Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 200-219)



  200. There was a problem in the Department which was causing all kind of difficulties, it eventually goes nuclear, it is a fair question to ask, why did somebody who knew what was going on a long time before not put in motion an action that would have resolved it?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) What was the action that would have resolved it, if I am allowed to ask you a question?

  201. You are not?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I thought I was not.

  202. If I was the Permanent Secretary you would legitimately ask me that question and I would have to answer it.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I will answer the question. There were two choices open to us. Insofar as we are talking about the activities and behaviour of one special adviser, the choices open us to were to seek to manage the relationship between that special adviser and the rest of the Department or to ask that special adviser to leave. Those were the choices.

  203. Did you bring to somebody's attention that her presence and her activities were causing difficulties?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Yes, it was known there were difficulties. They were not universal. It was not the case that there were these difficulties in relation to every member of the Department about every issue.

  204. Did you express a view round September 11 that this person remaining in post was going to cause problems?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I do not think we should discuss what views I might have expressed inside the Department.

  205. You were saying that was the origin of all this, if that was sorted then none of this would have arisen. I am just asking you, did you express a view at that point about what should happen?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I do not think, although I have been proved to be wrong, that on September 11, or whenever this document was leaked and published, which was October 9 or something, it was obvious that this problem could not be managed, no.

  206. At that point, no. As the months went on this problem manifested itself in the ways that we now know all about. Here was part of the Department, at least, which was not functioning well. Did you go to somebody and say, look we have real problems here and because of this it has to be sorted.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I was talking to the people in the Department who were responsible for helping to sort it, and we were seeking sort it, but not by insisting, which we could not do anyway, and not by demanding—I did not demand that the special adviser concerned should leave the Department.

  207. You did not go the Secretary of State and say, look, this special adviser of yours is bullying her way all round this Department and causing all kinds of problems and really has to go.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Again, what I said to the Secretary of State should be private. No, I did not, no.

  208. But did not!
  (Sir Richard Mottram) No.

  209. You did not go the press people and say, look, all of this war and leaking has to stop?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Yes, of course I did.

  210. It did not.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) It did and it did not is the answer. It did and it did not. As we brought in a new director of communications, and so on, and some of the staff were changing over, constantly we were impressing on the staff the importance of operating within the proper framework for civil servants. We were seeking to ensure that the special adviser concerned understood the importance of the way she worked with others.

  211. Let me just ask you one final question, and I will ask colleagues to come in, we have all these issues, which you talk about endlessly, to solve problems and boundary disputes when they arise, Civil Service Codes, Special Adviser Codes, all this stuff, none of that helped us at all, did it, when it really got to be a problem in this case, what does that tell us about that?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) At the end of the day between the 11 and 14 February probably one or two people did things which were inappropriate and in breach of their obligations under the Civil Service Code, and so on. If you are asking me the question, do I think it is important that these codes exist, that they are always present in the minds of civil servants, and they are the values they are supposed to represent, the approaches they are supposed to take and are those things operational inside my Department like in other Departments the answer is that they are. They are valuable. If we simply say, because every so often something goes wrong we will throw away the processes, the codes, the values because on one occasion in whatever they failed that would be a very odd thing to do.

  212. As the codes were about trying to find ways to resolve difficulties when they arise, here a difficulty arose and no procedures of any kind were used at all, were they? Nobody complained to anybody, nobody went through the codes?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I can give you one small example. I think it has been misrepresented and I think it has now been corrected with the Committee. It is an important point. There is a story in relation to one of these events involving Jo Moore that the individuals concerned were summoned to my office and asked to explain themselves and then reprimanded. This has become one of the great myths. What actually happened was the individuals concerned were indeed summoned to my office to explain why we had what appeared to be a big argument going on and they explained themselves and then essentially what they said was, "We were asked to do something, we did not feel it was appropriate as civil servants to do it and we are now potentially in the bit of trouble", so to speak. Then one of the individuals concerned said to me after they had given this explanation, "Well, did I do the right thing or did I not?" Far from rebuking this individual, as has been alleged in the newspapers, I said, "Yes, you did the right thing". That was absolutely the message that I wanted to be given to the staff, that they were to operate within the framework of all the rules of the Government Information Service and the Civil Service code, that is the way the Department runs. I think these codes do have value. The question you are really asking me is, were people able to make use of "conflict resolution". I do not know why I am speaking using all of these military analogies today. Perhaps it is because I am under siege! Did the procedures to which they could complain or raise issues work wholly effectively? Well, they did not, no.

  Chairman: Thank you.

Annette Brooke

  213. I would like to pick up on that and refer back to when we interviewed Sir Richard Wilson. That, of course, largely centred upon, as far as I was concerned, Martin Sixsmith's predecessor. I do think what happened then is relevant to this situation we find ourselves in today. Certainly Sir Richard Wilson indicated there was not a formal inquiry but his words were, "You can rest assured that the Permanent Secretary of that Department has gone to great lengths to satisfy themselves about exactly what happened". Those were his words. I was wondering whether you can tell us whether Alun Evans discussed Jo Moore's conduct with you or he was the person who actually made a complaint about Jo Moore's conduct?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) He did and he did not.

  Chairman: Would you try that again?

Mr Trend

  214. That is a Liberal answer!
  (Sir Richard Mottram) He did discuss her conduct with me. He did discuss with me the particular events that were related to were we or were we not putting out a document about Mr Kiley, if we are talking about those events. He did not make a formal complaint. That was what I meant. Is that clear?

Annette Brooke

  215. Yes. What I am not quite clear about insofar as it appears in the Code for Special Advisers is I find it quite odd that the onus is on the civil servant in the Special Advisers' Code of Conduct where it says a complaint should be made under those circumstances. I think that is what my question is. That appears in the Civil Service Code as well. If there is something that was untoward, it says in both Codes that a complaint should be made. I am trying to identify whether that complaint was made to you.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Again there is a problem—and I might say in parenthesis that there are issues about how effectively one communicates what has been going on around the department and how far you try and kill off things, for reasons I can explain in a second. That particular case was interesting in two respects. The first respect was that it was the case that individuals in the Department were asked to do something they refused to do. It was the case that I interviewed them about why they had refused to do it. It was the case that one of them, who was not Alun Evans as it happens, said to me, as I just said a few minutes ago, "Did I do the right thing or not?" I said, "You did the right thing", and that document that we had been asked to release was not released. The complication was that for other reasons, which I am perfectly happy to discuss with the Committee in reasonably general terms (again it is about an individual), Alun Evans was standing down as the Director of Communications and the idea got around that the reason why he was standing down was because of the events on that day. It was not my view that that was the reason why he was standing down because I happen to know myself the reason why he was standing down. I can explain that to the Committee. Therefore, I certainly did have conversations with Alun Evans about why it was that he might move on from his job. I also had more than one conversation with him where I explained to him that this was nothing to do with what happened on that day. How could it have had anything to do with what happened on that day because he and every other civil servant in that department had behaved properly? I had told the civil servant concerned who was most worried about his or her position—and it is pretty obvious who it is because they are in correspondence with you—`you did nothing wrong'. The reason why Alun Evans was moving on was a much broader reason to do with the deployment of staff and the sort of person that the Secretary of State wanted in that job, not something in any way out with any of the Codes we have, something perfectly normal which I am happy to talk about in great detail, which did not in any way reflect badly on Alun Evans and did not raise any questions therefore about discipline or Codes. Do you see what I mean? It is rather a long answer, I apologise.

  216. Jonathan Baume told us last week: "I should have intervened much more effectively after Alun Evans was forced to move." So clearly we have perceptions, and rather serious perceptions, that the hub of the matter lies around that and I am not sure that the question is really answered. Was Alun Evans encouraged or forced to move?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Alun Evans was encouraged to move by me on the basis that he was—Let me take you back one step and I will perhaps explain it to you because I can also link it into how we came to appoint Martin Sixsmith. This is something I alluded to in my opening remarks about the way in which departments work for that small number of posts which are very closely associated with Ministers—Principal Private Secretary, Director of Communications, and so on. If we go back to when Alun Evans was appointed and the basis on which he was appointed, for which I was responsible, the Deputy Prime Minister who was then in charge of the Department had a clear view about what he wanted—the characteristics, the competencies, the balance of expertise—in the Director of Communications in what was then DETR. We had a report prepared on how we would organise the Department. I am sorry to go on at length but I think it is important, if you will forgive me Chairman. We had a discussion at length, and a report prepared about what we thought were the key competencies wanted in the top person who was the Director of Communications for DETR. What the Deputy Prime Minister wanted, and he was very clear about this, was he wanted to give weight to the management and strategic planning aspects of that job and he was more relaxed and rather tended to downplay any spokesman role in relation to that job, partly because elsewhere in the organisation we also had a couple of people who did that role below the level of the top person. That was the structure the Deputy Prime Minister wanted. We had an open competition to find the person for that job. Alun Evans, who was a career civil servant who had previous significant policy experience (mainly in the Department for Employment and the Department for Education) was working in the Strategic Communications Unit of the Cabinet Office and he had a set of skills that were well matched to what the Deputy Prime Minister wanted for that job. When after the Election Mr Byers joined the Department—and I think this is quite ironical in some ways—one of the few civil servants that Mr Byers knew in my Department was Alun Evans. They had worked together in the Department for Education and he had a very high opinion of Alun Evans. However, what he wanted was a different blend of skills in the Director for Communications and he preferred to have a Director for Communications who was stronger on experience of the media and how one managed that part of the process. That is a perfectly proper thing for Mr Byers as the Secretary of State to want. He and I discussed this in the way that you do after a change of Government or a change of Minister. What you do is sit down over a period of weeks, you discuss with the Ministers the blend you have got in the top team, the people you have got in the top posts, the people you have got in the posts surrounding them, the person they want as their Principal Private Secretary, etcetera. In that context, the Secretary of State felt that he would prefer someone with a different blend of competencies, and since Alun Evans was a career civil servant whom could be readily deployed somewhere else, I did not myself think that this was the most earth-shattering thing I had ever heard. Indeed, in my own position as Permanent Secretary of the Department I already had in my mind that it was not in Alun Evans' interests to spend too much longer in the field of communications and that if we were developing him as a civil servant, then he should move on before too long. These events came together. They certainly overlapped with a bit of a ruche about who said what to whom on a Wednesday, but the fundamental point was there was a perfectly defensible set of reasons for why Alun Evans should move out of that job and go to another Civil Service job, without any suggestion that he had ever remotely breached any aspect of the Civil Service Code or had behaved in any way improperly. That was what I said to him repeatedly. The only problem we had was we had to try and manage—I know it is a terrible word but I keep coming backing to it—the fact that people were very suspicious that there was some deep plot that lay somewhere else, and we had to manage the thought that he was in a sense being moved on because the Secretary of State wanted to move him on, which obviously is not good news if you are a senior civil servant. My view always was that there was absolutely no reason why he should not move on because it made sense in his own career interests. We had to try and manage the myths around why he moved on.

  217. So it was a career move for him?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) It was.

  218. As a journalist?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) He has no journalistic background. He is a policy civil servant, that is his career, who had been working in the communications' field. He had no media experience. I do not think Alun would ever argue that he is the greatest briefer of journalists that the world had ever seen. He was very very good on strategic planning and on the policy aspects of issues he was dealing with and on managing what was quite a big directorate. He was on the board of the Department, for example. But the Secretary of State wanted a slightly different blend of skills and for that sort the job it is perfectly proper for the Secretary of State to have such a different set of skills.

  219. I am going to move on because I may be hogging the time.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) It may be me, I am sorry.

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