To be published as HC 1582-ii

House of COMMONS



Public Administration Committee

Role of the Head of the Civil Service

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Lord Wilson of Dinton GCB and Lord Turnbull KCB CVO

Evidence heard in Public Questions 84 - 179



This is an corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.


The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Public Administration Committee

on Tuesday 8 November 2011

Members present:

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Chair)

Alun Cairns

Paul Flynn

Robert Halfon

David Heyes

Kelvin Hopkins

Greg Mulholland


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Rt Hon Lord Wilson of Dinton GCB, and Rt Hon Lord Turnbull KCB CVO, gave evidence.

Q84 Chair: Welcome to this second evidence session on the role of the Head of the Civil Service. Could I ask each of our witnesses to identify yourselves for the record, please?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: I am Richard Wilson. I was Cabinet Secretary from the beginning of 1998 to 2002.

Lord Turnbull: Andrew Turnbull. I succeeded Richard in the summer of 2002 and left the Civil Service in 2005, having, like Richard, held both the roles we are discussing.

Q85 Chair: I will start by picking up on a comment Lord Butler made in his evidence to us last week, that history is not on the side of those who want to split the role of Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service. In your remarks, perhaps you could draw attention to where you think circumstances are different from your periods as Cabinet Secretary, but what you think may still apply. Who would like to go first?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: Shall I have a shot? I think it may be from time to time that every generation has to reinvent history and learn from its own mistakes. I fear that is what is happening here, because in a way this seems to me like a brave step into the past. I can understand why they have to come to this arrangement as a way of structuring things, but I think it has got some real problems in it. One of the problems is that whoever becomes Head of the Civil Service will find it very difficult if they are running a Government Department as Permanent Secretary to find enough time to give to the job. You heard about that last week. When I was at the Home Office I would not conceivably have had enough time to be Head of the Civil Service. If it is a smaller Department they will not carry the weight because it would be perceived as someone lower down the hierarchy. Secondly, I think that the Cabinet Secretary will always have the advantage of being near the Prime Minister, compared with someone in a Department. Thirdly, one of the lessons of history that my generation learnt is that policy and execution are not easily separated. Take the present immigration incident; is it a matter for the Head of the Civil Service because it involves suspension of senior officials, management and so on, or is it for the Cabinet Secretary, because clearly there seem to be quite important policy issues involved? The first person around to Number 10 when the crisis breaks will be the Cabinet Secretary, simply because of physical location, and the Head of the Civil Service will always tend to be lagging. If you look at history, Lord Croham, with whom I remember talking about all this, bitterly found that from experience.

The final point is that I find the lines of command difficult to follow because within the Cabinet Office you will have the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, and Ian Watmore, as it were, working side-by-side. I may get this wrong, but I think it is right, that Ian Watmore-

Q86 Chair: We are all a bit in the dark at the moment.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: I have to say, we are all of us a bit in the dark. But you will find Ian Watmore working to the Minister for the Cabinet Office, whereas the Head of the Civil Service will work to the Prime Minister. But what happens if the people in the centre line up in one way and the Head of the Civil Service, working part time in a Department, does not agree? What weight will the Head of the Civil Service have in that situation? Coming back to the question of how things differ, the point was rightly made to you last time that personalities and circumstances differ. It may well be that the combined post of Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service is becoming extremely heavy. I think it would be better to try to keep the two posts combined and to provide greater support, and not try to do everything oneself, rather than split the jobs.

Q87 Chair: Lord Turnbull, you have been outspoken on this subject before. Have you changed your view?

Lord Turnbull: No, not at all. What is different has already been dealt with. The main difference from 2000 has been the growth of the threat to national security and fighting two wars at any one time. That has been addressed by something that I started and which has been carried forward by the creation of the National Security Adviser. I think that makes a big difference to the workload.

The other thing that is claimed is that being handmaiden or marriage guidance counsellor to the Coalition creates more work. But as Richard said, there are other ways of dealing with it. So let me summarise my overall impressions, and then some issues that I hope we can explore in the course of the questioning. I think it is a very messy solution, and I think it lacks a clear rationale. There is a rationale, but I am not convinced by it. Normally if you are making a change of this kind you try to do two things. You try to use your people to the best effect; you try to get the round pegs in the round holes and the square pegs in the square holes. You also need to establish clear lines of authority and accountability. I think this scheme fails on both those accounts. I think there were alternatives, which maybe we can explore, and I certainly think there was a better alternative.

I do not know whether you are taking evidence from Gus O’Donnell or Jeremy Heywood, but my advice is: do not shoot the messenger. I do not believe this scheme is the first choice of either of them. I do not know, but that is my hunch. So it looks, as I would describe, ad hoc, ad hominem and ad temporal. There was a lot of negotiation and compromise and demands and vetoes, and this is what has emerged. My guess is it will probably be temporary. But I hope at some stage we will find time to say, if it is going to happen, what needs to be done to make this thing work? My former colleagues are able, clever and committed people, they can make all sorts of things work, but certain things need to be done to give it a better chance than it faces at present.

Q88 Chair: Can I press you both on one aspect? In the private sector-in business and in large corporations-you would not see so much concentrated on one person. You would see the role of chairman or chief executive or chief operating officer split two or three different ways. Why is that inappropriate for the Civil Service?

Lord Turnbull: I think I disagree with you there, Mr Chairman. I think the CEO is ultimately responsible for delivering whatever it is that company delivers or sells, whether it is food, pharmaceuticals or whatever. They spend a lot of time developing and improving the capability of that organisation, developing the leadership cadre, and maintaining the reputation and the brand. I think the CEO would say, "I do not want this split, I do not want to find that whoever is my managing director in China has been chosen for me." I will give you a football analogy. Why is Manchester United a great club? It is because Alex Ferguson chooses his players, who is in his squad, and then he chooses who plays in the match. Why is Chelsea in decline? It is because the chairman chooses the players, and the manager is left to pick up the pieces of whoever the chairman has bought. You have to keep the development of your people-

Q89 Robert Halfon: A point of order, Mr Chairman. I am a Chelsea supporter. Could I say that Chelsea is not in decline? It is a very subjective view.

Chair: It is not a point of order for the Chair.

Lord Turnbull: The serious point is I do not think you can easily separate out developing the capability, the improvement and the quality of people coming through your pipeline from the day-to-day operations.

Q90 Chair: I accept that, but the question is whether he should be Cabinet Secretary as well, because the Cabinet Secretary is very much the right-hand man or woman of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. The question we are asking is not whether the Head of the Civil Service should be an add-on to another Department, but whether the Cabinet Secretary role should be combined with the Head of the Civil Service. It might be appropriate to have the Head of the Civil Service located in a wholly different position with direct access to the Prime Minister, operating as a proper chief executive of the Government.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: But the Cabinet Secretary post is an essential post from the point of view of the Cabinet collectively. I would make this point, because you said it is chief adviser to the Prime Minister: I do think it is important that Jeremy Heywood moving to the Cabinet Office is there to support the Government collectively, not just the Prime Minister, important though that relationship is.

Q91 Chair: Do you think that is a mistake the Prime Minister is making?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: The post has not come into operation yet; we have not seen how Jeremy Heywood is going to do the job. I am just hoping that Jeremy Heywood will do the job in a way that supports the Government collectively. But I think the role of policy making, which Jeremy Heywood is extremely good at-he is an outstanding Civil Servant and the Civil Service is very lucky to have got him-is one that must be integrated with management and execution of the service. You cannot just deal with policy without looking at the way the service is going to lead it. You yourselves as a Committee have stressed the importance of decentralisation, of the post-bureaucratic age or Big Society. That is a huge job if it is really the serious intent. I do not think it can be separated out from the job of the Cabinet Secretary in terms of advising the Prime Minister and supporting Committees that are going to be implementing it and taking decisions that have a big influence on implementing it.

Lord Turnbull: Can I put my gloss on it? The first point was the one I made before about the CEO keeping all these things together. The second is to reemphasise a word Robin Butler used last week, which is "leverage".

Chair: That is good.

Lord Turnbull: Very often you are leading the Civil Service not only in the sense of representing its problems to the Government, which you clearly have to do; but in order to get it to change and become better you have to persuade it to do things it does not really want to do. You have more authority to do that if you are close to the Prime Minister. So I think if you cut the Head of the Civil Service adrift you lose some of the effect of that leverage. The third thing is: something that started in Richard’s time and carried on in mine was to try and emphasise that the Civil Service has a range of skills. Historically it is thought of as a policy organisation, but to be good at its job it has got to be good at finance, managing people, handling IT, procurement and in a whole host of other ways. I think this move is a step backwards by, in a sense, taking policy and elevating that so that the senior person in this whole system is the Head of Policy, and then someone else deals with this other stuff.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: Could I make a postscript to that? This debate has deep roots in history. It was one that was debated in the Fulton Report, which was unhappy about the way the Civil Service focused on policy, which it kept in the Administrative Class, not execution, which was delegated to the lower grades. One of the things that worried them about having a separate Head of the Civil Service was that the person who held that job would not have sufficient status. I have checked; if you look at paragraph 258, they proposed that the Head of the Civil Service, who they wanted to be separate, should have a much bigger salary than any other Permanent Secretary, and that the Cabinet Secretary should be down with other Permanent Secretaries in salary. So this question of separating it off was one that they were debating quite strongly even then.

Lord Turnbull: The history is quite an unhappy one. Those who took the job, I would say the late Ian Bancroft in particular, felt they were typecast as the shop steward of the mandarinate. In other words they were representing this class of people rather than working with Ministers to get this class of people to change, develop and improve. In my last conversation with him, the late Douglas Allen said, "Well, I have had this fine career, and it all rather ended with a whimper because I took this separate job and I wish I hadn’t; I wish I had just gone."

Q92 Paul Flynn: Lord Wilson, you describe it as a brave step into the past. Is this "Sir Humphrey talk" for a foolhardy stumble into yesterday’s mistakes?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: I think it is a case where every generation perhaps from time to time has to relearn from experience. There is no ideal answer to this problem. This is one of those cases where you just have some solutions that, on experience, you think work better than others. The history of this job in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s does teach you that separating off the Head of the Civil Service, particularly if you locate it outside, is going to be extremely hard to work.

Can I just add one point to that? There was some talk last week about leadership. I am perhaps one of the few, or I may be the only, former Head of the Civil Service who actually spent the bulk of their career in a Government Department rather than in the centre of Government. We are not immune to what happens at these august levels in Departments. We watch what happens. We used to watch what happened in the 1970s, our antennae were out, and when we watched the Head of the Civil Service going through a chapter of accidents of things that went wrong, which I do not want to rehearse again. The message we got for the whole Civil Service was that we were not valued. One of the questions I would ask in any re-organisation is: what message does it give to people down the line in Government Departments?

Q93 Paul Flynn: The message it gives is that you double the number of people at the top and halve the number of people at the bottom; that you need two people to do the top job that one person did, and at the bottom level, the plebeian level, you are halving the number of jobs. You are expecting one person to do the job of two.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: You certainly want somebody at the top of the service with the ear of the Prime Minister who can make sure that the views of the Civil Service are being properly represented.

Q94 Paul Flynn: But Mrs Thatcher said with some wisdom, I would have thought, that she did not want a Pinky and Perky.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: I read that, yes.

Q95 Paul Flynn: This Government, the Tory-Lib Dem junta do want a Pinky and Perky, because that is a fair reflection of what the junta is. Someone referred to it as a marriage. I think it is a great, screaming marriage on the brink of divorce most of the time. But do you think Pinky and Perky is a fair description of what the junta is handing out?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: I think you are tempting me into-

Paul Flynn: Well be tempted.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: - political territory that I am not going to go into. The point I would want to make is that the Civil Service will look and see that there is going to be a powerful Cabinet Secretary who already has a strong relationship with the Prime Minister, and that the job of the Head of the Civil Service will be given to someone outside the centre, presumably. If it goes back to the Treasury it really would be a step right into the past, but if it goes to another Department it is going to be someone outside that strong, central circle. I think the message will be that the management and role of the service is being given less weight in the inner circle. Whether Pinky and Perky talk to each other is beyond my competence.

Lord Turnbull: You refer to Pinky and Perky. In your session last week I do not think you paid enough attention to the fact there are two changes being made here. One is to divide the Head of the Civil Service from the Cabinet Secretary. The second is to divide the Head of the Civil Service again into the bit that is Ian Watmore Permanent Secretary in the Cabinet Office, and then this other role.

Q96 Chair: I am actually far more concerned about that.

Lord Turnbull: That is the difficulty. Apart from the Head of the Civil Service having a day job to do; the Watmore job is connected to the second hardwired levers of power. There are the levers through the Prime Minister, and then there are all those hard issues in the Civil Service: workforce planning, recruitment, reward, industrial relations, compensation, pensions, etc. That is the heart of the Francis Maude agenda, so by the time you have hollowed that out, what then is left? So you could then say, as the Chairman was hinting, that you agree with the split, but if you were going to split it you would not split it that way. I do not agree with either of them, but I certainly do not agree with the second split.

Q97 Chair: Do we think Ian Watmore has applied for the job?

Lord Turnbull: I am pretty sure that he has not. If they thought he was the right person for the job they could simply have created a Civil Service Department within the Cabinet Office. I think he is still working, physically located in the Treasury, so he is very near Danny Alexander as well. That is where the real crunch issues are going to be decided, and he has got staff working for him. This other person that may be working down at St James’ tube station or something-what staff have they got? You need to look at the job specification.

Chair: Can we come back to the specification a bit later because we are jumping ahead? One or two people want to come in.

Q98 Alun Cairns : I want to come back, Lord Turnbull, to what you said at the very beginning, that it was your hunch that this was not the preferred model at the outset. What do you think should be the preferred model from the outset? And secondly, what is the motivation behind this model?

Lord Turnbull: I am not in this sector, but my preferred model. Look at Jeremy Heywood’s career; it is a very, very distinguished career, working in the Treasury at the very heart of Government but with not a day spent in another Government Department. Richard worked there a long time. I had four years at the Department of the Environment, but Jeremy had four years at the epicentre of the current financial crisis working in the city. That says to me that this is the person who has almost been perfectly trained to be the next Permanent Secretary to the Treasury. But they have decided they do not want to do that. That is my personal preference and is what I would have done as my choice number one.

Choice number two would have been to keep the thing together, but then create the support mechanisms to enable this very heavy job to be done. One of them would be to use Ian Watmore as a kind of COO, and the other to rely on the Heads of the Cabinet Secretariats to do a lot of the policy problem solving. Richard and I had some extremely good people working for us. Indeed Richard did that job at one stage when there was a big row about university fees or foundation hospitals or free schools or whatever. A Cabinet Secretary cannot try and solve it himself, he gives it to the Head of the Domestic Secretariat, and you build those mechanisms up rather than trying to do everything yourself. I think structurally, if you are going to go down this line, that is my second preference.

The third is if you are going to split it, do not split it a second time. I think that is my ranking of these things.

Q99 Kelvin Hopkins : With a unitary system of Government it is very important to sustain pluralism-different centres of power if you like, countervailing forces within the sphere of Government. One of those has been the Civil Service. The Civil Service World newspaper has warned that removing the Head of the Civil Service from the heart of power, as they describe it, will reduce the capacity of the Civil Service perhaps as a check on Ministers. In our system of Government that is important, is it not? And will this not have that effect?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: It is absolutely central to our constitution that we have checks and balances within Government. The main check and balance is meant to be the Cabinet, and the difference of views and collective responsibility that you have between different Cabinet Ministers. That is where the power is, and the Civil Service is there to advise. Ultimately if Ministers wish to overrule them that is their prerogative, but they are there also to say, "Hold on, we ought to have due process and we ought to have a proper discussion of this on the basis of the facts, options and costs before you finally decide which way it goes." It should be a collective discussion, not in the hands of a small group of people.

The Head of the Civil Service has a voice in that about whether a policy can be actually implemented; it is quite tempting sometimes to decide a policy without considering whether the machine is going to be able to follow behind it. To the extent that that voice is removed from the councils at the centre, it is going to reduce the checks and balances.

Q100 Kelvin Hopkins : I am a great admirer of the Sir Humphrey model, and I think we are moving away from that.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: Yes, Minister.

Q101 Robert Halfon: Just to go back, dare I say it, to your football analogy I do not necessarily agree with what you say. Although of course Alex Ferguson is incredibly successful and clearly is a genius in terms of management, because he has so much control over the club, Manchester United will be in serious trouble when he goes because everything is centralised in that one individual. It will be very hard to get somebody like that, so I do not think your analogy quite works. The way you come over with all your knowledge and expertise is that you are in essence resisting change, and this would be exactly the Sir Humphrey response to what the Government is proposing. It may have weaknesses, but you and your predecessors come over as one would expect the former grandees like yourself to respond. Can you answer that?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: We represent the youthful face of change. It is for you obviously to make your own judgments. All we can do is offer our best view in the light of our experience. In my career pretty much everything has been tried, other than having the Head of the Civil Service in a Government Department outside the centre, if you call the CSD part of the centre, which is a bit doubtful. The problem has been that Civil Service management historically has tended to be, it used to be said, below the salt.

If you look at the old Treasury when it was in the Treasury, it was always regarded as the place where people did not want to go to, where the best people did not serve. That was one of the reasons why it was taken out and put to the CSD. Then when the CSD had been there for a few years, because the Cabinet Secretary was stronger, the CSD lost status, and management of the service lost status. Then when it came into the Cabinet Office it was put into something in which I worked for a while called the Management and Personnel Office, which was also below the salt. One of the things I did as Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service was to bring it into the Cabinet Officer proper; I do not think anyone is arguing about splitting it off again. But it has always struggled to get to the point where management is regarded as important enough for proper, really able people to do.

The great struggle of the service has been to say to people, "Take this seriously." It is not enough to be good at policy. You have really got to be good at making things happen in the real world. That is what the electorate want. That is what Parliament wants. That is what this Select Committee actually asked for in its report in September. I do not see that as being about being Sir Humphrey; it is about trying to hold on to what we have struggled to acquire culturally over a long period of time. I am worried that taking it back into a Department and making it a sideline of a busy Permanent Secretary, marginalising it, is a signal that it is going back into the past. That is what I am trying to say to you.

Q102 Robert Halfon: I would say you are resisting this. We are teasing out the flaws, but the Civil Service resisting this is a bit like the Pope saying a Mass at the Vatican, it is just what we expect you to do.

Lord Turnbull: I want to rebut this, really. The reason I do not like this scheme is because I think it will weaken the apparatus for bringing about reform of the kind this Committee has advocated. The Cabinet Secretary, with a close link to the Prime Minister, generates an authority. If you are trying to persuade the Civil Service to swallow some difficult medicine, the fact that the person leading the service has the authority of the Prime Minister means that you have more authority in persuading your departmental colleagues to go down this line of accepting change. By fragmenting the job, and particularly marginalising the titular Head of the Civil Service, as we fear, you will weaken the ability to drive a major programme of change.

Q103 Robert Halfon: Would you accept that the Cabinet Office has grown in terms of its responsibilities in the last 10 years, and even further under this Government? For example, it is responsible for Mr Flynn’s favourite, the Big Society, and so on. Would you accept that it has grown?

Paul Flynn: The creation of the "ineptocracy" we usually call it.

Robert Halfon: Would you accept that it has grown bigger in terms of responsibilities?

Lord Turnbull: I have appeared, I think before this Committee, or possibly the Constitution Committee in the other House, and have not favoured adding executive responsibilities to the Cabinet Office. So adding a whole series of units to it-

Q104 Robert Halfon: But it has happened.

Lord Turnbull: It has happened, and I do not think that growth has helped the Cabinet Office.

Q105 Robert Halfon: Whether it is right or wrong is a different issue; it may be wrong or right, but that is another discussion. The reason I am asking is, given that it has now increased responsibilities, surely it needs to have its own Permanent Secretary entirely responsible for those Cabinet Office affairs.

Lord Turnbull: Ian Watmore’s job at the moment is the delivery and reform of an efficiency agenda. He will not give that up. I interpret this as enhancing his status in this thing, and one of the problems is that as you enhance his status, you begin to reduce the status of this Head of the Civil Service, and then make it more difficult to lead this programme of change.

Q106 Robert Halfon: But every other Department has its own Permanent Secretary, and, given the Cabinet Office has so many responsibilities now, surely it should have its own Permanent Secretary just responsible for the operation of the Cabinet Office. I cannot see why that is a problem.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: Can I just come in on that? I think you are entirely right that there is some force of gravity which means that units keep getting sucked into the Cabinet Office. One of the jobs of whoever is appointed, if we use this term "the Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service", has always been to sweep away the bits that have outlived their usefulness, because most units have got a life of about two or three years and then they begin to tail off. When I took over I did a review of Cabinet Office, and I found we had the washed up hulks of old units from the previous 20 years, which we needed to move on.

So I think it has to lean against getting too big. Underneath this combined role of Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service, which I still believe is the right title, you can have a Permanent Secretary running the Cabinet Office. I am arguing that the two roles should remain together with whatever support arrangements you need-and you can debate what that should be-rather than having this important role of Head of the Civil Service given as a kind of hobby. Last week Douglas Wass gave a fascinating contribution, a real insight into what it was like in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He described the Head of the Civil Service as a light duty. If you really want to talk about the past, that is the view of that time, which I do not personally share. I believe the Civil Service does need leadership if it is going to make big changes, so I think we are more modern than that.

Q107 Robert Halfon: I agree with your first remarks to the Chairman when you said there is going to be an issue: if there is a crisis, who is going to be the person responsible? Can I ask you this? As I understand it the Downing Street Permanent Secretary is removed under this new equation, and the Downing Street Permanent Secretary’s job becomes the new Cabinet Secretary’s job. Is that right?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: You look as if we know the answer. I believe you to be right.

Lord Turnbull: I thought what is happening is that the old job I once had, the Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, so head of a private office, will re-emerge, and that would be a reasonably senior job.

Q108 Robert Halfon: Does it matter that the Downing Street Permanent Secretary is going to go?

Lord Turnbull: No.

Q109 Robert Halfon: And what do you think are the reasons for merging the Downing Street Permanent Secretary and the Cabinet Secretary?

Lord Turnbull: Formally the Private Office in some sense is part of the Cabinet Office; it is supporting the Prime Minister. But it should be a distinct entity that lives on that side of the door and seeks its advice from the Cabinet Office side of the door, and you do not blur it. If you blur that distinction the Prime Minister will gradually suck the resources out of the Cabinet Office into his own personal use, and it is important to retain a function that is serving the Cabinet as a whole.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: There is a real point behind the argument that the job of the Cabinet Secretary is to support the Cabinet collectively and not just the Prime Minister. It is very important that the rest of the Cabinet should see the Cabinet Secretary as someone they can go and talk to if they have a problem in their Department. They should not just feel that whatever they hear from the Cabinet Secretary is going to be played straight back into the Prime Minister.

Q110 Robert Halfon: But if you merge those roles together, Downing Street and the Cabinet, surely that position becomes the ear of the Prime Minister?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: No, that is why I quibble slightly at your suggestion that the two roles are being merged. I think the role of Permanent Secretary in Number 10 is being left in Number 10, but, as Andrew Turnbull just said, it is the Principal Private Secretary job, and that is right that it should remain there. I think the job that Jeremy Heywood is going to do is a different job, and one that supports the Cabinet collectively and, of course, the Prime Minister as Chairman of the Cabinet.

But if you have the two roles combined it is possible for a Cabinet Minister to go and say, as I did when I was Cabinet Secretary, "I have got this problem in my Department." And you go through it, and the problem is partly about the policy changes that are needed and the areas they have got to tackle, but it is also about how they organise themselves and the key appointments they make in order to implement it. There are all sorts of examples, and Health is a good one.

If you separate the roles, the Cabinet Secretary will be able to talk about one half of it, but you have got someone else who is involved in the other half-such as appointments. I think that is right, although when you look at the job description it is slightly unclear. I never used to have to ask myself, "Am I acting as Cabinet Secretary or as Head of the Civil Service?" because the two were integral. I think the jagged edge you get is very, very awkward to make work. The Cabinet is better served by having one man or woman they can go and talk to who has got it all within their compass.

Q111 Paul Flynn: I am in awe of what you say. You referred to the danger of separating policy and execution. Would you like to say a bit more about that? You just referred to this jagged edge. There is no merit in this except circumstances. It is not a question of new ideas coming forward. You had enormous experience in this. It is just a bad idea, is it not?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: I have said what I feel. I am a child of the Fulton Report, which I think was seminal in all sorts of ways, although it is now rather old. But the concept that the Civil Service is there to support Ministers at the top of the Civil Service in the formulation of policy, and that someone else will take away execution, is fundamentally flawed because the role of Government ultimately is to make things happen for the electorate in the outside world with the consent and agreement of Parliament and so on. Unless the Civil Service in its own way is integrated in looking at policy proposals in the light of whether they can actually work or not, and able to mobilise the resources to make it happen, then the taxpayer and the electorate are not properly served.

Q112 Paul Flynn: This is just the rhythm of politics, is it not? Like the Fulton Report, I am very old. I watched centralism come in and then localism come in. Things ebb and flow and go backwards. It is interesting that the New Zealand Administration is currently considering combining into one post the three separate roles there that cover the two jobs that we are talking about. It is a question of fashion and what looks right and the demands of the Coalition at the moment. But I think there is a political price to pay, as you rightly say. I would not accuse you of just saying that when you were in charge it was a period of perfection that could not be improved.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: It was the opposite.

Q113 Paul Flynn: But I think the judgments you make are very convincing on this, particularly this point about the separation, which seems to be the main one, of policy and execution of policy. Would you like to expand on it in terms of what has happened in the last few days?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: Which of the many things that have been happening? So much is happening at the moment.

Chair: The Border Agency.

Q114 Paul Flynn: Yes, the Border Agency. I am following with absolute fascination the policies of Francis Maude. This phrase of "ineptocracy" is irresistible. It comes up again and again because nothing appears to be working. You cannot go on running a Government that just blames the last Government when virtually every initiative introduced by the Government either does not work or they have done a U-turn on it.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: You have to resist the temptation, which I do understand from time to time, of thinking there are so many ideas and so much has been tried. You have said somewhere that you feel weary of it; it may have been on your blog-

Paul Flynn: Reading my blog? I do commend you. What a splendid wide view you have of life.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: -and I can understand that. But I do believe in such a thing as good government-perhaps I am one of the last romantics. I think that we do struggle on the basis of experience towards trying to do what is fundamentally deeply difficult to do. Government is inherently messy and awkward. But you can say, on the basis of experience, that some things work better than others. All I am trying to argue for is what I think, on the basis of my experience, does work, and I feel quite strongly about it.

Paul Flynn: I shall ask no further questions because the evidence you have given is so convincing.

Q115 Kelvin Hopkins : Every Government and Prime Minister has their own style. Without inviting you to be indiscreet about your time, both of you worked for Tony Blair.

Lord Turnbull: This is true.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: Yes.

Q116 Kelvin Hopkins : That is an established fact, I think. But Tony Blair was determined to drive through his own revolution, if one likes, and he took policymaking very much to the political field with lots of special advisers and so on. The present Prime Minister seems to want to hand that back to a senior policy civil servant, in a sense. My impression, you have said differently, is that Jeremy Heywood very much wants to get his hands on policy and drive policy through and wants to leave administration to other people. So his role is, in a sense, a bit more like Jonathan Powell than Sir Humphrey and your good selves as traditional Heads of the Civil Service and Cabinet Secretaries. Would you say that is fair?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: I am not sure I understand the question. I do not think Jeremy is like Jonathan Powell. Can I just make a point about the Blair years? It is so easy to look back at them through the lens of what actually happened. We know the story now. When I took over as Cabinet Secretary they had been in power for six or seven months, and they were still feeling their way as to what sort of Government they wanted to be and how they wanted to run it. When I had my private talk with Mr Blair before he offered me the job, management did not feature very large in it. There were all sorts of other things he talked about. He was always in favour of reform and modernisation, those words featured large, but reform and modernisation for what? They took quite a long time to come to a head, and in a way it was with Andrew that their views were more formulated. There was a tendency at the beginning to attempt micro-management, which moved on to the setting up of the Delivery Unit, a proposal which I put forward to them to try to select the things to be focused on. The first Blair Parliament was a period when a lot of Ministers who had never been in Government before were learning the job and were climbing a steep learning curve. A lot of my time was engaged in trying to help in that process, punctuated with some four wars and a number of major episodes like 9/11, foot and mouth, the fuel protest and so on.

Lord Turnbull: I think there were two phases. There was the first Parliament. Excepting the devolution settlement, which I think has worked rather better than many people thought, he came to a point in about 2001 when he thought, "I have not really made any progress on domestic public service reform." So there was a great flurry of activity. He set up the Delivery Unit, which I think was effective. He also set up the Office of Public Service Reform, which I think was not. When I was recruited as Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service that was what he wanted me to concentrate on. Then within days of my arrival the Iraq War took over, so that whole second term did not achieve the change in public service reform that it would otherwise have done. So that is part of the heritage.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: I come back to your question about Jeremy Heywood. Through that period, Jeremy Heywood, who was principal Private Secretary at that time, played an absolutely crucial role in keeping dialogue open between Number 10 and the Treasury-I tread carefully in this area-and in acting as a policy adviser. That is a role which I would guess, because I have been out of this now for nearly a decade, bloomed into the role of Permanent Secretary more recently. It is a role that has to be done in Number 10. Andrew did it. With the exception of Douglas Wass, all the Cabinet Secretaries you had last week-Robert Armstrong, Robin Butler-performed this Principal Private Secretary role, and it is a crucial role. When I was dealing with Number 10, Jonathan Powell was involved in the Northern Ireland peace process. That took up a lot of his time, rather than the Principal Private Secretary role, which Jeremy did persist in carrying out.

Q117 Kelvin Hopkins : I appreciate that things changed over time. When Blair first took over he had to accept a lot of Cabinet Ministers he did not really want because they were old Labour, but they were elected Shadow Cabinet Members, and all of that. But the story of Blair is that he governed through sofa government, by a walk in the woods, by secret cabals with his own special advisers. That was where policy was determined, rather than in discussion with the Cabinet Secretary. And indeed the Cabinet was outside that world. We came to understand that the Cabinet became a mere cipher in fact, and that even Cabinet Ministers were increasingly controlled by special advisers loyal to Downing Street headquarters.

Lord Turnbull: We should be looking now at whether those things improved under the Coalition. Looking from the outside, I think they have. One of the benefits of the Coalition is you cannot do things in quite the Blairite/Brownite way. There is a formal, published programme, and the Cabinet Committees have been revived. The Cabinet itself has been revived, and more of Government goes through the traditional processes. I think that is beneficial. Whether it has got to a state of grace is another question, but partly the personalities and partly the requirements of the Coalition have brought the state of Government back towards where people like the two of us and our three predecessors want it to be.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: I gave evidence to the Iraq Inquiry on this question at length, which is on the record. I think that the easiest way to explain what happened to the Cabinet Committee system and process in the Blair years is to say that there was one view, which I accept, which is the conventional view of collective Government and the role of the Cabinet Committee system. I happen to think it gives you the best chance of reaching good decisions, though it is no guarantee. But New Labour came to office with a very different view of how to run Government, the role of the Prime Minister and the role of the Cabinet. I do not want to repeat what I said there unless this Committee has got a lot of time.

Q118 Chair: Would it be true to say that a Cabinet Secretary who is not also Head of the Civil Service would find it harder to police the tendency towards sofa Government?

Lord Turnbull: There is a danger that this person gets sucked into it if it were happening.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: That is right.

Lord Turnbull: I think it is more likely, particularly if you have been the Permanent Secretary at Number 10 and then you become Cabinet Secretary Policy. Are you going to find yourself acting as the lone official consigliere in this group? This is something that Jeremy Heywood is going to have to fight against constantly, because in some senses there needs to be some distance. There are times when the Civil Service has got to speak truth unto power and advocate things that are not what Ministers want to hear, and it is easier to do that with a bit of distance and not being constantly at the Prime Minister’s side.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: I think Andrew is absolutely on the nail. This question of distance is very important. You must always be in the Cabinet Office on that side of the green baize door, able to keep just that bit of distance from what is going on in Number 10.

Q119 Chair: Bluntly, do you think Jeremy is going to be a bit vulnerable?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: No. What I was trying to say earlier was that he is going to have to do a different job from the one he has been doing for Number 10.

Q120 Chair: But that is Sir-Humphrey-speak for something more difficult.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: There was a suggestion last week that someone who is Head of the Civil Service as well as Cabinet Secretary would find it difficult to speak truth to the Prime Minister. I think the opposite is true: you are in a better position if you have the full weight rather than half the weight of the job.

I made a speech when I was Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service about the case for a Civil Service Bill. Number 10 may not have liked it. I showed it to them. But I made a speech, it is on the record, and I was able to do that because I had both the jobs.

Q121 Kelvin Hopkins : As a person of the left I do not like the policies that are emerging, but I was in fact very much in favour of the shift back towards genuine Cabinet Government and so on.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: I think it is terrific.

Q122 Kelvin Hopkins : This move now strikes me as a mistake, the sort of thing that might have happened under New Labour but did not. I very much sympathise with what you are saying. It is very important in our system of Government to have checks and balances, to have a Cabinet Secretary who is grounded in the Civil Service, able to speak truth unto power, as you say-to the Prime Minister when needed.

Q123 Chair: Briefly?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: Can I just make one quick point on that? It is very hard to know where truth lies in all this, but when Andrew took over I suspect that one of the things that lay behind their wish to see the role of Head of the Civil Service taking more of his time was that they did not particularly want a Cabinet Secretary who might be playing the traditional Cabinet Secretary role and banging on about it.

Q124 Robert Halfon: The new Permanent Secretary to the Cabinet could speak truth to the Prime Minister. I do not see why these changes will stop that from happening. In fact you will get more than one voice, which would be a good thing.

Lord Turnbull: Where does the number three in all this, the Head of the Civil Service, come? He is not even in the central hub of Government, and physical proximity is important. It makes a difference to how people work.

Robert Halfon: That is not the case, because according to this, the job specification, he jointly chairs all meetings-

Lord Turnbull: Can I say something about this thing? If you are the Head of the Civil Service, on the one hand you are told that you lead the top 200 with the responsibility of succession planning, induction training, and chair the Senior Leadership Committee. You think, "Great, I have got a very clear job here." Then over the page, jointly with the Cabinet Secretary you "manage the Permanent Secretary cadre and chair all meetings of Permanent Secretaries". So immediately with those two things, instead of having clear functions, they are intertwined. So where on earth do you sort out the clear demarcation? He has got problems to the left of him. Then the Head of the Civil Service is told that he leads on all these workforce issues of pensions, pay and numbers, but that is what Watmore is doing. So no one has got a job description that has clear edges. You have to work in tandem with someone else and negotiate, and it does not look to me as though it is clear.

Q125 Robert Halfon: Lord Wilson, when I asked why the Cabinet Office should not have a Permanent Secretary, you said it would be perfectly all right if there was a de facto Permanent Secretary, and under the existing arrangements you can have a de facto person running it. That would lead to exactly the same problem as you have just described.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: First of all, nothing I said was intended to suggest that Jeremy Heywood will not do his job well. I am absolutely confident in him, I think he is terrific. I think he will understand the point I am making, so I do not want to be misunderstood on that. Secondly, when I was Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service I did have a second Permanent Secretary who ran the Cabinet Office and who took off me, for instance, the Modernising Government agenda. I did have a lot of support, and I had a very good Head of the Economic Secretariat, who also worked for Andrew, who took off me a lot of the policy issues. There is no problem with that. I am arguing for keeping the two roles together and not having the jagged edges that this present tripartite arrangement seems to me to have, where you have the Head of the Civil Service somewhere outside the centre of Government working for the Prime Minister and this team in the middle who could well be taking a different view. That is very different, and I think having Ian Watmore working to a Cabinet Office Minister and the two of them separately talking to the Cabinet Secretary and the Prime Minister is awkward.

Q126 Greg Mulholland: Clearly there are concerns about the implications for the split, but there are also some very simple human implications of the time commitment involved. The job description for the Head of the Civil Service includes the phrase asking the candidates to say how, and I quote, "they would do the job alongside their existing role." But, also, the job description extraordinarily does not give any indication of the time involved in the role. I have certainly never seen a job description that does not do that. Do you not think this is a recipe for confusion and problems in the future?

Lord Turnbull: If I look at what is assigned to this post and then say "How much time I did spend on those issues?"-Richard may have his own answer- I would say I spent 40% to 45% of my time on this clutch of issues. It could even be 50%. How on earth you do that in addition to being the Permanent Secretary of a major Department of State I have no idea.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: The time I devoted to being Head of the Civil Service swung depending on what crisis we had on during the various military campaigns-Kosovo or Afghanistan or Desert Fox or Sierra Leone-or foot and mouth or whatever. That was pretty time consuming; those things absorbed a lot of my time. However, when we had the big reform programme, which we launched in 1999 with the Permanent Secretaries combined behind it, that was my top priority and I spent a lot of time on it, taking it out round the Civil Service. We had gatherings of 300 to 500 Civil Servants all round the country, and I attended and took part in them all. It does vary, but averaged over time I would go along with Andrew’s guesstimate of 40% to 45%. I think that would be roughly what I did too. I cannot tell you the Permanent Secretary job that has got 40% to 45% of its time spare. If there is one I should hope someone would have done something about it. So it is as long as a piece of string in the sense that, if you do not have the time to do something, you do not do it. But I think the role will suffer.

Lord Turnbull: There are two things that take a great deal of time. There is a reference here to managing the Permanent Secretary cadre. I had two meetings a year with every Permanent Secretary-probably 35 of them-one to say, "What are you trying to do this year?" and secondly to come back and say, "And what did you do? How much of this have you achieved?" This in turn led to a discussion about pay, promotion or whatever.

The second is that the process of choosing Permanent Secretaries, you may say, is more bureaucratic, but it is much more rigorous and there are many more open competitions. If you have got that many Permanent Secretaries you probably have seven major appointment processes a year. You go through the process of defining the job, looking at the shortlist, interviewing the candidates, possibly interviewing the frontrunners. That is a very time consuming process, but it is absolutely essential if you are going to bring in and promote people of the highest quality. That is why the job took so long. You can say, "Well, I will let someone else do all those interviews for the head of whatever agency." Fine, but I think you lose something.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: Visibility is also important. I used to go out around the country and talk to large groups of civil servants. I used to make about 100 speeches a year. I suspect that is the sort of thing that will be squeezed out, and I think the Service will suffer for it if it goes that way.

Q127 Greg Mulholland: Being blunt, do you think it is possible to run the Civil Service in addition to managing a busy Department? What effect do you think the sharing of these two roles would actually have on the Permanent Secretary’s existing Department?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: If you are in the Home Office, which I have run for three or four years, and you have a sudden crisis and the Minister wants to see you, you have to go to the Minister. Believe me, in the Home Office, the Minister wants to see you because something has just come out of a clear blue sky more often than you would think-perhaps you would this week. The Department will take priority because the needs of the Department are imperative, they are there and they are now. The needs of the Civil Service, as Andrew said, will be a core of things that are quite time consuming that have to be done.

Q128 Chair: That is the same for the Cabinet Secretary, is it not?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: Yes, it is true for the Cabinet Secretary. All I can tell you is that it is possible to run the Cabinet Secretary job with adequate support in a way which allows you to move from priority to priority.

Q129 Chair: So does it not then depend on the support that the Head of the Civil Service would have in that Department?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: They are going to go down this route. They are going to end up with someone doing the job of Permanent Secretary other than the Permanent Secretary, if they are going to do it properly. I am not for names, but I think that is what you are likely to have.

Q130 Chair: It is fairly obvious, isn’t it?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: Yes.

Q131 Greg Mulholland: Considering the pace of change currently in the Civil Service, do you have concerns that making this role an add on-as you comment, it is not even strictly a part time role-has implications for the necessary commitment to manage that pace of change? And what time commitment of a senior person do you think should be needed to be Head of the Civil Service in this sort of environment?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: I think the challenges facing the Civil Service now are or ought to be pretty substantial. Francis Maude made a speech last year saying there are vast new challenges for the Civil Service and outlining all of them. I read them and I thought, "Gosh, those are big, substantial challenges"; they require leadership and a good, active hands-on role in relation to your fellow Permanent Secretaries, as Andrew has just described.

The point about the Cabinet Secretary post is that it comes and goes. There are times when it is all demanding, but there are times when you can do quite a lot else for the Service. I think that in a Department the demands are more consistent and considerable, and I do not think you would have the energy or the hours in the day to lead and spearhead the kind of challenges that are being described. It must be implicit in this that what the Government is expecting of the Head of the Civil Service, despite the description, is less demanding than the kind of speech that Francis Maude made.

Lord Turnbull: Inevitably what will happen is that the Permanent Secretary of the Cabinet Office becomes in effect the COO of this organisation, and the Head of the Civil Service becomes a more representational, titular thing-the person who is carrying the message to the outside world and to the rest of the Civil Service. The actual hard grind of looking at Civil Service remuneration or pensions, or the shape of Departments, will end up staying in the Cabinet Office. If the Head of the Civil Service role becomes too much of the dignified part of the Service it will lack authority. What we are suggesting is that-either by keeping the thing together and then creating the support mechanisms, or, even if you split it, then by not splitting a second time-you maintain the authority of that role on a much better basis.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: When I was thinking about this Committee I was asking myself what advice I would give if I was mentoring one of the potential candidates for the job. I was wondering whether I would say to them, "Go for it," or "Don’t go for it." On the whole I would tell them to be jolly wary about going for this post. It sounds great and it has got history; you know that in years to come Select Committees will summon you when you have retired, and you know that is a great privilege and honour. Nonetheless, despite those benefits and perks, the danger is that you will find that power is being exercised at the centre, and you end up being the visible face, the person who is sent up on television to front for it, but the weight of the decision making is still being held in the seat of power. I would caution them a bit.

Q132 Robert Halfon: Would that not depend on personality?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: All of this is conditional on personalities. The person doing the job may have a terrifically good relationship with the centre, manage to spend time on that relationship and make it work. Andrew rightly said the Civil Service is very good at making things work, so they will make it work. For the purposes of this sort of hearing, one has to make it slightly black and white, but the points are real, because if they do spend a lot of time at the centre what is their Secretary of State going to be thinking about it? They will be quite interested to know what is going on.

What happens when there is a conflict of interest? Because there will be conflicts of interest.

Chair: We will come to that.

Q133 Alun Cairns : Thank you, Chairman. That is precisely the point that leads from Mr Mulholland’s questions to mine about the job description. But before I come to those, can we talk about the conflict of interest, but also maybe conflict of credibility? Let us assume that there is a drive to improve procurement across Government, and the Head of the Civil Service happens to be in the Department where their record of procurement is not particularly strong.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: I cannot think which one you are talking about.

Q134 Alun Cairns : How would that be seen across Government, how would it be addressed and would there be a conflict of credibility?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: Yes, there would be a conflict of credibility. On the one hand you would be standing up making speeches as Head of the Civil Service, arguing the case to your colleagues about how important it was they took this vital function seriously, and they would all be looking at you thinking, "Ho, ho, ho, look at your own backyard before you say it to us." So there is a real potential. I also think-or are you about to go on to conflict of interest?

Q135 Alun Cairns : No, please do. Job description is my next question, but please carry on with conflict of interest.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: I also think there is a conflict of interest because there will be situations where your Secretary of State will not be at one with the centre. All Secretaries of State from time to time get into a situation where the centre takes a different view from them. Sometimes it is quite often, depending on personalities. In that situation you will be on the one hand saying to your Secretary of State, "I think this is how you should handle the centre," and on the other hand you will be going to the Prime Minister saying, "This is how I think we should be behaving in relation to the Civil Service implementing this policy." I cannot give you exact chapter and verse, but I can tell you the tensions are very hard to manage.

Q136 Alun Cairns : Lord Turnbull, have you anything to add on that?

Lord Turnbull: People say, "How can this person manage the Civil Service knowing they may face some accusation under it?" Well, you could say that is true of the Cabinet Secretary, but I think it does make this more difficult. I do not find plausible this idea that you can be head of profession, so to speak, for the Civil Service.

This Committee have looked at the fact that the role of the Civil Service Head of HR was abolished and attached to, in a rather analogous way, the Department who had the most senior or distinguished HR person. That is in a sense what is happening to this.

Q137 Chair: It has happened to other roles too, such as Chief Information Officer.

Lord Turnbull: Yes, and I do not think it is a good idea. I spent a lot of time setting up Centres of Excellence headed by people that were leading the profession as a whole. The absolutely sine qua non for making this arrangement work is that the HR post is recreated.

Q138 Chair: In the Cabinet Office?

Lord Turnbull: But if it is in the Cabinet Office, of course, it has also to work for the Head of the Civil Service. That is where you get the difficulty. Where does the Head of the Civil Service find their staff from? So that job has to be recreated.

Q139 Chair: So do you want a CSD again?

Lord Turnbull: I would not call it the CSD because it sounds as though-a bit like old MAFF being the Department of Farmers-it is representing the producer interests. I would not call it that. It is about the Public Service Reform.

Q140 Chair: Efficiency Reform Group, perhaps?

Lord Turnbull: Well that is what the Cabinet Office is doing. That is why in looking at this design of the thing you have to look at the Watmore/Maude alliance, because they are very, very important players in it. I think the existence of that is part of the efficient part of this constitution, and the Head of the Civil Service job is going to be the dignified part of it.

Q141 Alun Cairns : Can I pursue the issue around the job descriptions? Does the job description, which we have touched on briefly, include all of the responsibilities and duties that you see for the Head of the Civil Service; and how has the post changed since the time that you left the role?

Lord Turnbull: I think it does, and that is part of the problem. It is a very big job and not something that can be achieved in that last 10% extra that you can squeeze out of some hard-worked individual; it is a pretty comprehensive definition of the role. For someone who does not have staff working directly with them and has a responsibility to the Secretary of State or the Department, maybe employing thousands of people with billions of money, this is a big workload. So it is not what is missing here; it is the fact that there is so much of it. That is what worries me.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: I think it is pretty comprehensive given the limited number of words you can use. I find myself thinking of nitpicking: where does security of individuals lie; or where do honours lie; or where do contingencies lie? When Mr Blair said to me one morning, "I want you to take over the handling of foot and mouth", was that as Cabinet Secretary or as Head of the Civil Service? But those things can be resolved. In principle it has got the main bones of the job. That is good enough and the rest can be sorted.

Q142 Alun Cairns : Are we missing the point in this argument-maybe it is the title of Head of the Civil Service that is wrong? Is it really a succession planning role that needs to be passed over, so that the real Head of the Civil Service remains in the Cabinet Office?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: What would you call the job if you did not call it Head of the Civil Service?

Alun Cairns : I am speculating.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: I like the idea of having a Head of the Civil Service because it is a role that people recognise, and if you destroyed it you would lose the weight that goes with it. It is worth having weight and spending a bit of time trying to establish the role.

Secondly, I think if you change the name people would not know what it was there for. At least they have some idea of what goes with the role. You would lose some advantages. The point about Head of Information is relevant. I had the Head of Information working for me in the Home Office, and one of the first things I did when I went to the Cabinet Office was take him into the Cabinet Office, because I just thought it made much more sense to have him there than within a particular Department.

Q143 Alun Cairns : My final points relate to the meetings of Permanent Secretaries, which will be jointly chaired by the Head of the Civil Service and the Cabinet Secretary. Is that a recipe for disaster, or will it dovetail quite neatly?

Lord Turnbull: It will not dovetail neatly. It will not be a recipe for disaster because they will find some way to make it work, but ultimately over time I think one of these two will establish a supremacy over the other, and that is likely to be the person that is closer to the Prime Minister.

Q144 Chair: If the Cabinet Secretary is responsible for policy, presumably he would chair the policy discussions, and the Head of the Civil Service would be left doing pay and rations.

Lord Turnbull: That is exactly the lesson; we are trying to get away from that division with Professional Skills for Government, because you cannot be a top class, world class organisation if you are not world class in all the bits of it. You cannot just be good at policy. If you imagine the old days of local government, it was always the chief legal officer who was the town clerk. If we recreate something like that, the guy at the top is always the Head of Policy. But you have to bring so many other disciplines into play to be effective. This division is going to a world where policy is being elevated as something really special, whereas many of the failings of Government are not policy at all, they are simple delivery issues.

Q145 David Heyes: In light of all you have said so far it seems there will be a very short shortlist for this job. Will any Permanent Secretary worth his or her salt be interested in applying for this job? Will you have anyone to mentor?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: That is the sort of question we are all asking each other in private.

Q146 David Heyes: Answer it in public.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: In public, I am sure there are always people who will be prepared to put themselves forward in the interest of the public service.

Q147 David Heyes: That is a polite way of saying not the best.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: No. Can I just make one point? Andrew and I are having quite a good time putting this argument together. I do want to make the point that the people we are talking about are hugely able. Jeremy Heywood is terrific. The Civil Service has got some very fine heads of Department. I know they will put their backs into making this work, and I am sure whoever gets the job will be first rate and will make a good fist of making it work. I do not want in any way to feel we are undercutting them. We just want to give you our views, and that is what we have done.

Q148 David Heyes: Why would anybody want the job?

Lord Turnbull: They will still think that the Cabinet Secretary is the premier job. When it next comes up they may think they are the heir apparent, although of course there is a man who is barely 50, if he is even 50, so it does not look as though it is a very good bet as a stepping stone on to something else.

David Heyes: I will leave it, Chair. You have covered the other points, thank you.

Q149 Kelvin Hopkins : The new Head of the Civil Service will be jointly responsible with the Cabinet Secretary for the appointment of other Permanent Secretaries. Do you envisage difficulties for them in managing their peers in this way?

Lord Turnbull: Under the present arrangement the Cabinet Secretary, working usually with the Civil Service Commissioner because these are increasingly open competitions, runs the process of selection, and, having previously through the Senior Leadership Committee looked at all the succession possibilities, makes a recommendation to the Prime Minister. So that process is the same, except there are two people doing it. You cannot really have the Head of the Civil Service thinking it should be a certain person, and then it goes to the Prime Minister, and the Cabinet Secretary overrules it.

Q150 Chair: He would not need to, would he? He could just persuade the Prime Minister to not accept the decision.

Lord Turnbull: Absolutely, that is what I mean.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: That has happened when the two posts were separate in the 1970s. I know that to be the case.

Q151 Kelvin Hopkins : That is slightly humiliating for the Head of the Civil Service.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: Absolutely.

Q152 Kelvin Hopkins : If it is one person there is no problem. The Prime Minister does not like the proposal, and the Cabinet Secretary says, "Well all right, that was my choice-our choice." But if the Cabinet Secretary is saying to the Prime Minister, "Sir George has suggested Jim So-and-so, but I don’t think he is up to it. What about So-and-so?" that causes problems surely?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: When the Head of the Civil Service was in the CSD-I am really talking about Lord Croham-he would put in his recommendation to the Prime Minister. The Cabinet Secretary would go along, say on Monday, and the Prime Minister would say, "Have you seen this recommendation? What do you think of it?" And even just a silence does it. So that is what we mean by proximity, simply that you have the ear of the Prime Minister. Then you could just have that sort of very short conversation in which you say another name, and someone grunts.

Q153 Kelvin Hopkins : Then it is leaked to the press by someone.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: And then the service knows it, so there is a problem there potentially.

Kelvin Hopkins : Point made, Chairman.

Q154 Paul Flynn: Another broken politician’s promise: I have to come back about this. I am looking forward to the Adam Werritty affair and possible future scandals. When Gus O'Donnell-when God becomes a trinity, which personality of the trinity would investigate new Adam Werritty type scandals?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: I have to say, Mr Chairman, that is not really a question I can answer. I do not feel that I can answer it

Q155 Paul Flynn: You have read the-

Lord Wilson of Dinton: I have read this, but I don’t think it is in there.

Q156 Paul Flynn: What have you got to say about that?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: The Civil Service Code is the responsibility of the Head of the Civil Service under that job description. But the Ministerial Code, as far as I can remember, is not mentioned.

Q157 Paul Flynn: Liam Fox said, "With hindsight I should have been more willing to listen to the concerns of those around me," which I presume were Members of his own Department.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: Yes, I think so.

Q158 Paul Flynn: We had another example, not as serious as this, of the Ministerial Code being disregarded by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who was accused of attending a meeting and not declaring it. The meeting was run by lobbyists for customers, and the excuse for not doing this was that he was eating privately that day instead of ministerially. I mean there is a theory that he has actually got two stomachs in which he digests ministerially and he digests privately. This is not an entirely plausible excuse. When people try to run circles around the Government’s own Ministerial Code, who polices it? Is it God or the Trinity?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: At the moment it is the Cabinet Secretary/Head of the Civil Service. Anyone who has done that job will tell you there is regular flow of situations of one sort of another where people either want advice or have got into trouble and you have to deal with them. Under the new arrangement I do not know the answer, I am sorry.

Q159 Robert Halfon: Because it was a Cabinet issue in the case that my friend was talking about, and it was a Cabinet Member, surely it would then be the job of the Cabinet Secretary.

Lord Turnbull: It is implied by omission; the fact that it is not allocated to the Head of the Civil Service implies that it would go to the Cabinet Secretary.

Robert Halfon: So that is not a reason for saying this potential form is not a good one, because it is quite easy to work out who would be responsible for dealing with that and the Adam Werritty issue.

Chair: But if it went to the Cabinet Secretary does that not suggest that the Cabinet Secretary is still top dog?

Robert Halfon: Does it not suggest that the Cabinet Secretary is responsible for that particular area?

Q160 Paul Flynn: It is like the Holy Trinity. It is a mystery and needs an act of blind faith to believe in it, which I am sure you will provide. Our previous witnesses warned that the new Head of the Civil Service will have a very "nasty dilemma" and a very great difficulty if they are faced with allegations of misconduct. That was the evidence made that week. That is particularly with regards to loyalty to his or her own Minister, but they also have a duty to the Prime Minister. Did this not fall down in the Liam Fox case as far as the Ministry of Defence were concerned? They were owing their loyalty to Liam Fox, and their mouths were bandaged as far as expressing their loyalty to the Prime Minister and the nation.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: There is always the potential in any job in the senior Civil Service of having to ask yourself whether your loyalty is to your Secretary of State or to the Prime Minister. I have been in that situation years ago. You do have a duty to the Government collectively is my own answer. If you are the Permanent Secretary and you have a problem developing, you ought to go, under the present arrangement, to the Cabinet Secretary and say, "I have got a problem developing, and I think you ought to know there is a real difficulty there," and talk about it. The Cabinet Secretary may steer you and say, "I think this has actually got the potential to be serious, and I think maybe the Prime Minister should have a chat with the Secretary of State and tell him there is something wrong here." That is how it ought to work, but it obviously did not in this case.

Q161 Chair: Do you agree with our witnesses last week that the advice prepared for the Prime Minister in the form of a report on the Werritty affair should have remained confidential advice to the Prime Minister; that the right person to deal with the substantive complaint was Sir Philip Moore and not the Cabinet Secretary?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: These situations arise and they are never quite the same. Do you remember the Hinduja affair, when Mr Mandelson had a phone call to Mr Mike O’Brien? That blew up in the press over the weekend. Number 10 asked me for a rapid report. I did a very fast report, which, as it happens, was a confidential report, but is actually on the public record as an appendix to the Hammond Report. My advice at that time was that there was not a shred of evidence that I could find, having talked to Permanent Secretaries, that anything improper had happened. That was not the view that Number 10 took, and you know the story. The point I am making is that I think that advice was right to remain confidential. It was private from me to the Prime Minister about his handling of the Minister. He then said to me he thought this was getting out of hand and wanted to do more, and I said, "I think you should have an inquiry," and I found Sir Anthony Hammond to do it for him because we did not have Philip Mawer in place at that time.

Q162 Chair: Is it not slightly unfortunate that Sir Philip Mawer was never asked to look into anything?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: I think it is a very valuable role. It is quite common for the Prime Minister to say to the Cabinet Secretary of the moment, "Something has blown up. For goodness’s sake find out quickly what you think may have happened." I can remember a number of instances, I will not detail them, where that happened.

Q163 Chair: That is not quite my question.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: The point is it was private from me to the Prime Minister. I think it is not the job of the Cabinet Secretary to carry out an investigation into a Minister.

Q164 Chair: That seems to be what Sir Gus O’Donnell did.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: I wrote it into the Ministerial Code actually. Those words are my own words, if you read the Ministerial Code. It is not the job of the Civil Service to investigate Ministers.

Q165 Chair: But that is what occurred.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: He was doing, in my terms, a quick preliminary report. The issue is whether it should have been published.

Lord Turnbull: In the Liam Fox case it all blew over so quickly that it was not necessary to go into a larger inquiry. The major crime in the Fox case was the failure to observe collective responsibility. The mystery is why that charge was never brought against him in this report, and I think they were on the doctrine of, "Don’t kick a man when he’s down, when it’s all done and dusted."

Chair: There was a bit of a lack of collective responsibility under the previous Government. What about Clare Short?

Q166 Robert Halfon: Can you explain?

Lord Turnbull: He was running a separate policy on Sri Lanka, which was the responsibility of William Hague. Then he employed a man to do it, and then he found the money to pay the man. I think that is the sequence of it, but they started with the Werritty bit of it rather than actually what he was using Werritty for.

Paul Flynn: What we are seeing is the present Government in many ways trying to avoid the mistakes of the Blair Government. With the Hinduja affair, Peter Mandelson resigned the second time when really there was no case against him, but it was a reaction by a nervous Government against the number of square inches of bad publicity in the paper. To his credit, the present Prime Minister waited until the evidence was there and did not rise to the press hysteria that preceded it, although as it turns out he did prolong the issue of it. But I think that is what we are seeing constantly: the reaction of the Government to press, trying to avoid the errors-

Chair: Is there a question in there somewhere?

Paul Flynn: No, there is not. I have just heard all this great wisdom.

Q167 Robert Halfon: You were talking about the role of the Cabinet Office and how it has expanded. Could I ask whether you think that is a good thing, and if not what would you do? Where would all these units go, in which Department and so on?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: I always hanker after keeping the Cabinet Office small and excellent. I would want to look at these units, some of which I think are executive and should not be part of the Cabinet Office, and look for a kindly home for them. But I cannot answer what kindly homes are because I have not done the work.

Lord Turnbull: We have a Department called Communities and Local Government, and we have a community issue, i.e. Big Society, and it is not allocated to the Department that has the title for it. Deregulation started in the Cabinet Office and ended up in BIS, which is probably where it should be. They come in; sometimes you can stop them coming in-they may even need a bit of Prime Minister’s imprimatur-but quite quickly I think we have then to allocate them to a proper home.

Q168 Robert Halfon: Do they not go into the Cabinet Office because they are various Prime Ministers’ key policy areas?

Lord Turnbull: The threshold of proof, so to speak, of something that needs to be in the Cabinet Office should be set pretty high. By and large you will find there is a Secretary of State who has two thirds of that agenda, at least.

Q169 Chair: Is this not all symptomatic of a failure at the heart of Government, or a failure across Government? These units are all born of frustration that nothing appears to be happening and so the Prime Minister wants somebody to get a grip, and so he pulls it under his responsibility into the Cabinet Office and sets up a unit with his chosen people involved with it. Is that not a symptom of a deeper problem?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: It is possible for a Prime Minister to make sure things happen in Government without themselves feeling they have got to do it and it has got to be under their thumb.

Q170 Chair: Let me follow that up immediately with the vast new challenges referred to by Francis Maude. He said that, "Government is not a single entity. There are 17 principal Government Departments, which are separate entities […] They run their own Departments, so of course there is going to be inconsistency across the piece." Isn’t the problem that there is no mechanism for providing that leadership to ensure consistency, or not enough mechanism or weight? Units may not be a substitute for it, but however small and efficient the Cabinet Office remains, it is not delivering this very fundamental function.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: If the political will is there, and it is evident to the Civil Service, the Civil Service will follow. There are all sorts of examples from-as she then was-Mrs Thatcher’s time, where the fact that something was known to have the political will of the Prime Minister behind it meant that Departments did do what was required. It is about political will and political leadership and the right signals going out, and people knowing that if they did not do it their Ministers would have a rough time in Cabinet or a Cabinet Committee. And they did.

Lord Turnbull: You have given an example where coordination is needed, but you do not necessarily bring it right into the Cabinet Office. The regeneration agenda from the early 1980s onwards was located in the Department of the Environment that Richard and I both served in, but it needed to bring together the resources of the Department for Employment and Education and the DTI as it then was, and it was an effective way of doing it. It was not taken into the centre simply because it crossed boundaries. You can have a lead Department who then have to make sure that the other interested players get involved.

Q171 Chair: I support you on that in that the bringing of units into the Cabinet Office on specialist subjects is a symptom of failure rather than progress.

Lord Turnbull: Well it can be.

Q172 Chair: But the point I am making now, which our report made in September, is there is such a big agenda for change across Whitehall, not least the downsizing agenda, combined with decentralisation, Big Society, post-bureaucratic age, transparency and openness, that there needs to be more of a leadership role from a Cabinet Office than there has been in the past otherwise you finish up with this sense of frustration that nothing is happening and everybody is doing things differently in different Departments.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: You can have units for a particular purpose. As Andrew said, you should set the bar for them very high, but there is a case for them. One of those cases is challenge. I think the setting up of the Central Policy Review Staff under Mr Heath to challenge the conventional wisdom of Departments was hugely effective for a period. You could similarly have a unit whose role was to challenge Departments on the Big Society, something that the Prime Minister wanted to ensure had enough drive across Government. Or efficiency: under Mrs Thatcher, the Efficiency Unit was very powerful and effective for a time. All I would say is you should always try to keep the number of units down and recognise that their main period of usefulness is about two or three years.

Q173 Chair: I am agreeing with you, but the problem is: how do you drive change when you have got so much change? Is there an alternative manner?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: You have to select the things that you put weight behind.

Q174 Chair: So the Government has bitten off more than it can chew.

Lord Turnbull: Did you read the Coalition document? There are about 400 pledges in there.

Q175 Chair: It is too much.

Lord Turnbull: And because they were in there, there was the implication that you work immediately on all 400, whereas a manifesto would normally last for an entire Parliament. I think that process of the Coalition has contributed to this overload because once it is in there-

Q176 Chair: So it is not that the Whitehall machine is not up to it, it is just overload.

Lord Wilson of Dinton: It is confused. The message gets confused. I remember the Head of the National Health Service came to me and said, "I have 72 top priorities." And I said, "In that case you have not got any."

Paul Flynn: It is another reaction to Blair. Blair said he did not do enough in his early days, so this Government tries to do an impossible amount.

Q177 Chair: You very kindly came before us on the matter of the Cabinet Manual, and we are very pleased with the Government’s response, which seems to have annotated the document much more fully and made it clear that it is not an embryo constitution. Have you any other comments on that?

Lord Turnbull: I have not read it word-for-word in its new form, but I think it has dealt with this question of whether it is trying to be a new authority on something. The answer is no. Virtually every statement that is made should be referenced back to something else, whether it is a piece of hard law, soft law, some code, the principles of Erskine May or whatever. I think those footnotes have clarified the purpose of the document greatly.

Q178 Chair: And to that extent should it be treated more like Erskine May-we leave it to the Clerk of the House to update Erskine May-rather than being a more political document that is signed off by Ministers as Government policy?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: It should not be signed off as a political document. I rather like the Erskine May parallel. It is a good idea for the Cabinet Secretary to show it to the Prime Minister from time to time when a new edition comes out just to make sure there isn’t something there that they are not happy with, because if there is problem it ought to be ironed out.

Q179 Chair: It does not need to have a picture of the Prime Minister and a foreword in the front of it?

Lord Wilson of Dinton: No, not at all. I think it is a case where a Select Committee can chalk it up as somewhere it has had a useful impact.

Chair: We will not win all rounds with the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, but we won that one. Thank you very much indeed. You said at one point that you get summoned in front of these Committees. I would submit that we only ever invite former Cabinet Secretaries. Thank you very much indeed for your advice. You have been very helpful.

Prepared 23rd November 2011