Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 179)

MONDAY 14 JANUARY 2002

MR NIGEL CRISP AND MR ANDREW FOSTER

  160. Has anyone asked them why they felt it necessary to cheat?
  (Mr Crisp) I am sure that people have; I have not. I think people probably asked them why has this happened, why have you done this?

  161. You do not know what their answer was?
  (Mr Crisp) No and I think it is probably difficult to generalise.

  162. Do you not think, given that this problem has arisen, it is important to know why people felt they had to cheat?
  (Mr Crisp) In individual cases that may well be true but I think our responsibility is to make sure that it does not happen again rather than to get involved in individual disciplinary issues.

  163. Is not one way of making sure it does not happen again knowing why it happened in the first place? Is that not an important part of thinking about what you could do to make sure it does not happen again?
  (Mr Crisp) I understand the logic of your point, I am trying to think whether or not it has any practical application, whether you would find out anything by doing that which was helpful.

  164. I think it would have been the very first question I would have asked, why did this happen. Can I come then to the confidentiality questions which have been raised by a number of colleagues. You have said that you have discovered that it is necessary now to make the guidance firmer.
  (Mr Crisp) Make it a direction.

  165. Make legislation so it becomes a directive, that has to happen. The one thing that we have said in this Committee on a number of occasions is that we need to see more cross-ministry working, if you like. What discussions have you had with other ministries about whether they allow confidentiality agreements in this case and whether they give it out as guidance or as a directive?
  (Mr Crisp) I have not personally had any involvement with anybody else on this. I do know that we have been looking at confidentiality requirements in the light of general Government policy. Others may be in a better position to do that, I have not personally done anything about that.

  166. Are you going to?
  (Mr Crisp) I am not sure that I personally will be. The next directive that we send out will be consistent with what you have said to us, that is the first point. Secondly, I think it is a fair question to ask whether it will be consistent with what other Government departments may be doing. We will certainly check that.
  (Mr Foster) I think it will be my responsibility to do that. I will be overseeing the production of new guidance and it will be perfectly proper to make sure that it is consistent with the rest of Government policy and other departments.

  167. Can I just ask the Treasury to confirm that if we have a recommendation that we should go along with this, ie the guidance should become a directive, that information that the NHS at least have found it important to change guidance into a directive will be passed on to other ministries?
  (Mr Hull) It already has been passed on to other ministries. In a letter dated 25 January 1994 to Principal Finance Officers it states "The Committee", that is this Committee, "recognised that it might be appropriate to seek such undertakings on certain operational matters, but was concerned that the terms should not be so restrictive as to be potentially damaging to public accountability, ie that the terms could impede a person from answering PAC questions."

  168. If I may say so, that recommendation by this Committee was followed up by the NHS issuing guidance. They have now discovered they need more than guidance, they need a directive. What I am suggesting is that regulation simply led to guidance but can we please make sure that the other ministries note the fact that the NHS at least has found we need more than guidance, we actually need a directive.
  (Mr Crisp) We have taken the point and we will make sure that it is shared with colleagues in other departments.

  169. When did you discover that the confidentiality agreements had been signed yourself?
  (Mr Crisp) In the three cases at, I am sure, three different points.

  170. But you knew about them before you saw the Report?
  (Mr Crisp) Some of them. We would have known in the preparation of this Report, yes.

  171. In all cases did you ask why the guidance was not followed? You have now told us in Plymouth's case why guidance was not followed.
  (Mr Crisp) I asked personally why the guidance was not followed. We have asked in the other cases why the guidance was not followed and in the two cases that I am aware of, two out of the three, it was for the reason of perceived ambiguity in the guidance that I explained earlier. It was not about public accountability, the gagging clause, it was about subsequent—

  172. Did you ask why guidance had not been followed before the Report came out?
  (Mr Crisp) Because they thought they were following the guidance.

  173. Did you ask why the guidance had not been followed before the Report from the NAO came out?
  (Mr Crisp) I personally got involved as the Report was— On that particular case it was subsequent to the Report being produced, that was when I personally got involved.

  174. Why did you not follow it up before? Was it not an obvious thing to follow up as soon as you knew that guidance had not been followed? Why did you wait until the NAO Report came out?
  (Mr Crisp) There is a difference between me personally doing something and people doing things on my behalf. I could not tell you exactly when people may have done that on my behalf but you can imagine there is only time for a certain number of interviews or phone calls in a day.

  175. Can I ask about the compensation, just one or two follow-up questions from what Mr Gibb was asking. How many patients affected have received compensation already?
  (Mr Crisp) None that I am aware of.

  176. Two or three years later none of them have yet received any compensation?
  (Mr Crisp) I think that is the case, yes.

  177. You do not know if any compensation is going to be due?
  (Mr Crisp) No.

  178. We were told earlier that there was an attempt by putting in these confidentiality clauses to ensure that the trust concerned might avoid some future action, possible future costs. Was there at any time any suggestion in discussing these confidentiality clauses and whether they should be included or not that that might mean if there was a confidentiality clause signed that it might be easier to avoid claims of compensation by patients? Did anyone ever even mention that as a possibility?
  (Mr Crisp) No.
  (Mr Foster) There was no suggestion of that.

  179. Have you discussed whether that was mentioned at all or do you think that hopefully it was not?
  (Mr Crisp) I think what Mr Foster said was there was no suggestion that had happened. We can certainly go back and ask the question in the three cases.


 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 18 September 2002