Examination of Witnesses (Questions 289-353)
Q289 Chair: I
wonder if you could identify yourselves for the record please.
Dan Corry: I'm
Q290 Chair: And
what is your function now?
Dan Corry: I'm
an Economic Consultant starting that job in January and I have
been a Special Adviser in many Departments since 1997 up to 2010.
Q291 Chair: In
particular, I remember, in the New Local Government Network.
Dan Corry: I had
three years running the New Local Government Network, where we
used to meet a bit. I was also a civil servant in the 1980s.
So, I have seen things from a Civil Service point of view as
well as the Special Adviser point of view.
Q292 Chair: A
champion of localism
Dan Corry: I am.
I'm a rare breed, perhaps, you might think, in the previous Government.
Q293 Chair: Mr
I'm William Rickett. I was a Director General in the Cabinet
Office, the Department for Transport, and the Department of Energy
and Climate Change. I am now a company director and a consultant.
Chair: Thank you for being
with us today.
Q294 Greg Mulholland:
Good morning, gentlemen. I do apologise: I have to leave shortly
after asking my questions; I have another engagement, but I hope
you will forgive me. We just had a very interesting session with
two junior Ministers, who resolutely made the case that we have
exactly the right number of Ministers, which perhaps won't surprise
you to know. The reality is that the number of Ministers has
been rising over the last 100 years. Do you think that the
current level of Ministers that we haveI say that obviously
in the context of the current Coalition Government, but equally
in the context of the last single-party Governmentis the
right number of Minsters and, if not, how many do you think we
Dan Corry: My viewpoint
on all this comes from sitting alongside the Secretary of State
in quite a lot of Departments, and then in Number 10. So, it
is looking down on it, rather than up from the junior ministers,
so it might colour my perspective. I don't think on the whole
that it is right to say that there are too many. The quality
varies enormously. You sometimes have junior Ministers who, for
one reason or another, the Secretary of State doesn't particularly
trust or whatever, they don't give them much work to do, and it's
all slightly pointless. You have some excellent junior Ministers
who take a particular policy and run with it in a way that the
Secretary of State never could. There is an amazing amount of
parliamentary and party business that a junior Minister has to
do. I find it hard to generalise. There have been Departments
where it has felt like they've had junior Ministers sloshing about
and they didn't have much to do; there are others where it seemed
there were a lot of junior ministers, yet they were still very
stretched. I don't know if it is still true, but it comes to
my mind that BIS, when it got very bigall of higher education,
industry policy and employment, and all the rest of ithad
an enormous amount of Ministers. I suspect it still does, but
it was hard to say that they weren't all doing something useful.
As your previous witnesses said, you'd be quite hard pressed to
find a Minister who wasn't very busy. Certainly, there are certain
aspects of their workload that has been growing over the years:
EU work, international work, much more attention to the mediathose
sorts of thingswhat they awfully call "stakeholder
management" has grown too. There are a lot of Ministers
that are very busy. The question is whether they need to be that
busy and whether they are achieving anything. There are some
aspects of the way Government has developed that, I would say,
probably reflect some inefficiencies. There is now a tendency
to insist on a constant flow of events and what are called "announceables";
to publish ever-longer documents, at ever-shorter intervals; to
legislate ever more frequently; to move Ministers around more
frequently; and change the structures of Departments more often.
Those all add to the activity and workload of Government in a
not very effective way. They are part of wider cultural issue,
which I can talk about if you like.
What I am saying is there are lots of busy Ministers;
you need to look at whether they are doing things that they need
not do. The argument that we're going to cut 25% to 30% out of
the running costs of Departments suggests that one ought to look
at what Ministers are doing because they should be taking a lead
in reducing the running costs of their Departments. To cut 25%
out of your Department's running costs implies that you are going
to be doing less. So the question is: "Will Ministers be
Dan Corry: I agree
with a lot of that. My only concern is, as I say, having seen
it as civil servant and then as a political adviser, that in a
sense, if you cut down, the Civil Service would then be in charge
of everything else. I'm sure the Department for Transport could
probably get by with two, if you like: a Secretary of State and
one Minister. Do you want that? Is that the right sort of thing
to do? Could those two Ministers give a lead in all the areas?
It comes back, a bit, to what the Ministers were saying about
accountability earlier. I do agree with the point. Where you're
going to cut a lot of civil servants in Departments, not to cut
the senior team is a bit strange. It's not what's happening in
the quangos that are being cut, or local government that is being
cut, or all the rest of it. They cut the senior level directors
and the absolute senior directors in the Department are the Ministers,
so it's a bit strange not to cut any of them. But you have to
be careful and look at the consequences if you do cut them.
It's dangerous to think that, if the Minister is not in charge
of the subject, then the civil servants are. Ministers need to
exercise strategic and political control over their Departments,
not to do everything. They are always going to be delegating
some functions to civil servants. They have to strike the right
balance. I think in some cases, the balance goes the wrong way.
I would just say, I'm not sure you're going to make very large
savings in the numbers of Ministers, even if you cut out the inefficiencies
and the ineffectiveness. The first thing in improving the effectiveness
of Minister would be to have them in post for more than six months
at a time.
Q295 Greg Mulholland:
Can I ask you a question specifically Mr Rickett, if I may? Clearly,
I'm sure, all civil servants have a view privately about Ministers
that they work with and whether there is the right number of Ministers
in a Department, but does the Civil Service ever offer advice
within Departmentsobviously confidentiallyas to
how many Ministers would be appropriate for that Department?
Yes. When there is a reshuffle going on, I'm sure Permanent Secretaries
are regularly asked how many Ministers they think are needed.
At the time of the creation of DECC, I was certainly asked how
many Ministers I thought would be needed, but you offer advice,
it gets fed into No. 10 and the answer comes out.
Q296 Greg Mulholland:
You give advice. Does it get listened to?
Yes, I think so.
Q297 Chair: Do
Departments tend to bid for more Ministers?
Not necessarily, because having too many Ministers can create
problemsMinisters feeling that they haven't enough to do
or that they must create some role for themselves; getting unhappy
that they're not making an impact or having an influence. There
are some dangers in having too many Ministers. I know Andrew
Turnbull had a rule of thumb that you needed a Cabinet Minister,
a Lords spokesman and a Commons spokesman, but that is a model
for a small Department. I don't think it works for the large
Departments you sometimes find yourself in.
Q298 Chair: In
the present Administration, you're rather thin in Lords Ministers,
to the extent that Whips are answering for whole Departments,
and unpaid Ministers of State are standing in in the House of
Lords because we've put so many Ministers in the House of Commons.
Do you have a thought about that?
I'm aware that one of the themes of your inquiry is whether you
should be using the Whips more to deal with parliamentary business.
From a Civil Service point of view, it is much harder work briefing
a Whip than briefing a Minister, simply because you have to put
more effort into it, understandably. Also, it does seem to me
to be watering down Parliamentary accountability.
Q299 Robert Halfon:
How would you divide up the ambassador role of the Minister, the
salesman role, the parliamentary work and the decision making
that they have to do?
It will vary from post to post. If you're the Minister responsible
for European and international energy issues, you'll be spending
an awful lot of time either in Brussels or in Cancun or wherever
dealing with international business. You may find yourself hard
pressed to make enough time for Parliamentary constituency and
the strategic leadership you need to give the Department. It
is quite difficult to generalise about what proportion you need
to give to the various components of a role because they will
vary from post to post.
Q300 Mr Walker:
Reducing the number of Ministers is not all about savings. We
mustn't bring it down purely to monetary terms. It's about the
relationship between the Executive and Parliament. As you may
have heard in the last evidence session, we now have in the region
of 145 to 150 people who have ministerial or payroll responsibilities
out of 350-odd. There are two different hares running here: on
the one side, it's very expensive: it's about £500,000 to
keep a Minister in position, even the most junior Minister. On
the other side we also have this balance within Parliament. For
example, it's not necessarily the case that we would reduce the
number of Ministers in the Department for Transport because that's
pretty important, but the Department for Culture, Media and Sport
has four Ministers. It's impossible to imagine what they all
do. Do you not think that there are some Departments that may
Dan Corry: I wouldn't
deny that there may be. It does depend on what is happening at
the time and so on. In that Department, for instance, if I look
back on some of the days in the previous Government, you did need
someone who was focusing all the time on sport. Depending on
who the Secretary of State was, to be honest, sometimes they were
interested in one aspect of the job, and sometimes not. There
was all that kind of tourism stuff. You have to have someone
in the House of Lords in your team. It can be a slight problem
because the Commons are not getting at them in the same way.
I'm sure there will be timesand this may be a timewhen
you could take DCMS down to three. As William said, it's not
going to transform the world or anything like that. I don't think
it would transform the sort of balance that you're talking about
and having such a big payroll vote. Of course, you should always
look at these things. Picking up the question before, certainly
whenever we were looking at potential machinery of Government
issues there was always a good look at how many Ministers would
be required if you did that. Could you save some? Could you
not? People were always looking at that sort of thing. Obviously,
politics comes into it as well and sometimes Prime Ministers want
to put an extra Minister in for political reasons, or party political
reasons, and I'm sure that's happening today.
Of course you can reduce the number of Ministers, but to some
extent it depends on taking a view about the workload too. There
used to be a Department of Energy in 1991; it was abolished in
1992; we got rid of three of the four Ministers and ended up with
a Minister of State in the Department of Trade and Industry.
That was because of a view about the shrinking workload of the
Departmentwe'd privatised a lot of the industries; we'd
deliberately taken the view that energy was just another sector
of the economy. That was a view taken then. Now, things have
changed. Energy is now at the top of everybody's agenda. It
requires a lot more political attention; the Government is intervening
heavily in the market; it requires more Ministers. Whether it
requires as many as it has, whether it needs to publish a White
Paper every six months and have a Bill a year, whether every Minister
has to appear at every media event or conferencethose sorts
of things are about, in a sense, the culture of the Government.
At the moment, certainly when I was working in Government over
the last ten years, the culture was very interventionist and very
active. Lots of activity and lots of intervention; it's not surprising
that the number of Ministers tended to rise.
Dan Corry: Can
I just say something? In a sense, you get from what William is
saying - and he's a terrific civil servant and there are lots
of good civil servants who would say similar things - that they
would rather the Ministers did not publish any White Papers; did
not do any media.
No, that is not what I said.
Dan Corry: I'm
exaggerating, but you know what I mean. They think they do far
too much. They don't really understand how much political work
Ministers need to do. They need to be with their colleagues in
the House. They need to be out in constituencies. They're not
only on the road doing the road trip; they are also talking to
local partiesall of that kind of stuff. It is always frustrating
for civil servants that they are doing all this. In a world where,
as you say, there are sometimes crazy White Papers, of course
there are and so forth, but the rhythm of the way politics is
todaymaybe this Government will be different, but it isn't
so farmeans that that stuff will happen and the question
is, "How do you manage it?" If you could have a different
world, where there wasn't 24/7 media, people didn't say they have
no momentum, we could say, "We're not going to publish a
White Paper for two years in Education because we've set the policy.
We're going home." That would be great, but who is going
to have the nerve to do that?
Q301 Mr Walker:
I have been on this Committee longer thanno, not longer
than Paul. I have just begun to realise that the establishment
is fantastic at looking after itself. Here we are, in the midst
of the most swingeing cuts, and Ministers are going to sail along
merrily, and there is no threat to their job from a reduction
in Ministers, although they might be reshuffled out. Senior civil
servants miraculously leave their positions and either end up
being paid a fortune to sit in judgment on Members of Parliament
or end up with these sorts of quasi-public sector jobs paying
significant sums of money. Is it a legitimate concern that actually
the establishment, senior civil servants and Ministers, is really
in collusion to ensure that they're insulated from the cuts and
the economic hardships that lie ahead? This is how it is beginning
to look to me and I think it's beginning to look like that to
a number of my colleagues on this Committee.
Go back to the 1990s, when the Government was reducing the size
of Government; we cut 30% out of the senior structure of the Department
of the Environment when I was the finance director there. I don't
know that we cut the number of Ministers; I suspect we probably
did. It's a question of political leadership. If Ministers are
determined to reduce the size of the Civil Service, they're perfectly
capable of doing so.
Q302 Mr Walker:
It does seem staggering that almost every Permanent Secretary
that leaves a department ends up in another quasi-public sector
job paying significant sums of money: Sir Ian Kennedy on IPSA;
we saw David Normington, who has now taken over the Public Appointments
Commission. It just does seem that you have a remarkable afterlife;
you're a bit like nuclear toxic waste; you just go on, and on,
and on. That's not a personal attack against you, Mr Rickett.
All my posts are in the private sector, and that was a deliberate
Q303 Mr Walker:
You are to be applauded for that.
It's a bit of an exaggeration to say that every public sector
post has been filled by a retired civil servant.
Q304 Mr Walker:
No, but it does feel that many of them are filled by former Permanent
Well, they're clearly all filled on merit then.
Q305 Chair: Permanent
Secretaries seem to have a role in their selection.
Dan Corry: Can
I just raise one point? Willy went back to the 1990s, and there
was a theory then that we'd have, it was all called Next Steps
Agencies then, quangos, if you like; the idea that you pull a
lot of stuff out of Departments and stick that in independent
bodies. With that should have come less work for Ministers and
so on. If that's true, we're now going the opposite way; the
quangos being abolished and the stuff is all being brought back
in-house, so that may have implications for the number of Ministers
that you need.
Q306 Paul Flynn:
About this idea that there is frenetic activity that goes on to
give an impression of progress but achieves very little, could
you tell me, either or both of you, the three greatest achievements
by junior Ministers that you can remember?
Dan Corry: One
I certainly remember in the early days of DTI was really seeing
through the minimum wage. Labour had come to office with a commitment
to a minimum wage, but the details were a massive issue. Ian
McCartney was a terrific junior Minister who drove that through.
So the Secretary of State, who had to worry about energy policy
and trade policy, lord knows what else, had a junior Minister
who got fantastic agreement to the extent that the minimum wage
is now a consensus across all the partiesfantastic.
Q307 Paul Flynn:
It was a political decision; it was part of the party programme,
getting into office with a huge majority, so it was going to become
law anyway, but it was done in a brilliant way.
Dan Corry: If you
look at what it was in 1997, it just said that there would be
a minimum wage and it would be agreed somehow between the partners.
That was more or less all. Exactly what the rate was going to
be; whether there was going to be a youth rate; a regional rate;
what were you going to do about tips; what were you going to do
about benefits in kind, there was an enormous amount of stuff
and you had a terrific Minister of State driving that through.
Q308 Mr Walker:
Who was that? McCartney?
Dan Corry: Ian
Q309 Paul Flynn:
That's interesting. Can you think of great achievements by junior
I spent a lot of time in the Department of Energy, which was a
small Department in which the Secretary of State tended to take
most of the decisions. That is to some extent still the case.
I worked with Lord McDonald on the 10-year plan for transport,
which he led and delivered and which I thought was an important
step in producing a long-term framework for transport investment.
I worked with Dick Caborn on one of the many reviews of the planning
system that we've had, but which laid the groundwork for many
of the subsequent reviews actually. Malcolm Wicks played quite
an important role in the energy review of 2006.
Q310 Paul Flynn:
You're provoking me with that final one. I did a bit on that
one; I think Malcolm Wicks was brilliant in social security; I
think he was completely lost on energy. That's your decision
and probably civil servant-led. The impression we had this morning
from two new Ministers who were highly active backbenchers was
that their time was entirely filledthey would say they
are very, very busy peopleand now they have an additional
job and they're still very, very busy people. How much of it
was work that was being made to fill their time, rather than work
that is essential?
There is a risk that junior Ministers become essentially parliamentary
spokesmen, representatives at conferences, speakers at annual
lunches, fodder for European Council meetings, representatives
on UK trade missions and so on. This is not to belittle some
of these functions. Some of those things are important and some
of them are important in terms of the accountability of Government
too. There is a sense, sometimes, in which the Secretary of State
tends to take all the key decisions and tends to feel the need
to be on top of all the issues because of the constant media exposure.
Q311 Paul Flynn:
You mentioned the word, "announceables" in your evidence,
a word I haven't heard before, and a lot of these are "re-announceables"
or "re-re-announceables". Is part of the activity that's
going on very much to do with public relations and Government
presenting themselves in a way by artificially making announcements
of no significance whatsoever?
William Rickett: Dan
will say that they're an important part of promoting the political
agenda and he will say that if I say something is a "pointless
activity" I am speaking as a bureaucrat. To give you an
example, every three or four months you receive a letter from
Number 10; the last one, I remember, was headed "Summer Activity";
it said, "Can all private offices please ensure that there
is constant flow of announcements and events throughout the summer
recess? Will you please make sure you have at least one event
every week?" My immediate reaction was that this letter
should've been entitled "Pointless Activity" rather
than "Summer Activity". I exaggerate and I caricature
to make a point; there are some things that are features of our
political system now that are not about efficient and effective
Government from a bureaucrat's point of view.
Q312 Paul Flynn:
This is part of Government that all Governments feel that they
need this drip feed of adulation from the popular press and the
insatiable beast of the 24hour news?
Dan Corry: There
is a bit of that, but for instance we're coming up to Christmas
and I must say the Conservative party was always terrific at planning
Christmas. They would have announcements just about every day.
We were always useless in Government. Around this time, we would
be saying, "We're either going to let the Opposition have
a free hit in the press over Christmas or have we some things
we can say?" You could sit back, same as over the summer,
and just say, "We'll leave it to the Opposition." I
would be very interested to see if the Coalition is not doing
exactly the same. I agree the danger is that it leads you into
little announcements that you weren't going to make anyway; if
it's something that you were going to announce anyway and it's
a reasonable announcement and you decide to bring it into the
summer rather than leave it till October, which is very busy with
all the party conferences, there is nothing wrong with that.
It's destructive of good policymaking.
Dan Corry: There
is an ideal of policymaking, which, I probably would agree with
Willy, would be lovely. It wouldn't have the society and culture
that we have. Maybe we can get back to that at some point, but
I don't think it's about to happen soon. I don't think you should
make decisions about junior Ministers on the basis of a perfect
My argument is that the political system does have this feature.
We have a very adversarial system in which there is a premium
on knowing everything, so senior Ministers don't delegate anything.
There is a premium on being seen to be active; the Government
must do something, so you have lots of initiatives and announcements.
It is a competitive culture in which Departments don't join up
because they're all vying for attention. We now have this churn
of Ministers and churn of Departments, and that leads to churn
of policy and it means that not much attention is given to delivery.
We also have a blame culture about this, so there is not enough
learning that goes on. These seem to me to be aspects of the
inefficiencies of the current political system. I'm not saying
that it's the Ministers' faults or the Opposition's fault. It's
just that, having watched it for 35 years, these seem to be some
of the worst features of it.
Q313 Chair: Isn't
our system in fact better than most systems in other countries?
I am exaggerating for effect. Good Ministers can ignore all these
features. They can concentrate on the strategic issues and on
getting things done and improving things, rather than on activity
rather than achievement. Sorry, that was a bit of a rant.
Q314 Paul Flynn:
Isn't true that some of the major changes carried out by any Government
were between 1945 and 1951, when we had a Prime Minister who never
read the papers except to get the cricket scores. We had the
suggestion this morning that Chris Mullin was a rubbish Minister.
Wasn't it the fact that Chris Mullin was probably too intelligent
to be satisfied with the ministerial dross that was been handed
to him as a work? He was critical of it. But most Ministers
are happy to do the work and pretend it is something amazingly
Dan Corry: I think
Chris Mullin was a good Minister actually. It's the same in any
organisation; if you are bottom of the pile, you will get the
stuff that nobody else wants to do. There will be a certain amount
of that. I don't think that's to do with politics or the number
of Ministers. If you only had three, the bottom person is going
to get a lot of the rubbish that no one else wants to do. I heard
the Ministers before saying that they thought there was no difference
between a PUS and a Minister of State. I don't agree. Certainly,
the way Secretaries of State see them, they see Ministers of State
as very important to them and they want them to be driving an
area of policy. Sometimes, the feed down to the PUSs is less
good. Usually, they will have a bit of policy, where they can
get their teeth into it, see if there is something they can do
with it, and drive it. But they will be the ones having to do
the dinners that no-one else wants to do. This is how it tends
Dan Corry: Most
junior Ministers are not just doing garbage.
Q315 Chair: Not
just doing garbage.
Dan Corry: Remember
as well, there is some stuff that the parliamentary system churns
out. Remember as well, it's your first step on the Ministerial
ladder. A lot of them want to be seen to have done a decent job
and to shine a little bit, and particularly to make sure that
Number 10 is noticing that they're doing a jolly good job. That's
very important to them. It's what a lot of politicians are in
it for: to climb up the greasy pole.
Chair: We all remember
David Mellor on the West Bank.
Mr Walker: PPSs is
the first step.
Q316 Robert Halfon:
Going back to what you said about summer initiatives, I was a
special adviser for an opposition member between 2001 and 2005.
Of course we always did these Christmas and summer initiatives,
and the reason is because you knew that if you didn't do it the
other side would; a case of prisoner's dilemma, which is the nature
of the political system that we live in. If you don't do, everybody
says, "Oh, the Conservatives are doing nothing because they're
all sunning themselves on the ski slopes," or whatever, and
vice versa. I think the political system is part of the problem,
and the media forces these pointless initiatives as everybody
has to be seen to be doing something, when in reality they're
doing very little. On the issue of the number of Ministers, isn't
the real key point, actually, to get rid of Departments? We talked
about the Department for Culture, Media and Sportthat was
created by John Major not so long ago. The Department for International
Development and Department for Business, Innovation and Skillswhy
can't these Departments be merged? In that way, you wouldn't
have the numbers of Ministers. Are there any Departments that
you feel could be got rid of tomorrow that wouldn't make a blind
bit of difference?
Dan Corry: I would
go with your instinct. But certainly the history of the Labour
Government is not great on these mergers. We started off with
DETR, with environment and transport and everything together.
I then worked in its successor, when environment went, and it
was DTLR. It only survived a year before it split up. Working
in the DTLR area, transport never really wanted to be part of
the rest of the Department, and they never did integrate, and
they were very, very happy when they were on their own again.
Those things didn't always work. You see the biggest problem
in a Department like BIS, where the Secretary of State at the
minute presumably is spending an awful lot of his time on the
issue of tuition fees and probably can't be giving much attention
to anything else that that Department does. People always used
to play around with tourism; you could put tourism from DCMS back
into DTI; you could probably put sport somewhere else. You can
do things; you can break up DEFRA, you can put agriculture into
BIS. You would lose a bit of focus, but I'm sure there is more
room for some of that.
I think this is wrong. The functions will remain there even if
you move them around. So the Department for Culture, Media and
Sport used to be the Department of National Heritage and a bit
of DOE and a bit of something else. So you just move them around.
Q317 Robert Halfon:
Yes, but hang on, what was before of the Department of National
Well, the Ministry of Museums and Arts and Libraries or something.
It was the Office of Arts and Libraries and then it grew into
the Department of National Heritage by taking a chunk out of DOE.
Q318 Robert Halfon:
It has got bigger?
No, it was just shuffling the deckchairs around in a different
way to create different types of jobs and sometimes justifiably
in response to changing political priorities.
Q319 Chair: At
My problem with this is that it is extremely disruptive, it's
very expensive and it tends to mean you get a completely new set
of Ministers who then have to learn the job all over again. I
was Director General of Energy for just under four years. I was
probably in four different Departments by name, though I stayed
in exactly the same place. I had four different Secretaries of
State. I had probably three different Ministers of State. Energy
is a complex subject. I wouldn't expect a civil servant to get
on top of the subject in anything less than six months; it's unfair
to ask a Minister to do that. If you then move him on after nine
months, you've only three effective months as a Minister and then
you have to start all over again, and each new Minister wants
a new policy.
Q320 Chair: Are
you in fact saying that if Prime Ministers didn't move their Ministers
around nearly so much, then you probably wouldn't need as many
I am saying that that is one of the efficiencies you could seek
in the ministerial cadre: not changing the structure of Departments
Q321 Robert Halfon:
But before you had a Department for International Development
it was all done in the Foreign Office, and Lynda Chalker was the
Minister for Overseas Aid.
My point entirely.
Q322 Robert Halfon:
Exactly; the world didn't come to an end. You can cut the number
of Ministers by cutting these Departments and still do the same
You don't need to cut the Department. As long as you have Ministers
who are on top of their jobs and are concentrating on achievement
rather than activity, you ought to be able to cut the number of
Q323 Chair: I
think that's a very good phrase, "achievement rather than
And I take your point; the political culture is about lots of
activity and it's quite difficult to break out of that, but I
happen to think that in the end Ministers who are only activity
and no substance tend to get found out.
Q324 Robert Halfon:
Can you name any?
No. I probably could, but I'm not going to.
Q325 Robert Halfon:
Do you think the devolution by the Government of some power, like
elected police commissioners, the Big Society stuff, will take
away some of the responsibilities that Ministers currently have
and therefore mean it's easier to cut the number?
I'm not sure that devolution or localism does reduce the burdens
on Ministers. To give you an example, the devolution to Scotland
and Wales created all sorts of interfaces that became quite complicated
to manage. So where we decided we wanted to have decommissioning
plans for nuclear reactors, the financial aspect of the plan was
a reserved matter, because it was to do with finance; the environmental
aspect of the plan, in other words the plan itself, was a devolved
matter because it was an environmental issue. You get complicated
policy issues that then need to be managed across boundaries and
take up quite a lot of Ministerial time.
Q326 Robert Halfon:
If you could take the Department of Health, they announced last
week that they're going to have these public health local boards.
So surely when an MP gets up in Parliament and he says, "I'd
like to ask the Minister why such and such is suffering from obesity,"
the Minister can legitimately reply, "Well, that's nothing
to do with me."
If the Minister is prepared to delegate authority completely,
and to say, "It's nothing to do with me," then it ought
to reduce the burdens on Ministers.
Q327 Robert Halfon:
But isn't that the whole idea of the NHS Board and the public
health boards and so on, so therefore you can cut the number of
Ministers in the Department of Health?
In theory; I am just concerned that our political system will
put so much pressure on Ministers to answer these things that
they will find it difficult to do that, but yes. Yes.
Q328 Robert Halfon:
If you go back to when Iain Duncan Smith was leader and he asked
Tony Blair about the Rose Addis case in the Royal Free Hospital,
I always thoughthowever much I enjoyed the politics of
it at the timethat it was an absurd thing that the Prime
Minister should know and be responsible for a tragedy in a hospital
in North London.
Q329 Chair: Before
you go on Mr Halfon, can I just point out that we used to have
a Scotland Office with a Secretary of State, a Ministry of State
and two Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State. We still have
a Scotland Office with Secretary of State and, I think, a Minister
of State. Is there a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State as
well? I can't remember. But that's in addition to the 18 Ministers,
the ten Cabinet Ministers and the eight junior Ministers in the
Scottish Executive. They can't all be doing absolutely essential
jobs, or does the creation of an extra layer of legislative authority
just create another 18 jobs for Ministers?
I think there's certainly scope for savings in the Wales, Scotland
and Northern Ireland offices; other witnesses have said this.
You could have a Minister in the Cabinet Office with a constitution
secretariat responsible for coordinating those sorts of issues.
My point was slightly different, which is that devolution creates
new political issues for UK Ministers.
Chair: It certainly does.
And sometimes they're very complicated and quite tricky to manage
Q330 Chair: And
politically very difficult.
And politically very difficult. But you could certainly find
savings in the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland Offices.
I can see politically why people have found that quite difficult
Q331 Robert Halfon:
Going back to the Rose Addis point, surely the Minister should
not be responsible for such statements and the fact that the Minister's
time is spent in dealing with individual cases is completely absurd.
If you took all that away, would it reduce the burden on Ministers
and then subsequently the number of Ministers?
Yes, well, that's what I was trying to get at. The best way to
approach this is to see how to reduce the burdens on Ministers
and to reduce the pointless activity that I've caricatured it
as, and you ought to be able to reduce the number of Ministers.
Q332 Chair: But
that's the point about devolution, isn't it? You can no longer
table a question about housing in Scotland, because it's a devolved
matter and it's not a departmental responsibility in the UK Government
and therefore it's not a question you can get an answer to? Shouldn't
that also apply in local Government? If we believe in localism,
Mr Corry, shouldn't it be possible for the standing orders of
the House to be changed so that Ministers are actually no longer
responsible for answering questions about the detail of how many
cones are there on a particular local road or whether schools
are being operated properly by a local authority? Because an
individual school is a matter for local authority, not a Government
Dan Corry: Except
if the school policy is heading towards every one being an academy
and essentially bypassing the local authority and being funded
directly from the centre, then the Minister does have responsibility.
So I think it depends how localism works out, and you're right:
eventually, particularly if local authorities were raising their
own money, so they were making their own decisions and they were
allocating money, then it's a matter for them to answer for what's
going on in their area.
Q333 Chair: So
it's about money?
Well, it's about how much you genuinely have empowered local
decision makers and therefore it's for them to answer for the
decisions they've made, or whether they were restricted because
they had to make some decisions because they couldn't decide to
raise more money or whatever. So that's the funding issue. But
it's also the politics; you make a very good point about Prime
Ministers answering for particular incidents in a locality, and
when we get to the place where the Prime Minister, when asked
thisif they're allowed to ask the questionsays,
"It really is nothing to do with me," will the public
say, "Absolutely"? Will the press say "Absolutely"?
The Prime Minister will be wondering that as well. When we've
got to the moment they can do that, and everyone says, "Of
course it's nothing to do with him, absolutely right," then
we will be able to remove some of the Ministers and so forth.
I don't know how long it will take us to get there. We're a
country that has always seen the world through a rather sort of
Probably better to say that is the responsibility of the local
health board, rather than that it's nothing to do with me, but
Dan Corry: People
want someone they can vote out. The health board isn't elected.
It may be different with councils, mayors and elected police
commissioners, but you can't vote the public health board out
if you don't like it.
Q334 Mr Walker:
Just quickly, we have Wales, Scotland, Northern Irelandthere's
six Ministers there. Why can't we have a Secretary of State for
Devolution and three Ministers of State for each of the countries?
That's two savings straight away. I just cannot fathom why that
isn't the case. But isn't it also the reality that we say, or
some people argue, that Ministers are enormously important and
do a fabulous job, but really outside the most senior appointments,
the Prime Minister had no interest in it whatsoever. He will
be guided and advised by the Chief Whip who is trying to balance
factions within parties. It's upwards; it's up or out and really
the Prime Minister just doesn't care, which does to me suggest
that the role of Ministers or the role of the full 95 Ministers
we currently have is actually not that important. David Cameron
probably would be hard pressed to name 50% of the people.
Chair: I think he
would. I don't agree with that. He would name every one of them.
Mr Walker: Well, okay,
he might know them, but he wouldn't have much to say about most
of them I expect.
Dan Corry: I think
it's certainly hard for a Prime Minister to know exactly what
everyone's doing. In my experience they do care about who these
people are, not least because if there's someone young from the
backbenches and they hope they're going to be someone they can
put in their Cabinet in a few years, they want to make sure they're
in the right place doing a good job. If there's something they
particularly care aboutlet's say they want to drive free
schools or somethingthey want to make sure they have a
Junior Minister, not only a Secretary of State, who they trust,
who has the right views, and who's good presentationally. I think
they do care about that. I agree with you on the devolution issue,
because it's always been thought about in the past. You have
to be very delicate when you remove a Northern Ireland Secretary
of State and so on. It has to fit with what's happening on devolution.
You have a lot of sensitivities in Scotland and Wales on these
things, but at some point that clearly should happen. You could
probably get it down to even less than you've just said.
Q335 Mr Walker:
But how can we argue that Prime Ministers care about the majority
of their Ministers, given that earlier in your evidence session
we talked about how the average life expectancy of a Cabinet Minister
in the Cabinet Office under the last Government was less than
a year. Clearly Prime Ministers don't really care about their
ministerial corps because if they did we wouldn't get these enormous
levels of turnover.
Dan Corry: The
turnover doesn't happen because they don't care. Turnover happens
because somebody resigns on you. They do. Maybe this Coalition
will be different.
Q336 Mr Walker:
That is part of it.
Dan Corry: Well,
it does happen. I'm sure it will happen in this Government.
Or somebody has to resign because of a scandal, and then do you
just put someone up; do you move some people across? Are you
trying to keep a balance? I suspect this Government has quite
a careful balance of Coalition partners in each Department they
have to keep more or less okay. So it's not because you don't
care, I think.
I'm not quite sure what the Prime Minister's care or lack of care
about a Minister has to do with whether their job is worthwhile
Q337 Mr Walker:
Because he's not really interested. At the end of the day he's
not really interested. He's not really interested in whether
someone is doing a good job or not. The primary motivation of
a Prime Minister is to balance out the factions within the party.
That is why, as Paul Flynnwho is no longer heresaid,
he had very good Ministers moved.
He will certainly care about it if it becomes an important political
subject; the Minister concerned is in the public eye or whatever.
It's like any large organisation: the Chief Executive needs to
take an interest in who he appoints to do a job, but will care
more about those who are in the front line of any particular hot
issue than he will about the others, I would have thought. But
I'm not quite sure what that's got to do with the workload on
Chair: We have five minutes
Chair: Do you want to
talk about Ministers of State and Parliamentary Under-Secretaries?
Robert Halfon: Okay.
Can I just ask this?
Chair: Yes, certainly.
Q338 Robert Halfon:
In your experience how many ministerial appointments are down
to patronage as opposed to merit?
Dan Corry: I don't
think it's so much patronage, but there's an attempt to balance,
and there certainly was in the Labour Government. The balance
would be partly broad church within the party; partly be a North-South
regional thing; it would partly be a gender thing. So you'd get
quite a lot of that. So sometimes there'd be someone you'd think,
"What on earth are they doing in that Department? They're
not that great or they don't know anything about the topic."
Q339 Robert Halfon:
But would you say the majority has patronage?
Dan Corry: No,
most of the people are done because they're good, and the trouble
when you've been in Government for a long time is that you have
a lot of people who have come up through the system who have gone
for one reason or another, and it starts getting a bit thin.
Q340 Chair: We
heard two very hardworking, extremely strong character Ministers
earlier this morning, who clearly feel that if there were fewer
Ministers in their Department they would be very hard pressed.
Do you understand their situation?
Dan Corry: I do.
I agree with Willy that some of what's making them hard pressed
is stuff that he thinks they shouldn't be doing. But I remember
at DTI we always used to think, "Should anyone go the Chemical
Industries Association Annual dinner?" and first of all "Should
it be the Secretary of State? And if so why? And if not, should
it be a Junior Minister and how Junior? And why are we going
at all?" In the end, you usually decided that they would
be deeply unhappy if nobody went. They felt the connection with
Government, which was quite important if you went, would help
communications over the next year.
Q341 Chair: So
it's a PR exercise.
Dan Corry: The
civil servants always pushed for the Ministers to go to these
things because that helped them over the next year; our chemicals
division or whatever it was could have a much better relationship
with that sector because they'd got the Ministers to the dinners
and so forth. I agree with Willy in a sense; some of those things
are completely pointless.
Depending on the Minister, to be perfectly frank.
Dan Corry: They're
pointless in a policy sort of way, which is what he's talking
about, and therefore if the Junior Ministers that you spoke to
before didn't have to do those they'd have a lot more time.
Q342 Chair: As
a politician who sometimes goes to those sorts of things, you
tend to learn a lot of things from people who speak to you informally
that you wouldn't get by sitting in your Department and being
briefed by the Civil Service. So it cuts both ways, doesn't it?
So you need Ministers to be able to do those things. Do you
agree with that Mr Rickett?
Yes, I do. I don't think civil servants recommend these things
because it helps them. Well, it depends.
Q343 Chair: Well,
it gets them out of the house.
Sometimes it didn't help. But let's put it that way.
Q344 Chair: I
met one Minister of State who became a Transport Ministeractually
Michael Portilloand the first thing he did is clear the
diary, because his predecessor did nothing but go on train journeys
and look at motorways, and Mr Portillo decided he wanted to sit
in the Department and actually do some policy and make some decisions.
I do think it is very important for Ministers to manage their
diaries properly because there is otherwise a tendency for the
civil servants to say, "Well, we can't think of any reason
why you shouldn't accept this appointment." My concern was
that the Civil Service wasn't very good at saying, "No, this
is a complete waste of time."
Q345 Chair: So
the final question is: what will be the consequence if the House
of Commons said, "Sorry Government, you are going to have
decide how to cut the cloth with 10% fewer Ministers in the House
of Commons." That doesn't prevent them from appointing more
Ministers in the other place; it doesn't prevent them from perhaps
saying, "Well, we need to have more special advisers";
it doesn't prevent them saying all sort of other alternatives,
but it reduces their patronage in the House of Commons. What
would be the consequences?
I think if the House is prepared to put up with Whips, as you
were talking about earlier with the Ministers, doing some of the
adjournment debates and so forth, then there's a sort of deal
to be done, but are they?
Q346 Robert Halfon:
Can you get rid of Parliamentary Under-Secretaries and just have
Ministers of State? Do you need Parliamentary Under-Secretaries?
I think that junior Ministers are junior Ministers. In a big
Department you may find a distinction between a Minister of State
dealing with a big area that the Secretary of State has actually
effectively delegated, whereas in a small Department they're all
much of a muchness. In Transport, Ministers of State and Parliamentary
Under-Secretary seemed to me to be much the same.
Q347 Robert Halfon:
Yes, they said it was exactly the same.
But in the Department of Trade and Industry, when the Secretary
of State was focusing all his time on energy, he would leave someone
else to do employment law or competition law or regions or whatever,
so they did have more of a real role and a delegated role. Parliamentary
private secretaries seem to have grown in numbers. I'm not quite
sure why. You could make more use of Whips. I think if you did
just cut arbitrarily Ministers would just have to look at it Department
Q348 Chair: But
wouldn't it actually be better if Whips were more involved in
policy decisions in their Department? Obviously, they're meant
to listen to backbenchers and feed in what backbenchers are feeling,
and if they were more involved and answerable for policy in the
Department, that would improve accountability.
Dan Corry: In my
experience they often were involved in key decisions.
Q349 Chair: Most
Whips are perfectly capable of answering an adjournment debate,
not just reading a speech. That's up to them, isn't it?
Q350 Robert Halfon:
Sorry, conversely to this argument of getting rid of Ministers,
if you increased the numbers of Ministers, the workload presumably
wouldn't decrease. As I said earlier, it would be just like a
motorway, where you increase the lane and the traffic carries
on in the same way as before. Would you say that's correct?
Well, actually, just like a motorway it might induce some extra
traffic, because, when wondering who to send to the Chemical Industries
Association dinner you might say, "Well, Bloggs can go because
they have nothing much else to do."
Chair: So we can't have
a predict and provide policy for Ministers.
Q351 Robert Halfon:
If we had five Ministers in transport, they would all sit here
saying the same thing: that they're working day and night. It
wouldn't actually cut the workload, because the amount of Ministers,
does not necessarily decrease the amount of work.
William Rickett: Well,
there's always a slight tendency for organisations to create work
the more people you put into them, so I think it probably would
create more work to create more Ministers.
Q352 Mr Walker:
Just going back to this painting by numbers on ministerial appointments,
I can think of two perfectly nice women: Joan Ryan and Sally Keeble.
The Labour party had real talent languishing on its backbenches,
and Joan Ryan and Sally Keeble, by common consent, did not cut
the mustard as Ministers, and yet someone like Dr Tony Wright,
who would have been a most effective cabinet Minister, never even
got a sniff of Ministerial office, so to pretend that this is
anything really to do with talent is a bit disingenuous, isn't
Dan Corry: Well,
without going into individuals and all the rest of it, of course
it's not totally that people are ranked on talent and the best
ones get in. You guys are working in politics; you're not working
in some sort of neutral place. But in general, I would say on
the whole the cream does come to the top.
Q353 Mr Walker:
You haven't sat in the House of Commons for the last five years.
Dan Corry: I didn't
say in the House of Commons.
Chair: Anything else
to add? Gentlemen thank you very much. It has been a very interesting
discussion for us and the quality of the discussion extremely
high. Thank you very much indeed.