Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 420-439)



  420. You have personal experience of this. I am not sure I can find his answer in time but he said 80 is okay, 800 is not okay. You must have some idea of what an appropriate figure would be? Is it one per Minister?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) Two per Minister is the one that we have traditionally had and I think that is actually quite good.

  421. Two per Cabinet Minister.
  (Sir Richard Wilson) At the moment it is two per Minister who attends Cabinet, if I may just be technical. There are one or two Ministers who are not members of Cabinet but who attend it.

  422. That is the sort of figure that you would like to see it capped at roughly?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) I think that is the sort of figure, yes. I am not going to discuss how you express the cap but that is where I would do it. I am not sure I have got a Government policy on it.

  Mr Trend: That is extremely helpful.


  423. Can I just have an interjection. Knowing Parliament as you do and knowing the atmosphere in which special advisers are these days discussed, are you suggesting to us that Parliament, this place, people like us, is going to have a civilised non partisan discussion about putting a cap on special advisers?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) Chairman, I do not think I have been slow in trying to give you full and honest replies. When it comes to inviting me to comment on Parliament's performance, I must ask you to excuse me.

  424. You attributed a particular importance to Parliament in this process and I just wondered if you really understood how this place operated?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) The answer to that is certainly not. Can I just say, sorry, I do not want you to take it that I am proposing a particular form of cap because I think that is for discussion. I had been thinking of it more like the cap on Scotland and Wales at the moment, the Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly, which is expressed as a total number and then it would be for the Prime Minister to decide.

Mr Trend

  425. It is just a round figure.
  (Sir Richard Wilson) I am not going to speculate about round figures. At the moment it is about 80.

  426. Just for a second I thought you were.
  (Sir Richard Wilson) No, I am withdrawing any speculation about it. What I am simply saying to you is that for a Departmental Cabinet Minister to have two, experience suggests that has worked quite well. I am not going to go further than that.

  427. Can I try and tease out whether or not you have a personal view about the Orders in Council on Civil Servants of which there are two, or there could be more. Again, your distinguished predecessor felt that this was perhaps not the happiest experiment and perhaps needed looking at again or something like that. Do you have a feeling about this?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) The irony was that when those powers were introduced what my predecessor was doing was trying to bring the formal position into line with what had actually been happening, I think. I would prefer to discuss what it is that special advisers can and cannot do in particular cases rather than get too hung up on the particular formulation we have at the moment.

  428. He felt that informally ". . . They had no authority over or responsibility for career civil servants, and career civil servants had no authority over them. These lines have been blurred under New Labour", that is what he said.
  (Sir Richard Wilson) Who said that?

  429. That is in The Spectator article.
  (Sir Richard Wilson) This is Robert Armstrong?

  430. Yes.
  (Sir Richard Wilson) I think the model contract lists a number of things that special advisers can do and I think we are now developing new ways of working alongside special advisers in Number 10. Again, if I may commend to you the Wicks document, that is the sort of issue that the Wicks document is drawing attention to and I think that is the kind of debate we are going to have there.

  431. Would you recommend an extension of the system whereby special advisers become civil servants under an Order in Council?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) I am not going to go further into what the Government's policy would be than I have done so far.


  432. Just to be clear on your previous answers. It would be a fairly good bet, would it not, that if this much trailed speech the week after next, no, no, much anticipated speech the week after next—
  (Sir Richard Wilson) Can I say something about that? I am going to rise as usual to your teasing.

  433. I have said nothing wrong so far.
  (Sir Richard Wilson) I have not trailed it. This is the first time I have mentioned it. Others have mentioned it.

  434. We are all salivating over the prospect of it. The only thing I am trying to arrive at is presumably in this speech the week after next you will be saying something more about the development of non nuclear grievance procedures, conventional weaponry.
  (Sir Richard Wilson) If that is what you want me to do, I shall address that.

Mr Lyons

  435. Can I turn back to Alan Evans and his move has been career development and so on.
  (Sir Richard Wilson) Yes.

  436. Sir Richard Mottram told the Committee in the last few months ten press officers out of 30 have moved from the DTLR. Surely you can see that is a lot of career development?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) I was saying earlier, these are people who are much in demand. They are quite ambitious. They want to get experience across Whitehall. It does depend on the period over which they have moved.

  437. He said over a few months.
  (Sir Richard Wilson) He said over a few months, did he? I think honestly these are the things you should ask him about rather than me. I am not that surprised that these things go in cycles. My experience when I dealt with personnel was that these things all tended, rather like number 11 buses, to go in clumps.

  438. You would think it would be normal in other Departments to have the same situation?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) I have not got any evidence on which I can quote you on that.

  439. The other thing you mentioned was the Sixsmith resignation.
  (Sir Richard Wilson) Yes.

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