Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360-379)



  360. Your legal advisers were advising you on these deals?
  (Mr Hall) Yes.

  361. The ones which no longer exist?
  (Mr Hall) Yes.

  362. They were in effect your tame legal advisers.
  (Mr Hall) No, I think that again is an appalling comment to make with respect to some very, very good, qualified lawyers. They are not my tame lawyers, they are the advisers to the Corporation.

  363. And you felt they had done a very good job?
  (Mr Hall) I believe our lawyers did a very, very good job for the Corporation.

  364. Thank you very much. Sir Richard, you have an awful job again, have you not! It is going back over a long period of time when you were not responsible and for a lot of the problems you cannot even put your hands on the paperwork, can you, because a lot of the decisions were not made at meetings or not recorded. You know, as I think most of us around this table know, when governments want something done they do and can exert a lot of influence and pressure to make sure departments conform with what is an outcome.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) We have our departmental papers, we have all of the audit material because that is the paperwork which was used to draw up this Report.

  365. So you have your departmental papers?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Yes.

  366. A bit different from you, Mr Hall, is it not, because you shredded yours. One of the things I find amazing, as someone who has acquired property in the past for a local authority, I made sure, in fact better than sure, that more than one valuation was done and it was all documented. I will tell you why it was documented, because now, a few years later, if that deal is uncovered and someone wants to take a front at that deal, I may have to face an inquiry myself, but I have made sure those papers are there to ensure I did everything in accordance with the rules. I have proof my dealings were legal and, hopefully, above suspicion. You did not, did you, Mr Hall?
  (Mr Hall) It would appear there are documents which should be available which are not available.

  367. Did the police hold an inquiry into this Corporation at any stage?
  (Mr Hall) I think the police looked at a complaint made by a Member of Parliament but otherwise I am not aware of the police being involved in the Corporation at all.

  368. So there has been no police inquiry into this Corporation at all?
  (Mr Hall) No.

  369. If there was an inquiry held, you would have extreme difficulty proving the decision you made on that day was in strict accordance with the regulations laid down and the notes on valuations provided to the Corporation to uphold your story, would you not?
  (Mr Hall) Insofar as those cases refer to the files, I am not saying there would be a difficulty in responding to them ultimately if one had all one's advisers around, but the situation appears to be that the National Audit Office did not find all the files it wished to find. All I can do is repeat the organisation and set-up of the disposal of files in the Corporation.

  370. You would have difficulty in proving these deals were open, honest and above-board, would you not?
  (Mr Hall) I am totally satisfied they are open and above-board and that appropriate valuation certificates for those deals took place.

  371. They are not in existence though.
  (Mr Hall) It would appear not.

  372. In public life the one thing we are terrified of, above all things, is not the fact we are innocent, in that respect, we have to prove we are innocent. The media, if they are on your back, can certainly infer things, and if you are unable to prove it you are left in that limbo. Your legal advisers on this one, I would really seriously suggest, were not up to the job you were paying them for, if they are the people that went through the files and said you should shred them.
  (Mr Hall) As I say, I can only repeat that in relation to the disposal of documents by the Corporation there was, if you like, an audit procedure, a basic audit was provided by the internal audit service of the Corporation about the methodology we were going to use in relation to our files. Following on from that they were split between the legal files and the general files. There was an audit of the legal files and equally there was, in effect, the audit of the general files.

  373. With hindsight, you now see some of the shredding was inappropriate, to say the least?
  (Mr Hall) I am not suggesting it was inappropriate. The Report is clearly indicating, it is identifying there are files that are not there.

  374. Mr Mottram, your guidelines, as we now find, are left in tatters and you carried on supporting this Corporation for reasons best known to yourself, your Department and I believe with the best question in the world I do not think I am going to get out of you because of the names on this list of your predecessors. Do you think the reason the Corporation was not better controlled is because your Department lacked the power, the will or the ability?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) We were trying to improve the way in which it governed itself. We certainly had the power, we had the ability—what was the third one?

  375. The will, the power or the ability?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) We had the power but it was rather a nuclear option. We had the ability and we chose to do it in a non-nuclear way. We did not have the will to throw the baby out of the bath water, by which I mean we decided it was better to soldier on with the existing management, the existing Chairman, the existing Board than to go for some other option.

  376. The question jumps up, why?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) The answer is because it was felt that the key outcome, and this was particularly as you were approaching 1996 onwards, was effectively to wind down the assets and liabilities of this organisation. The Department took an active role in doing that. As I said earlier, even taking an active role in it we did not succeed because of some pretty amazing behaviour at the very end.

  377. I noticed at times during the questioning when one of you is answering the other looked a bit askanced and did not believe the answers that were being given. If you two got together before the start of the meeting and decided on the approach it would have been much, much better. Thank you, Chairman.

  Chairman: Your last questioner, you will be relieved to hear.

Mr Davidson

  378. I wonder if I can start off by making a point about the record of the Development Corporation. As I understand it, £470 million was spent, partly grant, partly from land sales, yet you got private sector leveraged investment of 1.1 or 1.2 billion. It strikes me, Sir Richard, that is not all that good and other organisations had they been give this amount money to spend in that area obviously would have got results as well. While clearly this amount of investment has regenerated the area anybody else would have done if not as well just about as well. Does that seem fair?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I just do not know.

  379. That covers it. They did not discover the ultimate secret of anything, anybody spending that amount of money would achieve some good. They are not absolute wonder boys, are they? Does that seem fair?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I think this was a very difficult area to regenerate.

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 14 August 2002