will have heard today is three former Ministers all explaining how busy we were as Ministers. None of my colleagues here have said at any time that they were either underworked or underemployed, so the suggestion that you just get rid of 8% or 10% of Ministers for some tokenism—someone is going to have to pick up that slack. The demands on the Ministers in the House are actually greater than when I was a Minister, so I think you could, of course—the Government can do whatever they want ultimately—but I think the consequences will be that Ministers overall will give the House a less good service.

Q64 Greg Mulholland: Just to press you on that point—that may be the case, I'm sure there is a huge amount of work—do you not think that if we have fewer MPs holding the same number of Ministers to account we are damaging parliamentary scrutiny?

Tony Baldry: No. I think that the number of Ministers required are what are required to do the job, and I don't see any reason why Select Committees and the House will not be able to keep those Ministers to a proper scrutiny if the numbers in the House reduce. I don't see that as a logical conclusion.

Q65 Chair: But come on, it's about voting figures, isn't it—it's about patronage; the proportion of MPs that are covered by patronage and the number of governing party MPs who are left free to express their views in votes in the House of Commons. It's democratic accountability, and there would be less of it, wouldn't there? Mr Mullin.

Chris Mullin: That is exactly the point I just made a moment ago.

Q66 Robert Halfon: The key point you seem to have made is that if you reduce the number of Ministers, you therefore need to reduce some of the responsibilities that they have, which I agree with, given the responsibilities of Ministers having to be an MP, Minister and so on. Surely the answer then is to be much more radical—to move to a much more American system where Ministers are mainly appointed from outside Parliament, and Parliament is just there to scrutinise what the Executive is doing. Then you would be able to reduce the number of Ministers.

Chris Mullin: Yes, but, as a distinguished Conservative remarked many years ago, "Politics is the art of the possible," and I think, with all due respect, if you were to make that recommendation, you'd find that nothing actually changed. So my advice to you, as a former Chairman of a Select Committee, would be to concentrate on what is possible. It is true that the American model is entirely different, where everybody is a friend of the Man, basically. It was the case with the last President that everyone was the friend of the Man's father. That has drawbacks too. One of the great advantages of our particular system is the link between Members of Parliament and their constituencies, between Ministers and their constituencies. That's what keeps your feet on the ground over the years. It also gives you some practical experience of the impact of the decisions made in government that you might not have otherwise. So our system does have weaknesses, and one of them certainly is that there are too many people on the inside of the Executive, or hoping to be, and it has strengths, and that's the constituency link.

Lord Rooker: May I just add to this? I realised when you were talking about training that I can remember, before we came into government in 1997, when the late John Smith was leader and I was still on the Front Bench, he ordered the whole Front Bench up to Templeton College, Oxford. We had two sessions of two full days together, with discussions from former civil servants, business leaders, whatever. I can remember some of the issues there—that problem solving doesn't always require big Bills. The other thing is the central lesson, and I tried to use it in government as well: when a new policy comes along, if you can, pilot it. Don't bring anything in over the whole country overnight if you can possibly avoid it. Pilot it. And you could pilot a change. You have some written evidence from the Regulatory Policy Institute[1] that makes a suggestion about operating departments on the basis that Ministers are genuinely a board of trustees setting the strategy, controlling the money and looking after the governance—in the way that non-Ministerial departments are governed now. I have the honour of chairing one in that kind of role, and in fact, when I read the paper I thought, "Heavens above, they're describing the way the Food Standards Agency more or less works." You could pilot it. You could suggest that two or three departments operate differently to the rest in terms of the Ministers' relationships; they still have the relationship with the department, but you don't have to do everything all at once, all in one big bang. As Chris said, if you try something that is so radical, you'll end up doing nothing. But, you know, it's bit by bit. Test it out. See if it works. If it doesn't, you can retrench; you don't lose face. That is one of the biggest problems we have: everything is all done all at once. That's why these big mistakes all occur.

Chair: A very helpful suggestion.

Q67 Mr Walker: Let me pick up Mr Baldry here. He is obviously a representative for the union of Ministers. At a time when we're reducing Whitehall by 20%, we're moving on senior civil servants, we're sacking quangocracy bosses, the only area of government that really couldn't cope with any reduction whatsoever because what they do is so critically important to the running of this country is the Ministerial corps, despite the fact that Lord Norton of Louth has said there are too many Ministers, Professor Anthony King, Lord Turnbull, Sir John Major, the entire weight of academic evidence, the entire commentator corps believe there are too many Ministers. The only people who believe there aren't enough or about the right amount seem to be current Ministers and those who speak on behalf of current Ministers.

Tony Baldry: I was invited to this Committee to speak on behalf of myself and I speak on behalf of myself. I think, Mr Walker, the test is this, isn't it? I think this Committee, if this is the line you want to go down, if that is the approach you want to get, I think you need to draw up your list of those Ministers that you think you should cull and then I think you need to look at the departments, and I think you need to ask whether the Foreign Office could manage with one less Minister, or whether DFID could manage with one less Minister.

Q68 Chair: Well, the Foreign Office and DFID may be bad examples, but it seems to me that there are other departments—

Tony Baldry: But that is my point, Mr Jenkin: that you go through this list and you say, "We can't do that."

Q69 Mr Walker: They just have to manage. That's what we say, "You just have to do it."

Tony Baldry: Mr Walker, if that's going to be your approach, that's fine. That is a recommendation that this Committee can make, but you cannot just randomly do that without saying which Ministers and which departments you believe should be culled—would you get rid of the Leader of the House? How many Whips would you want to get rid of?

Q70 Chair: How about getting rid of the Deputy Leader of the House?

Tony Baldry: Well, what I am saying, Mr Jenkin, is that you need to be very clear about which Ministers you wish to cull. Otherwise—

Q71 Chair: That is a good challenge

Tony Baldry: Otherwise you get to a situation where every department has to cull a Minister and then you get special pleading saying, "You can't cull the Foreign Office;" "You can't cull the Ministry of Defence." So, I think you have to follow the logic of what you're suggesting.

Q72 Mr Walker: But it is actually not a good challenge, because it's the Government's job to do that. Parliament will legislate. If we lose 8% of Members of Parliament, it is more than reasonable that the level of Ministerial patronage does not fall below that level but is kept at a comparator level. That is not being overly ambitious. Then it is the responsibility of the Government, not this Committee, to go away and to decide how they fit within that new cap of 87. It's not our responsibility.

Tony Baldry: I think there may be a confusion here of two different political issues. First, how many people do you need for Ministers, for the Government to run effectively. Then there is a different point—a separate point—one which Mr Mulholland was raising, which is: fine, if you're going to keep the same number of Ministers but reduce the size of the House of Commons; does that ensure that you still have the same degree of accountability and scrutiny? That seems to me to be an entirely different point.

Q73 Mr Walker: That's what, in essence, we're arguing for; if you reduce the size of the House of Commons by 8%, which I don't think is necessarily a brilliant idea in the way it's been mapped out, but if you do that, there is really no real argument not to reduce the number of Ministers by a corresponding amount for the reasons that Mr Mulholland outlined in his questioning. There just simply can't be. There might be some construct to justify it, but it's not one that will hold the confidence of the public.

Tony Baldry: Well, I look forward to seeing the Committee's list of those Ministers that you would expect and want to cull—those specific departments.

Mr Walker: It's not our job; that's the Government's job.

Q74 Greg Mulholland: Mr Walker hasn't used the phrase, so I'm just going to throw it at you. I'm not picking on you, Tony. Big society, smaller state, so why not fewer Ministers?

Tony Baldry: Mr Mulholland, I repeat myself. I think, if this Committee wants to suggest there are fewer Ministers—say, you might wish to look at the Scottish Office, the Northern Ireland Office: should you reduce the number of Ministers in those departments? I think you need to test the extent to which those departments or the Secretaries of State to those departments believe they require those Ministers. I do not see, at the Dispatch Box at oral questions, Ministers giving the impression they're not doing anything. If you believe you can cull a number of Ministers, then I think this Committee has to have the intellectual courage and conviction to say, "Okay, we think these Ministerial positions should go." You should set out which departments you think are too large in their Ministerial component. I don't think it's sufficient just to say there should be an across­the­board reduction of Ministers.

Q75 Greg Mulholland: Won't there be less to do if we have the big society and we have lots of things going on outside and less going on from top­down government? Won't there be less for Ministers to actually do?

Tony Baldry: I think you'll find there's always going to be plenty for Ministers to do. And actually, big society isn't incompatible with having a functioning and working government.

Q76 Greg Mulholland: To show that we are being fair, I'm going to ask Mr Mullin and Lord Rooker. We saw devolution introduced under the previous Labour administration—although there are different views on whether that was a good thing or a bad thing, and I think it was a good thing—but we did not see a drop in the number of Ministers, despite seeing enormous numbers of functions transferred to Cardiff and Edinburgh. Why not?

Lord Rooker: The interesting thing is, of course, we saw a reduction in the number of MPs, did we not? It goes back to your point: the House reduced the MPs because of devolution. I think they lost 12 in Scotland and a few in Wales. Northern Ireland has not been corrected; they only have 18, because they had direct rule put on them. They can't justify 18, but that is still there at the present time. Yes, you are absolutely right. I was a bit surprised when devolution came along at the number of Ministers in the devolved governments, I have to say. I was a bit surprised. I do not say that to be in any way critical. The fact of the matter is this is probably the first Committee to look at this holistically across the piece. In terms of big society, it is a good example in a way. I just looked down the list last night; I have my own culling list here. The Department for Communities and Local Government at the moment has six Ministers. Not one of them is a Lords Minister either, by the way. Big society means Eric Pickles has said he is going to sign a cheque to local government and let them get on with it. So why do you need a Local Government Minister? You have to ask yourself why you need six Ministers in that department.

Mr Walker: Patronage.

Lord Rooker: You have to ask yourself these questions. I'm not picking on anybody, but the fact of the matter is it's probably not your Committee's job, but the Department of Climate Change—if Energy had been put with Environment and Food and Rural Affairs, you'd have had the Department of Climate Change. You didn't need a new Secretary of State, an independent department and the extra Minister who came with it, but the machinery of government is a matter for the Prime Minister. What you need to do is constrain the Prime Minister on the number of Ministers, and let him organise the Government.

Tony Baldry: Just an observation on Communities in the Labour Government: you will probably find in that department there are one or possibly two Ministers who are pretty permanently doing the quasi­judicial function of dealing with planning and planning decisions, which takes up an enormous amount of time. I suspect you will find at least two Ministers in that department who spend a lot of their time doing that.

Lord Rooker: I was Planning Minister for a year under John Prescott. That actually was my function. It is a quasi­judicial function. Now, I don't know what it was like in Tony's time, but I was the Lords Minister, so I had no constituents. To be honest, you only get the big ones on the ones who come to you, because you have the Planning Inspectorate dealing with the other issues, and you are very limited on the decisions you can take that deviate from the legal advice you might get after a planning inquiry.

You need to send some people into departments to have a look at this. I have some fantastic people who have been in my private offices over the years, real young thrusters, who I would put together as a little work squad to go into various departments because they know where the bodies are and they could come back and tell you: "You can cull this, you can cull that, and it will still work." They do not normally have the chance to do that kind of thing, so there are people around Whitehall who could be used to do that.

Chair: Mr Walker, you are done, are you?

Tony Baldry: He just wants to cull—cull as many Ministers as possible!


Q77 Chair: Do we think there need to be two different ranks of Ministers?

Lord Rooker: Cabinet and other.

Q78 Chair: Cabinet and other, but not parliamentary secretaries and Ministers of State?

Lord Rooker: Yes, I agree with that.

Q79 Chair: Shall we move on to Ministerial effectiveness? What factors affect how effective a Minister is?

Tony Baldry: I think there is a difficult balance between leadership, management, when you intervene, when you do not. Any Minister each day is going to have quite a lot of submissions put up to them by civil servants. It is having a sense of which ones of those you pick up and decide to intervene on and raise with officials, maybe adjust, maybe alter. I think it is the ability to communicate; it is the ability to grip civil servants without offending them, and the ability to communicate with colleagues.

Q80 Chair: Do we think a Minister is more effective simply because he is a Member of Parliament?

Chris Mullin: I think it helps. I wouldn't lay down a hard and fast rule. If you look at some of the "GOATs", their track record has been very variable. There have been some very successful ones, I think, like Lord Myners, who had a specialised knowledge of the areas they were dealing with. There have been some who have been put there for reasons that are, plainly speaking, inexplicable. What does an effective Minister require? An ability to think and act strategically, certainly an ability to communicate with the world outside and an ability to relate to Parliament, which brings us to the last point. If you look back, there's been a very mixed record of having Ministers from outside Parliament. Do you remember John Davies in the 1960s, who had been a very big fish? Frank Cousins was another one. They had both been big fishes in their respective pools, but it didn't work, their being in Parliament. One can think of a lot of more recent "GOATs" for whom that is also the case. I would not lay down a hard and fast rule but, on the whole, it helps to be able to relate to Parliament.

Q81 Chair: Lord Rooker, would you say that your career path could become perhaps a more normal career path? You become a Minister and then you graduate to the House of Lords, so you do not occupy a place in the House of Commons, so you are not part of that dominating faction in the House of Commons, but you are a Minister with parliamentary experience.

Lord Rooker: As I said originally, my experience is unusual and there is no question about it.

Q82 Chair: But could it become more usual?

Lord Rooker: It could, but I have survived in the Lords—I say "survived in the Lords"—by my experience in the House of Commons. I would use examples to illustrate, when I was doing legislation, about constituency life and things like that. Indeed, in my current role chairing a non-Ministerial department, I am very much focused on the fact that we, as an organisation, are answerable to Parliament. That figures incredibly importantly in my view, in terms of scrutiny. The point is, you do not have to do everything all at once. You could suggest that for half a dozen.

There are Ministers who were in the Lords. Ann Taylor had a gap: she came into the Lords and then came back as a Minister. It was not quite the same as transferring over. You can learn the ropes pretty quickly. It is another House. I did not know anything about the Lords when I went there. In fact, I tried to abolish it when I was here with a technical Bill back in the 1980s, which I reminded them of. But the fact is it is different, simply because the assumption that everyone has retired is not true. There is a world expert on every subject you are dealing with, either behind you or in front of you, so you never bull. You have to operate completely differently. The level of expertise and scrutiny is very different from that in the Commons. It could be a route with a two­Chamber Parliament. I have my own views: I don't think there should be Ministers in the Lords and I don't think the Lords should start Bills. You can't revise what you have started. I have a much more radical view about the role of the second Chamber, but that is really not what you are looking at, at the present time.

Chair: I am afraid not.

Tony Baldry: I think what we have worked out, Mr Jenkin, is that my colleagues would like to abolish the Lords, they would like to abolish PPSs, they would like to abolish Ministers.

Lord Rooker: No. For what it is worth, I think we need two Chambers. I think the second one should be arithmetically half the size of the first. I think it should concentrate on revision and scrutiny, which means you cannot start Bills there, because that is what happens.

Chair: We are not going to do the Lords today.

Lord Rooker: No, but that is why—I can share experiences with ideas of what might work, but you can try them out. You do not have to do everything all at once, and you can recommend a trial period, different departments, get the willingness of the Prime Minister as head of the Government, to have a serious look at this. With all this independent evidence that you're collecting, which is coalescing towards a different approach to what we have now, you are pushing at what I hope is an open door, with a Prime Minister who is willing to look at different ways of doing things.

Q83 Chair: Mr Mullin, do you have anything to add on that question?

Chris Mullin: I have one other point as regards more effective Ministers. The one piece of advice, if ever I was asked, that I would offer to a reigning Prime Minister is, "For God's sake, don't keep throwing all the pieces into the air every year and seeing where they land." This habit of annual reshuffles is deeply destabilising to effective government. If you look back at the last Government, although one could make this point about several recent governments, there were eight Secretaries of State for Work and Pensions in 10 years. I was the sixth Africa Minister; we were on our 10th by the time we left office. A man came to see me in 2002 who worked for a little environmental agency that I had once had responsibility for. I asked him, "How many Ministers have you had to account to up until now?" We had only been in office five years by this time. He said, "We're on our 10th and quite frankly it's utterly counter­productive."

Q84 Chair: What encourages Prime Ministers to keep having reshuffles?

Chris Mullin: I think they like headlines. There has become this habit, firstly, that you need an annual reshuffle. Then of course there are crises, and so somebody has to resign as a result of a scandal or they got into a bit of trouble somewhere. Instead of doing the minimum by way of a reshuffle, they often use that as an opportunity to shuffle about nine people.

Q85 Chair: Do you think they do it to keep the parliamentary party on its toes?

Chris Mullin: No, I don't. I think it is hyperactivity. In this 24/7 world, we require new sensations every so often. We have had 10 Prisons Ministers—

Q86 Chair: Is it not about giving everybody a turn?

Chris Mullin: Yes, there may well be an element of that, as far as the junior jobs are concerned. It is deeply, deeply destabilising. What it means is in fact the officials run everything and, if they come up against a difficult Minister, they know that he'll be gone in a year's time. This happened to me on one or two occasions. You know that the same documents will appear in the in­tray of your successor the week after you're out the door. Now, if you look at the career of someone like Jack Straw, it strikes me as much more satisfactory: four years Home Secretary, five years Foreign Secretary. You can achieve something on that watch, but you can't if you are just being turned over annually.

Q87 Nick de Bois: Is not a Prime Minister's hand a little tied by the fact that he can probably only choose from a limited pool of talent, ultimately? We elect people from all different walks of life and, frankly, some are going to struggle to push through programmes, because they have not been used to that. So in many ways, his hands could be tied a little bit. When you think about it, you're narrowing down the actual choice for a Prime Minister, I would argue. I am not sure it is entirely down to the reasons you are suggesting. Do you not think our system is actually not likely to produce stable Ministers for a long period of time?

Chris Mullin: No. Although it is quite true the pool of talent is sometimes limited, in my 23 years in this place there always was sufficient talent in my view. It is a view often held by those in the stratosphere. I have just read Jonathan Powell's book in which he made this point about how they would like to have the freedom to choose from outside, because there is such a limited pool of talent inside. Of course, Jonathan Powell was an occupant of the stratosphere for the entire time, and he never had to account for any decisions that he made, although he had an awful lot of influence on people's lives. It's quite healthy, I think, for Prime Ministers to be constrained in what they can do, in some respects.

Q88 Robert Halfon: Reading your diaries and loads of biographies of other Ministers, the Red Box issue comes up again and again. We just talked about the effectiveness of Ministers. Is there a way to change that, because it does seem to me somewhat odd that, at 11 o'clock at night onwards, after voting, Ministers have to go back and do their boxes, non-stop until the early hours. This cannot be a way to run a Ministry.

Chris Mullin: I agree with that. Because I was a relatively junior Minister, major, life­threatening decisions didn't appear in my box, but I laid down some very strict rules. No Red Box ever reached my home, for example. It came to my constituency office. It came in a Ministerial car, 283 miles each way—I put a stop to that as soon as I found out about it. You have to go in with that in mind. Yes, you are quite right: you are completely flooded with paper. Sometimes, it is an official tactic to wear you down, to render you ineffective, so that officials can get on with doing the things that matter.

Q89 Robert Halfon: What is the answer to that? Why does it need to be done late at night?

Chris Mullin: It does not.

Lord Rooker: It does not.

Chris Mullin: It also depends on how you organise your life. I had young children at the time, so I was quite determined to keep as much of the weekends free as possible. It's tougher if you're in the top job, I do understand that, but it wasn't particularly tough at my level.

Tony Baldry: One must not give the impression that Ministers are just a ping-pong ball. It is up to you the extent to which you get a grip on your private office, and how you want to do things. If you think about it, it's process. Throughout the day, submissions are coming into your private office. The Minister is probably in the House—you may be doing debates; you may be appearing before a Select Committee or whatever—and it is just convenient to put it all in the box. Different colleagues will want to do it in a different way. Quite often, if you had a spare evening, it was perfectly straightforward working through the box. If you did not work through your box that night, you knew that that was work you were going to have to do the next day. Very often, the next day you had a whole succession of meetings, and so on and so forth. As a Minister, you are always trying to get through an enormous amount of work, in very often a not very considerable amount of time.

Q90 Robert Halfon: Almost every Minister I have spoken to currently, when I ask this question, they all say—bar one Cabinet Minister—that they do their boxes at the very late hours of the night, usually after voting, and that it takes hours, and on weekends.

Lord Rooker: If I get this wrong, there are enough ex­private secretaries around Whitehall. My very first one is sitting in this room. He only lasted two hours because Ministerial functions changed. In 11 and a half years and six departments, I never, on any occasion, took a box home at 10 o'clock to work on it, not once. I am not saying I never took any work home if I was on a Committee the following morning or there was a document I wanted to look at. My instruction was to the private office, whether I was in the Lords or the Commons it did not matter, "I will come and go during the day. I will start early." I was picked up—I used the car—at 07.30. Maybe I'll go to the gym. "I will come and go. I will not have back­to­back meetings during the day, but I will come and go. When I come in my room, I want the in-tray to be full, not the box. I want the in­tray to be full. So when I come, I will know there are things I need to do, the routine stuff." By and large, I could manage. If I was stuck because of voting, the box would come over at 19.00 or 18.00 or something like that. But not once did I ever take a box home at 22.00 to work on it, in 11 and a half years. It might be different for Cabinet Ministers given papers at the last minute, and crises. You have all of that. I am not saying that did not happen.

In some ways, I miss the Saturday morning box now, because I always had to work out where the hell I was sleeping on a Friday night to tell them where to send it. It was not always possible to know where that was the case. The weekend was different. I was not in Friday; I would try not to work for the Government on a Friday. Like most MPs, you need to have that little fill­in over the weekend. This issue that they have a busy day, meetings, delegations, receptions, speeches, voting in the Commons at 22.00, you have to take the box home and spend two or three hours on it. If that is the case, they are the wrong person to be a Minister: they simply cannot organise themselves. Send them all Kaufman's book. Gerald wrote this incredibly useful book for people, because he was never a Cabinet Minister. He wrote it from the perspective of a junior Minister. It was really helpful.

Q91 Chair: Do you recognise that, Mr Baldry?

Tony Baldry: Each colleague will have their own work schedule, which they feel comfortable with. They need to sort out their own private office, as to what they want to do. Different colleagues clearly have different patterns, but there is a certain amount of work that has to be done, and you have to get through it in your own time. Of course, Lords Ministers are spared the fact they do not also have constituency duties and constituents that they have to correspond with and fit in, and so forth. The real point is that Ministers have to get a grip on their private office and actually run the thing as they feel would be most effective for them.

Chris Mullin: Our colleague Michael Jack, when he was a Minister, circulated a note to officials saying that if they were minded to put any submissions in his box for the weekend, would they kindly include their home telephone numbers, because the Minister would almost certainly wish to ring them up on Sunday afternoon and discuss the matter. He found, remarkably, that weekend submissions fell off dramatically.

Q92 Chair: Finally, on training and support for Ministers, famously we had in the last Parliament a Home Secretary who plaintively said, "We don't get any training for this job." Do you feel that is a fair complaint, that there should be more training for Ministers, even if the training starts when you get the job?

Lord Rooker: My answer is yes. In fact, I have gone back and looked at some of the files that I have kept. There was an organisation, the Government Centre for Management and Policy Studies. I have a feeling it might have been run by the Cabinet Office. At the time, when we came into government in 1997, there were all kinds of little awaydays for Ministers, discussing with each other, collectively across different departments, some of the problems we were having. Awaydays would be not too far from the office. There was that element of sort of training. It was never called "training," but it was actually quite useful to have the opportunity of a couple of hours to listen to other colleagues talk about issues in their department, to be with a facilitator to pose a few questions. I think that would be useful. It dropped off, I have to say. We used to be called into the management, as it were, occasionally, as junior Ministers. We had the chance to be called into No. 10. We would have a little lecture from the management and be allowed to ask a few questions, but I noticed, after about three or four years, Tony stopped doing it. I was never asked any more.

Q93 Chair: This was an appraisal process, was it?

Lord Rooker: No, it was to discuss the issues of the day, problems across department, across government. It was a free­for­all. It was too grand to call it "training," but there was an operation. Frankly, it ought to be institutionalised. It is very difficult to do beforehand, although, as I say, John Smith sent us up to Templeton College, where we had these chats with people who had been in the system—ex­Ministers and ex­permanent secretaries—which was quite helpful. It is very difficult to do that. Maybe for the Front Bench you can do it. Within government, there ought to be something for Ministers, in terms of—as I say, training is too grand—certainly development while they're a Minister, and of course a genuine appraisal. I always assumed Ministers were appraised by the Civil Service secretly, and that is how No. 10 found out about various things, or the Treasury did, because they are the ones who run the show in that sense, because that is where the money is.

Q94 Chair: Were any of you aware of being appraised, and should you be more formally appraised?

Chris Mullin: I found that the Whips put in a bad word for me from time to time, but that was because I voted against Iraq and somehow got appointed to government subsequently. They never really forgave me for that, but I certainly think they put the boot in secretly.

Q95 Chair: Should there be formal appraisal of Ministers, perhaps by the permanent secretary and somebody independent?

Lord Rooker: The answer is yes to that. It's quite interesting, because last week we had Francis Maude's statement, the bonfire. The people on those bodies, the quangos—the non­departmental public bodies, the non­Ministerial departments—go through the board members' systematic appraisal every year. I have chaired the Food Standards Agency now for just over a year. I have had to appraise every one of the board members and I am due for appraisal. That did not happen, and I had to explain to people there—they're all civil servants—"Look, in 12 years as a Minister, I've had no experience of doing appraisals." They said, "What do you mean?" I said, "It's not done. I never appraised anybody."

Tony Baldry: I think the difficulty, Mr Jenkin, is that, if one looks back at colleagues whose Ministerial careers seemed to have been prematurely cut short, that was usually not because they were inefficient. I'm just thinking of various examples. One found it very, very difficult at the Dispatch Box. A colleague found it very difficult dealing with submissions—well, he always wanted to have a state meeting on every submission that went up to him, which just meant the whole machinery of government ground to a halt.

Q96 Chair: Michael Heseltine always had oral briefings on everything. Why is that a problem?

Tony Baldry: No, he didn't have oral briefings on everything. Michael Heseltine was an extremely good delegator, and Michael was very good at selecting the two or three key issues on which he wished to be briefed. He let Ministers of State and other Ministers get on with a hell of a lot. The point I'm making is that being a Minister is not a job like any other kind of job in management or wherever, where you can have a convenient appraisal team. All sorts of people are going to have to make political judgments about you—the 22 Committee, colleagues going up to the Chief Whip. There was a whole mash of that. Ultimately, it will be a decision that will be taken by the Secretary of State of the Department, the Prime Minister, Chief Whip and others, based on a whole number of things. One's effectiveness in managing the department will be part of that, but only part of it.

Q97 Chair: Mr Mullin, the last word.

Chris Mullin: Jack Straw, when he was the Secretary of State, invited in a management consultant to come around and appraise us all. He came to see me, and he said, "We think you're a very effective Minister, but we think the Africa Department should be removed from the Foreign Office, given to DFID, and you should be the Secretary of State for International Development." I said to him, "I would be obliged if you didn't make that recommendation, please, because although I think you have the influence to get me abolished, I don't think you have the influence to get me made Secretary of State for International Development." And that is how we left it. I have no idea what he concluded.

Q98 Chair: So it is difficult for appraisal of Ministers to be relevant to the political climate in which we live.

Chris Mullin: It is quite difficult, because nobody has an overview of all our different functions, one of which, of course, takes place in this building.

Q99 Chair: Could the Ministers appraise each other, with a bit more structure and method?

Lord Rooker: It has to be done professionally. There is a system out there. The private sector does this; local government does this. The National Audit Office could have a role in this area, in terms of professional appraisal. It has to be done professionally. You have to take the politics and the personality out of it if you're looking at effectiveness, because those decisions will be made, as Tony says, by the Chief Whip, the Prime Minister. Your face might not fit. You might attack the Treasury one day and upset the Chancellor of the Exchequer because they've been cruel to your department. But that's a political issue. In terms of effectiveness, as far as doing the job is concerned, on behalf of the public, because that is who we are essentially there for, it also gives you a chance yourself, I would think, as I've found in the last Government, to think, "Why am I here? What am I doing? What's on the tin? Am I doing what is expected of me? Is there any gap that nobody has raised with me?"

Q100 Chair: You do not get a job description, do you?

Tony Baldry: No.

Lord Rooker: No. You do not even get a contract. You are not employed as such. You are not an employee. There is no paperwork; you do not sign anything, being a Minister.

Q101 Chair: Would it be better if your Secretary of State gave you a job description, as opposed to just a list of responsibilities?

Lord Rooker: Yes, something you could be judged against to discuss your performance.

Tony Baldry: I think you know whether you are cutting the mustard as a Minister, and your colleagues will soon tell you—Back-Bench colleagues, colleagues in the House, colleagues in the Tea Room. Others will soon tell you. You will soon get to hear if it is felt you are not actually cutting the mustard.

Chair: Well, our witnesses have certainly cut the mustard this morning. Thank you very much for your time; it's been a most interesting session. Thank you.

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