Examination of Witness (Questions 400-419)|
THURSDAY 14 MARCH 2002
400. I put it to you that, either in the House
of Commons or indeed straight to the face, in earlier times a
Secretary of State would have taken on that role in order to defend
(Sir Richard Wilson) But he did do it on the Tuesday.
401. If we can stay with this for a minute,
Richard Mottram also told us that the Secretary of State had been
an obstacle to the resolution of the Sixsmith issue which he said
he had got nicely sewn up in the traditional fashion up until
the blocking took place. He said also that Downing Street was
an obstacle by that very clearly. Were you aware that Downing
Street was being an obstacle as well as the Secretary of State?
(Sir Richard Wilson) Could you refer me to that please?
Do you have a question number?
402. Yes: 293. He said, "You only have
to read the four o'clock lobby briefing to see that". The
official spokesman of the Government was unhappy. "There
were a number of other people who were, I think, not best pleased
with what happened. You only have to read the four o'clock lobby
briefing to see that." Without great detail he was telling
us that there was a problem with the deal, both with the Secretary
of State and across the road. Were you aware at that time that
there were these multiple difficulties?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I was aware. I was not myself
engaged in negotiations with Mr Sixsmith, but I was kept in touch
from time to time with what was going on. I knew that a deal was
being set up, that discussions were taking place. I knew that
the Secretary of State had his views on what should happen, and
I kept in touch with Number 10.
403. What I am trying to get to is that by tradition
this has been sorted within the department, but when Mr Sixsmith
found himself in difficulties, according to his account, he went
to his permanent secretary, but he also went to Alastair Campbell
and opened up a second front in Number 10 but in the end both
failed him as he saw the matter. Why could he not have solved
this in the department in Whitehall and why could not Sir Richard
Mottram have sorted it out with the Cabinet Secretary? Why did
the system not work?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I think what went wrong was that
Martin Sixsmith decided not to wait to get the thing sorted out
but went to the press, from where I was sitting.
404. You do not feel that he lost the game before
he went to the press?
(Sir Richard Wilson) No, I do not feel that.
405. Jonathan Baume also felt that this perhaps
had not been coped with as well as it might have been. He told
us that "civil servants did not raise their concerns through
the normal procedures. I think that they did not do so because
they did not believe that any action would be taken to tackle
her [Jo Moore] behaviour". Jonathan Baume clearly had the
view that the normal disciplinary procedures, regulatory procedures,
within the department did not work with this particular special
adviser. Indeed, the Chairman said so, when he asked this question:
"What is the point of having formal complaints procedures
if they do not work, and in particular with this specific case?"
(Sir Richard Wilson) You asked me earlierand
I am not sure I ever got to the answerabout the lessons
to be learned from this. One of the aspects of this episode that
gives me pause for thought is that people had grievances that
clearly they felt they did not have a way of having addressed
other than by the possibly improper way of leaking. I think that
it is quite important that we should have proper avenues of redress
for people who feel that strongly. In the context of legislation
in the current discussion, Chairman, that we want, I would like
to consider whether there are ways in which we can make the grievance
procedures more effective, whether we can find ways of having
more accessible arrangements for people. I did myself talk to
someone quite informally a while ago through being involved on
this, and said, "Why did you not come to me? Why did you
not come to the Civil Service Commissioners? They were there."
This person said, "That would be nuclear", and I can
see that. But if people feel that the grievance procedure is nuclear
then that is not good enough. We want something that can actually
work, and I would like to consider, for instance, whether the
role of the Civil Service Commissioners could be made more effective.
406. It is the problem that governments have
had with whistle-blowers in a sense over decades probably, to
find a sensible way for the Civil Service management to sort this
(Sir Richard Wilson) We can have this discussion.
I do not know for sure what the answer is. I can think of ways
in which we could perhaps have something that was more accessible
to people in this situation than that at the moment. I would like
to do that. If you are going to say to people, "the way you
behave is improper", you have to have an alternative which
would be proper which they could adopt.
407. Has the management board considered this?
Have you talked to Jonathan Baume about this case and what it
has thrown up? Baume's view was that it was, in his words, "an
extraordinary failure of the system". That was how he felt
(Sir Richard Wilson) Certainly he is one of the people
I want involved in any discussion of this kind.
408. One of the things we discussed last week
was Alan Evans, the press officer in the DTLR. Richard Mottram
told us that Evans was not the sort of person the Secretary of
State wanted in the job. Jonathan Baume told us then that Mr Evans
was indeed forced to move because of problems with the special
adviser. We did ask you about this once before and you told us
he was not forced out of his job but moved as part of his career
development. I wondered if you had had a chance to look at it
(Sir Richard Wilson) Yes, I stand by what I said before,
which reflected the discussion I had with Richard Mottram. I notice
that Richard Mottram gave you a very full and frank account on
page 12 of his evidence, and I think that sounds an accurate account.
What I said before, and I am not going to repeat it unless you
want me to, was that I had had discussed this with the Permanent
Secretary, Sir Richard Mottram, and the question of Alan Evans
moving from his job was in play before the events we are discussing.
That is what Sir Richard Mottram says: "He is an able man
and he also naturally wants to go further. A number of us had
the view that his career would need to broaden out at some reasonably
early point." That is exactly what I see Richard Mottram
was saying to you.
409. Mottram told us that the Secretary of State
effectively could not get on with him and that he was the wrong
person for the job.
(Sir Richard Wilson) You have got Richard Mottram's
account: "So it was a career move for him?" Richard
Mottram: "It was." Let us stand back and look at the
more interesting aspect of this, I think, which is the role of
ministers in some appointments. Can I just remind you, and be
tedious, Chairman, and read again the stuff from the past. I have
just read the Fulton Report in 1968.
410. Things are getting desperate, are they
(Sir Richard Wilson) No, that is not a sign of desperation.
I frequentlymuch more frequently than you thinkgo
into the Fulton Report. It has been a seminal document in the
Service for 30 years.
411. It will be Haldane next.
(Sir Richard Wilson) I read him too. I think we are
moving away from Haldanequite interesting. "A related
issue", said Fulton, "is the extent to which a minister
should be free to change the staff immediately surrounding him.
Because of the nature of the private secretary's duties he must
be personally acceptable to his minister. There should, in our
view, be no obstacle in the way of a minister selecting from within
the department or on occasion more widely within the Service as
his private secretary the individual best suited to his ways of
working. No stigma should attach to a person who is moved out
of his job. It should be more exceptional for a minister to change
his permanent secretary. Ministers change often whereas the running
of a department requires continuity. Even so, ministers should
not be stuck with permanent secretaries who are too rigid or tired."
The point I am making is that I think a Head of Information nowadays
is in the category of people who are particularly important to
a minister. In those days, which is Fulton, which you think was
a golden era of the running of the Service, a Royal Commission
was clearly of the view that for a minister to have a view about
people immediately around him where chemistry mattered was a perfectly
proper thing, and I think that is still the case.
412. Also we are talking about a department,
the press department, where in a few months ten officers out of
30 have moved or left in one way or another.
(Sir Richard Wilson) How many months is it? About
12 months, is it not?
413. Is that characteristic of the Service?
(Sir Richard Wilson) Yes.
414. Do you have officers moving all the time?
(Sir Richard Wilson) In my experience people on the
whole do jobs for two to three years and then want to move on,
particularly if they are ambitious and particularly if they are
working in an area where they are in much demand. So if you have
people moving every two or three years you would not be surprised
if ten out of 30 move in a year.
415. I am still puzzled by how individual civil
servants who, through no fault of their own, for reasons to do
with some political mix of the day, get their names suddenly before
Committees like us and we ask impertinent questions, how they
can defend themselves if the system does not work and when it
does not work sensationalism would work, like with Mr Sixsmith
who was a proper fully subscribed civil servant. I think it would
be helpful to have more clarity about what would happen next time,
what should happen next time and this sort of thing. Again, it
has happened before in this Department. How would somebody with
that complaint deal with it next time knowing what has happened
this time? Would they go and see Sir Richard Mottram?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I would like him to go and see
Sir Richard Mottram. I would like him very much to go and see
Usha Prashar or one of her Civil Service Commissioners.
416. That is what they should do?
(Sir Richard Wilson) That is what they should do,
yes. It is laid down. Yes, that is what I would like to see but
I would like to feel that we have made it as easy for people to
do that if they want to do it as we could.
417. Do you regret that with the developing
trend of civil servants appearing before this Committee, and having
responsibility for all sorts of things which they did not have
responsibility to answer for not so long ago, the parallel doctrine
of when Ministers should resign does not seem to have developed
in quite such a helpful way? The Secretary of State on this occasion
was able to go into the House of Commons and because he was able
to secure the support of his backbenchers it did not matter what
he said. He did not answer questions in the way that you and Sir
Richard Mottram are forced to do in this cross-examination situation.
It seems monstrously unfair if the real responsibility is with
somebody who does not have to answer questions in an inquisitorial
way and those people who are vulnerable in this to a certain extent,
the civil servants, do.
(Sir Richard Wilson) We appear, of course, on behalf
of Ministers, as the Chairman frequently complains in relation
to me. Can I just point out to you that the convention is often
misunderstood about Ministers resigning. There was an article
by a man called Professor Finer in 1956 about the circumstances
where Ministers have to resign. Basically what Professor Finer
said was that Ministers resign when they lose the confidence of
the Prime Minister or of their backbenchers. So the situation
you have just described is an absolutely classic one in those
418. Blast. I remember there was a Minister
appointed in the morning, there was a row in the afternoon and
he resigned in the evening.
(Sir Richard Wilson) Yes.
419. Things have changed a lot since then. Can
I try and see if you will express a personal opinion on two of
the subjects which we have discussed. Would you like to see personally
as part of an Act or however a cap on the number of special advisers?
Sir Richard Mottram was content there should be.
(Sir Richard Wilson) I am content that there should
be. What I particularly like though is the role that it would
give Parliament. I think the issues we are discussing are increasingly
ones which should be settled politically within Parliament, not
in the Cabinet Secretary's room, and not done, as it were, off
stage. I think that Parliament and the sort of power that you
are describing is one which would require Parliament by regulation
to set the cap and I think that has a lot to be said for it.