Back to Report

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Public Administration Committee

on Monday 18 June 2012

Members present:

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Chair)

Alun Cairns

Paul Flynn

Robert Halfon

Kevin Hopkins

Greg Mulholland

Priti Patel


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Rt Hon Francis Maude MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office, and Sue Gray, Head of Propriety and Ethics, Cabinet Office, gave evidence.

Q100 Chair: Welcome to this final oral evidence session on the role of special advisers in the Government. I wonder whether each of our witnesses could identify themselves for the record, please.

Mr Maude: I am Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office.

Sue Gray: I am Sue Gray; I am the Head of Propriety and Ethics in the Cabinet Office.

Q101 Chair: I wonder, Sue Gray, if would you very kindly describe a little more about your role and what you actually do?

Sue Gray: I have responsibility for the various codes of conduct, so the ministerial code, the Civil Service code, and the special adviser code and all that goes with it in terms of giving advice. I am also responsible for public bodies policy and the reform programme and for public appointments policy.

Q102 Chair: Thank you very much. Of course, we have a list of special advisers, which is dated 4 April, saying that we have 83 advisers in the Government. Is that still the correct number?

Sue Gray: I think that there are probably about 84 or 85 now.

Q103 Chair: So it has crept up a little further?

Sue Gray: Yes, but that is probably because somebody else may be leaving.

Q104 Chair: But the trend seems to be upwards.

Sue Gray: I suspect that it is probably at its sort of-

Q105 Chair: What happened to the set limit on the number of special advisers that we aspired to at the beginning of the Coalition?

Mr Maude: There was a view before the Coalition was formed that the numbers should be limited, though no one at that stage had thought through the implications in a coalition. You will see from the trajectory that there has been an increase in the number of special advisers, which I think reflects the unusual circumstances of a coalition, but I think the numbers are still, and I can probably find them if I riffle through quickly, around the same as they were with the last Government but split between two parties.

Q106 Chair: I think I am correct in saying that we are now a little more.

Sue Gray: The number is around 84 to 85, and there has been that number in a previous Government.

Mr Maude: In 2004, there were 85, and I think we are now at 85 split between the parties as to 60 working for Conservative Ministers and 25 working for Lib Dem Ministers.

Q107 Chair: Of course there is a certain amount of discussion internally and externally that there still are not enough.

Mr Maude: Well, there will always be a spirited discussion about this and there is probably no perfect answer. There is a spirited discussion about the extent to which there should be appointments made by Ministers versus permanent civil servant appointments.

Q108 Chair: There has been a spirited discussion also about the written evidence to be submitted to this Committee, and I think in the end the Government have decided not to submit written evidence to this inquiry. Can you explain why that is?

Mr Maude: I am not aware of any discussion at all, let alone a spirited one.

Sue Gray: I think it was just a discussion at official level as to whether we might submit a memorandum, but we never formalised that or consulted Ministers-it was just a discussion at official level.

Q109 Chair: So that was not discussed with the Minister?

Mr Maude: There was not even a dispirited discussion.

Q110 Chair: So it was not even discussed with the special adviser?

Mr Maude: Exactly-shocking-how could that be?

Q111 Chair: It is unusual for a Select Committee to be conducting an inquiry without written evidence from the Government. We usually find it very helpful, so we feel that we are slightly in the dark about what the Government thinks about the role of special advisers and how it should develop and so on.

Mr Maude: I will do my best to enlighten that darkness.

Q112 Chair: We start with accountability, because Ministers are accountable under the ministerial code for "the management and conduct of special advisers, including discipline". Precisely what does "accountable" mean under those circumstances?

Mr Maude: I suppose it means that Ministers have to answer for what their special advisers do, I guess. I am not sure that I have anything much more to add than that.

Q113 Chair: So whose responsibility is it to monitor the propriety of what special advisers may be getting up to on a day-to-day basis?

Mr Maude: Well, just as with most people in normal jobs, it is not normally thought necessary for there to be daily monitoring of what people do. They are trusted to get on and do their jobs.

Q114 Chair: If somebody has to be monitored very closely, they are probably the wrong person to be a special adviser. I think we would agree with that.

Mr Maude: Just as I do not expect civil servants or Ministers to be monitored on a daily basis to see whether they are complying with the code.

Q115 Chair: Just occasionally, as we know and as we have recently discovered, things can go wrong, and who is responsible for monitoring about things that might go wrong?

Mr Maude: People are responsible for their own behaviour, whether they are Ministers, civil servants or special advisers.

Q116 Chair: The code says, "the management and conduct of special advisers, including discipline", is the responsibility of-they are accountable to-the Minister. I am trying to find out what that means.

Mr Maude: Well, people have personal responsibility for their own behaviour, and if their behaviour falls short of the standards required by the code, then the Minister will account for it.

Q117 Chair: Right. And that is what we have seen in recent events?

Mr Maude: Yes.

Q118 Chair: Do you think that the Permanent Secretary should have any responsibility at all for the conduct of special advisers, given that special advisers are civil servants and a Permanent Secretary is responsible for making sure a Minister compiles with the ministerial code? Surely, he should be responsible as well for ensuring that the Minister is making sure that the special adviser is complying with the SpAds code?

Mr Maude: I gather in the House of Lords Constitutional Committee inquiry into Civil Service accountability there was a discussion about the difference between accountability and responsibility, which felt a bit like angels and heads of pins. Here, there is a difference between responsibility; people are personally responsible for their own behaviour and you would not expect in any of these circumstances for there to be monitoring on anything like a regular basis of what people do. Where behaviour is disclosed that falls short of the standards set out in the relevant code, the Minister will be accountable in the case of special advisers. Will the Permanent Secretary have a responsibility for that? He certainly would not be accountable for it, but certainly you would expect a Permanent Secretary, if evidence of a particular behaviour came to his or her attention, to raise it in the first instance with the Minister.

Q119 Chair: After the resignation of Dr Liam Fox, Gus O’Donnell appeared before this Committee lamenting, "If only I’d been told earlier." He said it three times. I make no comment about the Permanent Secretary in question; this is not a personal comment, but the guidance has been changed, and perhaps Ms Gray can enlighten us on this. Surely there is a case for permanent secretaries to take a more active role in ensuring that all the personnel in their Departments are complying with the right codes and observing the right codes of ethics.

Sue Gray: I think, as the Minister has just outlined, everybody has a copy of their code. Everybody is meant to know what is in the code and to comply with that code, and I think you rely on all the civil servants, the Ministers and special advisers to comply with it. Obviously, if an issue gets raised, then, depending on what the issue is that gets raised, there will be a discussion about how best to handle it.

Q120 Chair: We need our permanent secretaries, ultimately, to be vigilant, because, as I mentioned in the last session, there is always a possibility that Ministers themselves could be conflicted in some way because, like their special advisers, they are also political.

Sue Gray: Yes. The Minister may discuss issues with the Permanent Secretary and the Permanent Secretary may discuss them with the Minister, but I think you have to rely on people to know what is in their code and to know the standard expected of them, and allow them to get on with the job. If something comes to somebody’s attention, then you have to sit down and decide how best to deal with it, but, in the way things work, I am not sure you have people every day scrutinising what people are doing.

Mr Maude: Perhaps the point I would make is that, if something comes to light that the Permanent Secretary is concerned about, the Permanent Secretary should raise it first with the Minister, and if the Permanent Secretary is not satisfied that the matter is being dealt with appropriately, the Permanent Secretary should not be inhibited from raising it with the Cabinet Secretary/Head of the Civil Service.

Q121 Chair: Thank you for that. That is the correct model, isn’t it? That is how it should work.

Mr Maude: Yes.

Sue Gray: Yes.

Q122 Chair: One or two of these accidents seem to have occurred where that has not happened.

Mr Maude: That is how it should work.

Chair: I am grateful for that.

Q123 Kelvin Hopkins: Following on from that, what is the status of an adviser who is not really an adviser: someone who is with the Minister at all times; has apparent access to confidential discussions, confidential papers; goes everywhere with the Minister; and may be paid for, possibly even by a foreign power, but is not technically a specially adviser? This is the sort of case that we had with Adam Werritty. What do we do about that?

Mr Maude: Well, they are not advisers.

Q124 Kelvin Hopkins: Clearly, they have access to confidential discussions, confidential papers, and they may be paid for by outside organisations-another Government, for example. Surely, some concern has to be raised about this kind of adviser, even if they are not technically part of the special adviser team?

Mr Maude: I cannot comment on the specific case, which I was not remotely involved with, and I do not know the detail, but, clearly, confidential documents should only be shared with those who are entitled to see them.

Q125 Kelvin Hopkins: This went on for months, if not years, with Adam Werrity and nothing was done about it, until finally the whole thing was exposed. Isn’t it worrying that that kind of role might be carried on at an unofficial level, not as a special adviser?

Mr Maude: If there are concerns existing, they should be raised in the appropriate way. I do not think this is very mysterious. If there were concerns, there are plenty of ways in which they can be raised and surfaced. In a case of the sort you mentioned, if the Permanent Secretary has concerns, then the Permanent Secretary can and should raise it with the Minister and then, if they are not satisfied that things are being properly addressed, with the Cabinet Secretary/Head of the Civil Service, who can raise it with the Prime Minister. It is not as if there is no way of dealing with these things-there is.

Q126 Kelvin Hopkins: Well, in the Ministry of Defence, I do not know whether the Official Secrets Act had been signed by Adam Werritty, for example.

Mr Maude: No, nor do I.

Q127 Kelvin Hopkins: Isn’t it worrying that that could have carried on for so long without anybody doing anything about it?

Mr Maude: As I said, I cannot comment on the specifics-I am not familiar with them-and there is a perfectly good way of dealing with these things.

Q128 Paul Flynn: But isn’t it true that the mechanism that is there, and has been there for five years now, is that the Minister and the situation should have been reported to the independent adviser on the ministerial code? The independent adviser said that it should have been reported by him and he should have been investigating. He then resigned his office. Doesn’t it mean that recent events have shown that office has been degraded and politicised, particularly as a newly appointed adviser, who has no support and in whom this Committee has no confidence, has acted in collaboration with the Prime Minister in a political stunt last Wednesday?

Mr Maude: Well, I do not accept any of that, least of all your assertion that the report of your Committee suggested that the Committee had no confidence in him. That is not how I read the report of your Committee. It may be what you thought, but it is not what the Committee said.

Paul Flynn: Well, I suggest that you read it again. Read what the report said and read the minority report as well.

Chair: I do not think that the Committee said "no confidence". It did not say that.

Paul Flynn: The Committee had a vote on whether he was a fit person to do the job, and the Committee voted, with its Conservative majority, that it did not have any-

Chair: We did not say he was not fit to do the job.

Paul Flynn: What did we say then? You remind me of the precise words.

Chair: I cannot remember, but we are dealing with special advisers and not the code today.

Paul Flynn: I do remember. That was the word, and I think I moved it. I did present it to him while he was being cross-examined and they were the words I used to him. I asked, "What if we decided that?" He said, "I would look at my position and possibly relinquish it." He has not looked to his position; he has not relinquished it. He carries on, and then we had the pantomime of last Wednesday. When I wrote to Sir Alex Allan it took him three weeks to reply, but a letter was written on 13 June and a reply was received before 12 o’clock on 13 June.

Chair: Ask a question, Mr Flynn, or I will move on.

Q129 Paul Flynn: That suggests a degree of political collaboration, doesn’t it? It does not suggest that this man is independent in any meaningful way.

Chair: Answer briefly, and then we will move on with our inquiries

Mr Maude: I agree that it is completely astonishing that any communication from the PM should be treated more rapidly than one from you.

Paul Flynn: It is an outrage; that is absolutely right. I am glad to see you take an egalitarian approach to the status of Members of Parliament.

Q130 Priti Patel: I will go back to the code of conduct for special advisers. According to the code, despite remaining a personal appointment of their Minister, special advisers, as we heard last week when we had some former special advisers in front of the Committee, are now expected to serve the interests of Government as a whole. Do you have a view as to whether or not this undermines the close and personal tie between the special adviser and the Minister, and also, importantly, the Minister’s ability to hold a special adviser to account?

Mr Maude: I do not think either concern is correct. I think this change was designed to address the concern that there might be such a high degree of political personal fealty-if that is not an outdated word, which I think it may be-that special advisers might operate in such as way that was adverse to the interests of the whole Government. These are personal appointments and the personal tie is extremely important and remains so.

Sue Gray: I think the change has come into step with the Civil Service code. We as civil servants are accountable to Ministers, to the Minister in your Department, and we are there to serve the Government of the day. This was an acknowledgement that special advisers have, as their foremost duty, to serve their Minister, but actually there is a responsibility to serve the Government as a whole.

Q131 Priti Patel: Can I take the question to the next level on that front? We heard last week from former special advisers that when they took up the job of special adviser there was no real job description, and we discussed performance issues and line management, which we shall come to later. If a special adviser in particular, or a Minister, is uncertain about the propriety of a particular course of action, where should they go to for advice? Again, this touches upon the Chair’s point about accountability. What are the formal mechanisms for advice and seeking advice?

Sue Gray: In a Department, if a special adviser or a Minister is unsure about something, then they would normally go to their Permanent Secretary, and the Permanent Secretary may or may not come to me or my team in the Cabinet Office for advice. It really will depend on what the issue is. Ultimately, it would normally be through the Permanent Secretary, and that is something that we would try to encourage, so that everybody is aware of what is going on in the Department. You can take account of the individual departmental circumstances, but you can also come to the centre if necessary because we have a wider picture of action that is going on across Whitehall.

Q132 Priti Patel: How often does that happen?

Sue Gray: It will vary. We do get a lot of calls but not just on special adviser issues; they are on a whole range of issues, and that is because people want to do the right thing and people want to have the right advice. I think it is to add that bigger picture sometimes, which, I think, is enormously helpful.

Q133 Chair: How often do you personally speak to special advisers in other Departments? Once a week? Once a month?

Sue Gray: No, no; I speak to special advisers regularly.

Q134 Chair: This is about what they should be doing and should not be doing?

Sue Gray: It is not necessarily about that. It is about: they have an issue and they would just like to talk through about how to deal with things. I just have no idea how often I do it-how often I speak to them.

Q135 Chair: Do you share the sense we picked up from some quarters that some special advisers are a bit torn between what their Minister wants to do and what Number 10 wants them to get their Minister to do? Did you pick that up?

Sue Gray: No, I do not pick that up. It is not how it would be presented to me.

Q136 Kelvin Hopkins: It has changed since the days of Tony Blair. There was a very strong feeling in Tony Blair’s day that special advisers, people like Lord Adonis, were very much in charge and were governing the Department for Education, for example, so that the Secretary of State for Education-called differently at that time-and permanent secretaries were marginalised by a direct special adviser working on behalf of the Prime Minister.

Mr Maude: The Coalition Government are a very different kind of Government altogether. The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have a high degree of confidence in their Ministers.

Q137 Chair: Has proper order been restored since the days of Alastair Campbell?

Mr Maude: What do you mean by that?

Q138 Chair: Well, the hierarchy was upset.

Mr Maude: It is no longer the case that any special advisers have been given special plenipotentiary powers to give commands to civil servants.

Q139 Chair: But has that period slightly changed the terms of trade in the way that special advisers are regarded by the Civil Service, trusted by the Civil Service, and the way that Number 10 attempts to control things through special advisers?

Sue Gray: I find working with special advisers a really good thing, and I have found that under different Governments. I am not sure that has necessarily changed. I think a good working relationship with good special advisers is a really good thing.

Q140 Robert Halfon: Just going back to what Priti Patel was saying about job description, is it not the case that each Minister will want to use his special adviser in a completely different way?

Mr Maude: Yes.

Q141 Robert Halfon: So therefore a job description would become too inflexible?

Mr Maude: I think a standard template job description would not work at all. You are completely right: all Ministers will want something different from their special advisers and all special advisers will be able to bring something different, and the combination will vary and it will change over time, depending on the shifting pattern of priorities that a Minister has, so a job description would be out of date by the end of next week.

Q142 Robert Halfon: Just very briefly, going back to the numbers of special advisers, you said that there is a discussion going on, but there are arguments to be made that there should be more political special advisers as opposed to policy special advisers. Do you agree with that?

Mr Maude: I am not sure that I completely understand the distinction. Sometimes people talk about special advisers as if all they do is politics and it is a way of getting party-political people inside Government. It is important that Ministers should have people close to them in the Department who are not politically restricted in the way that civil servants are. But certainly, in my experience, what you want special advisers to be doing is by no means limited to things that are party political. You want special advisers who totally understand what you are trying to achieve and what the Government are trying to achieve and who are explicitly wedded to the Government’s agenda, but you want people who are able to liaise with the party. Some do that more than others, but the main thing you want is advice on how to develop your policy, so providing a challenge but also in helping to get things done. It is by no means limited to being political.

Q143 Robert Halfon: But is there not a difference between a policy adviser who invents or helps to build a car and the political adviser who helps get the car from A to B and in essence not just liaises with the party but helps build the political support for that? That is very different from intellectual policy work.

Mr Maude: I do not think it divides as simply as that. I think it is a continuum and different special advisers will contribute, most of them, in all of those areas to different extents, and different Ministers whose programmes are at different stages will want their special advisers to be doing different things. What you want in a special adviser is someone who is very bright and challenging and who gets what you care about and what the Government care about and is trying to get done, who can work with civil servants-and that is really important-and who may be able, and should be able, to help with the wider building of a political consensus, for sure, but I do not think these are separate or separable functions.

Q144 Alun Cairns: Ms Gray, I want to try to pursue the Chair’s question about your relationship with special advisers. Can you give me an anonymous example of the sort of conversations you have had? You said that you talked to special advisers regularly, but you did not pinpoint the sorts of discussions your role might need to have. Can you give us an anonymous example?

Sue Gray: I think it would be quite hard to give an anonymous example, just because I cannot remember normally what I do from one week to the next, but I will give you an example of how I form my relationship with them. After the election, they are all appointed and Number 10 holds an induction event for them, and I go to the induction event and I talk about the codes of conduct and their contract, their pay.

Q145 Alun Cairns: With the greatest of respect, I will stop you there. I am still not getting a handle on the ongoing relationship you have. In response to the Chair, you said that you talked to them regularly.

Sue Gray: Yes.

Q146 Alun Cairns: I am trying to work out what sort of relationship you have. Will it be an ethical problem that they have? Will it be a personnel problem? Will it be any other sort of issue?

Sue Gray: It really will be a range of issues. Sorry, I am not trying to be evasive. For example, somebody may be thinking about leaving and they might want to talk through the business appointments process and what that entails. I try to help them through that. I try to give them some indication of jobs that the committee may find difficult to approve, or the sort of waiting periods that might be put in place.

Q147 Chair: So you are their personnel manager?

Sue Gray: No, there are a variety of things. When they come in, a lot of them, they fill out conflict-of-interest forms, so it would be talking through with them any conflicts of interest they might have. It really is a range of things, and it is quite hard to sit here and give a very good example of something that I do.

Alun Cairns: That has been helpful. I have a better handle on it.

Q148 Chair: Before coming to Mr Flynn, I have another question. The Fulton Committee said that special advisers should be people of experience and standing. Can you put your hand on your heart and say that every special adviser in the Government is someone of experience and standing?

Mr Maude: Let me answer that. They all have experience and they all have standing, and the exact combination in each case will vary. But the world has moved on since Fulton in 1968, which I think pre-dated the concept of the adviser who is able to operate in a politically unrestricted way. I am not, perhaps, quite as familiar with every paragraph of the Fulton report as I ought to be. My guess is that his committee was talking more about expert-type advisers than the sort of special advisers that we tend to have now.

Q149 Chair: But Adam Smith made it quite clear that he was working pretty autonomously, and had to work pretty autonomously, with this rather confusing number of reports that he had: to Number 10, to his Minister, to the Permanent Secretary. I hope we never again find ourselves having to dispose of a clearly well-intentioned person who had just misunderstood the boundaries that he was meant to observe, either through lack of his own experience or because he had not been properly inducted. Isn’t that a fair question?

Mr Maude: Well, I am surprised that it is described as having a multiplicity of different reporting patterns.

Q150 Chair: Read his testimony to the Leveson inquiry. It is quite clear that he did not have a clear report.

Mr Maude: The primary reporting line for a special adviser is to the Secretary of State who appointed him.

Q151 Chair: I think that is the right model, subject to a degree of supervision from the Permanent Secretary and escape lines in emergencies to others.

Mr Maude: Yes, and there should be a sort of dotted line to the centre of Government, for sure, but the primary reporting line must be to the Minister or Secretary of State who appointed him.

Q152 Chair: Is it acceptable for a special adviser to say to a Number 10 official, even to Ed Llewellyn, top special adviser, "I am afraid that is something you will have to address with the Secretary of State, because my first loyalty is to my Secretary of State?" Would that be acceptable?

Mr Maude: There will rightly be, and should be, lots of contact within the special adviser community, of which the Prime Minister’s chief of staff will generally be the head, as it were.

Q153 Chair: But if the special adviser is being torn between the top special adviser and his Secretary of State, that is a difficult position for a special adviser to be in, isn’t it?

Mr Maude: Yes. As I said, the primary reporting line should be to the Minister.

Q154 Chair: Thank you for that. Have you anything to add?

Sue Gray: No.

Q155 Paul Flynn: I would like to get to induction. I am very impressed, Ms Gray, by your job title. In the world of responsibility for special advisers, you are outranked only by God, and it does seem to me that your responsibilities are enormous on this. Could you tell us about the induction processes? You have talked about them for special advisers themselves, but what about the Ministers? How are Ministers educated?

Sue Gray: There is an induction event for new Ministers as well, and it is a half day, where they cover, obviously, the roles of the Civil Service, the roles of special advisers. People come to talk to them, including the Cabinet Secretary, about their responsibilities. If somebody new comes in outside of a general election, we try to take time to go to meet them and explain the various codes.

Q156 Paul Flynn: We have had some information of retiring special advisers who did not realise that they were going to be responsible under the Advisory Committee On Business Appointments rules. Is this common?

Sue Gray: Sorry-they did not realise that they had to go through the process.

Paul Flynn: That is right.

Sue Gray: It should not be, because it is in their code of conduct and it is something that we cover with new special advisers. It should not be something that they are unaware of.

Q157 Paul Flynn: Could you tell us what role you had and what part you played in the Andrew Coulson and Jeremy Hunt scandals with their advisers? Did you take any part in those at any time and in any way?

Sue Gray: Not particularly.

Q158 Paul Flynn: If someone came to you and said that an adviser has been involved in spending his time with 500 messages, texts, phone calls from a single lobbyist, what would you do? Would you take any action in that? Would you regard the Minister as being culpable by negligence?

Sue Gray: I think my first port of call would be to try to establish some facts. I would probably discuss the matter with the Permanent Secretary. It would all depend on the circumstances. I would try to establish some facts.

Q159 Paul Flynn: As the personnel officer for the adviser, if they came to you and said-

Sue Gray: I do not think I am their personnel officer.

Paul Flynn: No, you are not. You are much too high. We have established that you are deputy God in this world.

Chair: Forgive me, Mr Flynn, can I just interject? Are you their compliance officer?

Q160 Paul Flynn: Well, I am just quoting from you; I thought it very flattering that I was taking up your line. I think my description of Sue Gray’s responsibilities is probably more accurate. If you saw a position where there is this young special adviser who was being dumped on by his Minister, because clearly the Minister should have been aware of how he was spending his time, and if he was spending a great proportion of his time dealing with one single lobbyist, surely it was up to the Minister to take responsibility and not allow his special adviser to be excoriated in the way he was?

Sue Gray: I think those issues have been covered in another place. That sort of call has not come to me.

Q161 Paul Flynn: But you are the Director of Propriety and Ethics.

Sue Gray: I am.

Q162 Paul Flynn: Where do your responsibilities end if they do not extend to defending young, inexperienced people who are being used as a defensive tool and a sacrificial lamb by Governments?

Mr Maude: I think that comes into the category of being both a highly loaded and leading question.

Q163 Paul Flynn: I was not asking you the question, because I am sure that we would get again another cheap rhetorical reply from you-you seem to be incapable of being serious-on the degradation of Government that your ineptocracy has created. I was discussing it with Ms Sue Gray, who is a new witness to this Committee, and I hope that we will get intelligent, considered replies.

Mr Maude: I think you have had very intelligent, considered replies.

Paul Flynn: It is not up to you to say.

Q164 Chair: Mr Flynn, may I help your question by asking two questions? Under such circumstances, would you not wish you got a phone call to help sort that sort of thing out before it became a much more serious matter? That is what you are there for.

Sue Gray: Yes, you would always hope that, if people have got concerns about what they are doing or what somebody else is doing, they will make a call.

Q165 Chair: So in this case, somebody should have had those concerns, and if they were not resolved, they should have contacted you.

Sue Gray: I do not know.

Q166 Chair: In that respect, are you the compliance officer for the Government?

Sue Gray: I do not see myself as the compliance officer for all special advisers.

Q167 Chair: Just for some of them?

Sue Gray: No, we set out a code of conduct. It is for individual special advisers, their Departments and Ministers to make sure that things are being adhered to.

Q168 Chair: I wonder whether this is something the Government are thinking about? In a financial company, there would be a single person who would be responsible for ensuring compliance. In the case of the ministerial code, it is the adviser on ministerial interests. The adviser does not deal with the special adviser code, so who is the single person responsible for overseeing the enforcement of the special adviser code? It is you, isn’t it?

Mr Maude: The point is that compliance with the code is the responsibility of the individual. They should know what is in the code, and should comply with it. If evidence comes to light of a failure to comply with it, it is the responsibility of the Minister to whom they are accountable, and who is in turn accountable for the special adviser, to deal with it.

Q169 Chair: I start from the premise that anybody who needs to keep reading a code to find out what to do really should not be in the job. These things should be second nature. Members of Parliament are all accountable; we have an ethics code in Parliament, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is responsible for enforcement of the code. There does not seem to be an equivalent person with regard to the code for special advisers.

Mr Maude: I am not quite sure what the point is here-in terms of someone to investigate if there are allegations made?

Q170 Chair: Someone to advise and/or investigate, in the same way that the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards does, one would hope, and we have concerns that the ministerial code is not supervised in the same impartial and consistent manner, as you know from our previous report.

Mr Maude: I hear the concern and will give earnest thought to that.

Q171 Paul Flynn: I just say to Ms Gray, there have been some pretty odious characters who have been employed as special advisers by this Government and the previous Government.

Chair: He is very impartial.

Paul Flynn: I will not name the long list involved, but these people were clearly, by common consent, scandals waiting to happen. Do you have a role in this: to sound alarm bells and to say, "These people are really dodgy and there are storm clouds ahead?" Is that part of your job?

Sue Gray: I am not quite sure who the people are whom we are thinking about-who were clearly dodgy in both this Government and the last.

Q172 Chair: Ms Gray, come on; we know exactly whom we are talking about. We are talking about Mr Coulson. Would it be above your pay grade to say, "Prime Minister, we do not think you should employ this person."?

Mr Maude: It would clearly be the responsibility of the person holding Sue’s job to deal with issues of conflicts of interest, and that is dealt with routinely.

Q173 Paul Flynn: There was a report in The Times-one of Mr Murdoch’s papers, so it must be true-headed "Top mandarin to rein in political advisers". Are there any plans to change the system, particularly in the way that was suggested by this Committee in the last Parliament, and say that these special advisers are neither fish nor fowl? They are not civil servants and protected-we had one sitting here in your chair the other day, Ms Gray, who was sacked within five hours of his Minister resigning. They really have a strange role, being neither civil servants wholly or political representatives wholly, and should they not be liberated by being funded by a special form of Short money, so that they can do the job that they have of being the guardians of the political manifesto?

Mr Maude: Let me answer that. I have a very strong view that that would be the wrong way to go, because it makes the assumption that all that a special adviser does is party political, whereas that is, as I said earlier, by no means the case. For special advisers to become party employees, albeit paid for by some new form of Short money, would mean that they were not able to assist the Minister in the discharge of his or her responsibilities in the Department.

Q174 Paul Flynn: Let me ask you a brief question. Do you think in the two years of being the Government, following the great screaming nightmare of the expenses scandal, your Government’s conduct has increased public trust in politicians?

Mr Maude: I do not know what the current polling would show in terms of levels of trust in the political process. I certainly do not think it is the sole responsibility of the Government.

Chair: The House has called a Division. The Committee will adjourn and resume at 17.30.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming-

Q175 Greg Mulholland: I just want to return to the line of questioning that Mr Flynn was pursuing. Lord Butler, when he gave evidence to us, very clearly believed that there should be a split between the special advisers and the Civil Service. Do you think that not having that split is doing damage to both? I say that because people will generally accept that having special advisers is, if done properly and ethically, generally a sensible thing, but it is a very different thing from the classic role of the civil servant.

Mr Maude: I do not think it is all that different. It clearly is different in that special advisers are not politically restricted; they can do party political things. There are constraints on what they can do, politically, but they are not politically restricted in the same way. I think that these days it would hamper Ministers’ effectiveness significantly not to have a special adviser of their own choice operating with them in their Department and able to have access to the whole of the Department to see papers and interact with mainstream civil servants. I think also, and a lot of civil servants have said this to me, that when it works well, it works really well and it is really helpful for civil servants themselves. What you do not want to have is a position where it is really difficult for civil servants to work out what the Minister is going to want without having a full-scale meeting with the Minister. I think civil servants find it pretty helpful to have a special adviser whom they can sit down with, scope out options, dismiss options that are not going to be acceptable, and maybe bring in other options that perhaps would not have been thought of.

Q176 Greg Mulholland: I accept what you are saying, but the reality is, if you look at the code of conduct for special advisers and then the Civil Service code, the four core values of the Civil Service are: integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality. Without getting involved in whether special advisers have integrity and display honesty, which is questionable-

Mr Maude: You would certainly expect them to.

Q177 Greg Mulholland: Nevertheless, in terms of objectivity and impartiality, they are expected, frankly, to display neither, and actually their role is clearly not an impartial one. It is there to promote the views and the bidding of their Secretary of State and indeed of their party, and that is particularly so in the coalition situation and particularly essential in their role, but they cannot therefore be seen to be necessarily impartial. There are also cases where people have certainly sidelined civil servants, including senior civil servants, and in some cases have actually briefed against them, which is another clear breach of the Civil Service code. But if that is okay by the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, that seems to be okay and a blind eye is turned. The final thing is that they are there to get a positive view of their Secretary of State and Department in the media, which again is not something that a civil servant should be engaged in, so how can you say that the two can sit so happily together?

Mr Maude: Well, because they are doing things that have a difference. That is not to say that everything they do is different; it is not. There are things that a special adviser can do that a civil servant cannot and should not do. The last point you made about promoting the Minister’s interests and the Department’s interest: if that is inimical to the interests of the Government as a whole, that is inappropriate and wrong, and that is why the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister explicitly said at the outset of the Coalition Government that there is a responsibility to the Government as a whole. That is very important.

Just on your point of whether special advisers can be impartial, clearly they are not. They are able to be partial and to operate in a way that goes beyond the constraints of political restriction imposed on mainstream civil servants.

Q178 Greg Mulholland: Why not set it up differently and then allow them to do the complementary role that you have described? If they are not part of the Civil Service, they could still do exactly that-so long as it was clearly defined as to what they should do and that they do have a different role. They could still work together very well with senior civil servants in delivering the Secretary of State’s and the Government’s agendas.

Mr Maude: I am not quite sure I follow that. Are you saying that, if they were politically restricted but nonetheless a personal appointment by the Minister, they could still deliver a lot of the value? Is that what you are saying?

Q179 Greg Mulholland: I am saying that I do not see that they have to be part of the Civil Service to be able to do exactly the complementary role and have those strong relationships and work together. What it would do from a public point of view would be to give a little more clarity, which clearly is not there at the moment, and perhaps do something to improve the trust, which we all know has been damaged by recent events.

Mr Maude: I think it would massively reduce the value for them to be purely political. If they were to be employed by the party in the way that is being suggested, they would not be able to attend official meetings, be able to see official papers, and that would be a huge restriction on their usefulness.

Q180 Chair: That is the reason for making them civil servants, isn’t it?

Mr Maude: Exactly.

Q181 Chair: It is so that they are civil servants with special restrictions and dispensations rather than outsiders.

Mr Maude: Exactly.

Q182 Chair: You are nodding, Ms Gray.

Sue Gray: Absolutely. That is entirely why they are civil servants: they can have access to meetings, to papers, to discussions, they sign a contract, and there are strict rules about their duties of confidentiality-all of the things that mean they can sit down with us.

Q183 Chair: Indeed, how could they be made to comply with the business appointment rules if they were not civil servants?

Sue Gray: Yes-if they were not civil servants.

Q184 Greg Mulholland: One final question. Accepting all that, then it is not beyond the wit of Government and Parliament to come up with a solution that makes all those things absolutely the case but without them being part of Her Majesty’s Civil Service, and nor is there a straight choice between them being party employees and appointees, and civil servants. Other countries do it, so why aren’t we looking at it?

Sue Gray: Well, who would be their employer?

Mr Maude: Other countries have very different arrangements. Other countries have many more, generally, political appointments. In France, for example, a Minister will appoint a cabinet of a significant size, which will generally include a mixture of mainstream permanent civil servants and political appointees. Arguably, that creates a much more blurred situation. But if you want to have a situation where special advisers are employees of the party but still able to be fully engaged in the work of the Department and support the Minister in the Minister’s departmental work, I do not see that you particularly change anything.

Q185 Robert Halfon: Do senior parliamentary private secretaries have access to these papers and meetings if the Minister so chooses?

Mr Maude: I think it is generally at the discretion of the Minister, and certainly when I was a PPS, which is about a thousand years ago, the Minister I worked for explicitly wanted me to see a lot of things, and certainly my PPS has unrestricted access.

Q186 Robert Halfon: Is that because they are de facto members of the Government and therefore allowed to do that?

Mr Maude: I have absolutely no idea what the technical reason is.

Chair: Well, luckily, we are not doing PPSs today.

Q187 Robert Halfon: The reason is, if it is possible for the PPSs, why is it not possible for special advisers who are employed by the party?

Mr Maude: I think because PPSs are Members of Parliament, and Members of Parliament are treated with a high degree of trust, which is wholly appropriate.

Chair: We are very pressed for time, but I call Mr Hopkins to ask a brief question.

Q188 Kelvin Hopkins: In the induction process, is it made very clear to special advisers that their job is not to give instructions to civil servants but to advise Ministers? If their job was to give instructions, their role would be much more like that of commissars, under an authoritarian regime of the left or the right, and indeed we moved in that direction under New Labour. We have moved away from that, I hope, now. We do not have the checks and balances that presidential systems have. We have to have Parliament as a check on the Executive, and the more centralised and the more authoritarian it is made-the more special advisers become like commissars-the less democratic our society becomes. Would you not accept that they have to be told that their job is not to give instructions to civil servants but to advise Ministers?

Mr Maude: The code is very clear. The reason why, in the case of Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell, there had to be some Order in Council or something to give them the power to give instructions is that, absent that, they would not have the power to do that, and the code is very clear about that. What the code does say in relation to relations with the permanent Civil Service is that they can request officials to prepare and provide information and data, including internal analyses and papers, and that is wholly appropriate, but that is different from giving instructions and having an actual executive role.

Q189 Chair: Can I clarify one thing? I think if Lord Butler were here, he might concede that special advisers who are genuinely contributing to the policy function within a Department should be civil servants, but we do not want the political bag carriers as special advisers, do we?

Mr Maude: I always end up carrying the bags for my special adviser. It is a slightly different arrangement.

Q190 Chair: Very right and proper, too, given the gender of your special adviser, if that is not a sexist remark. But you understand the point I am making: we do not want people who just do politics and political liaison; we want people who are embedded in the Department contributing to the work of the Department as special advisers.

Mr Maude: It is helping the Minister to get the Minister’s agenda done, and it is exceptionally helpful to have at your elbow intelligent people who know what you want and who can read stuff that you may not have time to read yourself, and who can challenge work being done by officials or help them to get it right sometimes.

Q191 Chair: It is suggested the special adviser should be attached to the subject and the Department and not follow the Minister around from Department to Department.

Mr Maude: That would be enormously less useful. How would they then differ from a permanent civil servant?

Q192 Chair: You are saying that they should follow a Minister around.

Mr Maude: Generally, special advisers will be a personal appointment; generally, they will not be permanently attached to a Department; and, generally, when a Minister moves between Departments-I do not know what the statistics are-I would guess that more often than not the special adviser moves, too.

Q193 Chair: That is a negative, isn’t it? It shows that they are not a subject expert; they are an acolyte.

Mr Maude: Well, that is very value-laden phrase. Not every civil servant who takes on a new role within the Civil Service is a subject expert.

Q194 Chair: Yes, we have discussed that before.

Mr Maude: Nor is a Minister, but what you want is someone with you who is able to analyse, understand and challenge. You do not need expertise. The Department should have the expertise.

Q195 Paul Flynn: I have just a brief question for Ms Gray. Whose responsibility is it to ensure that new special advisers, especially those coming from the political world, are instructed in their status and responsibilities as temporary civil servants and the limits to the job? If it is not your responsibility, is it the Minister’s? Who is responsible for seeing that is done?

Sue Gray: There will be a combination of people that will help in inducting the special adviser; it will be the Secretary of State who appoints them, and the Permanent Secretary in the Department in which they are working. I will obviously contribute to it as well, but I think it is a combination of people who will contribute to that induction.

Q196 Paul Flynn: Who is responsible, then, when it goes wrong? Do they take communal responsibility?

Mr Maude: The responsibility for complying with the code is the personal responsibility of the special adviser, who is accountable primarily to the Minister.

Paul Flynn: All right, thanks.

Q197 Robert Halfon: What prompted the introduction of the formal performance management system for special advisers in 2011?

Mr Maude: It was just a sense that this is good practice. There ought not to be very many areas of activity now where there is not some form of formal appraisal and performance management. It is not fantastically good in the Civil Service, as has become clear. It is very inconsistent and it is one of the things that we shall be addressing in the Civil Service reform plan, but it did not exist at all for special advisers, and while it might not be incredibly formal, it is very right that there should be some sort of process.

Q198 Robert Halfon: Going back to the article in The Times that suggests that the Cabinet Secretary wants to control the greater scrutiny of special advisers, is this performance management going to be done by Sir Jeremy Heywood, or is it the Department or is it Ed Llewellyn?

Mr Maude: It would certainly be reporting, ultimately, to the Prime Minister’s chief of staff who is, as it were, the head of the cadre of special advisers.

Q199 Robert Halfon: But is this report-The Times report of 8 June-correct in suggesting that Sir Jeremy Heywood would be in charge of scrutiny?

Mr Maude: No, I am not aware of any suggestion that that would be the case. The purpose of any appraisal is to enable the individual, and the individual to whom the staff member reports, to improve their performance, if it is needed, or to congratulate or thank them, if it is unimpeachable or unable to be improved.

Q200 Robert Halfon: It says here that "Sir Jeremy’s preference is to bring them all under the control of permanent secretaries rather than Ministers".

Mr Maude: I am not aware of any proposals to that end.

Q201 Chair: The permanent Civil Service is not making a bid for control over this wayward bunch of policy mavericks who are disrupting the lives of permanent secretaries?

Mr Maude: I have heard no suggestion of that nature.

Q202 Robert Halfon: So how does it work when they have appraisals? Do they go to see Ed Llewellyn, or what?

Mr Maude: It would be for the Minister to have the conversation with the special adviser, as you would normally expect the line manager to do with anyone, but the aim of this being done as far as possible across the Government is to have some sort of consistency in the process and the way in which it is done.

Q203 Robert Halfon: When you said that Ed Llewellyn was head of the cadre of special advisers, what does that mean in practice, in terms of him speaking to, or giving orders to, special advisers?

Mr Maude: It is not a question of giving orders, but it would be-I think there are, but I am not sure of the extent to which this happens, reasonably regular meetings of special advisers.

Q204 Chair: Fortnightly, I understand. Is that correct?

Mr Maude: I think it is something like that. I guess that Ed Llewellyn would chair the meetings.

Q205 Robert Halfon: Does he have any responsibility in asking special advisers to do specific tasks, over the Minister?

Mr Maude: I am not sure that I follow.

Q206 Robert Halfon: Can Ed Llewellyn ask a special adviser to do a specific task even if the Minister has not requested it directly?

Mr Maude: He certainly could ask them to. I am sure that he would make suggestions of things that it would be useful for special advisers to be doing, but I suspect that it is mostly about giving and sharing of information.

Q207 Chair: I come back to your assurance that, ultimately, a special adviser works to the Minister and not to some third person.

Mr Maude: Yes, but with this important change that the Coalition Government brought in: that they also have to have in mind that they have a responsibility to the wider Government, which is particularly important in a coalition.

Chair: I know that you are anxious to get away, Minister. We shall be as swift as we can.

Q208 Alun Cairns: Much of the theme that I wanted to pursue has been covered, so that will help to speed things up. However, can I just clarify the relationship that you expect to take place between the Permanent Secretary and a special adviser? How should that relationship stand?

Mr Maude: It should be a good relationship.

Q209 Alun Cairns: Does the Permanent Secretary have responsibility in any way for the special adviser in guidance, in advice, in line management or performance management?

Mr Maude: Not in relation to line management. On performance management, because permanent secretaries do, in the nature of life in a Department, come across special advisers a lot, I would expect permanent secretaries to be asked for their views in an annual appraisal, but that is slightly different from line management responsibilities.

Q210 Alun Cairns: You mentioned that the change that this Government have adopted is that a special adviser has a primary responsibility to the Minister but also to the wider Government priority. In view of the interest this Committee has shown in the strategic direction of the Government, is there not a stronger case that maybe someone like Ed Llewellyn at Number 10 should have a stronger influence or role in leading or listening to special advisers? As a result of that, is there a need for strategic direction to be outlined?

Mr Maude: I think that it is another means for trying to ensure that Government is more joined up. It is a perennial complaint, and normally justified, that Governments are less joined up than they should be, and I am sure this is true of ours, although we work quite hard at it, as it is of others, and there being regular meetings of special advisers, where the overall themes and approach of the Government can be explored and promoted, is one means of helping that.

Q211 Chair: I think that we are done, although I would say, Minister, that we found this quite hard work. I want to read through this testimony and see how clear it is. I ask you, therefore, whether you would consider submitting a late memorandum to us based on a summary of your answers, so it is all absolutely clear and we have got it down in black and white in your own considered text, rather than something that we are trying to distil from a jumble of questions. It would be helpful to us, and I think the Government as well, if you did that. May I ask you to do that?

Mr Maude: I am certainly happy to do that. I am not sure that it is possible to have the absolute pellucid clarity that you seek because this, in the nature of it, is not a particularly tidy arrangement. The special advisers fill different roles in different places, depending on the needs of the Minister and the demands of the particular Department that the Minister is in, but I will have a crack at it if that would be helpful.

Q212 Chair: It will be helpful, even if it is to clarify where the more ad hoc arrangements might lie and therefore how these more ad hoc arrangements need to be regulated and looked after.

Mr Maude: What do you mean by ad hoc?

Q213 Chair: As you say yourself, these are not very tight arrangements, and it is difficult to be tidy.

Mr Maude: Not very tidy.

Q214 Chair: I would say that untidy is ad hoc. Maybe that is an extrapolation too far, but I think you get the gist of what I am saying: the more untidy the arrangements are, the more risk there appears to be that things will go wrong, as they have done in one or two unfortunate cases. So we are clear before we draft our report, it would be very helpful if we could have something in writing.

Mr Maude: I will definitely have a crack at that.

Chair: Thank you very much indeed. It has been a very helpful session.

Mr Maude: Thank you.

Chair: Thank you both, particularly Ms Gray.

Sue Gray: Thank you very much.

Prepared 10th October 2012