3 The appointment of the new independent
adviser on Ministers' interests |
48. Sir Philip Mawer retired from the role of independent
adviser on Ministers' interests at the end of October 2011. This
had, he emphasised, been his intention since Autumn 2010, and
was unrelated to the failure to refer the case of Dr Fox to him
We were not informed about Sir Philip's retirement until we received
the annual report of the independent adviser in December 2011.
The recruitment process
49. By the time Sir Philip's retirement annual report
was published in December 2011, which announced his retirement,
his successor was already in post. At the time of appointment,
no details of the recruitment process were published.
50. Sir Philip
told us that the independent adviser is "entirely
a personal appointment of the Prime Minister of the day".
When Sir Alex Allan was asked about the recruitment process he
I was asked if I would be interested in taking on
the role, I said I was, the process went through and I was appointed.
Sir Alex was not aware of any competition for his
asked whether it was a "tap on the shoulder" he did
not deny it.
51. We contacted the Cabinet Office to request further
information about the appointment process, and specifically asked
how many other candidates were considered for the role. The response
A number of individuals were considered for the role
and Sir Alex Allan was judged to have the experience, and the
necessary skills and judgement, to make him ideally suited for
We only learned that Sir Alex was the new appointee
through a letter to a Member of PASC which was dated 3 January
2012, two months after he started in post.
Career background of the appointee
52. Sir Alex Allan took up the post of independent
adviser immediately, at the beginning of November 2011. Sir Alex's
previous career, apart from a three-year spell living in Western
Australia, has been spent entirely in public service, most recently
in a number of senior Civil Service posts.
53. Sir Alex's background differs considerably from
his two predecessors as independent adviser on Ministers' interests.
While both Sir Philip Mawer and Sir John Bourn had served as senior
civil servants, they had demonstrated their independence from
Government since leaving the Civil Service through undertaking
senior investigatory and audit functions as Officers of the House
of Commons: Sir John as the Comptroller and Auditor General and
Sir Philip as the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.
54. We challenged Sir Alex on the question of independence.
He argued that his most recent job, as Chairman of the Joint Intelligence
Committee, had required him to provide independent advice to Ministers,
and could "involve saying quite uncomfortable things, where
Government policy is saying one thing and the intelligence may
not bear that out".
Sir Alex also offered an example of his willingness to challenge
ministers from his time as Permanent Secretary at the Ministry
of Justice when:
The prison population was bursting at the seams and
I had to go to the then Lord Chancellor and say, 'You really have
no option but to introduce an early release scheme', which was
politically extremely difficult and caused a lot of controversy.
It was one of those issues where the facts on the ground demanded
it and we had to press that through.
He further stressed that he was "perfectly prepared
to challenge Ministers" about their interests.
55. We questioned whether the role of 'independent
adviser' is truly independent. Sir Alex referred to the "the
independent role providing the public confidence".
This is not, however, reflected in independent office support.
Structurally the role is not independent, except insofar as the
post-holder is not a member of the Civil Service. The role is
a personal appointment of the Prime Minister, with support provided
from the Cabinet Office. Sir Philip attempted to clarify the situation:
the bottom line here is that the adviser is an adviser;
they are not an independent commissioner and therefore do not
have an independent office.
56. Whether the role is perceived as independent
largely comes down to the personal qualities and career histories
of the individuals who fill it. Its previous incumbents, while
both had at one point been career civil servants, had when appointed
already spent a number of years outside Government in the pursuit
of independent investigative functions. Sir Alex Allan does not
share this clear record of autonomy; nor is he known to have filled
any investigative role in the past.
57. We make no personal criticism of Sir Alex, who
has had a distinguished career working for his country in public
service. We also recognise that, as Sir Alex told us, the role
"does have two sides to it", one of which is "to
provide the Prime Minister with personal advice and deal with
sensitive issues with Ministers, providing advice to Ministers
in confidence and discussing some quite sensitive issues with
We accept that the Prime Minister's will wish to appoint an adviser
whom he trusts to fulfil this part of the role, but the manner
of the appointment and the independence of the individual appointed
must inspire public confidence.
58. The title
given to the role we have been considering is the 'independent
adviser on Ministers' interests', but the nature of this independence
must be in doubt, since:
- the post is
in the Prime Minister's gift;
- the appointment by a closed
recruitment process took place without the House or the public
even being informed that the previous incumbent had retired or
that a new appointment had been made; and
- the new appointee himself had
only just retired from a senior role at the heart of Government.
title of the role implies that the independence of the role is
a key objective. PASC in the last Parliament recommended a "healthy
distance" between the independent adviser on Ministers' interests
and the Cabinet Office, and called for the holder to be appointed
through a transparent open competition and subject to a pre-appointment
hearing by a parliamentary select committee.
We view the implementation of these recommendations as essential
if this post is to be genuinely 'independent' and to inspire public
confidence in the enforcement of the Ministerial Code.
60. For the
role to be independent, the appointment process was flawed, and
so, unfortunately, was the choice of individual to fill that post.
Any successful candidate for a post requiring independence from
Government must be able to demonstrate that independence. Sir
Alex Allan, as a recently retired senior civil servant, was therefore
never likely to be an appropriate choice, and his evidence to
us did nothing to convince us otherwise. In fairness, it is unlikely
that many retiring civil servants will have had the opportunity
to demonstrate the necessary independence from government in their
career to date.
65 Q 64 Back
Q 9 Back
Q 77 Back
Q 77 Back
Q 93 Back
Ev 16 Back
Q 85 Back
Q 91 Back
Q 86 Back
Qq 81- 82 Back
Q 46 Back
Qq 81- 82 Back
See paragraph 8. Back