Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)|
THURSDAY 18 OCTOBER 2001
PRESCOTT MP, THE
TRADESTON CBE AND
60. The role played by the new Cabinet Officer Delivery
Unit. The answer to the question is being deferred to the Prime
Minister. If it was just a straightforward answer that it is not
your responsibility that would have been the answer but the whole
question is being referred on to the Prime Minister. I can put
this in the general but what I cannot conceive is exactly where
you are accountable and where you are answering a question like
this on the Cabinet Office Delivery Unit and not being answered
(Mr Prescott) That is because Mr Oaten
has asked the question of the Cabinet Office because that is his
responsibility in opposition. I do not know whether the Prime
Minister might say, "it is not my responsibility go somewhere
else", we must wait and see the paper trail. The question
is, do we have responsibility for the administration system in
Railtrack? No, why would we? That is the Secretary of State's
job and as I used to do that job I can clearly understand the
resentment if it was being done by somebody else other than myself
as the Secretary of State for transport who has the direct responsibility.
61. It still does not answer my question.
(Mr Prescott) The problem is Mr Oaten
rather than me.
62. I feel that the question gets thrown on. What
I am really trying to get at are the bits that you definitively
and my Lord Macdonald definitively answer up on within this structure,
that is really where my question is heading.
(Mr Prescott) I tried to understand what
you meant by the question. It may well come from my own experience
in that department, knowing that money has to be made available
and promised to a particular body at a point in time and then
at a different time, as happened in this case, there was some
question as to whether it had to be put into administration. We
had to give money and did give money to Railtrack as the Secretary
of State. I really cannot see how the Cabinet Office would be
directly involved in this matter of delivery. Once the money has
been decided, the investments given and the 10 year plan decided
the delivery department, and Gus Macdonald would be involved in
seeing that we have the mechanism to make sure the outcomes we
want from it have been achieved. We did have a little bit of a
discussion about this, we are at a difficulty to see how we have
any responsibility for this. If it is that we are delivering so
it is that we should be in charge, that would take us right across
63. That is the difficulty, in a sense you are so
far ranging and then we come to the specifics and it is not your
(Mr Prescott) I will check it out again
for you and see if there is anything that I missed out in that
response to correct. I will send the Committee a letter.
64. If I have this right, I think it is not the answer
but it is the question which is the issue and what it says about
responsibility. Why was it referred to the Prime Minister when
it was a question about a Cabinet Office unit. The question that
would flow out of that, we may get to it at some point, is the
Cabinet Office now some big Prime Minister's department by another
(Mr Prescott) Is the Cabinet Office the
Prime Minister's department? The Cabinet Office is the department
of the Prime Minister at the end of day. Am I confused about this?
65. This is interesting.
(Mr Prescott) What we have is the Prime
Minister's department in the Cabinet Office and I am directly
responsible to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of the Cabinet
has a responsibility to the Cabinet.
66. There have been a lot of new units set up located
in the Cabinet Office.
(Mr Prescott) At the end of day there
is no doubt the mountain top is the Prime Minister.
67. When a question is asked about these new units
(Mr Prescott) I will try and find a proper
answer to the point you are making, why was it accepted as a question
to be given and then passed on to the Prime Minister. I do not
know the answer now but I will certainly do what I can to find
an answer to it.
68. I too am very confused, former members of this
Committee will remember the organogram, it was very interesting,
although there was some gaps in it, and nobody understood the
one we had the last time round. I am pretty sure the one next
time will be considerably more complex. Certainly nowadays there
are few people who follow matters in the Whitehall, David Walker,
wrote a piece in The Guardian, which you will have read.
(Mr Prescott) I do not think so.
69. I warmly recommend it to you. He put a question,
it is quite simple, "how will responsibility for health care
be shared between Alan Milburn and the Department of Health on
the one hand and the thinkers and progress chasers in Number Ten
in the Delivery Unit and the Office of Public Services Reform
on the other. The delivery unit reports to the Prime Minister
under the supervision of Lord Macdonald and the Office of Public
Services Reform, which is located in the Cabinet Office, although
it falls . . . " It seem to me to be reasonably complicated
(Mr Prescott) I think he has made it
unnecessarily complicated, he has actually picked out all of the
different people who have some responsibility. The question is,
how can the Cabinet Office or the Delivery Unit play any part
with the Department in delivering a better policy and achieving
its objectives, that is not difficult, we come together, we look
at the programme designed by the Secretary of State, we then pass
a view as to whether they can achieve that. All this is about
keeping on with the department to make sure they do not slip in
the programme, that they do not find in the third year what they
should have done in the second year. You can write all of this
clever stuff about who is connected to who but in reality it is
70. In reality either somebody take the credit or
somebody will take the blame.
(Mr Prescott) We will know who will take
the blame basically because the Secretaries of State have responsibility
to do that.
71. I hope they are all hearing this.
(Mr Prescott) They have the responsibility
for it. The Delivery Unit questions them about their programme
of delivery, that is quite proper. The reality is we know departments
do not deliver. In the Labour Governments and Tory Governments
it has not always been 100 per cent delivery and all of us politicians
at election time have to try to explain why it has not. We are
talking about quality and we are going to try and say "have
you got a programme to deliver on?" In reality the programmes
and the targets are very tight to achieve. If you do not do it
in the first year and take the appropriate measures you will not
achieve the follow up. We have to do it. Therefore, we help departments
but the Secretary of State is responsible. If the Secretary of
State presumably disagreed with the Cabinet Committee and said
"I do not like the plan", no doubt I would be first
in having a discussion and then the Prime Minister is there if
necessary. I think that is a proper way of keeping pressure on
departments to deliver because the evidence is they do not always.
72. I understand you understand this and the people
and the players in this will understand this.
(Mr Prescott) Mr Walker should understand
73. They get up in the morning and they make sure
that no-one has parked a taxi on their lawn and then get on with
their day but in structural terms, in administrative terms, it
is extremely difficult to understand. Where final accountability
will lie and where responsibility will lie has traditionally been
an important matter for the Government to explain. How big is
your Department? How many Ministers have you got?
(Mr Prescott) As it says in the detail
I have Barbara Roche, who is my Minister of State. I have Chris
Leslie, who is another Minister. It is the same size as it was
before. Gus Macdonald is involved with us. We now have someone
dealing with equal opportunities.
I think the size of the Department is no bigger than it was before
except in the major transfer of Government civil servants in the
Government Offices. On Ministers there is not a great deal of
74. You say Gus Macdonald is connected to you, does
he report to you?
(Mr Prescott) Yes, he reports to me.
75. And to the Prime Minister?
(Mr Prescott) Yes, of course he does.
76. In different areas for different things?
(Mr Prescott) No, on the same things
he is doing because I need to know and report to you in Parliament
what he is doing. I cannot say "Ring up Gus Macdonald",
77. So he would report to you on Delivery Unit matters?
(Mr Prescott) Yes, of course he does.
78. Before he would go and see the Prime Minister?
(Mr Prescott) He has Mr Barber. Gus will
explain it. We have to report in different ways. One, the Prime
Minister is hands-on, he wants to make sure it is delivered, he
is very keen about that so he has got this unit to make sure it
is delivered. I have to answer for that. We meet regularly to
see how it is going and we discuss with Gus and the officials
in his Delivery Unit whether we are achieving it, indeed I have
a direct responsibility for that, and if it is not then perhaps
have a word in one or two Secretaries of States' ears about it.
79. I am concentrating on your Department. How many
people now do you employ? Do you know how much it costs? Who is
the Accounting Officer?
(Mr Prescott) The cost is not a great
deal more. Why do we not ask the Permanent Secretary to deal with
(Mavis McDonald) I am the Accounting Officer.
8 Note by witness: Baroness Morgan. Back