Examination of Witness (Questions 608-619)|
29 APRIL 2004
Q608 Chairman: Could I call the Committee
to order and welcome our witness this morning, Sir Richard Mottram,
Permanent Secretary. It is very good of you to come along. We
seem to see you when we have little difficulties!
Sir Richard Mottram: I would be
happy to come along in other circumstances, Chairman.
Q609 Chairman: Of course. It is just
that those difficulties seem to come along quite regularly. We
are not going to revisit the old stuff, we are going to do the
new stuff today. The reason why we particularly wanted to see
you was that we are doing this inquiry, coming out of our Prerogative
Inquiry, into the Honours System and we stumbled over this leak
from the main Honours Committee that involved certain names, including
Colin Blakemore, and we wanted see what was going on with all
that. We took evidenceyou will know all thisfrom
Professor Sir David King, the Government's Chief Scientific Officer,
who helped us as much as he could but then directed us towards
the Chairman of the Science Technology Committee
Sir Richard Mottram: At my suggestion,
Q610 Chairman: Excellent. who
turned out, of course, to be yourself. He thought you would be
able to tell us exactly what went on with all this and how on
earth these outrageous remarks about Colin Blakemore found their
way into the record of the Scientific and Technology Committee
and then the main Honours Committee. Can you tell us what happened?
Sir Richard Mottram: Can I just
say, would you mind, Chairman, if I made some introductory remarks?
Q611 Chairman: No. Of course not.
Sir Richard Mottram: Because it
seemed to me, having read the evidence of both Professor Blakemore
and of Sir David King, it might be helpful if I just explained
how the system works in relation to Science and Technology honours
and then I can also say a bit about how it works in relation to
other committees, if you would find that helpful. If I can make
I think six points? The first point is that the work of the Science
and Technology Committee currently covers science, engineering,
technology and the social sciences, so it is not simply science
and engineering. Secondly, the nominations can be generated from
a variety of sources. These include Research Councils, Learned
Societies, individuals and from within Government departments.
Each department has a sifting and evaluating process. I think
this has been touched on before and I think Professor Sir David
King touched on some of this. In the case of science and technology
in the broader sense that I defined earlier, the main nominating
department is the DTI, but it is quite usual to have nominations
from other departments and the devolved administrations, and I
was not sure that was clear from previous evidence. Some of these
nominations will have been put forward in the first place by members
of the public. By the time they show up at the Committee, obviously,
they appear to be from departments. The nominations are brought
together by the Honours Secretariatwhich
is a Cabinet Office body which I know your committee have been
in touch with, and are then considered by the Science and Technology
Committee, grouped by different proposed levels of award. For
each nominee there will be a one-page citation describing: the
case for recognition; a career history; wider contribution, for
example in relation to Research Council Committees and other advisory
work, or in supporting wider debate about science and its impact;
the practical effect of the contribution, where this is appropriate,
for example someone who has worked in this area of research and
this has been applied in these industries or in relation to medicine,
and so on; and the citation will sometimes touch on a wider contribution
to the community. The Committee itself consists of me as the Chairman,
and I do this as a permanent secretary but not as the Permanent
Secretary of the Department for Work and Pensionsit is
not obviously logical why I would do it as the Permanent Secretary
of the Department for Work and Pensions, and I do not, and we
can talk about how Chairmen are selected if you wanted tome
as the Chairman and six highly distinguished scientists and engineerssix
highly distinguished scientists and engineersa civil servant
with a background in the application of science and technology
and the Secretary, who is also a civil servant. This is not therefore
a committee of civil servants, despite what was said in the media
at the time. This is a Committee with six members who are scientists
and engineers. The Committee evaluates each nomination and it
reaches a consensus on the names to go forward; and it always
works by consensus. The process is highly competitive. As each
list shows, highly meritorious service is recognised at all levels.
There is a sort of snobbery about honours which I find very distasteful.
We have very, very good people who get OBEs, MBEs, etcetera. We
should not just focus on the people at the top. Awards at Knight
and Dame level are very limited in this area as in every other
level. People take time to progress within the system, so it is
not the case that you come up once, a decision is taken and that
is it, either "Yes" or "No". It is often the
case that people come forward, their qualities are recognised
and they appear at successive meetings. The Committee's recommendations
go forward to Main Committee, so-called, where they will be reviewed
alongside those from other committees to test out consistency
of approach and agree a final allocation at each level of award.
The recommendations of the main committee are then put to the
Prime Minister and then are taken over, obviously, by that part
of the Government machine. That is all I wanted to say by way
Q612 Chairman: Yes. Thank you. I would
like, if I can, to get the Blakemore stuff out of the way, and
then we can ask you some more general questions. The reason for
coming back to it is not just that you were fingered by another
witness, as it were?
Sir Richard Mottram: I do not
think I was, Chair.
Q613 Chairman: No, no.
Sir Richard Mottram: Far be it
for me to be defensive.
Q614 Chairman: No, no, no, you were helpfully
pointed in our direction.
Sir Richard Mottram: Oh, I see.
Q615 Chairman: The point is, we have
to believe in the absolute probity of this system, so if seemingly
gratuitous comments are made about certain people which people
like the Chief Scientific Officer think are inexplicable, we need
to try and find out what is going on. So let me just ask you again.
What did go on in that case?
Sir Richard Mottram: I am in some
difficulty here, Chairman, in the sense that there are at least
two conventions that it is important that I try not to break.
One of these conventions is in the Honours Systemand I
could add that I think this has caused some difficulty in this
particular case for a reason I can explainin the Honours
System we are not supposed to talk about individual candidates.
Secondly, the Government does not talk about leaked documents,
or it tries not to, but, within that framework, perhaps I could
make a number of points. I think it is actually quite a dangerous
thing to make inferences about public policy on the basis of a
leaked document that is a note for the record of a discussion.
The Honours System has a very well-developed structure and a series
of processes, and I think you have touched on some of those with
other witnesses. What happened in the case of the leak was huge
inferences were drawn from one document. What is also interesting
about this document is that I think the version which was published
in the Sunday Times consists of 1,300 words, or thereabouts, and
it is a summary of a meeting, and I think it would not be a state
secret to say that Main Committee meetings last, on average, about
three hours. So this was a 1,300 word summary of a three-hour
discussion. My view about the summary is that it is therefore
a highly compressed version of a much longer discussion and in
a number of cases the media discussion, not just in relation to
Professor Blakemore, actually took individual sentences from this
record, played them up, drew inferences from them which were to
my knowledge, in a number of cases, misleading in relation to
the discussion of the Committee. But it is quite difficult for
me to prove that to you without revealing the discussion of the
Committee. So all I can say in relation to the record is it is
highly compressed and it does not bear the inferences that were
placed upon it. So, perhaps to look at it from another direction,
what I could say, which may be helpful to the Committee, is inferences
were drawn that in the case of Professor Blakemore he had been,
I think the word was used in a number of cases, "black-balled",
if we put "black-balled" in inverted commas, "black-balled"
for an honour; and the reasons why he had been blackballed were
to do with either, or both, that he had been in his scientific
work involved with animal experimentation and/or that he had contributed
to the public debate about animal experimentation; and each of
those propositions in relation to Professor Blakemore and an honour
is untrue. He has not been "black-balled" and he has
not been "black-balled" for those reasons.
Q616 Chairman: I know that you are slightly
coy about talking about the individual case and the minute and
Sir Richard Mottram: I am slightly
coy about it, yes, Chairman.
Q617 Chairman: Are you therefore telling
us that this minute, which says
Sir Richard Mottram: This leaked
version of a minute, yes.
Q618 Chairman: Yes. I want to know whether
this is what we are talking about: "The Science and Technology
Expert Committee were unlikely to recommend him for his scientific
work, particularly in view of his controversial work on vivisection."
Are you saying it did not say that?
Sir Richard Mottram: Am I saying?
Q619 Chairman: That it did not say that.
Sir Richard Mottram: The Science
and Technology Committee did not say that, no, Chairman.
1 Note by Witness: Strictly speaking the Ceremonial