Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400-419)



  400. Fine. So everybody on the Board was committed to the regeneration of Teesside, but so far as I can understand it from what you have said and what the Board said, really it was you and the Chairman who ran the show. Is that correct?
  (Mr Hall) Obviously the Chairman and I were, if you like, important figures in the Corporation, but nevertheless all matters had to go to the Board of the Corporation and I do not think that diminishes their importance.

  401. I note you are deliberately not answering and responding to the point, and I think we will draw conclusions from that. You indicate surprise. Could you clarify for me then whether or not the Chairman was first amongst equals or whether he had a more dominant role than that?
  (Mr Hall) He was certainly a very positive chairman, as you would expect a chairman to be. I was leading the staff of the Corporation, and plainly he was the Chairman and leader of the Corporation in effect.

  402. Can I clarify, Sir Richard, whether or not the Chairman is on any other public boards at the moment?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I do not know, I will have to let you know.[14]

  403. Maybe we could make a recommendation, as we have done on a previous occasion, that this is not a suitable individual to be in a supervisory position such as that. I think in the case of the Colleges of Education we made a recommendation like that. Is there a procedure by which we can show our displeasure by removing a knighthood or any honour or decoration which has been awarded?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) There is such a procedure but only in relation to certain activities which are essentially about breaking the law.

  404. You do not think that the misbehaviour here goes quite as far as breaking the law on the evidence we have at the moment?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) No.

  405. But presumably if police investigations—I am not sure if "fruitful" is the right word—come to a conclusion, that is no doubt something which could be considered at a future date?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) As far as I am aware there are no continuing police investigations.

  406. On the basis there was insufficient evidence?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Correct.

  407. On the basis that would have nothing to do with the files having been shredded?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I cannot answer for the police obviously.

  408. Can I clarify a point which my colleagues have not picked up yet and that is the issue of the Bank of Scotland or the British Linen Bank in this. They were willing to lend money on the basis of quite a peculiar arrangement, on the basis that money was committed two years in advance. Was that the norm?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Not that I am aware of.

  409. Are you aware of them doing it anywhere else?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I am not but this was not an activity of the Department.

  410. It does seem to me to be a very peculiar arrangement. Maybe, Mr Hall, you can tell me whether or not you are aware of the Bank lending money in this exceptionally generous way?
  (Mr Hall) Anywhere else?

  411. Yes.
  (Mr Hall) I have no idea.

  412. Would there be any truth in the suggestion that the Bank had been politically lent on in order to lend money in this unusual and peculiar way?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I do not know, I am afraid.

  413. Mr Hall?
  (Mr Hall) I cannot consider that as a reasonable suggestion for one moment.

  414. Really? You seem to have developed an extraordinarily close relationship with the Bank of Scotland, would that be fair?
  (Mr Hall) We certainly were involved with the Bank of Scotland, yes.

  415. Were they your prime bankers?
  (Mr Hall) No, for the Corporation they were not, Barclays Bank were.

  416. Barclays Bank were your prime bankers?
  (Mr Hall) Yes.

  417. Am I right in thinking that the Bank of Scotland were very keen to expand their business in the North East and saw yourselves as a flagship?
  (Mr Hall) That may well be the case but I am not certain.

  Mr Davidson: Thank you very much, Chairman.


  418. I just have a few questions. Sir John, I detect a feeling of frustration on behalf of members of this Committee that they cannot ask these questions of Sir Terence and Sir Richard Wilson and Andrew Turnbull, and through no fault of his own Sir Richard has sometimes been struggling with accurate answers because it relates to matters a long time ago. Is this frustration of the Committee understandable in your view? What is the procedure which operates in these circumstances? Are we getting to the bottom of this as effectively as we might otherwise do if we had the accounting officers who were actually there at the time here in front of us?
  (Sir John Bourn) Chairman, the basis of the system of the responsibilities of the accounting officer set out in the memorandum that is issued to him or her on taking up appointment is that he or she is responsible and is accountable for the actions of his predecessors in reporting to this Committee. So it is his responsibility to be able to answer all your questions, he cannot say, "I was not there therefore I do not know", he has available to him all the books, records and accounts of the Department and it is open to him of course in preparing for any hearing to talk to former accounting officers if that is what he wants to do. I think the logic of that approach has been that it is better to have one person in the hot seat, if I can put it that way, than to distribute that responsibility over a range of people. It is of course the case that there have been some occasions in the past year or two when the Committee have asked previous accounting officers to come before them. They have usually been people who have been there very recently, whereas of course Sir Richard has been there for some years now.

  419. Thank you. We can always discuss this further after the public session. There are a couple of questions which colleagues have asked me to ask you, Mr Hall. Are your business interests owed money by the residuary bodies which took over the assets and liabilities of the Corporation or owed money by any other body connected with the Corporation?
  (Mr Hall) No.

14   Note by witness: So far as the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is aware, Sir Ronald Norman does not presently hold any other public appointments. Back

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