CORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 707-i

House of COMMONS

Oral EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE the

Political and Constitutional Reform Committee

The Impact and Effectiveness of Ministerial Reshuffles

Thursday 22 November 2012

RT HON Peter Riddell CBE and Akash Paun

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 63

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

1.

This is a 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.

2.

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

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee

on Thursday 22 November 2012

Members present:

Mr Graham Allen (Chair)

Mr Christopher Chope

Paul Flynn

Sheila Gilmore

Simon Hart

Tristram Hunt

Mrs Eleanor Laing

Mr Andrew Turner

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Rt Hon Peter Riddell CBE, Director, Institute for Government, and Akash Paun, Senior Researcher, Institute for Government, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Peter, welcome. Akash, welcome. As you know, we are doing a little inquiry into reshuffles. We started in June of this year probably even before the first rumour of a shuffle. I think we were in the field already, so this is not a reactive inquiry, nor is it an inquiry into the last reshuffle. It is an inquiry about the concept of shuffles and the culture of shuffles in this country. I think, because of your history, you will know better than anyone that, particularly in the last Government, reshuffles felt on occasions as if they had become a way of life-a way of governing almost. It is probably based more on that than anything that happened over the summer, although of course now we will take that into account. Would you like to kick off by an opening statement or do you want to dive straight in?

Peter Riddell: Just a very few remarks, if I might, about what gives us legitimate authority to be here. You received the paper Akash did at the time of the reshuffle. We had more or less the same motives as you. This was a peg to hang some reflections, but also we have done a lot of work. We did a report last year on the challenge of being a Minister-about ministerial effectiveness. One of my colleagues, Katie Dash, produced a blog this week on reshuffles among permanent secretaries. It is very important to link Ministers and officials in this in terms of effectiveness. Our perspective at the Institute for Government is very much on effectiveness of government, and many of the remarks we wish to make would be about what the impact of the rapid turnover of Ministers can be on the effectiveness of government. As I said, we have done a lot of research and have many thoughts on that, which go back a long way and they are particularly current. That is our background on that.

Akash Paun: Having done the research for the paper, what really struck me was that although the previous Government, as you said, Chairman, was very fond, famously, of very frequent reshuffles, I think it goes back a lot longer than that. You can read some of the earlier studies of reshuffles in the 1970s and 1980s and then read accounts of how things worked in the last Government, and actually very little seems to have changed in that period. There are the same problems, the same challenges and the same sense of chaos often surrounding them, but there is still the same ultimate decision by most Prime Ministers that a reshuffle can be a useful weapon for them, whether or not they are right ultimately about that.

Q2 Chair: Before we get into questioning, could you tell us the contractual position? This is a rather odd way to run a sweetshop. Probably only Roman Abramovich runs his business in the way that the Prime Minister runs his. Why is there no contractual relationship? Why is there not a right to unfair dismissal? Why aren’t there proper terms and conditions that govern an appointment for a Minister of the Crown, and that the PM can just dispose this?

Peter Riddell: I think that is what they say is a leading question, Mr Chairman. As you well know, the system originates out of advisers to the monarch. That is the whole basis of it-Ministers advising the monarch. I think it would be inadvisable to get into an interesting discussion of history, but those are the origins of it all. The one caveat I have, which does not apply to the appointment and dismissal, where it is a prerogative power recommending to the Queen, as happens certainly with Secretaries of State, is that we have had a growth of codes and so on that govern ministerial behaviour, not appointment but behaviour.

Q3 Chair: Are you leading me, Peter, to a conclusion about a code for appointment and dismissal?

Peter Riddell: No, I am not, actually. There are two distinct things. One is that two and a half years ago this Committee explored the formation of the Government. Akash and I did a lot of work on all the circumstances of the formation of the Coalition. I think there is an argument for an investiture vote at the beginning of the Government that would pick the whole team. However, I believe that after that it is up to the Prime Minister who they appoint as Ministers. You may want to explore this, and Akash has done a lot of work on it and may want to say more about it: with the Coalition, for the first time we have on paper a definition of how certain Ministers are appointed. That has never been down on paper. It is on the Cabinet Office website-how Lib Dem Ministers were appointed and how the consultation procedure worked, which is very interesting.

Q4 Chair: Hopefully in the questioning this will come out, but traditionally it was always the political classes who had a life expectancy of whatever it was-13 months, as a junior Minister under the Blair Government-but of course good old Sir Humphrey went on and on, so there was stability. Now we are, are we not, in a different position with the permanent secretaries being almost as random and helter-skelter in terms of being replaced as Ministers themselves?

Peter Riddell: Well, you say almost.

Chair: Worse, perhaps.

Peter Riddell: As I said, we had a briefing paper done and published earlier this week, which is coincidental, by one of our staff, Katie Dash, which shows that the turnover of permanent secretaries since the election has been far greater than that of Secretaries of State, for a variety of reasons. You might want to explore that later. It has actually been a much less permanent job than the title implies.

Akash Paun: I think the figures were that out of 19 departments (not counting HMRC, which has no ministers), 17 had seen at least one change of permanent secretary since the election, whereas for Secretaries of State I believe it was 11 out of 19, but we could check the figures.

Q5 Chair: So both the political and administrative classes who lie at the heart of government are in a state of almost permanent flux?

Peter Riddell: Flux? We may just have gone through a period of enormous turbulence, but the results are certainly-from our point of view, which looks at the effects for departments, and at a time of very large cuts in departments, in manpower and staffing, and big internal change programmes-very destabilising.

Q6 Chair: And bad for government?

Peter Riddell: Yes.

Q7 Chair: A final one that, again, colleagues may wish to pick up is the five-year Parliament. There is now a beginning and an end and a degree of certainty about how long a Parliament will last. Should this find its echo in the way in which people are appointed and sustained in office and that, using business principles, people are only fired because of scandal, deaths and so on?

Akash Paun: We did a different piece of work earlier this year on the mid-term challenges of coalition in which we recommended that the halfway point-roughly around now, this autumn-would be a sensible point to review the policy programme. Equally, as indeed happened, if you are going to have a point at which you can reconsider the top team and carry out a reshuffle it would make sense maybe to move to some kind of convention of having a fixed point in the cycle, whether that is exactly around the halfway mark or maybe a little longer. Maybe you would look to go three years, say, out of the five, with most Ministers in place, of course subject to the fact that scandals and events will always come up nonetheless.

Peter Riddell: In various discussions we have had at the Institute we talk to people from other countries. I remember we had a visiting German delegation that we wanted to talk to about reshuffles. It was very difficult to get the concept over to them. They did not understand what on earth we were talking about. For them it is four years-of course again it is coalition politics that affect it-and they just did not get what we were talking about and we had to spell it out. We had to come at it in a different way. All right, they have four years, not quite fixed-term but almost.

The other thing is that what we seeing now in the States, quite interestingly, is the recognition of a four-year term and then, as President Obama is doing now, all the top posts are going to change-it looks like that from reading the papers. Certainly we know that State is, Treasury almost certainly will, and Defence may after a time. That is regarded as the point to do it. There have been a few changes in between but not many. It is all to do with expectation in that way, but I agree with Akash that the Prime Minister seems-apart from when he was forced to; that is what Akash’s paper illustrates very well-to have thought, "Right, we’ll give it two and a quarter years, two and a half years". I think that does make a lot of sense. You can argue about the scale of it, but we do not want to get into this particular reshuffle.

Akash Paun: As far as the international comparison is concerned, one big difference between UK and Westminster systems and, say, Germany, the US and France is in those systems if one Minister resigns due to a scandal and so on, often the appointment will be made from outside Parliament. They have a much bigger pool of people from which to make ministerial appointments in the first place, so you do not get into the kind of cascade effect that you see here where Prime Ministers often get pushed into reshuffles maybe against their judgment because of unavoidable resignations and so on. That is quite an important constitutional difference.

Q8 Chair: In terms of international examples, we are way off one end of the spectrum in terms of instability and levels of shuffle and you have stability, or at least known points of change, when you look at Germany or the USA or whatever. We are actually quite on the outer limits here.

Peter Riddell: Can I give you a very long-term illustration, which is not necessarily in terms of mid-term reshuffle? We looked at Germany since 1949, and the same point would apply post-unification. During that period they had 15 Economic Ministers. That is separate from Finance Ministers. It is much more akin to a Business Minister in Germany. Over the same period we have had 35. I do not want to get into discussions of comparative economic performance. In some periods-as you say, at the end of the last Government-it is an interesting Trivial Pursuit question of who was Work and Pensions Minister and who was doing Trade and Industry at various times, and only the real anoraks can get those right. It is very unhelpful for government.

Akash Paun: There is pretty good evidence from academic literature that coalitions generally are more stable in terms of ministerial line-up than single-party governments. We have seen an increase in stability post 2010. It is no doubt partly due to personal conviction of the Prime Minister and a reflection of problems under the past Government, but I think it is also a structural thing; there are two veto players, two people whose consent has to be found to make those changes.

Q9 Mr Chope: You say that your organisation is committed to trying to improve the effectiveness of government?

Peter Riddell: Yes.

Q10 Mr Chope: Have you decided on an optimum length of term for a Minister in order to maximise the effectiveness of government?

Peter Riddell: That is a very interesting question. We would not be so presumptuous as to do that. We did explore that a lot. You can’t lay down a rule because some Ministers fail and should be removed. Like everything in life, some things do not work out, people who you predict are good do not turn out to be. Accidents happen. What we would say is that really any period short of two years, certainly for a junior Minister, is undesirable. It is quite interesting. How do Ministers come into office? At elections some of them come in after they have shadowed the job for a long time so they have had some preparation. It does not always work out well, but sometimes it does. In the case of reshuffles or shuffles, whatever you like to call them, in most cases they have no necessary knowledge of the area so there is a learning curve just to get up to speed on it all. The evidence we got when we were doing the ministerial effectiveness report 18 months ago-we can let you have copies of that; there is just a small section on reshuffles in there-was that it takes about a year to get fully up to speed with everything. You are an ex-Minister, you know that. It is inevitable; that’s life. Then you have a period, maybe another 18 months, two years, of maximum effectiveness. It also very much depends on the parliamentary cycle. We would say for junior Ministers probably at least two years in post-actually this reasonably fits what has happened now-and for Secretaries of State arguably longer. On the whole, Chancellors of the Exchequer last much longer, Foreign Secretaries much longer, and then further down the Cabinet is when you get the churn, so averages can be misleading.

I would say at least two years for a junior Minister, preferably two and a half, and that is where with a fixed-term Parliament you may be able to get it right. But I would not want to be too prescriptive because you have to fit it to human beings and, while we do look at management and effectiveness, I do not want to be too managerial in that way because I think it is misleading for the diverse personalities and interests of people.

Q11 Mr Chope: Have you looked at the relative benefits of having large-scale reshuffles as against having lots of smaller reshuffles?

Peter Riddell: That is very interesting because this is, in a sense, the flipside of what happened in September. You might have thought in the past that the Prime Minister might have done a reshuffle perhaps in September 2011, and then would have done one again, so what was a kind of big bang this time would have been split a bit. Not wanting to get into details of it, I, along with a lot of your colleagues, was slightly surprised at the scale of the reshuffle and what happened. I think there are arguments for some continuity. I did raise my eyebrows a bit about some departments where there was often very little continuity at all. Ironically, in one department I think the only continuity was the Lords Minister. I think that there is a danger of slightly doing it for the sake of doing it, for all kinds of motives. I am hesitant on ones that remove all but one Minister in a department. I do not think that produces good government, but again one has to look at the individual cases, as you understand, Mr Chope.

Q12 Mr Chope: What do you think was the motive of the last reshuffle? Do you think it was in order to change policy direction or for some other reason, or just to improve the effectiveness of the Government or what?

Akash Paun: I think all reshuffles inevitably have a mixture of motives. With this one it did seem that the Coalition was at a pretty low ebb and there was a sense that there was a need for relaunch and revival. Often there is that sometimes quite ill-defined sense that change for change’s sake is a sensible strategy if a Government is struggling. In the event often the Government may get positive coverage, or may not, for a few days, but the reshuffles that actually make a big difference to policy direction are very much the exception.

Peter Riddell: There are very few. Akash and I went through it when he was doing his paper and we had an interesting exercise with those that were significant in policy terms and there were very, very few-really few. Party management, as you well know, is a prime motive, but it is a balance. You can argue the balance is that if you change, say, all but one Minister in a department you query effectiveness. One of the interesting things is that two out of the last three Prime Ministers have never occupied a post other than Prime Minister. That is quite an important factor and not to be underrated in the reshuffles. If you have been a Prime Minister who has come up through ministerial ranks you may have a different attitude.

Q13 Chair: Indeed, you may have a different attitude if you have served in local government, which again applies to the last three Prime Ministers.

Peter Riddell: Indeed. Absolutely.

Q14 Chair: I am going to be cheeky and ask the only former serving Minister on the Committee to be our witness. Chris, what was your experience and what was your view on reshuffles, if I may? Or would you like notice of that question?

Mr Chope: I was fortunate in the sense that I was never sacked other than by the electorate. I lost my seat in 1992 and with it went my ministerial job. I had five and a half years as a Minister and I moved around a bit but not that much. My feeling was that what was most important was whether or not the ministerial team were working cohesively together or whether you had a marking system. I think the difference at the time I was a Minister with Margaret Thatcher was that she decided she wanted effectiveness by having a Secretary of State who had a lot of fellow spirits in his ministerial team. When we moved to John Major, his idea was to have a Secretary of State who would then be marked by a couple of Ministers of State who had different views and then some Parliamentary Under-Secretaries from different persuasions. The result was that I think under Margaret Thatcher you had a much more effective Government because it was more decisive. Under John Major it played into the hands of the civil service who wanted to put the brake on everything.

Akash Paun: Yes. That is an important distinction. I think that points to the fact that the strength of the Prime Minister will, to a large extent, define the nature of the reshuffle. Looking at some of the cases we examined, with the second 1981 reshuffle under Margaret Thatcher it is very clear-when you read her memoirs and other accounts of it-that there was a clear desire to purify the Cabinet, to remove her "wet" opponents and to, therefore, be able to move very strongly in the direction of economic strategy that she desired. Other Prime Ministers are probably in a far weaker position and have to strike those balances. I think that sense of having junior Ministers marking the Secretary of State you saw to some extent with Brown and Blair as well.

Peter Riddell: The team aspect is very clear. One of the most interesting things that comes across in our broader work on Ministers is that it is a very curious set-up that when someone is the boss of something often they only have an indirect say in who is appointed; the junior Ministers are kind of imposed on them. Towards the end of the last Government-this was not a particularly ideological thing, it was a competence issue- I remember talking to one Secretary of State and I said, "How are you getting on with your team?" He said, "Well, one of them is completely useless so I just sideline him, and one is quite good. Of course I didn’t have any say on it," which exactly illustrates your point. One of the things I felt when I read in some of the coverage of the September reshuffle that X had been put in to mark Y, was that that is a recipe for completely ineffective government, and will not happen.

Q15 Tristram Hunt: You can see that play itself out in the Energy Department.

Chair: Now, now.

Peter Riddell: There are further wrinkles there.

Q16 Tristram Hunt: Among the slightly more extraordinary evidence we received was from a man called Professor Keith Dowding of the Australian National University, who suggested that, "Another reason for a Prime Minister to shuffle the Cabinet is precisely to ensure Ministers do not learn too much about their departments. Prime Ministers like to be in control; shuffling Ministers ensures that they do not gain too much command of their portfolio." Has any of the research that you have done suggested that there is any truth to that statement at all?

Akash Paun: I am not sure about prime ministerial motivation. I can’t imagine that that is something they would admit to in their memoirs, which is our source of information on their thought process. We did speak to a former senior official from the Major era who told us that when considering the expertise of people who may be promoted into Government it was very rare for someone’s policy expertise or background to be taken into account. In fact, he suggested that sometimes if someone had been a little bit too active as a back bencher in, say, health policy and had too clear a position and grasp of the subject maybe that would count against them if you wanted someone who would just, to a greater extent, do what they were told. I do not know how extensive that kind of thinking was, but it was suggested to us.

Peter Riddell: It is a producer capture argument, that in the old days of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries you had to have a farmer there and so on. It may account for one or two agricultural policies. I do not want to get into Australian politics, which are far more colourful and lively and make ours rather boring, but I have never heard that-that they move around quickly for that reason; not at all. There are plenty of other reasons, some of which are not great, but never that. I do think, on Akash’s point, there is a slight wariness-it is understandable, it is more to do with producer capture-that if you put a particular expert in an area they can become too close and are not sufficiently detached, particularly if you are trying to push through reform in areas. It certainly would not apply to the current Education Department, but in the distant past, quite some way past, you could say the Department for Education or whatever its title might have been at the time, would have someone who had been close to the teaching unions and so on and so forth-or particularly farming, that is a classic-but I do not think it is a motive to move someone around: "Oh, he is good at his job".

Q17 Tristram Hunt: Do you think that scepticism about either academic or professional interest in the policy area is particular to our culture of politics? The contrast with the American Cabinet where a Professor of Energy is going to become Energy Secretary is rather stark.

Peter Riddell: I think it is a balance. One of the most expert Ministers in the current Government is Steve Webb, who knows more about pensions than any of us in the room and, from what one observes, he is quite effective in that respect. It is a balance between, as I said, the producer capture thing, and Steve Webb is a very sceptical guy. Of course, in the systems you are describing, as Akash was saying earlier, they recruit from outside the legislature. That is the key difference on that score, which gets you on to an area that you looked at-GOATs and all that area. There was very mixed experience of GOATs and bringing in the expert. We have examined that, and our view is that it works when it is a specific task. For example, like Lord Darzi on Health, it worked for a short period looking at a specific area, but it is very difficult to transplant more generally.

Akash Paun: Especially at Cabinet level I think it is inevitable, and probably sensible, that it is more the generic political skills that can be transferred from department to department that are going to determine career trajectory. At a more junior level, maybe in certain technocratic areas, there may be more scope. I think that is what the Institute’s report concluded. You have seen it, of course, with Health to some extent, and Trade and Investment often brought in outsiders with business background.

Peter Riddell: Some of that worked quite well. Prime Ministers never realise what a Lords Minister has to do and they do not realise there is a parliamentary aspect to it. There is a long record of Prime Ministers saying, "You are a frightfully clever chap who knows all about this and, by the way, there’s a peerage." They do not tell them about wet Monday evenings doing the Committee stages of Bills, which is what Parliament is about.

Q18 Tristram Hunt: In terms of the timing of reshuffles, when is the best time to do a reshuffle? Is it during summer recess so Ministers can bed themselves in for six weeks? Do you have views on the moment?

Akash Paun: The most obvious answer to that question is that, especially if reshuffles are done in the traditional way-you are sacked or you are moved, and you take up the new job straight away that day-it makes a huge amount of sense not to do that while Parliament is sitting. Summer recess or some other recess would be the obvious point, I think, to do that.

Q19 Tristram Hunt: In terms of time line, the evidence we have had, which is very convincing, is we have had these reshuffles that go on over one or two weeks as they play themselves out, which is rather nice, but in the modern media world that is just not credible any more, is it?

Peter Riddell: They don’t on the whole play the performance out. The formation of Government did and I would say there is nothing wrong with taking a few days. I think it was actually a virtue it took a few days. Following Akash’s paper, we had a very interesting event at the Institute with Hilary Armstrong and Andrew Turnbull. Hilary was Chief Whip and Andrew was Cabinet Secretary, and they described the kind of shambolic nature at the fringe of the board getting the names in the right places. We have anecdotes. In Mr Chope’s era I think one of his friends managed to avoid being sacked for 12 months by going AWOL. I think he was in Norway before the era of mobile phones. You get things like that happening; bizarre things happen. On timing, of course, this year the Olympics changed it because everyone was focused on the Olympics and the word came, "Don’t touch anything until the Olympics are out of the way". I agree with Akash on that; normally they are going to take two or three days because if you are doing a big bang one it is inevitably going to take that long. Actually, it was quite rapidly done this time.

Q20 Simon Hart: If you left to one side the desire to make a political impact, to make a public impact, then why do we have to have a set piece event at all? Occasionally, there are mini reshuffles when somebody drops dead or does something awful, but in any institution other than Parliament if you have somebody who is performing very badly you shift them and if they are performing very well you promote them. You do not have to wait until a certain day in the annual calendar to do that, you just do it as you go along. Surely that would lend itself towards more consistent and unruffled government, notwithstanding the desire to command a headline for the Government. It seems to me ludicrous to have this great big build-up, followed by rather an anticlimax.

Akash Paun: Yes, I think that is quite a convincing argument. The problem often will be that if you are removing one Minister who is seen as underperforming then it automatically becomes at least a mini reshuffle because you are moving someone in and then there is a cascade of changes through the system. There is no natural reason why governments have to have a big set piece reshuffle at all, but when they are in particular trouble there is that political desire to relaunch and change the narrative and so on.

Q21 Simon Hart: Yet if we take the reshuffle that has just happened, how much does it really resonate in the public psyche outside this building? Almost not at all. If you ask people, hardly anybody knows who all these junior Ministers are. I do not know who half of them are. There are a few headline ones that might be quite eye-catching but the rest is all just nonsense.

Peter Riddell: I agree with you 100%. As a former journalist, I entirely agree that we lived in an obsessive world of X and Y, which is reinforced by Twitter and the internet. Following it, as I was in my office on the day, was absurd, "X has got promoted. That is frightfully important". I am going back to what Mr Chope was saying, that X is going to mark Y in the department, which is rubbish. The real problem is that reshuffles occur from a small pool; that is why they have to occur at one time, because of the knock-on effects. What you say is logical and, of course, Prime Ministers try to do that, but it is very difficult when there is an emergency one. When someone has to resign they try to isolate it. We saw the classic of that. I can’t remember what George Young’s award was from the Spectator Awards, resilience of the year or recovery of the year or whatever, which was a perfect example of there is someone available, bring him back when the Chief Whip resigns. But in general it is the knock-on effects. There are bound to be knock-on effects because you are talking about a very small pool. I agree with you entirely that apart from some policy areas, and pretty limited ones, they are entirely a Westminster phenomenon. There is no evidence in opinion polling or anything. If you traced opinion polls, you would not think a reshuffle had happened.

Q22 Sheila Gilmore: The whole notion that there is a down time is arguably less now, partly because of the 24-hour media, and even recess periods are probably shorter. Certainly for the September sittings, they are shorter. You do not have that very long period. A lot of politics get played out, not just here but in the media, so a new Minister coming in at the end of July could still slip on a banana skin in the second week in August.

Akash Paun: There is always going to be that risk. I think naturally it would minimise the risk to reshuffle during recess. Interestingly, Margaret Thatcher apparently used to prefer to wait until the end of summer recess, supposedly so that people she was going to sack still got a holiday on their ministerial salary, but I am not sure that is the most sensible basis to determine the timing.

Q23 Chair: Before I ask Sheila to come in again for her own questions, I want to pick up something that Tristram alluded to, which is about whether capable people are quite frightening to No. 10. I would take it slightly further and say No. 10 wants safe pairs of hands, people who are not necessarily talented, are not going to rock the boat and are going to toe the media line that is so important to No. 10. Doesn’t that militate against people with very strong political views or strong ideology getting preferment? Don’t we have to go back to the Thatcher era, with a very strong conviction politician who actually wanted to employ talented but ideological people rather than safe pairs of hands? That is nothing personal, may I say, Chris. You are both, of course.

Peter Riddell: Someone who is seen as very independent minded may well not get preferred. It is a balance. It is dependent on prime ministerial preference and obviously the Whips play a very important part in it, as you well know as a former Whip. It is a mixture. There can be a danger of safe sameness, yes, I agree with that. That is true of all organisations. Prime Ministers, understandably, want to have people who are part of the team, and I understand that, but I think it can work against them. We can all think of people, going back 20 or 30 years, who you thought, "Why didn’t X become a Minister?" My counter to that might well be, certainly in the current era of elected Select Committee Chairs and members, that there are all kinds of alternative routes to achieve political influence. On the Government side you might say of two or three current Committee Chairs, "Why on earth weren’t they Ministers?" I would say they are far more influential on public policy in their current roles than they would be as the Under-Secretary for Widgets. As we all know, the heavy culture of this place is a front bench culture on both sides.

Q24 Chair: Just to challenge that, Peter, not all organisations go for people who replicate the boss and are the same. There is a different organisational culture, which is that you get talented people and if you are the senior manager it is your job to manage them effectively, which I think is probably an alternative to the way the shuffle mentality seems to operate.

Peter Riddell: In my mature years learning how to be chief executive, as I am now, having not been for 40 years, I am strongly in favour of having independent-minded people working with me.

Q25 Sheila Gilmore: The contrast with local government can sometimes be greater, in that people often stay in jobs for a long, long time in local government, subject to electoral change. There is a downside to that as well, which is people becoming stale, people becoming too embedded there. I was the chair of housing in my council for eight years, which is quite a long time. The strength is that you really get to know your subject, but is the downside that you lose independence and political edge?

Peter Riddell: I do not think there is a mechanistic one. Going back to Mr Chope’s question about is there an ideal period, I do not think there is. All I can say is that there is probably a minimum for effectiveness. I think people do go stale. You can think of people who remain too long in certain posts, absolutely. I do not think you should do it rigidly, but I think there is a danger of staleness. Equally, some people who are in long term can be very effective. Arguably, one of the most effective councils in Britain is Manchester, which has had the same chief executive and the same leader for-I can’t remember whether it is a dozen or 15 years. Mr Hunt will be able to tell us that from his background. That is an example. In other cases you think after three or four years it is time to move on. I think probably the thing one should say is a minimum for effectiveness; beyond that, look at it after three or four years just to reach a judgment.

Akash Paun: As far as junior Minister positions are concerned, the average did dip to something like not much over a year in post, certainly in the last Government. I think there is a kind of cultural problem of thinking about that first appointment as being just a first step on this ministerial ladder and that the objective is to move up as fast as possible rather than people being appointed for what is often a very important job, certainly if you are a Minister of State of a big department. There is not a sense that people are brought in to manage a particular big project or take a policy through to completion. There is not that approach to those kinds of jobs, which I think is problematic.

Peter Riddell: Could I tie it in with the civil service problem, too? At the Institute for Government we are as worried about the high turnover of civil servants. If you look at the report on the West Coast Main Line-we had the first report on it and I think the second one is due at the end of next week, from Sam Laidlaw-there were three responsible officers for the franchise at official level. That turnover is damning. When you look at it, you can’t just look at the ministerial. I look at it as I do with the Institute for Government. I do not think there is a single person, if I go back to when I was a senior fellow before I became Director, who I was dealing with in 2010 who is doing the same job now and frequently jobs changed twice, and not just at permanent secretary level, immediately below that level. There are problems with that. You get Ministers saying, "Hold on, there has been a turnover of officials working for me. That undermines it". You have to look at the two together in terms of the effectiveness of Government. It is a combination of the two.

I think there is a problem when a Minister is changed midway through. Looking at any kind of big project, it is probably going to take two to three years devising the ideas and thinking it out, talking to the Select Committee. Then you get legislation, one hopes sometimes pre-legislative scrutiny, sometimes not, and then you take it through into the implementation stage afterwards. That is normally a three-year cycle. There are not many Ministers who are around for all that cycle.

Q26 Sheila Gilmore: Jonathan Powell said that the process of ministerial appointment ought to be more rational. How could it be made more rational?

Peter Riddell: This goes back to Mr Hunt’s point about the period. It is not going to be entirely rational because it is about politics, it is about people, it is about faction, and balance of various kinds, regional, which was classically true I think more in the past than now, and now, of course, you have the coalition factor. It is never going to be entirely rational.

What I think is true, which should be true, and it is fair to Ministers, is that there ought to be a rounded assessment of them. One of the most striking things when we were doing this ministerial effectiveness work-this also applies to some of the work Akash has been doing-is that when somebody is going to be sacked as a Minister they are the last people to know they are going to be sacked. It may be a lack of self-awareness, but there is no sense of appraisal, as there is in any other organisation. I am not trying to be managerialist in the heavy sense, but just a casual conversation to say, "Look, things aren’t going very well. You should look at this aspect or that aspect". I am not talking about it as if you were working for BP or anything like that, or indeed the civil service itself, or even the Institute for Government; it is almost a tap on the shoulder. People get a shock when they are dropped, particularly this time with the big bang, and I would say you almost want to have an annual system saying, "Hold on, you are doing quite well" or, "Perhaps your time is coming to an end" or, "What are your interests? You have been two years Widget Minister. Where else would you like to work?" just so it is fed in.

The Whips do much of the appraisal below Cabinet level. Permanent secretaries do a bit, looking at the other aspect of it, and certainly there is often a submission of views. I do not know whether it happened under Jeremy Heywood this time, but certainly it did in the past. When Gus O’Donnell was Cabinet Secretary he would ask the permanent secretaries for their views on various Ministers, and they would be fed into the Prime Minister. That could arguably be done on a more systematic basis, but the real thing is before then, so that people are treated as they would be in any other organisation, given a little bit of counselling and support, not in a heavy managerial sense but just given a sense of how they are doing. Nothing is more isolated than a Minister. Virtually every Minister we talked to for this study, which was about 40, said no one had ever talked to them about how they were performing.

Q27 Sheila Gilmore: Isn’t this partly because it is very different from any other job? Even being an MP is in that sense very different. Normally in a job you go into you will get some training, you will get some sort of targets-not really targets but a view of what you are trying to achieve; this is your job for the next such and such, this is how it fits into the wider picture-on which you can then appraise. It is very hard to appraise something that is so amorphous.

Peter Riddell: Yes. I am not arguing for the type of appraisal you get in a large corporation. What I am saying is there should be a bit of advice. There is a mixture between, "You are on your own. Tough", which is what happens now essentially, and being terribly corporate. I accept absolutely that it is not a corporate structure. I am very opposed to people transferring the two, but there is scope for giving someone a bit of advice.

Q28 Sheila Gilmore: Secrecy seems to be an inherent part of all of this as far as Prime Ministers are concerned. That really does make it difficult to give people any advance warning, doesn’t it?

Akash Paun: Yes, I think that makes it very difficult. As Peter described, normally there are information-gathering processes on ministerial performance and so on through the civil service, through the Whips, but the decision-making is almost always kept within a very tight group of advisers, many of whom will not necessarily have firsthand information on how people have been performing. The degree to which you can rationalise that is limited. The consequence is that people have no warning, both the individuals themselves and the civil service. We had a very interesting session recently on how ministerial private offices work, and some quite interesting anecdotes came out of that about a past reshuffle where the private secretary in an unnamed department had been given hints and nods and winks that their Minister was not going to change. At the end of the day-I guess it was a Friday-he went down to the pub and had a few drinks, and then later that night he got a phone call, "Oh, actually your Minister has changed. You have to get back to the department quickly to be ready to brief him." He was not sure if he was entirely in the best state to do that. I think the process is rather unsatisfactory in some ways.

Peter Riddell: It will always be to some extent, but it can be improved. That is what we say. There is no rationality in the total sense but it can be improved. I think some of the advice can be improved; Ministers can be advised how they are coming on. At present, the only advice seems to be Gerald Kaufman’s book, which is now 33 years old, or Chris Mullin’s diaries. I think one needs to do a bit more than that. At the Institute for Government, we have been doing some work on a bit of help with some induction in various ways and we are keen to do more. I think there is a keenness, which again is not adopting a managerialist model but just some helpful pointers.

Q29 Chair: Just as I turned Chris into a witness, I should myself bear witness. As a Whip I was never properly consulted about any movements up or down in the teams that I was whipping. It was very much a No. 10 operation and other than gossip, as we all do in this place, there was never a proper assessment, never proper advice given. Working with three Chief Whips, that was never the case.

The second thing is that the idea of being nice to people when you are firing them is a good one, but of course it is often incredibly arbitrary. It is when on the day you need to fit somebody in, and somebody has to go. It is quite difficult to prepare people when you did not even know that morning you were going to do the dirty deed. That probably tells us more about the level of professionalism in our business than it does about anything else. That is me bearing witness.

Q30 Mr Chope: Arising from that, do you see any trend among Ministers to be more obstinate when asked by the Prime Minister, for example, to move to a different position? It seems that in this most recent reshuffle some refused to do that. In the old days, if they had refused to do that they would have been out on their ear.

Peter Riddell: We know publicly that one was in a recent reshuffle-Nick Herbert. He was apparently offered another post and turned it down and he is now on the back benches as a result. He publicly said that.

Q31 Mr Chope: But on the other hand, we heard that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was asked to go somewhere else and he refused but he kept his position. We also heard that during the course of the reshuffle there was a back bencher who did not look as though he was going to be preferred who threatened to take the Chiltern Hundreds and then was rapidly incorporated within the ministerial team.

Peter Riddell: I had not picked up that bit of gossip, but I think there has always been a bit of bargaining on that score.

Akash Paun: I do not see any evidence that that has changed. I think it is just a universal fact of politics. It comes down to the power of the Prime Minister and the power of the Minister or individual in question. The Prime Minister has to make a judgment whether the Government’s interests would be best served by letting the person go to the back benches or not. I think that has always happened.

Q32 Mr Turner: I was about to ask the same question, so well done on that. Can I ask something else that is not on the paper in front of me? What about the politics, and particularly this last reshuffle? There seems to have been a clear change of Conservative Ministers, where there used to be a comfortable relationship, with a more prickly relationship with the Liberals. I am thinking in particular, of course, of Mr Hayes. Mr Hayes is there, as far as I can see, to make people like me happy, whereas before I would have asked for the-well, let us not worry-

Paul Flynn: The rest of us are unhappy.

Mr Turner: Well, perhaps. I think there are other Ministers in the same picture, perhaps not as clearly as Mr Hayes is. Do you notice a change, or am I just imagining it?

Peter Riddell: I do not want to particularly go down the route of this reshuffle. It goes back to Mr Chope’s point earlier that even if you have a single-party government you have different flavours and different balances, and some of the tensions, from my long experience, were certainly there in the Thatcher and Major years, but of course coalition does shift it absolutely and brings out tensions more openly in that respect. I mentioned in my opening remarks if you look at the guidance on the Programme for Government on the Cabinet Office website, there is now explicit reference as to how Lib Dem Ministers are appointed and how the structure works. That is explicit now.

Q33 Mr Turner: Can you tell me what?

Peter Riddell: While the Prime Minister retains the prerogative of appointment, in so far as it is Lib Dem Ministers he consults the Deputy Prime Minister. Therefore, the DPM will make a recommendation for X job-"This is the person"-and obviously if they have a disagreement they have to sort it out. The prerogative power still runs through the Prime Minister recommending to the Queen and all that stuff, but it is explicitly written down. Akash is pointing it out to me, "the Coalition Agreement for Stability and Reform…sets out the new rules of the game. First, the balance of ministers…must remain ‘approximately in proportion to the size of the two parliamentary parties.’ Second…explicit…it is the DPM who nominates Lib Dem ministers. Third, the DPM is entitled to ‘full consultation over any dismissals of Lib Dem ministers and any further appointments to cabinet’…reallocation of portfolios must be agreed between the two party leaders." That is absolutely explicit for the first time, which goes back to Mr Allen’s point at the beginning. That obviously implies a check.

As far as I understand it, the Lib Dem Ministers who were sacked this time were nominated by the DPM, not particularly by the Prime Minister. He decided who came in and who went out among the Lib Dems and then presumably he discussed it with the Prime Minister. That implies a check. On your underlying point, I am inclined to say, T’was ever so; there are balances of personalities and so on. I think it is the Coalition that has changed that rather than anything else.

Akash Paun: The only thing I would add is that from our other research into the formation of the Coalition, what was quite unusual about that compared to international equivalents was that all the focus in the negotiations was on policy-getting the policy agreement right-and allocation of portfolios was a bit of an afterthought. In lots of countries it would have been much more integrated. I think to some extent, with two and a half years’ experience, on both sides there is recognition that maybe they wanted a bit more voice in certain areas. Some of the interesting changes on the Lib Dem side were getting a more senior figure in the Home Office, getting someone in Defra, which are big, important policy departments for their supporters in various ways. On the Conservative side, arguably some of the appointments in the Business Department-the bringing in of Paul Deighton1, for example-reflected a view that you needed to strengthen one side or another.

Q34 Mr Turner: In what way do you think reshuffles are driven by the media and how can we prevent it?

Peter Riddell: As an ex-political journalist myself, the media are part of it in the sense of being part of the gossip mechanism. In the run-up to reshuffles, going back to when I was political editor of the Financial Times in the 1980s, in the kind of high Thatcher period, I would talk to the Whips, I would talk to people close to Margaret Thatcher and I would talk to most of the Secretaries of State. We would all write our speculative pieces with more or less accuracy as the results indicated. Did they influence Margaret Thatcher? I very much doubt they had the slightest influence at all, but what I was doing was being part of the-I am inclined to say sounding chamber. I think a strong Prime Minister and strong leaders and Whips make up their own minds on things. I do not think they are particularly influenced. When you get something that is written, or now on the internet, it does not mean a Prime Minister is going to be influenced by it. They are as likely to say, "Damn it, I am going to do something different". I notice that not a single person predicted George Young as Chief Whip in the 10 days leading up to Andrew Mitchell’s resignation. Plenty of other names were mentioned. I think one can overdo the media side of it. There is a danger-the fact is that now I am an ex-journalist I have more humility-of exaggerating the influence.

Akash Paun: A famous case of a reshuffle going badly wrong-going back quite a way, of course-is the ‘night of the long knives’ in 1962. When you read the accounts, that was seen as driven, in terms of the timing at least, by leaks to the media. There was a plan being developed to change the Chancellor and make some other changes, but it got leaked. Then Harold Macmillan just rushed ahead and tried to do the whole thing too quickly, and it was seen as bungled and having been disrespectful to colleagues and so on.

Peter Riddell: Yes, but the interesting point there is the malicious leak by the Number 2 in the Government, Rab Butler, who leaked it partly intending to undermine the Prime Minister. The media were the vehicle rather than anything else.

Q35 Mr Turner: What about the effect that Parliament can have? Does Parliament, particularly obviously the majority party, have an effect on reshuffles?

Peter Riddell: Yes. I think it has an effect not so much on promotion but, particularly in emergency cases, on resignation. When someone is in trouble, invariably what dooms them is the collapse in support from their own party. I was around during the Westland period 26 years ago. What did for Leon Brittan was basically a lack of support in the 1922 Committee. He resigned on a Friday. On the Thursday-there were different timetables then-it was quite evident there was big opposition to him. You could argue that the same applied to Andrew Mitchell a couple of months ago. You get that pattern occurring. Therefore, what happens in the House, not necessarily on the Floor of the House but within the parliamentary grouping, can be very significant in that kind of emergency resignation.

The other thing is performance in the House. I can think of Ministers who turned out to be absolutely awful in the House and that got fed back, mainly via the Whips. There was one particular one during the Thatcher era who was completely useless taking a Bill through Committee and was dropped within a year and never quite forgave the Whip concerned. Quite rightly so, because he just was not up to it. It was just a matter of competence; it was not about political views. They were just useless at it. It happens slightly more often in the Lords but no one covers it. I think that is where the opinion within the House can matter.

Q36 Chair: Just before I ask Paul to come in, nipping back to the Cabinet Manual where there is a passing reference to reshuffles but that is all, is that a place where we should be looking, should we so decide, to add a little more formality to the very laissez-faire process at the moment? Without some written bulwarks, there is no inhibition to Prime Ministers on reshuffles. You may argue there should be none. However, even on this last occasion there was a sense that people got a taste for what was going to be quite a limited reshuffle and suddenly you have quite an enormous reshuffle, which probably was not intended in the first place.

Peter Riddell: That is is a very interesting issue. I think there is a distinction between good practice and what could be put in the Cabinet Manual. That is the distinction. In your inquiry into the Cabinet Manual you produced some very interesting evidence and interesting conclusions on that and I think, if I might say so, you should return to it at some stage. What you actually identified was a distinction between something basic and behavioural, and I think the Cabinet Manual should be about some fundamentals. It is quite difficult to recommend, "This is good behaviour". I think you can do it in your report, if you reach those conclusions, that it is desirable to avoid X and Y and Z traps and do it however firmly. It is quite difficult to write that in a Cabinet Manual in practice. It is that distinction. Your role could be to highlight and say, "This is something entirely desirable". But it is very difficult to write down.

Akash Paun: In terms of whether the unfettered power of the Prime Minister could be constrained in some way, I think what is interesting in reading accounts of almost all reshuffles is how constrained Prime Ministers already feel. They are often unable to make the moves they want. As we have discussed, people refuse to take the job offered or threaten to move to the back benches and so on. I would not characterise it as a process where at the moment Prime Ministers just get exactly what they want, because that rarely happens. Ultimately, they are constrained by those factors and they are constrained by the fact that reshuffles can be quite damaging for them if they go wrong.

Q37 Chair: That is a very interesting take from the other end of the telescope compared to those who are shuffled-not shuffled, appointed-not appointed, who I think form the vast majority of people in politics who look upon this as an incredibly arbitrary and non-transparent process, so I am interested that you say that.

Akash Paun: I would not challenge that it is arbitrary and non-transparent. I only wanted to challenge the idea that it is a matter of entire control by the Prime Minister.

Q38 Chair: Decency prohibits public beheading these days, of course, so there have been some improvements but-

Peter Riddell: I think you can say things about what is good practice. As I say, it is very difficult to write those things, to say, "This is part of the rulebook".

Q39 Chair: Akash, you were talking about the time in which junior Ministers in particular have had a very short lifespan. Of course, you need to add that if it was, whatever it was, 13 months, there is a period of learning the brief when you are not going to be at your fullest capability and then there is also this period of paralysis. We have talked about how long the actual shuffle takes-is it a week or is it a little longer-but the period of paralysis leading into that where there is speculation and uncertainty and your civil servants look at you and think, "This guy is probably not even going to be here" can last many months. As I mentioned when I opened, Peter, the first straw in the wind on this reshuffle I think was in June-I may be corrected. At that point I can guarantee you that every Minister saw that little first whiff and thought, "Oh, where am I going to be next month?" or, as it turned out, four months later.

Peter Riddell: There is a planning blight problem. The other point is that we are discussing averages. The real problem is you are talking about a much greater spread. You get some Ministers who are there for very short periods, and that is very destabilising and very unhealthy. You get some there for much longer periods. One should not just focus on the average; you should look at the distribution as well. It is a really interesting point on the planning blight problem, when it produces paralysis, worry, looking over the shoulder. It tends to be, as you say, about three months or so beforehand. We underrate its impact, I think.

Q40 Chair: But what if a Prime Minister stated at the beginning of their term, "I am picking my 1st XV and, barring scandal, death or failure, I will reshuffle my team as and when I win the next general election"?

Peter Riddell: The problem with that is that as long as you have five-year Parliaments it is too long a period for quite a few Ministers. I do not necessarily disagree. You can argue about the scale of what happened in September, but I would accept that that was on the whole a sensible point to do it. Akash was making the point earlier that it is mid-term renewal and it just got caught up in lots of other political things, nothing to do with this inquiry. You can argue about the scale of it, but it is not unreasonable to say, "Two and a quarter years is not a bad point". To be fair to David Cameron, he had said that for quite some time. The timing, certainly from the people I talked to, was always going to be early September. Well, there was one big extraneous factor, which is obviously to do with Leveson, but apart from that it was always going to be then, for a very long time. Actually, David Cameron has changed track and equally not changed the machinery of government, which is something we have not talked about. It was always likely to be then.

Akash Paun: In terms of getting the top team in place for the full Parliament, often for the very big jobs that happens more often. It was notable that the top five jobs or so were not changed in this reshuffle.

Peter Riddell: That will apply. If you look through the top jobs, Chancellor, Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary, Education, they are quite likely to be there for the full five years. I do not think anyone would necessarily predict a change in any of those absolutely crucial jobs. And Work and Pensions, as we have heard.

Q41 Paul Flynn: I am in danger of overdosing on the wisdom of Peter Riddell, Mr Chairman, because this is the third day in succession I have asked him questions. Do you think that with all the negative stuff we have heard about the reshuffles there is a possible advantage to Parliament to have unleashed into the Chamber a whole group of people who have been sacked who are well informed as former Ministers but are generally embittered about the injustice of their sacking and are wonderful irritants to the process of government but beneficial to the work of Parliament?

Peter Riddell: Without quite taking your analysis, which I don’t disagree with, there are very few ex-Ministers I have ever met who believed that their departure was just or fair and they should not have had another year or two, very few indeed, so most of them fit into your category. Can I put a bit more positive spin on it? I know you do not like the word "spin". Certainly, I think Parliament benefits from the experience of ex-Ministers. You and I heard yesterday a couple of ex-Ministers reshuffled who can add a lot of interesting thoughts and experience to discussion. I look around over a long period and you get two patterns of ex-Ministers. There are those who say, "Oh, my career is over, I’m off. Next election I’ll go and do something completely different", and those who have a-I hesitate to use the word "career" because I think it is completely wrong in relation to Parliament-second emphasis in their lives. There are some very successful Members of Parliament, particularly in the scrutiny role, who have been Ministers but now say, "That period of my life is over. I am going off to do something else". Whether you take the particular way you phrased it, I think that they can make a real impact because they have seen the inside.

Q42 Paul Flynn: Without revealing the identity of the two involved, I was quite shocked yesterday to hear two people that I have long thought to be boring party hacks, mannequins, speak your weight machines, party apparatchiks, having been relieved of their ministerial duties, presenting themselves as highly intelligent and creative people. They have undergone a metamorphosis now they have slipped the shackles of responsibility.

Peter Riddell: Well, either that or you underrated them before, but we will not go into that. I would certainly agree, but your underlying point is that I felt one of the great dangers of Parliament, observing it as I did for 30 years and now seeing it in a rather different light, is that people say there is a ministerial route or there is a back bench route. That is extraordinarily unhealthy. I think people move between the two. I agree with your implicit point absolutely that some ex-Ministers can do an awful lot in their scrutiny role and other roles. One of the most depressing things I find is the people who arrive in Parliament and within six months they are on the front bench or PPSs or something, rather than saying there is a transition, it moves. I think it can enrich the place, yes.

Q43 Paul Flynn: I think we would all agree it is a truly awful system. One of the dangers is that we have people who are able, who have been good Ministers and have not done a thing wrong, being told by the Prime Minister, "You have done nothing wrong. You have done a wonderful job, but I need your job" because some game that no one else understands is invisibly going on in the background between power groups. They remain people who either leave politics or feel themselves as having failed for life. Think of the curious behaviour of Prime Ministers. Margaret Thatcher would never appoint anyone with a beard. Tony Blair told Rhodri Morgan that he was too old to be a Minister, yet he went on to have a brilliant career in the Welsh Assembly. Tony Wright was not appointed to ministerial office because he was known to read books, which was thought to be a-

Peter Riddell: And write them.

Paul Flynn: And write them, which was even worse-a curse-which is a terribly dangerous trait to have in your ministerial team. I think we have benefited greatly from the evidence you submitted but would you say strongly that the whole disruptive churning that goes on creates imbalance, and is irrational and damaging to the effectiveness of government, and feeds the power of the Prime Minister and the civil service?

Peter Riddell: I would not put it in such strong terms. All I am saying is that reshuffles should be done in a more measured way. You have to have reshuffles, as Akash said earlier, but they should be done in a more measured way. The Prime Minister is always going to take a kind of party advantage. One point you made, which is one I feel strongly about, is that it should not be final. There is a tendency when someone has been sacked that that is it. One of the most interesting things is when people are brought back. There are a number of cases of that, and George Young is a living example. He was sacked from being a junior Health Minister by Margaret Thatcher because he was too anti-smoking. He then turned out to be a poll tax rebel, and then was brought back and had a big career and he has been brought back a second time. There are other cases too of people who have had second comings and on the whole quite successfully so, but people don’t think of it that way.

Q44 Paul Flynn: But that was done by Prime Ministers, possibly partly for the reasons you suggest, but certainly in the last Government it was done because there was a whole phalanx of sacked Ministers, and in order to make sure they did not all rebel there was a little hope put out. Three or four of them were brought back so the others realised they might have their own second coming again. I think it was done in that way by the Prime Minister.

Peter Riddell: That is party management. One shouldn’t be shocked at it. That is life.

Paul Flynn: Yes, indeed, as we are discovering.

Q45 Chair: Also, Peter, many of the bigger beasts were close friends of the Prime Minister, and they had one or two reprieves. We don’t need to go through the names, but they were not necessarily the capable middle-ranking people. In the last shuffle, I can name 12 Conservative Ministers who I personally had the highest regard for, each of whom said, "I was told it was nothing personal". A great phalanx of people who added gravitas and bottom to a Government seem to be moved aside. The earlier example is the number of people who had transgressed and were given a second chance, in a sense, because of who they knew and the influence they had.

Peter Riddell: That is true, but there is a downside too. As long as you have a parliamentary system, if you annoy people there are consequences. You would have to talk to Philip Cowley on this; I am sure he could tell you all the statistics. I think you would find in one or two Divisions in the last few weeks that one or two former ministers have been willing to vote against the Government. There are downsides to annoying people. As I say, it is party management; that is always going to be there. You can’t really say party management is going to go away, of course it is not. That is the essence of here. As long as you do not have a separation of powers-a different argument to get into-as long as you have the executive powers of legislature, that is always going to happen. It is going to happen under whatever party is in power but there are consequences. There are consequences, as Paul Flynn is pointing out, in terms of people’s attitudes and subsequent behaviour. If you get it wrong, it is not painless.

Q46 Paul Flynn: Would you like to develop this idea about those who are back benchers by choice? There are a number of them-Bruce Grocott was one of them and there are a number of other people-who decided at a point in Parliament that they had no interest in and resigned from front bench positions, or they refused to take them up. Do you see healthy signs with the strengthening of Committees and other paths, and the fact that Tony Wright has a legacy here greater than most Ministers who served in Parliament? Can you see this developing and being worthwhile?

Akash Paun: Peter mentioned before this sense of Select Committees, and particularly of course Select Committee Chairs, as an alternative career path. That seems to have been strengthened in recent years. The new selection system for Committee Chairs reinforces that of course, and the additional salary previously agreed. I think that is very healthy for the strength of Parliament and its role in scrutiny and holding Government to account. I have no idea of the numbers on the back benches who would be happy or prefer a career as a back bencher through the Committee system and so on. From the Government perspective, the larger that group is, and also the larger the group of sacked Ministers grows, that means that the talent pool for appointments to the front bench shrinks accordingly. That was a big problem faced by Labour by the end, by many people’s accounts. It was described as a ‘talent puddle’ rather than a talent pool as there were so few appointable people, at least from a leadership perspective. Our interest, at the Institute for Government, is also in the effectiveness of government so I think those things can be problematic.

Peter Riddell: The more the Select Committees make an impact, the more someone would say-as you say with Tony Wright, unquestionably he will be remembered longer than I should think virtually all the Ministers, let alone Under-Secretaries, in the last Government. So would those who worked on the Committee. They had much more impact, much greater than I expected. Similarly, we will have to see at the end of this Parliament how it works out with directly elected Chairs. It has had more impact than I expected. Therefore, even that conditions people’s behaviour and expectation and attitude. Particularly on the Government side, Tory or Lib Dem Chairs of Select Committees, it will be very interesting to see what their attitudes will be at the end of the Parliament. Two or three might have thought they might have been Ministers, I would certainly say they are making much greater impact with what they are doing now.

Q47 Paul Flynn: Mr Paun spoke with such authority on what happened in 1962 that I assume he is at least 62 himself, so he can answer this question too. If you look at someone like Leo Abse as a back bencher, again a back bencher by choice, who got through a huge amount of legislation, daring, adventurous legislation that was seen to be very courageous in his time, do you see the future producing more Leo Abses?

Peter Riddell: There is a separate issue on Private Members’ Bills and the hurdles there, which is not appropriate to go into now. What I would see is a possibility is that if the changes in Select Committees do make an impact people will turn their attention from being so Executive minded. It is not just Government minded, people will be less front bench minded and say, "Actually you can make an impact without just being a front bencher", and people will see that. We may well see that. I would hope so.

Q48 Simon Hart: A couple of things not on the list. Do you think it was wise to sack all but one of the Whip’s Office in the recent reshuffle?

Peter Riddell: That is a very difficult question to answer from our point of view. I am going to give you a Sir Humphrey answer; it was very courageous or bold, or whatever, to do it. It surprised me. That is an area where you do need some continuity, and that did surprise me.

Q49 Simon Hart: It is an aside really. The other point we touched on earlier is about appointments being made to mark other Ministers and departments. Do you have a view as to whether, once a Secretary of State is appointed, they should have the flexibility to build a team of Ministers around them of their choice?

Akash Paun: I think it is very important that ministerial teams within departments can work together well for the good administration of that department so Secretaries of State quite rightly should have some influence over it. Their appointment by the Prime Minister is a natural point to enter into a discussion over it, and I know that happens.

Q50 Simon Hart: It doesn’t even seem to happen with PPSs. People just get assigned a PPS, and even the PPSs appear to be a No. 10 decision. People are ringing up and saying, "I hear you are my PPS", and people don’t know who the hell they are.

Akash Paun: It is interesting because there are other cases, supposedly, of Secretaries of State blocking the appointment of junior Ministers; supposedly that is what happened to Norman Lamb’s proposed appointment back in 2010 to the Department of Health. In some of the conversations we had with officials and people who observed the process, one thing that was said to us-I think it is in the paper-is that Ministers being appointed to Cabinet vary hugely in how much they seize that opportunity to shape their team. It was described to us that some of them are very rational and thoughtful about it and ask for the proposed names of people that are being put in their department and then maybe even come back and renegotiate if they feel they are in a strong enough position. It was suggested to us that others were just so excited about being promoted that they "run out to phone their Mum". I am not sure how literal that was. I think the point is that they do have a degree of influence but they are never going to have the final choice.

Q51 Simon Hart: I wonder if that is sensible really. If you want them to have a sense of ownership and accountability about the performance of their department, then there is surely no greater way of achieving that, if you look at outside comparisons, than by them being responsible for the appointments that are made, as far as possible, to the department.

Akash Paun: I think it is sensible for exactly those reasons. In coalition it becomes more complex, of course, where more naturally you get into that sense of having junior Ministers man-marking the Cabinet Minister. Maybe that is what happened to an extent, as we discussed before, between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in some departments. In an ideal case, of course you would want the Secretary of State to have a team around him or her that they trusted and worked well with and there was a sense of a leadership team, not competing individuals within the department.

Peter Riddell: I agree with what Akash said. The Coalition is a complicating factor. What is interesting is that in some of the departments there was a sense of coherence across party lines. I can think of a number where there was perfect harmony between a Lib Dem Minister of State and a Tory Secretary of State, no problems at all. But certainly for effectiveness, to give the Secretary of State a greater say in the choice of Ministers is vital, otherwise you do get to the stage where some junior Ministers are completely ignored. That is a sideline of what I described earlier, when I talked to a Secretary of State who regarded one of his junior Ministers as useless, just going to umpteen adjournment debates, Westminster Hall debates, without any real power within the department. It happens all the time, but that is not very satisfactory for effectiveness. Tony Blair experimented with this but did not really follow it through-that on appointment there was one phase when people were sent a letter, "These are your objectives". That has kind of fallen away. You could do exactly the same with junior Ministers, "This team is going to be here for a couple of years. I want you to work together harmoniously."

Q52 Chair: Can I follow up on that? You mentioned, Peter, a particular Minister way back when who was regarded by his colleagues as incompetent and after a year or so fell by the wayside. There was also a phenomenon-again I am not at liberty to name names- when I was at the Whip’s Office that certain bigger beasts could pick their own people or get their own people put into other departments. Those were the people who were in the category you described earlier, people that just could not hack it but they had been a pal of that person for a while, they had run their campaign for their own ambition or whatever it was, and therefore they were owed, but when they got up to the dispatch box everybody was deeply embarrassed about the way they performed, and on Bills they were deeply embarrassed. I only put that side as a counterweight; they are not always necessarily right with you in terms of talent, capability and ideology.

Peter Riddell: There is a barony feudal barony aspect to this. I think we are thinking of the same person, who is now in the House of Lords. That did happen-that X would be protected even though the widespread view was that X was useless but he was part of the patronage system. In the last Government, during the whole 13 years there were two big baronies who looked after their people in that way. That is not a very practical way, but that is an example of where prime ministerial power is constrained.

Q53 Simon Hart: Earlier you made an interesting comment about the fact that opinion polls don’t appear to reflect reshuffles at all. A former Minister, Edward Garnier, said to me about the first day I was elected, "Don’t forget promotion is nothing to do with talent but it is to do with all sorts of other factors", some of which we have talked about, some of which we haven’t. There is gender balance, there is age balance, there is geographical spread, there are all sorts of other features. Why are we so obsessed with those aspects of reshuffles being significant, when it clearly doesn’t have any impact on public opinion anyway?

Peter Riddell: Every small group of people wants to know who is up and who is down. They love personalities because you identify with personalities. It is much harder to look at performance. Here you see the tip of the iceberg of performance, the public aspect of it. You know the people and you can reach other assessments of them because you know them, but the journalists see one aspect. Personalities are more interesting to all of us than the more elusive thing of effectiveness. That is why; it is a small group world of who is up and who is down. It is true whether you are trying to pick who should play in Mumbai tomorrow for England-although there I hope effectiveness is a key factor. That is inevitably so, and it is magnified by the internet and all that world, and the impact is enormously exaggerated. I entirely agree with what you said earlier about it. I have never seen, with very rare exceptions, its having any impact.

Q54 Mr Turner: In a way, I suppose, the election is just a larger scale reshuffle with either the hope to get in or not at the end of it. Do you feel that these five years will be served now and do you feel that it would be served in the future?

Peter Riddell: I am not quite clear what you meant by will the five years be served. Do you mean will we have the full five-year Parliament?

Mr Turner: Yes.

Peter Riddell: It is a different topic. There are some traps, that you all know about far more than I do-the Bill currently in the Lords on the boundaries, Europe and so on. My hunch is that the full five years will be served.

Akash Paun: I wouldn’t disagree. I would only say that in comparison to coalitions overseas they would do quite well to. If you look at the statistics, five years is quite a long time to survive, but they have just passed the Fixed-term Parliament Bill. There is clearly commitment at the top to see out the full term so there are good reasons to think they would last until 2015.

Peter Riddell: That is where opinion polls do matter.

Q55 Chair: If I may digress, because we do have a little time. Just seeing the five years in terms of survival, we are trying, as a Committee, to also look at this in terms of five years as a planning horizon, as a book end where you can do some strategic thinking, rather than have paralysis where after two years we are worrying that there may be an election next year, the civil servants are backing off you a little bit because you may not be there to see through the things you are proposing. But if you have a five-year term, and perhaps another five-year term-didn’t Prime Minister Blair say, "If I had known I would have been here this long I would have been bolder, or I would have done stuff earlier"? It is like the jazz player, Horace Silver, who said on his 95th birthday, "If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself". There is the possibility of a serious, professional, long-term plan in Government that has not existed before because of our framework of having elections possibly next week.

Peter Riddell: That was the argument for the Fixed-term Parliament Act. I still think, going back to the earlier point you made about the uncertainty of reshuffles ahead, the final year of the Parliament will be very difficult for all the reasons of the two partners wanting to do-Akash has looked at this extensively in his work on coalitions. While it provides certainty, perhaps it pushes back the beginning of the period of uncertainty, possibly from-

Chair: Year three to year five.

Peter Riddell: Exactly.

Q56 Chair: In terms of planning government, planning enormous policy changes, reforms and so on, that has to be better news than in two years’ time we might throw all the bits in the air again on health or pensions and benefits or whatever.

Peter Riddell: I still think there will be caution on legislation as opposed to implementation, but it gives the Government more scope on its implementation of existing legislation. As we have seen with two Bills-one has been dropped and one was significantly changed in the Lords last night-the difficulties of legislation are not altered in that respect.

Akash Paun: The interesting thing with this Government in terms of having a long-term plan is less to do with it being a fixed term. It was because it was a coalition that they had to develop a joint programme for government after the election. That was something that was new. And constitutionally it is quite interesting how that programme-not manifestos-that was the central guiding document. If you talk to people across Whitehall, it was very much seen as the reference document, at least in the early months. The question is whether, in the five days or two weeks after the election in which the programme is drawn up, you can really plan for everything you are going to do. That is what we have looked at in our work on mid-term renewal-from where they are up to now, going into year three to year four, do they have enough that they have agreed on, is there enough of a joint agenda there any more, and how do you revive it when at the same time you are looking to the next election as two separate parties? That is the challenge. Five years does then seem like quite a long time. I am in favour of fixed terms in principle, for the reasons you have said, and removing it from prime ministerial prerogative, but if you look around the world five years is a long time for that. Four years is much more common.

Q57 Chair: To go back to a couple of points, firstly, the question that Simon raised about teams and team building and effective teams. Peter you said, rightly, we don’t want to just be a corporate management structure, of course we don’t, but we are a heck of a long way from that being a danger. Do you think there is space for some standards along those lines? I remember being in Chris Smith’s team in opposition when there were very open discussions, minutes were taken, action points were made and we followed up weekly, and that was the best organised group of people I have ever been involved with in the House. It is the only example I can quote, having been in six different front bench opposition teams. I have to be rather careful, but looking at ministerial meetings that I was present at as a Government Whip, one would not have wanted them quoted in a business presentation about effective decision-making. They lasted an hour, and on one occasion it was standard practice for the most senior Minister present to speak for 50 minutes about something the person was deeply offended about that may have appeared in the papers over the last two or three days. Is there a role for some more corporate guidance-basics?

Peter Riddell: It is deeply tempting to speculate on the nature of that Minister. Yes, there is. Without being heavy-handed, I think there is absolutely, mainly because most MPs, and therefore most prospective Ministers, have not worked in big organisations. Most MPs have small-unit experience. That is how they function as MPs, that is how the three of you function outside the Committee context. Therefore, some familiarisation with working in a more organised way-you quite rightly say the practice is a million miles away from big companies, but I think there is best practice. The Institute for Government is doing work on that, and did before the last election-trying to work with politicians, both in Government and outside Government, on exactly these issues. The details are totally confidential for obvious reasons, but we are working both with Ministers and with opposition groups on some of exactly those points. It is not to do with policy; it is nothing to do with policy. It is purely, "You would work more effectively together if you listened to each other, had more structured meetings", and so on. It is very difficult to measure the impact of this work, but some of our most interesting work has been along those lines, and it doesn’t absorb massive resources in the Institute. There is a danger of being patronising, but I have people among my colleagues who understand some of these things, have experience talking to people. What we have found from quite a few Ministers and opposition spokesmen is a real willingness to do it because it has been done in a low key way. It is not seen as a great public thing. People are willing to listen and say, "Actually, you have a point there. It might be an idea if we did this or that". We have also done some appraisals of Ministers privately.

Q58 Chair: I am going to warn you of my last question, which is to ask you for your crunchy real things that we could consider doing, practically, around the reshuffle question. I know some answers are in the paper, but before I get there should there be something in terms of a proper hearing within Parliament when a Minister is appointed or reappointed? I don’t necessarily want to float the idea of going to the US level of endorsement and formal agreement but none the less, if you have a brand new Secretary of State, wouldn’t it be appropriate to officially notify, even on the agenda of the House of Commons, that a change has taken place, and wouldn’t it be just a matter of courtesy that that person would come immediately after appointment to meet, let’s say, the relevant Select Committee?

Akash Paun: Certainly we wouldn’t back a confirmation power for Parliament.

Q59 Chair: You would or you would not?

Akash Paun: We would not. I don’t think that would be appropriate. We did a previous report at the Institute on parliamentary scrutiny of public appointments. We said that there is clearly a role that should be extended in Select Committees having a role, and sometimes a veto, over public appointments, but that is for the very reason that they are supposed to be independent of party politics if you are talking about things like the OBR or Information Commissioner and so on. With Ministers that is clearly not the case and I don’t think it would be a very productive use of Select Committee time, when it would inevitably just divide Committees on party lines.

Q60 Chair: May I say we have never done that in two years.

Akash Paun: Done what?

Chair: Divided along party lines on anything that is-

Akash Paun: I meant that I think it would raise those risks if you were to go down the line of saying a Committee has an appointment or confirmation power for Ministers.

Q61 Chair: Rather like Her Majesty, we could receive the person into our midst rather than say yes or no.

Akash Paun: That is what I was going to go on to say. I agree with you that it would be a sensible convention and a courtesy, as you said, for there to be a very early occasion after someone’s appointment to meet the Committee.

Peter Riddell: I agree with that 100%. In a lot of cases that happens in practice. It is an interesting issue with junior Ministers, it is more complicated there, but certainly with Secretaries of State, absolutely, rather like what happens with new permanent secretaries. On the whole, they will come and see the Secretary, and so they should once they have their feet under the table, within two or three weeks, say. I think that is absolutely right. It is part of the scrutiny process of keeping in touch, setting out their thinking and plans, and I regard that as entirely desirable.

Q62 Chair: One minute on the crunchy proposals that you would love the Committee to consider on reshuffles.

Akash Paun: A few of them are things we have touched on. I think there is space for a more systematic, maybe more formalised approach to gathering performance information on Ministers. Maybe there ought to be some kind of standardised approach to some extent. Of course, other factors are always going to come into play as well. It might be worth thinking about how you would develop that capacity, and whether the Prime Minister can, realistically, be more of a line manager in a corporate sense and have those kind of discussions with Ministers during their time in office about how they are doing and where they might seek to improve and so on. Maybe that could be something the Prime Minister might delegate to another senior figure with a roving brief, a Ken Clarke type figure, just thinking off the top of my head. I think Secretaries of State having influence over the junior ministerial team-for the reasons we have discussed-is quite an important issue to consider and perhaps there should be a clearer convention there. Those would be the main areas, I think.

Peter Riddell: I agree with all the things Akash has said. The key is bearing in mind ministerial effectiveness-when it should be done. They should think about what impact it will have on departments-in other words if you take away all but one Minister what effect will that have-and the degree to which Prime Ministers should look at the development over time, giving advice to people, a proper induction. The effectiveness of Ministers within departments should have a much greater role than it does now. That is not only the assessment of who should go where but also that they may need some help and support.

Q63 Chair: Peter, Akash, thank you so much. It has been a pleasure as always. I am sorry the Select Committee structure has run you ragged over the last three days, Peter. You can have a well-deserved rest over the weekend.

Peter Riddell: It has been a pleasure. My exchanges with Mr Flynn have been a pleasure as always.


[1] Note from witness: Paul Deighton has been appointed to the Treasury. The BIS reference was to other appointments (Fallon and Hancock to be specific).

Prepared 11th December 2012