Examination of Witnesses (Questions 87-128)|
O'DONNELL KCB AND
24 FEBRUARY 2010
Q87 Chairman: Sir Gus, Mr Laws welcome;
we are very glad to have you with us this morning. The purpose
of this session is primarily to try to bring some clarity to the
processes which follow a General Election, particularly in circumstances
where no party has an overall majority. You have sent to us just
last night the draft of the chapter which deals particularly with
some of those circumstances for a Cabinet manual and we are grateful
for that. That is due to published shortly, although there are
still some discussions going on. It actually does raise the issue
to what extent a rather well praised document, which is still
in process of preparation, can be effectively in force at the
time of the election. But perhaps I could start by just asking
you whether you think there is sufficient clarity either amongst
those most closely involved or more widely in the media and public
about what the processes are in certain circumstances.
Sir Gus O'Donnell: Yes. Could
I just say a few brief opening remarks as well, Chairman? Thank
you. First of all, I would like to thank the Committee for this
opportunityI think this is a very significant eventand
this session I think is very well timed in the sense of I have
always been someone who has argued that we need more clarity in
these things. I think that establishing the clarity early will
be very useful and hence the draft chapter that you have before
you will, I hope, go a long way towards that. I am grateful to
the Committee for agreeing that we can publish this; but it is,
I stress, a draft, and we are very keen to get views on this.
It is a draft of a chapter that the Prime Minister asked me to
prepare as part of the Cabinet manualthis is the New Zealand
version, which is rather elegant, and I will be going over to
New Zealand to talk to them about their version as well. We have
worked on this with the Queen's Private Secretary to produce this
draft chapter. I would just like to say that it is work in progress
but it has benefited from excellent comments from a number of
professorssome are here: Bogdanor, Brazier, Hazell and
Hennessyand comments from Peter Riddell and my former Cabinet
Secretaries have all given me very useful comments. I think that
that note by your own Lucinda Maer is a very good background note.
I am keen to get your comments and I also will be passing the
note to the Public Administration Select Committee and the Leaders
of the main parties who are represented in Parliament. The purpose
of the chapter was to bring together existing conventions and
legislation but there are two parts to which I would like to bring
the Committee's attention. First of all, paragraph 19 explains
that the Prime Minister can ask the Cabinet Officeand I
stress, I think in the draft it says Cabinet Secretary but I think
in this sense it will be Cabinet Office in generalto support
both the Government and Opposition parties in their discussions
about forming a stable government. Just to say that I have discussed
this with the Prime Minister and he has indicated to me that he
would support that use of civil servants; so that means we would
be ready to do this in the event of a hung Parliament. Secondly,
I know you had some discussions about what you call the caretaker
principle and at paragraph 20 the draft proposesand again
this is newthat the rules covering the election period
would be extended beyond the election, to the post-election period
when we do not have a stable government. So we would extend it
beyond that period. I know that there may be other issues you
want to raise about that and I am very happy to come back to that.
In terms of your question, Chairman, about do we have the capacity
to handle these sorts of issues and is there enough media understanding,
I would say it is worth remembering that these things are quite
rare. I joined the Civil Service in 1979, over 30 years ago, and
I have had the experience of one change of administration, the
1997 onethat is it. In terms of the Civil Service, people
who have been there quite a few decades have not seen many changes
of administration and they certainly have not seen a hung Parliament
situation. So can we assume that the Civil Service is up and ready
for this? No. That is why I am doing a lot of work on preparing
for all possible outcomes, so I think that is important. We have
looked back to history and that is why I have been consulting
with my illustrious predecessors who have been very helpful on
all of thisand I know you spoke to Robin Butler and Andrew
earlier. So in terms of media perceptions and are they there,
again I think that it is important for us to provide as much clarity
as we can and I think the purpose of this draft chapter is to
get it out there and to explain some of these issues where there
has in the past been some confusion and to try, as far as we can,
on the basis just of what is existing conventions, to explain
what we think would happen in the event of a hung Parliament.
Q88 Alun Michael: I am very interested
in what you say in paragraphs 19 and 20 and it brings us to a
point that came out in earlier discussion. Yes, Minister!
and Yes, Prime Minister! are fictional but they do highlight
the challenge of drawing the line between the political exercise
of judgment and the exercise of judgment by permanent officials,
particularly the Cabinet Secretary. That is not covered here,
and perhaps it cannot be in the sense that judgment is judgment,
by definition, but how would you see these arrangements described
in paragraphs 19 and 20 to be clear in terms of where the line
is drawn between what is appropriate and what is not?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: You are now
getting directly into what people call the caretaker convention.
This is very interesting, and I have looked very closely at what
is in the New Zealand manual and what Professor Hazell has said.
I think the existing election guidance has worked quite well through
the period and we have had good experiences of there being an
understanding on all sides that no important decisions should
be made during that period. When you think about firming it up,
if you look at what the New Zealand manual says, it saysand
I quote"No hard and fast rules are possible".
That is what they have in their manual, and they say: "Final
decisions rest with the Prime Minister." That is two parts
of their convention and I think they are right in that. There
is an interesting question about can we explain it in more detail
but I think it will be hard to come up with hard and fast rules.
New Zealand has not and I do not know of any other administration
that has. So we will be looking to be as specific as we can but
within this area where we recognise that there is some judgment;
but at the moment we are exercising that judgment and have done
so during every previous election campaign period, so we are quite
used to doing that.
Q89 Alun Michael: Can I put the point
that came up earlier as well, the point where it was suggested
that there needs to be, in effect, danger in a Prime Minister
taking decisions on which there is disagreement with the advice
to the Cabinet Secretary. Is there not a need also for there to
be an equal and equivalent constraint on the Cabinet Secretary
in not gratuitously withholding agreement to a particular decision?
It is a judgment in both cases.
Sir Gus O'Donnell: That is absolutely
right and there have been various people who suggested the Muldoon
precedent where there is the whole question about devaluation
and the like. I discussed this with Robin Butler, it is worth
noting that if we had had the New Zealand caretaker convention
it would not have made any difference to that case, and that is
what I think the New Zealanders have told me. It does not answer
that problem; you are still faced with this judgmental issue.
If we get to a situation where a Prime Minister wanted to do something
during that period where there was not all-party agreement then
where we would have to go is in the area of a direction; we would
have to say, "That can only be done, Prime Minister, if you
direct me to do it," and we would make that direction available
in the normal way to Parliament.
Q90 Mr Tyrie: Just to clarify that
point, after that direction has been issued, elicited, Lord Butler
was suggesting that this should follow the procedure that is used
by Accounting Officers. That would be for the Accounting Officer
to ensure that the NAO are informed and of his reasons, which
would enable the Comptroller and Auditor General or the Chairman
of the PAC or both to make that public.
Sir Gus O'Donnell: Yes.
Q91 Mr Tyrie: What arrangement for
publishing the reasons for the disagreement with the decision
do you envisage?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: As you know,
currently what often happens in these cases is that there is a
letter from the Permanent Secretary to the minister making the
decision and a letter from the minister. So the letter from the
Permanent Secretary will say, "For the following reasons,
Minister, I would require a direction to do what you are asking
me to do," and laying out the pros and cons; then the minister
would say, "Thank you for your advice but I have decided,
boom, boom, for the following reasons." We would normally
put those two letters, as you rightly say, to the NAO. In a period
where we do not have a Parliamentit is an interesting oneagain
we are in the stages where it is for us to think about what are
the right principles that should govern this. Personally, I would
like the principle that we should publish those letters immediately
and if we cannot publish them to Parliament because we do not
have a Parliament to publish them to, we would just publish them
on a government website or make them publicly available.
Q92 Mr Tyrie: That sounds a sensible
approach, if I may offer a view. One other question, very quickly.
Your paragraph 20 refers to the caretaker arrangements after the
election continuingit was a point to which you referred
in your initial remarks. Could you clarify that those caretaker
arrangements will be in the same form as ones before the election?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: Yes, that will
be our presumptionsimply to take what you have in the pre-election
guidance and roll it forward. I would certainly be saying to civil
servants to carry on in that mindset post-election but pre-stability.
Q93 Mr Tyrie: One last procedural
point, given that this is the first time we will ever have had
an election where we have before us a manual, and given that the
election is likely to be May 6but I of course accept in
your covering letter that you cannot know that and you say that
it depends on when the election takes placewhen do you
think you can get the manual in full published?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: The manual
in full published? The idea is to publish this draft straightaway
if the Committee accepts that. We are working on the draft. I
have given the Chairman a list of the chapter headings. I would
hope to have this ready for just after an election to put to the
incoming administration, whoever it is
Q94 Mr Tyrie: So this is not going
to be ready for an election?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: No.
Q95 Chairman: Does that mean that
some of the principles that it enunciates and upon which you have
enlarged already will or will not be what you follow at that time?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: The ones in
this draft, the reason for publishing it now, is because I think
that these are hugely important and that we get them established
now; and in the absence of commands otherwise I will certainly
be following this one.
Q96 Mr Tyrie: So it will be fully
operational even though not fully published?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: This one will
be publishedthis chapter will be published, which gives
us the bit about a hung Parliament; but the other chapters which
relate to things like devolution arrangements and all those other
things will be available post-election.
Q97 Mr Tyrie: So on what date will
this chapter be finalised and made fully operational?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: In a sense
it is partly down to how many comments we get and the Committee's
own views on it. So I have deliberately said that I want this
to come to you as the Justice Committee and I accelerated the
work on this chapter so that we could have this conversation now
because I think it is hugely important that we get clarity ahead
of an election. We will get those comments together and I would
want to try and get this finalised before the start of an election
campaign, but of course as Mr Tyrie has said I do not know when
that is, so I will work diligently as rapidly as possible.
Chairman: Do you not? Are you sure you
do not know?
Q98 Mr Heath: So when we read in
paragraph 20: " ... it would be prudent for it to observe
discretion about taking significant decisions", we can interpret
that as being Civil Service speak for a rather sterner injunction
than it would appear to be?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: Yes, I think
that is right.
Mr Hogg: Will it be re-drafted?
Mr Heath: Yes, why do you now actually
Q99 Chairman: I think you could take
an instant comment from the Committee that it might be helpful
if that paragraph made clearer that what you are really talking
about are the caretaker arrangements which existed prior to the
election, or something at least as firm as that.
Sir Gus O'Donnell: At least as
firm as that; absolutely. Personally, the stronger this is the
better from my point of view to have clarity on that.
Q100 Mr Heath: It is not clear at
the moment that the same arrangements apply as would apply during
the election period.
Sir Gus O'Donnell: Exactly, and
that is why I wanted to bring it to the Committee's attention
because this is new. The point of the manual really is to codify
existing practice but I want to say that here is something where
we are suggesting something new, so I think it is legitimate for
people to give us their views. If we get a strong view that we
should firm this up and it is a cross-party consensus on that
then I would be very happy to move to that.
Q101 Mr Heath: Can I ask one specific
example of the sort of decision that I would anticipate not being
taken in a period of uncertainty, and that is changes to machinery
of government. Would it be your view that it would be wrong for
a Prime Minister not yet confirmed by the Parliament's agreement
at the Queen's Speech to make significant changes to the machinery
of government in that period?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: You raise a
really interesting question there. I think the principle behind
what you are saying has to be right, that you want there to have
been an organisation for a stable government that can command
the confidence of the House before you move to machinery of government
changes. The question is at what point do you know you have a
stable government that commands the confidence of the House?
Q102 Mr Heath: When Parliament says
Sir Gus O'Donnell: In that case
then it would be presumably post the Queen's Speech Vote; is that
what you mean?
Q103 Mr Heath: That is what I am
putting to you as a suggestion and because this is the first thing
that Prime Ministers like to tinkle within my view in a
completely inappropriate way but that is beside the point. What
I am asking is, is this something which this convention could
actually avoid happening because of the disruption to the Civil
Service and the costs involved?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: The only reason
I am being slightly hesitant here is because at the moment the
rule on the machinery of government, as you know, is that the
Prime Minister determines machinery of government changes. If
the Prime Minister were to decide that he wanted to make machinery
of government changes straightaway because it would then be clear
who the Secretaries of State were for the various departmentsso
your first reshuffle, as it werethe Prime Minister might
want to do that very quickly and that would create the tension.
So I think that this is a subject that will need to be teased
Q104 Dr Palmer: I am very glad that
you have brought this to our attention because, as you say, it
is obviously a new point. I have severe reservations about it.
If you think about the reasons why we have a purdah period, my
understanding is that it is overwhelmingly because it is thought
to be undesirable that the government should use its position
of incumbency to affect the judgment of the electorate just before
a General Election, so that they should not be able to halve VAT
the day before an election and that kind of thing. Those reasons
for purdah basically do not arise once the election has taken
place. Obviously there could be another election but that is not
the immediate issue. Given the possibility which, as you say,
would be unusual in our recent history, of a period of uncertainty
of who is going to perform a durable government, I would really
like to ask you whether you think it is desirable that the Civil
Service plays a greater role in constraining how the government
acts. In the previous session we had witnesses saying that in
an emergency, terrorism or whatever they could act anyway; but
there is a second level for things which are not an emergency
but which are part of the normal process of government, and especially
if there is not a great controversy about those decisions I am
very uneasy about the idea that the Civil Service raises its game
and starts saying, "We actually need a formal exchange of
letters on this because it is still sort of purdah."
Sir Gus O'Donnell: This is not
a power grab. What we are talking about here is during this period
if there are terrorist events or crises the previous Prime Minister
remains the Prime Minister, we all know that, and so the government
gets on with it. If there are contentious issues what the guidance
would say is, "Let us try and reach all-party agreement on
those." If there are minor issues that everybody agrees on
then they can go ahead anyway, so I do not think we would be constraining
things in that sense. I suppose what it is trying to guide against
is those areas where you might have a situation where a government
had gone into an election, had come out of it with many less seats
than another party and it was looking as if that other party might
be the one that was most likely to govern in a stable way, but
the Prime Minister would still be the Prime Minister, as we know,
and the Prime Minister might then decide to do something quite
major. In those circumstances I would be uncomfortable with that
and I think that this convention could stop that sort of area:
for example, signing a very big contract, making a big machinery
of government change. Those are areas where I think this convention
would help us.
Q105 Alun Michael: I have just one
question therewhether it is the size of the contract or
the controversial nature of the contract or the political nature
of the decision that would be the element.
Sir Gus O'Donnell: Sorry, not
the size; if there is a big contract that everybody agrees on,
you are absolutely right.
Q106 Alun Michael: What I am concerned
about is the unintended consequences. The intended consequences
that you have described are entirely acceptable, I think. So would
you accept that there is a danger of inertia within government
actions and a danger of inertia most of the time, which leads
to the "if in doubt do nothing" approach; whereas actually
very often the issue is that you have a responsibility to take
a judgment rather than doing nothing? If you are going to strengthen
or clarify the Delphic words in relation to prudence in paragraph
20, do you also not have to strengthen the words that follow about
the normal and essential business of government? I say this because
I have seen decisions during the purdah period which were not
in any sense political but where delay can be damaging either
to an agency or perhaps to the industry that is affected by a
decision. So if you are going to maintain the balance you need
to strengthen both of those sentences or clarify both of those
sentences, do you not?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: Indeed. When
we refer to the pre-election guidance we talk about the issues
ofparagraph 11a decision: " ... provided that
such postponement would not be detrimental to the national interest
or wasteful of public money." I think those are really important.
Q107 Alun Michael: Where would the
threshold come there because the national interest is a very high
threshold? Something that could be damaging, as I say, to the
operation of a government agency or to an industry, if it was
affected by a decision, could be quite important and significant
for that industry but not damaging to the greater national interest.
Sir Gus O'Donnell: Yes, but if
it was damaging to the industry and they were a supplier to us
that might well be detrimental to value for moneyvalue
for public money.
Q108 Alun Michael: Indeed, that is
the sort of judgment that has to be balanced.
Sir Gus O'Donnell: Indeed, which
is why this allows for the fact that you could make such decisions.
One of the issues that we work very hard on in the run-up to an
unknown election dateby definition it is unknownis
to try and make sure that we are not in the position of having
to make those kinds of decisions. So contracts are sorted out
early or extended for short periods; so we do try our best to
get ourselves in a situation where we are not faced with these
sorts of decisions when we are in this period of political uncertainty.
Q109 Dr Whitehead: Could I return
you to the guidance that is issued concerning the person who will
be asked by the Monarch to form a government? As paragraph 17
in the draft guidance states: "If the Prime Minister and
government resign at any stage." I was interested that you
drew our attention particularly to paragraph 19 in the draft chapter
where you emphasise that: "It is open to the Prime Minister
to ask the Cabinet Secretary to support the government's discussions
with opposition or minority parties ... " And, indeed, if
opposition parties ask for that support as well that will be given.
After which point presumably if the Government then resigned the
person who appears most likely to command the confidence of the
House in the view of the Monarch would be advised by you?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: An interesting
question. The constitutional principle, which I think Professor
Bogdanor may have pointed out, is that the Queen does not necessarily
have to take the advice of the Prime Ministerthere is not
a constitutional principle to that effect. I believe that it is
the responsibility of the Prime Minister to ensure that the Monarch
remains above politics and that when the Prime Minister resigns
it is very apparent who the Queen should be calling to produce
the next, hopefully, stable government. I think that is the way
I see that.
Q110 Alun Michael: I am presuming,
however, that paragraph 19 implies that it is not clear, that
should it be suggested by the Prime Minister that you should support
the discussions with opposition minority parties to form a government,
or indeed the Opposition suggests the same, then presumably at
that point it is not clear who is going to form the Government
and discussions therefore perhaps need to be undertaken, facilitated
by yourself, at which point if the government resigns the Monarch
may say, "Who is it that has the likely confidence of the
House?" and the House not having met to decide that you would
be presumably the only person at that point who would have that
Sir Gus O'Donnell: That is precisely
why it is the Prime Minister's responsibility not to resign until
that situation is clarified.
Q111 Chairman: What is your view
of the time pressures in that situation? Do you accept the media
view really which is that all this has to happen in 24 hours or
48 hours at the most? Or is it possible to conduct it in an orderly
way over a slightly longer period?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: I think it
is and there has been some confusion about this. A lot of people
talk about markets being very jittery and the fact that there
is not a clear outcome being a problem. It is worth saying that
first of all it would not happen out of the blue; we have lots
of opinion polls, we have political betting sites, we have spread
betting. The markets will have moved very close to understanding
what the outcome is. The uncertainty that will be removed is what
the actual outcome is versus what was expected by the markets.
So that is the difference that you will get there, which I would
suggestunless the polls and the betting are completely
off for some reasonis usually quite small, although I stress
that I lived through 1992 where the difference between what people
actually said when they put their X on the balance paper and what
they said when they came out in an exit poll was very, very different.
So I think we all need to be very carefuland I will be
more than anybody elsein presuming any particular outcome.
Like I say, I think the markets will have moved a long way; I
think what the markets will be looking for is the achievement
of a government that is stable, that can carry through the key
decisions that are needed; will carry through and succeed in terms
of the Queen's Speech; and of course there will be some important
decisions. There is a strong cross-party consensus that the deficit
needs to be reduced significantly and there are some decisions
there. So what the markets will be looking for is whether we achieve
that stable government which could take these important decisions?
If it takes a little bit longer to achieve that stability I think
they will be patient, but there is no real question in my mind
that what they will be looking for is something stable. If you
bought market stability by rushing out and getting something which
actually did not last very long then you would get a lot more
market instability, I would say; so you are looking for something
where there is a government which can command the confidence in
the House in the important decisions.
Q112 Mr Hogg: Sir Gus, on this pointand
it really arises from paragraph 19I see that the Cabinet
Office, with the authority of the Prime Minister, will support
the parties in their discussions. But, for example, addressing
the question of reducing the deficit, it is clearly going to be
necessary to form a view of reductions across departments. That
is not exclusively a matter for the Cabinet Office and I can well
imagine that parties would take the view that they would need
to have access to individual departmental plans and budgets before
they could form a view as to the kind of policies that they might
be prepared to support, either as a part of a coalition or as
some form of less direct support. What support are you contemplating
will be given to the parties in those discussions addressing the
problems of individual departments so that the parties know what
they want to sign up to department by department?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: This is a very
good point and let me stress, first of all, we are not talking
about support for the political negotiations between parties as
to whether it turns out to be a minority government or a coalition
or particular Members in Cabinet or anything like that; we would
leave that entirely to the political parties to do and I regard
that as their responsibility. And this is new. This process was
used during the recent Scottish electionsI know a very
different systemand I would envisage us, as far as possible,
being able to provide objective factual advice to the parties
on whatever they felt was necessary to achieve the
Q113 Mr Hogg: But is it Cabinet Office
level or allowing them to go to, let us say, Defra, for example,
and talk with Defra officials about what would be realistic reductions
Sir Gus O'Donnell: Indeed. At
the moment we are in a situation where the Prime Minister has
allowed discussions to take place with Permanent Secretaries of
the various departments with the parties; those are taking place
but they are within a very restrictive framework. I think you
are absolutely right; there may be questions which would be much
more substantial which we would face in those circumstances.
Q114 Mr Hogg: How do you propose
to deal with that situation?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: It will really
depend upon how much detail the parties want. Having established
this principle that the Civil Service can support, if the Prime
Minister acceptsand, as I say, what this guidance says
is that it is up to the Prime Minister and it could be that another
Prime Minister might say no; but this guidance says that it is
up to the Prime Minister and the current Prime Minister has said
yes. I think we will need to come up with some guidelines for
the Civil ServiceI will need to come up with some guidelines
in conjunction with my Permanent Secretary colleagues about what
constitutes the right level of support to give because obviously
we will be supporting the different parties, but it may be that
we will be supporting a party which may turn out to be in opposition
to the government. So I think we have some quite difficult practical
issues to sort out as to how we make this work. Certainly one
of the things that I have been doing is talking to John Elvidge
in Scotland about how they managed this and how you manage the
Chinese walls between the different groups.
Q115 Chairman: That is still of course
part of the same unified Civil Service of which you are Head.
Sir Gus O'Donnell: Absolutely,
yes, it is; Scotland Wales and England, all there. There is of
course a separate Northern Ireland Civil Service, but, yes, absolutely
a unified Civil Service.
Q116 Chairman: Are you prepared for
the complications that will arise if a coalition was formed?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: One of the
things I think we learnt from the Scottish case, where they went
through various possible scenarios, I think it is fair to say
that certainly the public were not expecting a minority government
to be the outcome. What I have learnt from that is that we need
to prepare for all possible outcomes, so I think there is quite
a lot of work we have to do here; and, yes, a coalition would
be an obvious part of what we have to prepare for.
Q117 Chairman: Sir Gus, we will try
and make sure that the evidence from this session is printed early
so that it can continue to inform the discussion. However, I want
to give you the opportunity to tell us, if you wish to do so,
whether you have had occasion to have any discussions with the
Prime Minister to deal with issues of bullying in Downing Street.
Sir Gus O'Donnell: You go from
the sublime to the ridiculous!
Q118 Chairman: Not if it is real.
Sir Gus O'Donnell: I have made
a number of statements on this issue and let me be clear again.
I have never talked to the Prime Minister about his behaviour
in relation to bullying Number 10 staff, but of course I talk
to the Prime Minister about how to get the best out of his civil
servants; I have said that lots of times. I have not called for
investigations; I have not given verbal warnings.
Q119 Mr Tyrie: I regret having to
ask these questions and I am disappointed that you are in the
position of having to answer them, quite frankly. What you have
just said is a reiteration of what has been described as a carefully
drafted Whitehall statement, and these allegations are still being
made. I wonder if I could give you an opportunity to clarify the
scope of the repudiation you are making. Perhaps I can do that
best by just reading out what Nick Robinson said in response to
the BBC. He said that your latest statement "leaves open
the possibility, indeed the likelihood that you did talk to Gordon
Brown about the Prime Minister's behaviour towards his staff,
as Andrew Rawnsley insists."
Sir Gus O'Donnell: I cannot be
clearer. I have said that I have not talked to the Prime Minister
about his behaviour with respect to bullying Number 10 staff.
Q120 Mr Tyrie: What about other behaviour?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: I do not talk
to him about behaviours; I talk to him about how to get the best
out of his staff.
Q121 Mr Tyrie: Conduct, treatment
Sir Gus O'Donnell: This is getting
into semantic angels on the head of a pin. When I said to the
Prime Minister, "You really get the best out of your staff
when you congratulate them for really good pieces of work"
he said "Yes" and I make a point when I discuss with
him of saying that, "It is really important that you show
your support to the Civil Service" and he has done. When
he talked to Civil Service Live, a really important conference,
he went out of his way to put on the record, very clear, his support
for the Civil Service. He has been a very strong supporter of
the Civil Service and that I think is witnessed by the fact that
for the first time in over 150 years we have in front of the House
now a Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, which has the
clauses in it which will make statutory the Civil Service values.
That is the huge prize which people on this Committee could help
us deliver. It has cross-party support. Please, if there is one
thing you could do for me it is to make sure that those clauses
on the Civil Service go through before the House dissolves.
Q122 Mr Tyrie: It is a passionate
statement but one in answer to a question I did not ask. I would
like to ask one more question.
Sir Gus O'Donnell: I am looking
for your support, Mr Tyrie; will I get your support on that Bill?
Q123 Mr Tyrie: Unfortunately we do
the asking of the questions here. Have you at any time discussed
the conduct towards the Civil Service or the treatment of civil
servantsthe treatment that has been allegedly meted out
to themby Mr Whelan or Mr McBride; have you discussed their
conduct with the Prime Minister at any time?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: I am not prepared
to get into conversations about individuals because it is ridiculous.
If individuals come to me with issues it is important that I,
as the Head of the Civil Service, maintain confidentiality.
Q124 Mr Tyrie: And the conduct of
Sir Gus O'Donnell: With advisers
I think it has been fairly clear, people have reported quite widely
that episode with Mr McBride, and I have made it
Q125 Mr Tyrie: Have there been complaints
by civil servants about their conduct?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: I am not going
to get into individual complaints; it would be wrong, because
we regard it as very important to maintain confidentiality. I
think that is important.
Q126 Mr Hogg: Sir Gus, what you said
in response to Andrew Tyrie is that you have talked to the Prime
Minister about how he could get the best out of civil servants.
I think what the Committee might like to know is what caused you
to raise this discussion with the Prime Minister, when you did
it and whether before you had this interesting discussion with
the Prime Minister other individualsI do not want to know
whohad come to see you with the implication that such a
conversation might be useful.
Sir Gus O'Donnell: This is a conversation
I have had with every Prime Minister to whom I have been Cabinet
Q127 Mr Hogg: We are concerned, Sir
Gus, with this one, if you do not mind.
Sir Gus O'Donnell: But it is a
conversation I have had with both Tony Blair and with Gordon Brown.
It is to my mind hugely important as part of my job as Head of
the Civil Service to understand the relationship with the Prime
Minister and his staff and the Civil Service as a whole, and to
make sure that that is as effective as it can possibly be.
Mr Hogg: I understand that entirely,
Sir Gus, but there are two points
Mr Hogg: the timing and did individuals
come to see you beforehand.
Chairman: Order! Rosie Cooper.
Q128 Rosie Cooper: I just want to
put on the record that any Chief Executive working with a Chairman
of any organisationin this case the Prime Ministerpart
of their day-to-day discussion will be how to get the best out
of the organisation they represent. I am astounded that this should
be seen as anything extraordinary. In my former life I did it
all the time.
Sir Gus O'Donnell: Like I say,
it has gone somewhat from the sublime to the ridiculous, but I
would say that the really important thing that the Committee has
talked about is a hung Parliament; so I am very grateful for the
comments that you have made. I would be really keen to get more
comments from all of you on the specifics because I purposely
have kept this and labelled it as draft because I think the points
that have been made today have been really useful.
Chairman: We are very grateful to you
for this session today. I am glad you thought it was sublimeI
think that is slightly overdoing it!but I do think it was
important that these issues were clarified. Thank you very much.