Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-176)|
THURSDAY 28 FEBRUARY 2002
160. Where there are organ grinders there are
(Professor Weir) That is left open to other people
to establish, he is the person who orchestrates.
161. You did mention the American system, you
praised it as a system, so, presumably, in your view it would
be far better if we had a more radical approach and at every election
have 6,000 political appointees brought in at the same time as
a new government?
(Mr Jones) I do not think that would be necessarily
right across the board. As has come out from Mr White's point
and from other points, this is something which has caused successive
governments about a problem and how governments relate to the
news media. It is one of the most sensitive areas, which is why
a labour government has invested so much into it. There is an
example where we should follow the American system, where we should
have clear identification. If you move to a position where, yes,
the heads of information were political appointees then clearly
20 heads of information would have to go at the change of an election.
I think that is what is happening already, that 20 heads are rolling.
I think if we had another general election the point I have been
making is if you look down the list of the heads of communication
would they all be acceptable to an incoming Conservative government,
I do not think they would be.
162. Within the American system there are never
(Mr Jones) There is a completely different point of
view about whether or not people give off-the-record information,
of course people speak to journalists off-the-record. One of the
most important points is that you have a bedrock of information
which is imparted to the media on-the-record. If you just use
the example of the general election campaign then we in radio
and television record every single news conference, everything
that is said. We record hours and hours of material because we
believe our job in the media is to hold the politicians to account.
What I am saying is if you have a system here where you have these
people identified, I am not saying it would be in the papers everyday
or on television everyday but it is a basic fundamental fact this
should be known. My criticism is that you can have Jamie Shea
who was speaking for NATO during the Kosovo crisis. I have spoken
to Jamie at length and he now acknowledges and believes that all
public spokesmen should be seen and heard and should be identified.
He makes the point that, yes, he said things about the Kosovo
conflict which were incorrect and he believes that every spokesman
who is speaking on behalf of a government should be identified.
The same goes for people in the American system, they recognise
that the fact that you have to go and defend yourself in front
of the media and be identified is itself part of the democratic
163. Journalists will still want anonymous briefings
(Mr Jones) Of course journalists will still want anonymous
164.in whatever system you operate.
(Mr Jones) I keep coming back to this, you have a
system which is based on clearly identifiable sources. At the
moment we have a system which is encouraging the media to invent
sources. I am sure if you read the newspapers
165. Does that happen?
(Mr Jones) Of course, you know that it happens. Any
journalist does not need any help, we have Whitehall sources,
we have insiders, we have government sources, you name it we have
them. The point is that the special adviser system is encouraging
166. I have been fascinated by all of this.
Can I ask one or two points. You said that before the election,
and I remember you saying it, your view was the Order in Council
system was something that should not be renewed after the election.
I rather fancy the committee took that view as well. Does it remain
your position that it is an undesirable situation?
(Mr Baume) Yes. We have changed our view on that now.
167. Do you think insofar at you represent some
special advisers that it would be appropriate for this committee
to call them and get them to answer questions?
(Mr Baume) At the moment specialist advisers are civil
servants, they would give evidence as any civil servant on the
basis of the authority given to them by their minister. The Osmotherley
Rules, as I understand it, would apply to special advisers in
the same way. I am not clear on the position where a request has
been made for a civil servant to appear before a select committee
and whether or not that has been rejected. I would want to think
about this, and if there is a problem that is apparent. I am not
conscious there was a problem.
168. We would be grateful if you would think
about it. There is a problem here and although once this Committee
was allowed to speak to Mr Campbell publicly, formally since then
it has not been. Indeed others normally hide behind or are hidden
behind the permanent secretaries rather than the departmental
heads, the secretary of the Cabinet comes and talks for everyone,
and very welcome it is too. You do not think there is anything
in principle that these people should give evidence in public
and should be accountable in some way?
(Mr Baume) I do not think it is wrong that any civil
servant should not be able to be called. What I would say is that
there would be a case where the minister would seek to suggest
an alternative civil servant, if you asked for a particular civil
servant, to appear. I am not conscious the rules are different
for special advisers as against civil servants. It is a point
we raised in the past that the Osmotherley Rules are a government
set of rules, they are not binding on select committees. I would
personally prefer to see something like the situation that has
developed in the Scottish Parliament, where there is a tripartite
agreement on the rules so that the select committees or Parliament
in the round, ministers and the permanent secretaries, endorse
a set of rules that everyone signs up to, rather than having a
government set of rules and then select committees not always
feeling very comfortable with those.
169. We managed to do a report on special advisers
without interviewing any special adviser in post. The statement
you made at the beginning was hard and as you know will appeal
hugely to the press. You said that you are not able to say anything
more about the Mr Sixsmith, who is a member of your Union, are
you able to tell us anything about the process by which his behaviour
is being investigated or have you been privy to meetings with
the Permanent Secretary or the Secretary of State? Are you happy
with the process of how your member is being dealt with?
(Mr Baume) All of my negotiations have been with the
Department and with the Permanent Secretary. I have not had any
dealings with the Secretary of State, it would not have been appropriate
for me to do so. I do not want to go beyond that.
170. What is your experience across government
of ministers acting in personnel matters?
(Mr Baume) We are keen that ministers do not get involved
in personnel matters. There is a grey area there. The point has
been made earlier that there will be times when a minister does
not feel comfortable working with an individual, Mike Granatt
mentioned this. This is not unique, it just happens that sometimes
personalities do not work and there is a grey area. I think there
are some revised rules being suggested and guidelines prepared
by the Cabinet Office at the moment, about, for example, whether
a particular civil servant should head up a particular project
and area of work. The reality is ministers' views are taken into
account. I think that is a grey area. Formally it is a decision
for the Permanent Secretary and the Permanent Secretary might
discuss with the minister whether X or Y might be the right person
to head up that activity. We are keen that ministers are kept
as distant as possible from the management of the departments
and it is for the Permanent Secretary to take decisions about
whether people are sited in terms of the roles they play within
each department. The FDA believes it would not be appropriate
for ministers to be involved in the dismissal of a civil servant
nor in the appointment of a civil servant beyond the rules that
are set out by the Civil Service Commission, particularly at senior
171. By the Secretary of State's own admission
he gave the opinion that a civil servant should not be employed
not only in his department but in any department across government.
What would you say about that?
(Mr Baume) I would be very careful not to get involved
in a discussion about individuals. I was asked by a number of
media outlets to comment after the Secretary of State's speech
on Tuesday night, I turned all of those down. All I can say in
general is the FDA does not believe, and never believed, that
it was appropriate for ministers to take decisions about individual
civil servants in that way. I do not think it would help the discussions
that I am having with the Department to seek to comment in detail
on statements by the Secretary of State.
172. You have thrown enough petrol on the fire
for one day, I can understand that.
(Mr Baume) It was very hard for me as well. I thought
long and hard about making that statement but I thought that unless
somebody tries to explain what happened we will not learn from
this and it is meant, despite the fact it will be picked up by
the media, to try and move all of this on now and put all this
behind us. You cannot put things behind you if do you not learn.
One of failings of government in the past, something this government
has recognised, is we do not learn from mistakes enough, we do
not stand back and assess what has gone wrong.
173. Many of us feel that only a Civil Service
Act will help in this matter. Many things will go on as they have
done. If the government, which it is, I think, it is fair to say,
delays bringing forward a discussion paper or a draft, or whatever,
and does not want to move on would you be prepared to assist the
committee in drafting its own Bill?
(Mr Baume) I hope we do not come to that. I have seen
statements recently by ministers suggesting that this is imminent,
shortly. The FDA did ponder on taking this step ourselves and
we decided it was such a messy process we were better off doing
everything we could to urge and build consensus for the proper
174. You have been so helpful, it is a bit much
to ask you to act for us. We are way overdue and I apologise for
that. Two very, very quick questions, I was determined never to
let the name Jo Moore pass my lips again, let us do it one more
time, you told us categorically this person was known to be a
bully and she proved to be a bully. At the moment ministers can
appoint who they like without any process at all to go through
as special advisers, is one lesson that we need to have some kind
of basic merit test, as they now do in Wales, before special advisers
get appointed anyway?
(Mr Baume) The FDA will be looking at these issues
in detail over the coming weeks, partly for this committee and
partly for the Wicks Committee. I do recognise that a different
approach has been taken in Wales, and we want to have a look at
that. I have an open mind about this, I do recognise that if a
special adviser is going to do the job that a minister wants them
to do they are going to have to be somebody that the minister
has trust in and they can relate to and clearly shares their own
political perspective, even within a party, never mind between
parties. This is an issue I would like to come back to in terms
of the Wicks consultation document.
175. Can I ask whether you all now think this
whole area needs some sort of review, the area of special advisers
on the media side and relations with civil servants? I put it
to you that we seem to have a halfway house at the moment. We
have now established that we have a sixth of the people doing
press work who are special advisers inside government, that is
40 in relation to the 240 we talked about. I put it to you that
we have an unstable relationship here, it needs to be sorted and
we need some kind of review, would that be the view of you all?
(Mr Baume) We have an evolving relationship. I think
there would be some benefit in examining this because I think
it is potentially damaging all of the way round and we are better
off discussing these issues in an open and constructive debate
rather than the fudges that inevitably take place if there is
not that kind of open debate. Leaving the word review as a rather
broad one, yes, I think further attention and further deliberation
would probably be very helpful.
(Mr Jones) I entirely agree it should be reviewed
and your committee should look at it. I think Mike Granatt's evidence
this morning and his very clear statement about the number of
special advisers who do media work was a brave thing for him to
have done because it was, of course, contrary to everything which
the government has been saying up until now and that only a very
small number of special advisers ever talked to the press.
(Professor Weir) I think there should be a review.
I think it should not concern itself wholly with whether special
advisers get on with civil servants or not, it should look to
the benefit of the public and the benefit that special advisers
can give to the public. I am not in principle against the appointment
of special advisers, I think they have to have clear demarcation
rules for their behaviour and what they are allowed to do and
what they are not allowed to do.
176. Sorry we have kept you so long. We have
had a fascinating and important session, we are very, very grateful
for the way in which you have spoken to us. Thank you.
(Mr Baume) Thank you.