Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-133)|
7 MAY 2009
Q120 Chairman: Well, it is surely
corrosive anyway, is it not, to brief against colleagues?
Mr Byrne: Yes.
Q121 Chairman: But we know it goes
on, do we not?
Mr Byrne: I do not.
Q122 Chairman: You are the only person
who seems innocent of this fact.
Mr Byrne: Well, maybe I live in
the circles that Gordon Prentice does!
Q123 Chairman: I am talking in a
generic way. We have just been hearing how this kind of thing
is the stuff of politics.
Mr Byrne: I can only comment on
what has entered my own personal world, and that has not entered
my own personal world. Maybe I should get out moretogether
Q124 Chairman: Well, someone needs
to give some attention to what this phrase about "disseminating
appropriate material" means.
Mr Byrne: Well, if the Committee
has advice on how the Special Advisers' Code can be strengthened
still further, then please give it.
Q125 Chairman: Would it not have
been better just to say that any special advisers found to be
in breach of the terms of the Special Advisers' Code will be instantly
Mr Byrne: I would be happy to
entertain that suggestion, and let's not fall into the trap of
believing that it is only that sentence that you have read out
which constitutes the entirety of the Code. It is a pretty comprehensive
Q126 Chairman: But it is the only
bit that talks about sanction and discipline. The rest of it is
exhortation. The question is what happens when, in Peter Riddell's
phrase, someone goes wrong? What is the sanction that kicks in?
Now, this is the first time you have had any kind of sanction
and that is why I am asking what it means. I am saying to you,
why not just say: "If a special adviser breaches the terms
of the Special Advisers' Code, they are out". Would that
not be simpler?
Mr Byrne: Yes, but, as I say,
if the Committee has suggestions like that then we should consider
them and come back to you. It sounds a good suggestion to me.
Q127 Chairman: I am trying to be
Mr Byrne: I think it is very helpful.
Q128 David Heyes: I have a question
on process, really. The Gus O'Donnell letter, which you tabled
earlier, you tabled as you began to speak. Why did you do that?
Mr Byrne: Simply because I planned
towell, I did not want to read all of it out.
Q129 David Heyes: My point is you
must have had the letter when you arrived here at 10 o'clock.
It would have been quite easy to pass that to one of the staff
and we could have had the benefit of some time to read it during
the earlier evidence. It is an old bureaucrat's trick to start
to speak and then table the paper after the event, and it helps
to prevent difficult questions. Was this a management consultant
Mr Byrne: It was not meant to
be; it was meant to be helpful. I did not have to bring it at
all, Mr Heyes.
Q130 David Heyes: I will make the
point simpler for future reference because it feels to me a little
disrespectful to the Committee to table the letter dated 21 April
Mr Byrne: I shall remember not
to bring letters with me next time. Maybe that will help your
Q131 Chairman: Well, you can bring
appropriate material with you. We have had an interesting session.
Mr Byrne: We have. I have followed
Q132 Chairman: It has got the juices
going, and I think we may write to you with some suggestions,
having had the general session this morning with you and with
the previous witnesses too, because it is clear that there are
issues here that we could usefully give some thought to again
so we do not just have to wait for the next incident to happen
before we get interested in special advisers again. So, thank
you for coming and talking to us.
Mr Byrne: A pleasure. I do think
it is a constant job. Since 1997 there has been a transformation
in the way that we govern special advisers, and I do not think
we should allow ourselves to fall into the trap of assuming that
in any way that work should suddenly stop.
Q133 Chairman: Thank you very much.
Mr Byrne: Thank you.