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CORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 134-i
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Public Administration Select Committee
Tuesday 12 June 2012
Michael Jacobs, James O’Shaughnessy and Duncan Brack
Dr Andrew Blick, Professor Martin Smith and Zoe Gruhn
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 99
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.
The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings.
Taken before the Public Administration Select Committee
on Tuesday 12 June 2012
Mr Bernard Jenkin (Chair)
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Michael Jacobs, Visiting Professor, School of Public Policy, University College London, James O’Shaughnessy, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Birmingham, and Duncan Brack, freelance researcher, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: May I welcome each of you to this first evidence session on the role of special advisers in government, and can I ask each of you to identify yourselves for the record, please?
Duncan Brack: My name is Duncan Brack. From just after the election until February of this year, I was a special adviser to Chris Huhne at the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
Michael Jacobs: Good morning. I am Michael Jacobs. I was a special adviser for Gordon Brown between 2004 and 2010, first as a member of the Council of Economic Advisers at the Treasury, and then at Number 10.
James O'Shaughnessy: I am James O'Shaughnessy. I was a special adviser from May 2010 to October 2011 for David Cameron in Number 10.
Q2 Chair: First, I just want to ask you: when you were appointed as special adviser, how was it explained what was expected of you?
Michael Jacobs: As the first one of the panel, the answer is that it was not. There is a Code, which you read very carefully and that gives you the outer boundaries of what you can do, although it includes some words, the meaning of which I did not know. We were allowed to "devil" according to the Code, and I had no idea what that meant; that was an arcane bit of civil service usage.
Broadly speaking, it gave you the boundaries of the role, but the substantive content of the role was really not explained. There was no job description. In my case, there was some sense of belonging to a team and a strategy set by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as he then was, and by Ed Balls, who was the Chief Economic Adviser-he was originally a special adviser and then became a civil servant-but I would not say there was anything I would describe as a ‘job description’.
Duncan Brack: I agree with Michael; I did not really have a very good idea of what I was going to do. I remember studying the theory of special advisers in a master’s course in politics and administration, so I had a view of what special advisers were there for, which proved to be almost entirely irrelevant when I got there. The night before Chris formally offered me to the job, I went into the Department to have a discussion.
Q3 Chair: He had been in post for how long?
Duncan Brack: He had been in post for about a week at the time. I had a chat with him about his objectives and what he wanted, and it all vaguely made sense but, day to day, I really had very little idea of what I was going to end up doing.
James O'Shaughnessy: I had the same experience. There is obviously what is written on paper. You come into an institution; I would be interested to know if Michael felt it was different in the Department versus Number 10. One of the things you do get in Number 10, which is slightly different from anywhere else, is a larger number of special advisers, so there is a bit more of a sense of who is supposed to be doing what within a political structure, but no sense of, "This is a special adviser; here is a programme of things to help you learn what the do’s and don’ts of your job are". There is no preparation really. It is not that surprising in a way, particularly after a general election, because you are thrown in. In our case, we had to put the coalition agreement and the programme for government together within about five days. The idea that you might take a few hours off to do some training is pretty unlikely.
Q4 Chair: Were you involved in the negotiations?
James O'Shaughnessy: Not so much in the coalition agreement, but the programme for government subsequent to the government forming.
Q5 Chair: You hit the ground running.
James O'Shaughnessy: Yes, you are pretty busy.
Q6 Chair: When was the spads’ Code first drawn to your attention?
James O'Shaughnessy: In my case, it was, "Welcome to Number 10. This is the policy unit support team. Here is a nice folder that we have spent the election campaign drawing up for you; you had better read this overnight." In it was whatever was the relevant code or codes that we were meant to be obeying. "Get on with it."
Q7 Chair: So you did get the Code on your first day?
James O'Shaughnessy: Yes, from that point of view the propriety was observed, but there was no sense of being properly prepared.
Q8 Chair: At no point, either before or after you became a special adviser, were you inducted into the ways and structure of the Department, and how the civil service works?
Michael Jacobs: I certainly got some of that in the Treasury, where the senior grade 3 civil servants, who were working in the areas that I was going to be working in, did take me through the current policy, the issues that were being raised and so on, and we discussed the kinds of things that they would find it useful for me to do. In that sense, there was a little bit of induction at the beginning. Some slightly structured training would be helpful but, inevitably in a job like this, you learn on the job and the civil servants help you. They want you to succeed. They know how valuable a special adviser can be. No doubt, there are things that they would like you to do and things they probably would not like you to do, and they steer you towards the former and not the latter, I am sure, but I got quite a lot of support from the civil servants in helping me to work out what the role was.
Duncan Brack: I had a large number of meetings with most of the key civil servants in the Department in the first few weeks just to talk through their areas of work, and what their objectives and priorities were, so in that sense, yes. It was part of a huge number of meetings and everybody wanted to meet us at the time-industry, NGOs, outsiders and so on. Also, I went on two or three short sessions organised by the Institute for Government, on training for special advisers, which I thought were useful. It was very difficult to find the time to go to them, and generally they did not have a very good attendance, but I thought they were quite good.
Q9 Chair: You were immediately under very intense pressure, both from the internallygenerated workstream and from people outside the Department, who wanted to have a relationship with you?
Duncan Brack: Yes. In my case, I had worked on some of the issues the Department had worked on before, but not all of them, so there was a huge amount of getting up to speed with what the detailed issues were, among everything else.
James O'Shaughnessy: The point is that very few people who come in to be special advisers arrive with complete lack of knowledge about how government works. I am sure it pretty much disqualifies you if you do not have any prior knowledge. There is a sense in which, either through just working in associated jobs in politics, studying academically or whatever it is, you know, to some extent, what is expected. It is much more important, in the end, to get into a Department or, in my case, Number 10, and to understand what your role is in that organisation, because it does change. It is fair to say that every special adviser would define their role slightly differently. Of course, there are certain things that no special adviser should do and it is important that everyone knows that but, actually, you have to learn on the job because it will differ enormously from Department to Department.
Q10 Chair: To what extent, particularly the two coalition special advisers, were you drawn together as one body of special advisers? Did you have meetings together early on? Was that part of the induction?
James O'Shaughnessy: I do not know if it was part of the induction, but we used to have a weekly or fortnightly meeting in Number 10, which Ed Llewellyn would chair, of all the special advisers, Conservative and Liberal Democrat, which would go through the forward planning or you would discuss policy content.
Q11 Chair: Would that be on a party or bipartisan basis?
James O'Shaughnessy: It was bipartisan. It was a coalition grouping; everyone would be there.
Q12 Chair: Did you ever have a collective meeting with the Prime Minister?
Duncan Brack: No, I was never part of one.
James O'Shaughnessy: I think there was one. I am pretty sure I went, but I do not remember; there were quite a lot of these sorts of meetings. It was more often chaired by Ed Llewellyn and Jonny Oates, representing the PM and DPM’s office; that was the regular weekly meeting.
Q13 Chair: I am told the Prime Minister asked each special adviser in turn whom he or she worked for. After he had been around the table, the Prime Minister said, "Well actually, you all work for me."
James O'Shaughnessy: Which is, of course, true.
Duncan Brack: I was not at that meeting.
Q14 Chair: Were you at that meeting?
James O'Shaughnessy: I cannot remember.
Chair: You cannot remember. How diplomatic.
Duncan Brack: We also had meetings of Liberal Democrat special advisers, which, to be honest, I probably found more useful, partly because I knew them, they were smaller and easier to get on with. The large meetings with all the special advisers were really too large and too short to be terribly useful in practical terms, I thought.
Q15 Priti Patel: You have all said that there was no formal job description or defined role, so how did you know what you were signing up to? When you sign your contract, what are the actual job implications for you? I am just intrigued by your views and thoughts on that.
Duncan Brack: As I said, I had a vague idea. No, I had an idea of what I thought I would do, which turned out to be wrong. The key thing was that Chris, my Minister, had the trust in me to be able to do whatever he wanted in the job. That was key. If I did not think I had that, I would not have been able to do the job; I would not have wanted to do the job. I always expected it, as James said, to be a lot of learning on the job, and it changed a lot. That is what this kind of job is always going to be like.
Michael Jacobs: I had quite a strong sense, both from Gordon Brown and from Ed Balls, of the political strategy and the policy strategy, or the policy field, that they wanted me to work in. I think the lack of job description is about how you go about doing it, not what your aims are. I came in to work on a number of different fields in the Treasury. One was my own longstanding specialism on environmental policy. In fact, I had advised Gordon Brown and Ed Balls a bit from outside government, in my prior role. They had already talked to me quite a lot; in fact, I had talked to them about what was lacking in environmental policy, why I did not think the Treasury really understood it very well, what I wanted to bring to it and what they wanted. That was partly about the direction of policy and it was partly about the stakeholders and so on.
In that sense, I did have some idea of what I was going to do. In fact, I had quite long negotiations and conversations with them both about what my roles were going to be. It is the "How do you go about doing it?" that you really have to learn on the job, or certainly was in my case, rather than what it was I was doing.
James O'Shaughnessy: To a large extent, my job was a continuation of the job I had held for the previous almost three years, as Director of Policy and Research for the Conservative Party, so it was fairly clear what it would involve-help to write the manifesto, come in and help write the programme for government, actually make sure that stuff is being done and business plans are put together, and policies are implemented. It was not that different. The big difference is that, certainly in Duncan’s and my case, you go from being in opposition, where everything is in theory, to turning it all into practice. The job of learning that, how you implement stuff, the time it takes and the extraordinary span of the civil service-both in size and in the length of time it takes to do anything-is actually what came as the biggest shock to me: how long it frankly takes to get anything done.
Q16 Chair: Did anybody explicitly explain to you to whom you were accountable?
James O'Shaughnessy: It was very clear to me. It was the Prime Minister.
Chair: Yes, but you were in Number 10, so it was rather clearer.
James O'Shaughnessy: Exactly, so it would not be unusual.
Michael Jacobs: I was a member of the Council of Economic Advisers of the Treasury, and my responsibilities were to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, no question, at the Treasury; and then at Number 10 to the Prime Minister.
Duncan Brack: I read the job description and Code on the first day. It was waiting for me. My working assumption was that it was the Minister who appointed me. I cannot remember exactly what the job description said.
Q17 Priti Patel: I am quite interested. I think, Mr O’Shaughnessy, you have basically said that, as a special adviser, everyone will have a different experience to a certain extent, because of the nature of the work and what you learn on the job. How much discretion, as special advisers, did you each have in terms of shaping your own role and being in control and command of your work on behalf of your boss?
James O'Shaughnessy: In the end as a special adviser, you are a political appointee. In theory, you are all appointed by the Prime Minister; in practice, you are answerable to the Secretary of State or Minister or, if you are in Number 10, to the Prime Minister. The role is really described ultimately by the Minister. You are there to serve them; you are an appointment to them; your loyalty is primarily to them. The extent to which you get to define your role is only ever done in agreement with your sponsoring Minister, but it tends to be more about objectives: "I want you to ensure that we have a good relationship with all our stakeholders," or "this particular piece of the Bill gets through," or "we produce a White Paper that has these outcomes", or whatever it is. How you go about doing that will obviously depend on the circumstances and the characteristics of the individual. Some people will take one route; some people will take others. Some people will be more assertive; some will be more diplomatic. That is ultimately about the characteristics of the person but, in terms of the objectives and functions of the role, those are really defined by the responsible Minister. That was certainly my experience.
Michael Jacobs: My experience was that I was given very considerable freedom by Gordon Brown to develop policy ideas, particularly in the environmental field. I think the experience of his special advisers was different in different fields. This was one where he felt that the government should be doing more, but he was not very focused on the issues himself and it was not one that he would claim, when we started on this, in 2004, 2005 and 2006, great expertise. He brought me in partly because I had prior experience and knowledge in this policy field. He set me broad objectives, in a sense, and they were to improve our policy, particularly on climate change, and ensure that we got good political reactions from stakeholders to it.
Within that, he gave me quite a lot of freedom to think of new things that we should be doing and to challenge orthodoxies. Being in the Treasury, in practice-and this is where you do not learn, except on the job-we had to change quite a lot of Treasury orthodoxy about the way in which the environment should be thought about economically. One of the products of that, for those who are familiar with the field, was the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, which became a global product. Lord Stern has become very famous on the back of it. It was actually my idea to try to change the Treasury’s view, rather than the whole world’s view, on the economics of climate change, because I felt there was a real institutional blockage.
You always have to go back to the Minister to check what you are doing is what he or she wants. If civil servants, let alone people outside government, find that you are not actually representing the Minister’s views, you are in real trouble, so you always have to be absolutely sure that what you are doing is what the Minister wants you to do. There was constant checking back. The great thing about a special adviser is that you have access to a Minister in a way that civil servants do not. You can drop into the office; certainly I could in the ones at the Treasury. There was a lot of operational freedom and very close political reportingback and accountability to the Minister but, in practice, I was very lucky, because this was a field, as I say, where Gordon Brown wanted things to change, was not absolutely sure what he wanted to see happen and wanted advice on how to do it. In the end, we ended up, through a period of four or five years, with a new Minister whom he appointed, changing policy almost completely.
Q18 Paul Flynn: Who was the new Minister?
Michael Jacobs: Ed Miliband. So Gordon Brown created the Department of Energy and Climate Change and appointed a new person to be Minister. That was a process of policy innovation, as I would describe it, in which the civil service was not generating the new policy things that he wanted to see happen and he believed needed to happen. I was definitely part of the process, with the new Minister when he came in, of changing all that. I was given quite a lot of freedom to do it.
Q19 Chair: Can I just press you on this? This is very much what I believe the Fulton Committee imagined special advisers to be for, and the emphasis in the Code is very much on policy. Day to day, we get the impression that special advisers do a lot of news management, liaising with Number 10, helping on the shortterm agenda, telling their Minister they have to be in Sheffield by two o’clock in the afternoon to launch some new policy initiative, which he knew nothing about until it was in his box the previous night. The influence on special advisers coming out of Number 10 is actually diverting special advisers from their core role. Do you recognise this description?
Michael Jacobs: From my experience, not in my case. Gordon Brown made a distinction between his media special advisers and his policy special advisers. Those of us who were his policy special advisers were only given media responsibilities, tightly defined, in our areas of responsibility, and they were not day-to-day.
Q20 Chair: Would you recognise that role in office?
Michael Jacobs: There were other people who did the kinds of things that you said, yes.
Duncan Brack: It was not our experience in the Department. I did not deal with media at all. My colleague did that, although we did not have a media special adviser, like many Secretaries of State do. We both did policy, and he did media and I did party liaison. We got the feeling that Number 10, in the coalition, had wanted to signal a deliberate change of style from what you have just described, which perhaps was a hallmark of the previous administration, and that really they were being much more handsoff, leaving Departmental Secretaries of State much more to themselves. Actually, I think on environmental policy, which cuts across many Departments, we really noticed the lack of anyone at Number 10, certainly in the first year or so, who we could go to, to talk about environmental policy, and say, "Look, the Department for Transport, say, or the Department for Business are not being very helpful. Can you do anything to get them round?" Actually, in a sense, perhaps Number 10 went too far back in that direction.
Q21 Chair: Was that a lack of political people in Number 10 to talk to rather than civil servants?
Duncan Brack: Yes.
Chair: I have heard that complaint from others. Mr O’Shaughnessy.
James O'Shaughnessy: Firstly, there is a clear distinction between the media and policy functions. Sometimes they are mixed in an individual; individuals do both. There is a pretty clear understanding that those are two broad functions-communications and policy. Obviously I was dealing with policy, so I did not talk to the media. I was only looking at policy.
In the end, I think Duncan is right: in my opinion, we went into Number 10 too light on policy special advisers. That meant that, at the beginning, there was a handful of us having to deal with every Department, which meant we did not have the range of coverage we ought to have had. Actually at that time, it was not particularly problematic, because we had a very clear programme for government, which was then distilled into business plans, so it was fairly obvious what everyone was committed to do. As time went on, and some things went well and some did not, you needed to add weight at the centre, which is why the policy unit was then created, which is staffed by civil servants. There is that capacity now of fantastic, incredibly able civil servants doing a job that, probably for the last 30 years, has predominantly been fulfilled by special advisers working in the political policy function in Number 10.
Q22 Chair: Do you recognise that special advisers tend to get caught up in the pressure to react in the short term, rather than concentrate on longterm strategic thinking?
James O'Shaughnessy: That’s politics, isn’t it? It varies. Sometimes you have bad moments, things will happen and everyone is all hands to the pump; at other times, you will have more opportunity for longerterm thinking. I do not think it is the case that your average policy special adviser will only be thinking about the next day. Most of them will be thinking much longer term than that; they will be working on Green Papers, White Papers, Bills and speeches. I do not just mean interventions, but strategic speeches. That is what most of the activity will be. The shorterterm stuff tends to be dealt with by the person with media responsibility, for obvious reasons. Occasionally, in tough moments, that would bleed into the functionality of other people but, no, I do not recognise that.
Q23 Priti Patel: In your world of being a special adviser for the various Ministers and Secretaries of State that you have all served, can you describe how you are managed and your performance is reviewed? You have all mentioned objectives. How often are you tested on your objectives? Have you sat down with your Secretaries of State and your Ministers and had a 360-degree performance review? What kind of feedback process do you have? How are you judged as being effective or successful in the delivery of your objectives?
James O'Shaughnessy: Subjectively rather than objectively, I think. I do not know in Duncan’s case, but in Number 10-
Q24 Chair: It is not in a structured way then?
James O'Shaughnessy: Obviously it varies. I cannot speak for other Departments.
Q25 Chair: What happened to you?
James O'Shaughnessy: In our case, the lead special adviser was Ed Llewellyn. We would meet regularly as a political team to review our political strategy: are we where we want to be, bringing in polling and other evidence, looking at the passage of legislation and all those kinds of things? That would rarely distil into, as you describe it, what you might find in an HR function in a big corporate or indeed what the civil service does. It does not quite boil down to that.
Duncan Brack: In fact, at the end of 2011, Number 10 did start a much more formal process of appraisal for special advisers. We went through the first stages of it. I think every special adviser was supposed to be assessed by their Minister, by a special adviser or possibly two outside the Department-somebody they worked with regularly-and by officials inside the Department. I did that for one of the other special advisers and asked them to do it for me. I went through a discussion with Chris about how I performed, what my objectives were and everything. I never got to the stage of actually having any feedback on that because, by that stage, we had left, so I do not know how it evolved. The form we had to fill in was not terribly good, but it was a good start. I think that process would get better and I think it was a useful process, actually. It was the only time I really had a long discussion with Chris about how I was doing and what he wanted me to do. That was useful and I would have looked forward to having more in the future.
Q26 Chair: But you do not finish up with bits of paper that say, "Your performance overall is 4 out of 5, and you can improve this"?
Duncan Brack: We might have done had we lasted that long. Yes, Chris was making notes on forms and so on. I was assuming I would get feedback from the other people who had done that.
Q27 Chair: Was this a centrally driven process?
Duncan Brack: It was from Number 10, I think, or possibly the Cabinet Office, but centrally certainly.
Q28 Priti Patel: Did you at any stage discuss your objectives with the permanent secretaries in your Department at all? Where do the permanent secretaries fit into any of this?
Duncan Brack: I did not, no. We had quite a long introductory chat with the permanent secretary, both the special advisers in DECC, shortly after we started, but it was more just "getting to know you". She was interested in how the Liberal Democrats worked as a party, Chris’s background and so on, but there was nothing more formal after that.
Michael Jacobs: At the Treasury, Gus O’Donnell was the permanent secretary. He did not play a very active role day-to-day in many areas of policy, because obviously Treasury was looking at everything. No, I did not have those kinds of formal conversations. When an issue became very serious politically or constitutionally, he would engage. We got sued at one point by Friends of the Earth and he was certainly involved in that process, which I was involved in. At Number 10, Jeremy Heywood was very active. He became permanent secretary and was given that title, which was a new title, and was chief of staff effectively. He was very actively involved in all policy and he was, in a sense, the gatekeeper of all policy, so everything went through him. That was a very good system; it just meant that everything was very well controlled, in a way that it actually had not been before he was given that job. There were constant discussions with him about policy.
Q29 Chair: Would you expect that to be happening now? Does that happen now?
James O'Shaughnessy: My experience was similar to Michael’s, with ongoing discussions day-to-day with Jeremy Heywood as the permanent secretary at Number 10. Obviously he is now Cabinet Secretary; there is no longer a permanent secretary at Number 10, so I do not know what the experience would be now.
Q30 Chair: In your relations with the permanent secretary, was it clear that he was the arbiter of propriety and good order in the Department and that you would expect him to check on you? Were you surprised when it turned out that the permanent secretary at DCMS was aware of and content with Adam Smith’s rather controversial role, albeit that he was not aware of the full nature and extent of the communications? What was your reaction to that?
Michael Jacobs: I personally found that completely shocking. My impression, only from reading the newspapers-I have no firsthand information-is that what was going on there between that special adviser and a lobbyist was completely out of order. I find it personally difficult to believe that his Minister did not know about it, and that he was not censured by the permanent secretary.
Q31 Chair: That any communication was taking place at all?
Michael Jacobs: No, some, but the extent that we have heard. I did find it very shocking. However, something in defence of Jonathan Stephens possibly, who is the permanent secretary and I know him, as he was at the Treasury when I was there, is that there comes a point when the permanent secretaries have real tensions between their constitutional guardianship of their role and their duty to serve their Minister. I do not wish to comment on this specific case, because I do not know enough about what went on with the permanent secretary, but I did encounter the odd occasion when permanent secretaries may have been made uncomfortable by what their Ministers want to do, but are told, "This is what the Minister wants to do." At that point, there is a tension, which cannot be resolved in theory-it can only be resolved in practice-between the kinds of constitutional duties that the permanent secretary has, which are not to the Minister but to the constitution in some form, and their political masters. In the end, the Minister is in charge of the Department. I do not know whether this case was one of those.
James O'Shaughnessy: The only comment I would make about Adam Smith, or rather how DCMS dealt with News International, is that, in a big policy decision, which it obviously was for the Department, I do not find it surprising that the Minister, the special adviser and the permanent secretary had decided a way to handle it together. I find that totally normal.
Q32 Chair: I do not think Jonathan Stephens said he was in on the decision to put Adam Smith in that role.
James O'Shaughnessy: No, not the ultimate decision, but the decision about how to handle the process.
Q33 Chair: I do not think Jonathan Stephens was in on the decision to put Adam Smith in that role. He became aware of it and was content about it when he became aware of it.
James O'Shaughnessy: In that sense, he is involved. My point is, in big policy decisions, you would not expect the Minister, special adviser or permanent secretary not to be involved in how to design a process.
Michael Jacobs: There was a very strong culture, in both the Treasury and Number 10, about special advisers when it came to actual decisionmaking processes. In initial consultations about a new idea, you could go off and meet somebody from outside without a civil servant present. If you were into decisionmaking processes, and certainly relationships with companies on huge decisions, you always had to have a civil servant present who made notes. That is about an audit trail. That is just so you can record things about how decisions are made. It is to cover your own back for exactly this kind of thing. That is what I found so shocking: that there was this extraordinary level of contact without any civil service knowledge, audit trail or whatever. I cannot imagine that happening.
Q34 Chair: Should a special adviser be supervised in such a way that that does not happen? In your experience as special advisers, how would that not have happened in your case, or are you just wiser people?
Michael Jacobs: I personally cannot imagine having that kind of contact with only one side in a case that was quasijudicial. That sounds extraordinary to me, and I find the whole texting thing rather extraordinary, because there is an intimacy in texting that is not present in formal emails through your email system, telephone calls and meetings. No, I cannot imagine doing it. I cannot imagine that happening. I found it shocking.
Duncan Brack: I was never involved in any similar situation. Indeed, I do not think there was any such situation I could have been involved in, even if I had wanted to be, at DECC during my period there. There just were not those kinds of decisions being taken. Coming back to your original question, I was not aware that the permanent secretary had any role in our management or oversight. Perhaps if there had been such a situation like the News International one, she might have been involved. On a couple of occasions, I did refer questions to the office of Propriety and Ethics in the Cabinet Office. They were just a couple of questions about stuff that I did in my spare time and whether it was okay to do that. That was organised through the Minister’s private office. It was explained to me that that was the thing to do.
Q35 Chair: Are you surprised that the permanent secretary lacked the competence to check up and have more knowledge?
Michael Jacobs: Yes.
Q36 Chair: And to regulate the situation effectively, which is clearly his role as permanent secretary, in my view?
James O'Shaughnessy: Which permanent secretary, sorry?
Chair: Jonathan Stephens.
James O'Shaughnessy: I do not know. I do not know the ins and outs of it. I was not there. I was not in those decisions, so it is difficult to say. I am the same as Duncan; I was never in any quasijudicial situation. We were not making decisions about contracts or anything like that at Number 10, so it is difficult to know.
Q37 Paul Flynn: Five hours after Chris Huhne retired, you were thrown on to the funeral pyre, Mr Brack. This is all pretty brutal, isn’t it? Could you explain to me about the role? You describe yourselves as "the guardians of the manifesto". You were there to protect the interests of the people who voted Liberal Democrat in the election. On Chris Huhne’s website, which he has not changed in four years, there are a number of issues on which he has very strong ideas. One of them is nuclear power, which he described as being successful only in conning billions of pounds out of the electorate for no useful purpose. When you came into office as guardians of the Liberal manifesto, but also part of the coalition, were you both lobotomised to cut away any intelligent ideas that you might have carried over into your coalition job, or did you both suddenly discover that nuclear power was wonderful?
Duncan Brack: There are quite a lot of questions there. The "guardians of the manifesto" quotation is from the Labour Government under Harold Wilson, 196470. This was the first time special advisers were systematically used. Indeed, this is what I learned about when I did my master’s in politics and administration. After 13 years of the previous government, it was felt that Ministers perhaps needed some political support to impose their priorities on Departments that perhaps were not inclined to change course.
What I should have realised, and I think I mentioned this in the article that I wrote that you are quoting from, is that, when we came in, in most cases-probably apart from the single issue that you have referred to-in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, we did not really have a problem with what they were doing. We were not trying to change direction very radically in the Department, so there was not much of a struggle between us and the civil servants. That was not what occupied my time.
Nuclear power is clearly the major difference from the Liberal Democrat manifesto in the coalition agreement. The point was that the commitment to allow the construction of new nuclear stations without public subsidy was in the coalition agreement. It was what both parties had signed up to. It is not a Liberal Democrat Government or a Conservative Government; it is a coalition Government. Indeed, I was at the Liberal Democrat special conference that approved the coalition on the basis of the coalition agreement, so the party signed up to that. So, yes, I was never totally happy with the position on nuclear, but that was the position that the coalition Government had taken and that is what we tried to make sure happened.
Q38 Paul Flynn: Your main job, we understand, is communicating with other special advisers and so on. Would you like to describe your position, which is the Liberal Democrat position, on energy? You have just suggested there was a difference there. How much success did you have in converting the special advisers to Tory Ministers?
Duncan Brack: I would not say my main job was communicating with special advisers. That was one of the things I did, and it was one of the things I was slightly surprised about: spending so much time talking to special advisers in other Departments. It may be different in other Departments, but I think it is because climate change policy cuts across so many other areas and so many other Departments are important to it. To be honest, most of the discussions that we or I had with special advisers in other Departments were really on straight departmental lines. You would not have known which party the special adviser was from. Sometimes I found that fairly frustrating; I thought that perhaps Liberal Democrat special advisers in other Departments ought to have been keener on ambitious climate policy, but they took the positions that their Departments had historically taken and we had quite robust discussions sometimes.
Again I mentioned in the article, the two Departments with which I had least disagreements were the Department for International Development and the Department for Environment, both of which have Conservative Secretaries of State and special advisers. I think probably in any government, and I am sure Michael would say the same, DECC, DFID and Defra are probably always likely to have more common cause on environmental issues than perhaps DECC would with the Treasury, Business or Transport.
Q39 Paul Flynn: You mentioned contact with NGOs in your introduction. How do you balance the amount of time and attention you give to NGOs such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, and others with commercial interests and direct lobbyists? Are there any occasions when you were approached with a text or phone calls 500 times from a single lobbyist?
Duncan Brack: No. To be honest, my colleague and I tried to be as open as possible to anyone coming in from the outside, whether they were from NGOs, industry, thinktanks, researchers or whatever. I can hardly remember any occasions when straight lobbyists approached us; sometimes they did, just to set up a meeting with their clients in an energy company or whatever. We tried to make sure we have an even balance of discussions with people from the outside. That was good; you wanted an even balance of views. I did not want to be just listening to one side or the other.
Q40 Paul Flynn: Mr O’Shaughnessy, what was your experience of the way you used your time? Was a wholly unreasonable amount of time spent trying to coordinate with other special advisers?
James O'Shaughnessy: I think it is probably different in Number 10, because you are not directly responsible for an area of policy. In the end, you are trying to ensure that the whole policy programme moves forward, so I did spend a lot of time talking to other special advisers. I predominantly focused on public service reform, I guess, in its very broadest sense-everything from education to housing to decentralisation. I spent a huge amount of time talking to and working with special advisers in those relevant Departments, to ensure that they were fulfilling the policy obligations that they or their Ministers had committed to.
Q41 Paul Flynn: Do you all support the general role of the special advisers as acting as people who give some political authority to the Ministers, so that they can defend and promote their policies against the perceived inertia of the civil service? Are they a vital part of the system?
James O'Shaughnessy: I would not put it in those terms of being some sort of bulwark or agitator against a recalcitrant civil service. My experience was not that. I think it is true, obviously, that government is a big bulky thing and things take time to do. Ministers cannot be thinking about the intricacies of a policy decision all the time; they have many other things to balance. The role of the special adviser of constantly keeping the foot on the gas to ensure that the objectives are delivered is absolutely fundamental. Actually, my experience was that, if you talk to senior civil servants, they would agree with that. Maybe they were telling me one thing to my face and another to somebody else, but I never came across a single senior civil servant who thought there should be no special advisers and that life would be better without them. Quite the opposite: they saw that there is a particular function that they fulfil-being a bridge between the Minister and the civil service-that is necessary.
Q42 Paul Flynn: You seem to have the task, under the coalition, of inventing your own job as you moved along. There were certainly special challenges under the coalition. You suggest there, Mr Brack, that special advisers in the current administration lack the authority to broker agreements between Departments on major issues. How can we change this? Would a stronger central policy body be appropriate? Should lessons be drawn from the failures of the coalition?
Duncan Brack: It is a bit early to make that judgment perhaps. I do not know; I was describing life as I saw it from one Department and my discussions. Perhaps the conclusion is that I just was not very good at arguing with other special advisers. I think much more of that brokering role went on at the centre, between the PM’s and the DPM’s office. I think the process is also getting better, because the DPM’s office has expanded to include special advisers who now keep an eye on Departments where there are no Liberal Democrat Secretaries of State, so there are more discussions going on between the two parties, or special advisers from the two parties, in each Department. I also think probably the situation would get better the longer people are there. They get to be more comfortable with each other; they get to be more familiar with what Ministers want and the general level of trust spreads. It is probably too early to tell that right at the moment.
Q43 Paul Flynn: Do any of you gentlemen have any view on how we should prepare for possible future coalition governments, if a great deal of the time that should be spent being guardians of manifestos is dissipated in keeping the coalition in one piece? Do we need to learn lessons from that?
Duncan Brack: There are two things I would say. One is that the more detailed the coalition programme is, the better. The coalition programme was enormously important for the whole period I was there really. As James said, it will get steadily less important as commitments are achieved, or abandoned because they are unworkable. The more detail there is in that, the more there is a clear set of objectives that you do not need to spend time arguing about, because both parties have signed up to it. The more time that could be spent drawing up a more detailed coalition programme at the beginning, in the negotiations, the better.
Secondly, and this is the situation that we are arriving at, if there are special advisers in each Department from both parties, or at least attached to each Department, in the same way that the DPM’s latest five special advisers cover Departments, that makes the process of liaison and discussion between the two parties easier.
Q44 Paul Flynn: Finally, Mr Brack, you were not disturbed, when you were in office, by the impossibility of the promise to deliver nuclear power without subsidies. We saw £390 million last weekend on education; we have seen three nuclear power stations that are uninsurable, so the taxpayer has to pay the cost. There is a long list of subsidies that have been paid for nuclear power. Why didn’t you and your Minister resign over that?
Duncan Brack: I think that is going a bit beyond the remit of this inquiry, isn’t it, if I may suggest?
Paul Flynn: No, no; you are among friends now. It does seem to be a matter of where were you, with a strong Liberal Democrat policy? Clearly the coalition is charging off in a different direction. What do you do, go along with it? You are the guardians of the manifesto.
Q45 Chair: The question is that, as a special adviser, you are presented with this kind of conflict. What does it feel like and how do you advise your Minister?
Duncan Brack: During the period I was there, which obviously ended in early February, I and Chris Huhne were determined to make sure that the coalition agreement, which is that new nuclear stations should go ahead only without public subsidy, was stuck to. It is true to say that is one of the areas where perhaps I had more robust discussions with civil servants in the Department who, from governments of both parties over previous years, had been fairly committed to a nuclear pathway. I had to remind them, and suggested some changes of wording in various memos and submissions, of the bit about no public subsidy for nuclear.
Paul Flynn: We look forward to your memoirs, which I hope will be swiftly written.
Q46 Greg Mulholland: All I will say on that is if it is tough for a spad, think what it is like for a backbencher.
If I could just ask all three of you a wider question we have not touched on yet, though we have alluded to it in several questions. Is there a problem with the lack of clarity of the special adviser role vis-à-vis the very tight structure of the civil service? Is that something that should be addressed? We talked about whether Mr Stephens has a responsibility here over special advisers or not. Also from my own experience of dealing with Ministers, civil servants and spads, it is certainly impossible to see the difference really, except that perhaps you might see the spad at private meetings with Ministers, whereas you might see the civil servant at open meetings. Apart from that, they seem to be doing broadly the same thing.
Indeed, in the case of the BSkyB issue and the issue I brought to light with the onesided negotiations going on in BIS between that Department and one side of a trade dispute, it seems that both special advisers and civil servants were having contact, and actually inappropriate contact, with people in certain organisations. Is there a lack of clarity? Can I ask you a second question? Would that be helped by making it clear that, while civil servants should be subject to having their names redacted in Freedom of Information requests, special advisers should not?
Michael Jacobs: My response to that is I do not think there is a lack of clarity. In difficult cases, or cases where people behave wrongly, or unethically outside their role, that can apply to special advisers but it can also apply to civil servants. I think some of the behaviour of civil servants in relation to companies that they regulate, their acceptance of hospitality and so on, goes beyond what is appropriate. I do not think that is about the difference between special advisers and civil servants; I think that is about the regulation of all public servants and their role. People can step outside the proper bounds of what they should be doing in either case.
My own view is that, actually, for 90% of the time, probably 98% of the time, the relationship is good. The civil servants understand what the special advisers are there to do, welcome their doing it, welcome the additional skills and knowledge, largely the political side, which the special advisers bring. They often welcome the expertise which people from outside government come in with, and there is no problem with the relationship. If there is a problem with special advisers, it is when people overstep the mark, as has happened. Those are special cases; they are not the norm, by any means.
The other problem is that the media places over special advisers a vague air of distaste or impropriety, which I actually do not think is shared in the system at all. That is a media problem and perhaps a political problem, which unfortunately some of the politicians have pandered to, by, for example, saying that we are going to have fewer of them, with no rationale for doing it. In which case, they are more or less pandering to that sense of vague illegitimacy. I do not think the structures are a problem. I think the role of special advisers is clear; the code is pretty clear. The relationships between them and civil servants are good and aid good government. That is the key point: you get better government through a synthesis of the impartial advice of the civil servants and the more politically nuanced and perhaps more widely thoughtthrough advice of the special adviser.
James O'Shaughnessy: I think Michael put it beautifully. I have nothing to add to that. You cannot judge an entire cadre of people by the actions of a small minority. You have to look at the bulk of the work that they do. There will always be people who step out of line in one form or another. Actually, I have always found it very clear, if not clear exactly what your day-to-day function is, if you see what I mean, what your purpose is. It is about having that sense of purpose.
Q47 Chair: There are ways of mitigating this risk, aren’t there? There must be measures that could be adopted to reduce the risk of this kind of thing happening. Special advisers do seem to be a bit accidentprone, don’t they? Rather more accidentprone than Ministers or civil servants?
Michael Jacobs: Really?
James O'Shaughnessy: Really?
Duncan Brack: I think more Ministers have resigned than special advisers.
Michael Jacobs: Genuinely, I do not think that is true. You have not heard of most special advisers, and nor should you. They operate within the system. They have a pretty tightly defined role within the system and you would not know what they do. I think the premise is probably wrong; I expect Ministers are more accidentprone.
Chair: I am happy to be challenged on that, thank you.
Q48 Greg Mulholland: My final question is that I suppose we would probably agree that, if that is the case, it needs to be communicated better to the media, the public, MPs and civil servants, perhaps. There is an issue there with that lack of clarity. Certainly if that is coming from Departments to MPs, then there is a lack of clarity in communication, if not in actual practice.
On Freedom of Information, we have had this very highprofile case where a special adviser has had to fall on his sword. Without getting into the wider issues there, you are now no longer in the job. Would you have been content, while in the job, to be someone who was known publicly and who was fully accountable for everything that you did, whether in an email, phone conversation or text message? That is certainly not the case at the moment. I can tell you that from my own dealings; special advisers seem to be able to hide behind the same secrecy, in some cases as civil servants can, perhaps rightly.
James O'Shaughnessy: I do not know nearly enough about it. I do not think I was ever involved in any FOI requests personally, one way or another, so it is difficult to say. I would have thought that probably the sensible thing is to have a set of rules that applies to everyone.
Q49 Greg Mulholland: It is a different role. Why should special advisers have the same treatment as civil servants, who are not political appointees? It is a different role. That is my point.
Michael Jacobs: Personally, I would have no objection. In a sense, civil servants are career professionals and representatives of their whole Departments. Naming them individually, particularly at the junior levels-for very senior civil servants, I actually have no problem with naming them. In general, public accountability is a good thing. I have absolutely no problem about being known, as you say. Obviously, you are known within your field. I personally would like to see preappointment hearings. I think you people, or the Departmental Select Committee, ought to find out about the policy advisers and the media ones. Bag carriers are possibly slightly differently; they are more party positions. For the kind of thing I did, I would have been very happy to explain why I had been appointed and to come in front of you and explain what I did. I think that should be out in public. Not being out in public is what allows this air of impropriety to develop. It is what allows the media to portray us as in some way slightly illegitimate or shady, which is ridiculous. I am very happy to explain what I did.
Paul Flynn: We would have liked to see Andrew Coulson, too. That would have been an illuminating session.
Duncan Brack: You have said special advisers ought to be accountable for what they did. It depends what you mean by "did". I did not take any decisions. We were involved in giving advice and communicating to the Minister, from the Minister, civil servants, outsiders and the party. We did not take any decisions for which one should be accountable.
Q50 Greg Mulholland: It is precisely the background to those decisions when we are talking about communications with interested parties. In your case, it could have been energy providers. You could have been speaking to people. Those things should be in the public domain; it should be in the public domain that special advisers were doing that, because special advisers should have acted properly. If they did, there would be no problem. We do not seem to have that. That is my point. That would help precisely what Mr Jacobs has said about getting away from this idea that there is anything inappropriate or shady about special advisers.
Duncan Brack: Yes, I see what you mean. I would absolutely not have a problem with the outside world knowing who I had met in the job.
Q51 Greg Mulholland: You would not want your name redacted on emails that were rightly discovered through Freedom of Information, etc.
Duncan Brack: No, I do not think so, but I cannot think of any emails I ever sent that would be terribly interesting.
Michael Jacobs: My answer to you is no. I would have expected my name to be in public.
Q52 Chair: Can I just end on two matters? First, there is this accountability question. Both Departmental advisers made it very clear that you felt you were accountable to your Minister, but the Code was amended in this Parliament so that special advisers now work for the government as a whole. There is clearly a line of accountability into Downing Street. We now hear of a proposal that has been briefed by Sir Jeremy Heywood that he should be the line manager for special advisers. Another version of this is that Ed Llewellyn should be the line manager for special advisers. There is a confusion here, isn’t there? Doesn’t this need to be resolved?
James O'Shaughnessy: If you are a political appointee, in truth, you are almost always answerable to more than one person, in practical terms. In theory, it can be whoever is your line manager but, in truth-take my position in Number 10: obviously the Prime Minister is my ultimate boss, but there was Ed Llewellyn, Steve Hilton and, to some extent, Jeremy Heywood, not as a boss but as a senior person in the Department. You are working with all those senior people. To some extent, you are accountable to them for the work that you do. I think that is actually pretty normal. I do not see that being a problem, so long as we know the ultimate relationship, if you like: who the ultimate appointer of the special adviser is, and who can take a decision to remove them or otherwise.
Q53 Chair: What is wrong with a system where the Prime Minister and Number 10 respect the Secretary of State for the way he handles his special adviser? What has gone wrong with the trust in the system to the extent that Number 10 does not feel a Secretary of State can be trusted to supervise his or her special adviser, or that the special adviser needs to report back to Number 10 on what is happening with the Department, because the Secretary of State is not giving that information to the government? Is there not something wrong here with the trust in the system?
James O'Shaughnessy: No. Duncan will have a better view coming from a Department, but our position was not a starting point of distrust at all. It was a starting point of, "Here is what you have agreed to do; this is the trust." Ultimately, it is cabinet government with Ministers appointed by the Prime Minister. It therefore makes sense, I think, for their political appointees to have a similar line through to Number 10. In the end, I cannot think of one episode where that ultimate reporting line has come into conflict with the practical dayto-day experience of the special adviser working with his or her Minister.
Duncan Brack: In practice, I did not feel we were accountable to Number 10. Indeed, I do not know that there was anyone at Number 10 to whom I could have been accountable. We regarded ourselves as accountable to our Minister.
Michael Jacobs: I find this phrasing slightly awkward. It seems to me that special advisers should have the same relationship with their Ministers and the government as a whole as Ministers have, which is that Ministers are semiindependent. That is that they are pursuing the interests of their Department, as they define them, and to some extent themselves, but they are also responsible to and working for the government as a whole. That is a tension of which all Ministers will be aware, because Ministers are powerful political individuals in their own right and special advisers are the subunits of Ministers. They are not independent figures in their own right; they belong to the Ministers and they are appointed by Ministers.
My view is that, if you need the language-I do not think the language is going to resolve the questions, because these are questions of political management, relationships and personalities-special advisers should probably be formally accountable to their Ministers, but there should be something in the Code that says you work for the government as a whole. That just ensures that there is always something to which you could come back and say, "Look, we are all working for the same objective really." That is exactly the conversation that a Minister and a Prime Minister will have every day of the week.
Q54 Chair: The permanent secretary also has a role in ensuring propriety?
Michael Jacobs: Absolutely.
Q55 Chair: Lord Butler of Brockwell has submitted evidence to us suggesting that, in fact, special advisers should no longer be regarded as civil servants; they should not be employed as civil servants, but should be funded from a separate fund, rather like Short money, which is allocated to a political party, so that they are employed by the party rather than as civil servants. What do you think of this proposal?
Michael Jacobs: My view is that that is a sensible arrangement for the bagcarrying, partyliaison, diaryorganising, runningyourmaster’s-or your mistress’s-politicallife role, which is a primary party role. Some special advisers play that role. For policy advisers and for departmental media advisers, whether those roles are combined or not, I do not think it is appropriate. It suggests that you are not actually part of the government; you are part of the party. Your primary interests are to the party and not to the government. My view is that special advisers should have a proper place within the constitutional arrangements of the civil service, Ministers and government, and should be paid out of it. I think that would be a very retrograde step for the vast majority.
Q56 Chair: In fact, you are proposing that there are now three categories of advisers. One is the specialist adviser, who has no party political affiliation or may or may not have, but is a specialist policy person, then there is the political person and then there is the bag carrier.
Michael Jacobs: I do not think the first two are distinguishable. To be a policy adviser, you have to be politically aware. That is why you are a special adviser and not a civil servant.
Q57 Chair: There is this idea of specialist advisers.
Michael Jacobs: "Specialist adviser" is actually a phrase that came into government to refer to civil servants who were allowed to do the same kinds of things as special advisers and who were more directly related to the Ministers and so on. That was a new invention. A special adviser has to be politically aware; that means that they have to be partyaware. They have to belong to the party. I find it very difficult to imagine not belonging to the party. You just cannot understand the politics if you are not part of the culture of the party that your Minister is a part of. However, they are part of the civil service, because they are governed by the Code and these arrangements, and they are part of the government machine and should be thought of as such, which is why you get sacked as soon as your Minister is no longer part of the government machine. I think it would be a retrograde step to make them sound more like they were only political, only party and their accountability was primarily to the party.
Q58 Chair: That would enable the civil servants to shut them out of decisionmaking.
Michael Jacobs: Yes, and I think it would mean worse government. Ministers need both kinds of advice, and that is what creates good government.
James O'Shaughnessy: It would be unpopular, in the sense that, if the public saw that the political appointees were very political, as they would be seen, wandering around Departments would be seen as a bad move and it would be unworkable. As political appointees, you would not have access to appropriate documentation for securitylevel papers. Imagine that in the FCO or the Home Office, where you have to have very high levels of security clearance in order to do your job properly. I just think it is totally unworkable.
Duncan Brack: Yes, I would agree with that.
Chair: I think that has been an extremely useful session. Thank you very much indeed. I am most grateful to you for your time and for giving us your thoughts. Thank you very much.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Dr Andrew Blick, Democratic Audit, Professor Martin Smith, University of Sheffield, and Zoe Gruhn, Institute for Government, gave evidence.
Q59 Chair: I could welcome you to this second session of evidence on special advisers. Could each of you identify yourselves for the record, please?
Professor Smith: I am Professor Martin Smith from the University of Sheffield.
Zoe Gruhn: Zoe Gruhn, Institute for Government
Dr Blick: Andrew Blick, Democratic Audit in King’s College London, and author of People Who Live in the Dark: the history of the special adviser in British politics.
Q60 Chair: We have just finished that previous evidence session, where the suggestion is that we need to distinguish between different types of special adviser. Do you think there is a need for more or different types of special advisers, particularly under a coalition government?
Zoe Gruhn: I will respond first. I found it quite interesting hearing the last session because, in our submission, we did reference the point about a specialist adviser. This is really reflecting what has happened with the coalition Government, where an insufficient number of advisers were coming in. There has tended to be a concern around having the balance right, so making sure you have people who are knowledgeable not only about the party, but about the policies in their Department, so they can offer good advice. That is something that we have put in our own publication, "United We Stand?", where we made very strongly, as you may know, the recommendation that more special advisers were needed for the coalition Government. What we are saying further is that there is a need for more specialist policy advisers.
Q61 Chair: So more policy people, not more bag carriers, although one of our previous witnesses did not really want to distinguish between specialist advisers and policy spads.
Zoe Gruhn: Because of the new innovation that Mr Jacobs mentioned, which is around the policy advisers needing to understand and be sympathetic to the party that they are working for: it is giving it that political nuance but having the policy specialism. What you do not want, from the taxpayer’s point of view, is special advisers coming in, when the Minister who was hoping to go to a particular Department does not, and then the special adviser goes with them, when he does not necessarily have knowledge about the policy of that Department. That is something you would want to discourage.
Dr Blick: We have to be slightly careful about assuming that you can always make a clearcut distinction between a specialist and a political adviser. As we heard in the earlier session, many of the specialists will also be members of the party, so immediately there is a partypolitical dimension in there. They are appointed for the job not just because they are the best expert in the field, but also because of their partypolitical orientation and their relationship with the Minister. I do not think those are bad things; I think those are good things. They are what make special advisers useful. If we started to try to divide them up-which has been attempted on various occasions during the history of special advisers and has always failed-to say, "You have a certain allocation of specialist advisers", or whatever we are going to call them, "and a certain allocation of political ones", you then find yourselves in all kinds of fun and games about whether somebody really was qualified to be appointed as a specialist, whether they really were up to the job. This Committee might find itself busy looking at these kinds of issues, and it might not be the most helpful distinction to introduce to this whole issue.
Professor Smith: There clearly is a difference between what you might call expert advisers and special advisers. Expert advisers are used all the time in government, but often on an ad hoc basis. There are many examples of that. They carry out a very different role, because they are giving particular advice, probably on a particular question, whereas a special adviser tends to have a more general political role, which may be about the political presentation of policy, but also a broader policy role, which is about the policy of a Department in general, which will be very wide.
Q62 Chair: What do you think the main distinction is between the role of special advisers in a coalition Government and a majority government?
Professor Smith: I think there is a different role between those at Number 10 and those in Departments. For those in Departments, the role is probably more or less the same, although there might be slightly more political negotiation between Departments or even within Departments, when you have Ministers of different parties. At Number 10, it makes a big difference, because actually one of the roles of special advisers has been, in a sense, to join up government and to ensure that the government’s policy is coherent and is being carried out at departmental level. That does mean, when you have a coalition and there are quite naturally different perspectives on policy, that there is a greater role for the central policy advisers to be involved in coordination issues.
Zoe Gruhn: Yes, I see the increase in the special advisers as very important. In the way that Martin has just described it in terms of that difference between the Number 10 role and how they operate, and then within the Departments, in a coalition, actually having proper representation per Minister from the special adviser is really important, so that there is, as Mr Brack was saying earlier, much better crossdepartmental working on particular policy issues, so that, irrespective of which party, you are making sure that you have proper representation of those policy issues, working across government.
Q63 Chair: Aren’t there disagreements between Ministers, even in a single party? Do those not need to be reconciled in just the same way? Are we not making a little bit more out of this than we actually should? I can think of some Ministers in the same party who have far broader disagreements with each other than they do with Liberal Democrats.
Zoe Gruhn: That may be true and I do not think that would ever change in the future. Where the increase of special advisers helps is in understanding what the critical issues are. In a sense, they can help to oil the machine in some way to come to a reasonable conclusion around it.
Professor Smith: The other question is, in a sense, the link between a Prime Minister who is from one party and a Secretary of State who is from another. The natural party link is not there anymore. Perhaps those Number 10 policy advisers have a role in ensuring that link carries on, so that the Prime Minister is not disconnected from a Secretary of State, from a different party, who runs a Department. It is a way of ensuring that link between the centre and the Department.
Dr Blick: I agree with those points, but I would also very much agree with your point as well. I do not need to tell this Committee that people from the same party are quite capable of falling out with each other over issues. If we look back through some of the major problems that have arisen in singleparty governments, involving special advisers-for instance, the resignation of Nigel Lawson in 1989, complaining about the briefing of the press by Margaret Thatcher’s economic special adviser, Alan Walters-these kinds of huge incidents can blow up within a party. They are always going to and, because of one of the roles that special advisers can perform, they quite like to be involved in those kinds of disagreements. Whether a coalition makes those kinds of problems more likely is very hard to say.
Q64 Chair: Finally, the coalition agreement resulted in this amendment to the Code that results in special advisers being accountable to the government as a whole. Do you think this has confused the accountability lines?
Professor Smith: It means everything and it means nothing, in a sense, because, in a way, the Secretary of State is responsible for the government as a whole. That is cabinet collective responsibility. The special adviser is responsible to the Secretary of State so, in a sense, has always had a responsibility to the government as a whole. It does not help but it is not really changing anything.
Q65 Chair: Agreed?
Zoe Gruhn: Yes, I agree with that.
Dr Blick: If it were actually to lead to a change in the way special advisers operated, and made them less connected to the individual Minister, they would be less useful. That is the point of special advisers: they work for the Minister. We have to be very careful in things that we recommend or things that this Committee recommends, so we do not dilute special advisers and make them more like every other civil servant, because then we would need to create a new category of adviser to do what special advisers are doing at the moment.
Q66 Chair: Would you disagree with Lord Butler’s proposal?
Dr Blick: Not necessarily, provided that we are talking here about the idea of making special advisers a category apart from civil servants. In the sense that it would be recognised in reality that they are not civil servants and there is no point in pretending that they are civil servants, it would be quite a useful thing. On the other hand, it would be a bad thing if it led to their being shut out from policy discussions, not being able to see the relevant document, and all those kinds of things. It also might make it a bit harder to subject them to some of the regulations that we try to subject them to.
Q67 Chair: Making them civil servants seems to be an administrative convenience. If they were not civil servants, the administrative complications could be considerable. Would you agree?
Zoe Gruhn: I think so. It is the point that special advisers need to have that civil service contract, that temporary contract, because they are, as was said earlier, part of the government machine. As soon as the Minister goes, obviously the special adviser goes with them. It is part of that, and I think it is important that that remains in place.
Professor Smith: Again, a lot of this comes down to issues of clarity. There is a lack of clarity, maybe publicly, about the role of special advisers and whether they are civil servants. Again, this is not the only area where this problem exists. If you look at the role of czars, which the Committee has looked at, the same problem exists: some have civil service contracts and some do not. There is perhaps a general question about what a civil service contract means, who should have it and who should not. I do not actually think that is necessarily linked to the role of special advisers. That could be resolved afterwards in a way.
Q68 Greg Mulholland: Without putting words into your mouths, you have all broadly agreed that the total number of special advisers in any one government is less important than how they are used and how they are accountable, etc. The first question is: can you clarify that you do not think there should be a limit on the number? I do not only mean the overall number, which certainly is a bit arbitrary. If you look at the list of special advisers, the Prime Minister currently has 20; the Deputy Prime Minister, 16; the Foreign Secretary has three; the Home Secretary, despite also being the Minister for Women and Equality, has only two, which seems rather strange; and then all the major Departments have two, except for Business, Innovation and Skills, which has only one, which also seems a little bit strange. Do you think that the limits are right in Departments? Do you think the Prime Minister has too many? Do you think the Deputy Prime Minister has too many or the right amount? Do you think that we should be looking at the numbers per Secretary of State also, or do you think it does not matter?
Zoe Gruhn: Looking at the numbers and that spread is interesting. I actually think you need to be looking at what the need is. What do you need to function properly? What do you need to function properly in Number 10 and each of the Departments? Do not be hung up on actual numbers, because, at the end of the day, it is an organisation; it is a machine that has to work. Within that machine, the special advisers should have a very clear role with very clear objectives about what they are going to do; they should be measured against those objectives and, at the same time, be making sure that those objectives are fulfilling the needs of that particular organisation, in this case across government.
Professor Smith: I agree. I cannot see any reason for a limit. As another paper that has been sent to the Committee demonstrates, the number of special advisers in Britain is much lower than in similar systems in other countries. I think the issue of numbers is a bit of a red herring, in a way.
Dr Blick: It is quite interesting how the twopercabinetMinister limit came about, to show the ad hoc nature of all of this. When Harold Wilson got back in, in 1974, and first expanded the use of special advisers, Tony Benn, who, as we know, Harold Wilson regarded as a leftwing troublemaker at the time, had already recruited two special advisers and wanted to recruit a third, who Harold Wilson did not like and did not want to be recruited as a special adviser. In order to block this, the twoperMinister rule was created and applied across the whole of government, so it did not just look like Harold Wilson was blocking one particular appointment by Tony Benn. We are still stuck in a ministerial code with this twopercabinetMinister rule now, nearly 40 years later, which is something that I think perhaps needs looking at again. It should not just be accepted. Maybe in some cases fewer than two per Minister would be appropriate, but this twoperMinister limit is something that we should not just accept blindly.
Zoe Gruhn: It is about looking at the size and complexity, for example looking in particular Departments at what support is needed there. There is some work that the Institute is doing with Ministers at the moment. A number of Ministers have actually found it very useful to have access to a special adviser. At the moment, as Andrew has just said, it is very much confined to the Secretary of State. We are talking about government business and doing it well; rather than being stuck in something that is 40 years old, we need to be looking at what is current and appropriate for an organisation such as government.
Q69 Greg Mulholland: Do you not think there is a danger that there is a twoadviser limit but not in the FCO, for some reason? I am sure that, if you asked individual Ministers, perhaps with the exception of the Treasury at a time of austerity, they would easily be able to tell you that there was a clear need for five, 10 or 15 special advisers. I am sure anyone in that position would also want as many of their own people around them to advise them as possible. Do you not agree there has to be some sort of sensible limit or it would actually change the very nature of our system of government?
Professor Smith: There is a danger of a parallel civil service. If a Minister had 10 or 15 special advisers, then he or she would not necessarily need the private office. You are right: there is a limit. There needs to be a limit so that they are not creating a party civil service next to the traditional civil service. Again, we are a long way from that, so it would not be a concern for me.
Dr Blick: It may be a case for a separate vote of money, possibly, so rather than introducing a number of special advisers, Parliament could authorise a certain allocation of money, which would effectively not introduce a strict, limited number, but might stop the kind of threat that we have just talked about now.
Q70 Greg Mulholland: That is an interesting suggestion. Do you think one way of looking at improving this would be to have a limit on the number of special advisers and only on those special advisers with purely political or communications roles? Clearly that is the concern in the media and the public: that these people are there largely to do the bidding of Ministers in dealing with the press. We have the current BSkyB controversy, but there is also the idea that public money is being spent on getting good stories in newspapers for Ministers and for government.
Zoe Gruhn: That goes back to the point I was making earlier about need, but I also think it is looking at the capability within the civil service, in terms of their own communications department. There are some well known exSecretaries of State around who actually believe quite strongly that you do not need media special advisers. That could be because that person was operating many, many years ago, but it could be the argument now that you have 24/7 media and you actually need more than what you have in the civil service. I think there is less of a focus on assessing the capability and need, rather than deciding on the actual numbers that you require.
Professor Smith: I agree.
Q71 Greg Mulholland: You are not saying no restrictions; you are not saying a free-for-all?
Zoe Gruhn: I do not think there should be a free-for-all, absolutely. It needs to be looked at very carefully, per Department, about what the capability is within that Department. An assumption has been made that you automatically need a media spad. You may not.
Professor Smith: The Home Office is very different from Defra in something like that, is it not? There needs to be some relationship between what Departments do and the functions they carry out, and the number of special advisers or media advisers that they have.
Q72 Chair: It is not unknown for a Department to recruit somebody as a nonspad civil servant, who could very easily have been employed as a spad, but then they are under the full discipline to respect impartiality and all the rest of it. Is that a better situation-that media spads are actually recruited on merit and not as spads?
Professor Smith: I cannot see any problem with that because, if you are saying you need someone who has experience in terms of the media, public relations and any particular skills, which are about getting across the message of a Department, not a political party, then why should they not be open to competition? It should be about ability rather than patronage.
Zoe Gruhn: Is that not then about being a civil servant?
Professor Smith: Yes, probably.
Q73 Chair: There is a role for a spad who is in a peculiar position of knowing the mind of his or her Secretary of State, and therefore to have an interaction with the media, but not as a press officer?
Professor Smith: There is a presumption in the British constitution that civil servants know the mind of their Minister. When a Minister says, "I want you to develop a policy in this area," they go and do it in the context of what they think the Minister’s mind is. I do not think that is particular to special advisers.
Chair: Quite right; we need to be reminded about that.
Q74 Paul Flynn: Dr Blick, you refer in your written evidence to the need to curb a system where there were flagrant abuses and to make sure that the Ministers do not appoint completely inappropriate individuals. You suggest preappointment hearings as a remedy for that. Could you explain your reasoning behind that?
Dr Blick: Yes. The reason I have advocated preappointment hearings is, first, I think special advisers are very valuable. As was discussed earlier today, we only really hear about them when it has gone wrong. Unfortunately, sometimes it does go wrong and it has been assisted by media coverage to bring the system into disrepute, to some extent. The value of preappointment hearings would be to retain the value of the system where the Minister is actually deciding who they get, and this person is working for the Minister, which is what is needed in a special adviser.
At the same time, it would create a backstop so that, somewhere in the mind of the Minister making the appointment, he or she is aware that the person they want to appoint will have to go to a session with a parliamentary committee, which will not be able to block the appointment, as under the current system, but will be able to express views on the suitability of the appointment. That person they are proposing will have to discuss with the committee things like their qualifications, how they came to be in the job or how they might come to be in the job, assuming they were appointed, and what kinds of things they might do in the job. Also, the Minister perhaps should provide some kind of written submission, explaining similarly what they expect that person to do.
That system could act as a deterrent to the appointment of completely inappropriate people. I am not saying that happens very often, but it would be nice to think, if it did happen, there was a deterrent to stop it. Also, it is some kind of check against that person then going on, in future, to do completely different things from what they said they were going to do in the session with the committee. That does not mean we will not all be back here in five years’ time talking about things that might have gone wrong, but it would create an extra deterrent without actually undermining the value of the existing special adviser system.
Q75 Paul Flynn: How would you deal with a situation where a Minister takes a person into meetings, at top level, who is not appointed as a special adviser but describes himself as "adviser" and is in the pay of groups outside this Parliament, with an agenda that is different from government, as in the case of Mr Adam Werritty?
Dr Blick: I was wondering who you might have had in mind there. Without wishing to hog the discussion here, I will just deal with this one. That is an example of some of the unintended consequences, perhaps, of restricting the numbers. If we introduce a tight restriction on the numbers, politicians going into office will often have these people around them who they want to get in, one way or another. If they cannot do it through the special adviser system, which is after all regulated, at least to some extent, they will end up with people like the chap to whom you just referred, who it is very difficult to regulate at all. That raises much greater propriety issues than someone who had been employed as a special adviser. The answer to how I would deal with that person is I would either have them appointed as a special adviser, subject to preappointment hearings, perhaps by a committee, or not have them at all; but I would not have them in this kind of floating nether region.
Q76 Paul Flynn: Mr Werritty was receiving more than £100,000. If he had been appointed as a special adviser, wouldn’t the ones who were paying the piper still want to call the tune? Would he not be seen as an alien influence in government working for American think tanks?
Dr Blick: I do not know that he would have been able to receive that money while he was in the job. I think there would have been a problem; he would have had to declare it. That might have stopped that from happening, which would have opened up issues of whether he was in breach of contract and that kind of thing. That might have been a way of stopping it from happening in the first place, or he would have had to come in at a much lower salary, which may not have been as acceptable to him.
Zoe Gruhn: Interestingly, some earlier research that we had done at the Institute was not in favour of preappointment hearings. That was largely on the basis that going in front of a committee, when it is actually a partisan appointment, could make it quite difficult. What Andrew has just described, in terms of raising the transparency, is very interesting and may be something that should be looked at in more detail.
Q77 Paul Flynn: You may know that this Committee, in the previous Parliament, was responsible for advocating preappointment hearings. They are a relatively new innovation. We saw the system in America, but we did recommend their introduction on a very limited basis, and not having the town’s dogcatcher subject to a preappointment hearing, which is the case in America. We can also claim that, in this Parliament with this Committee, we have had some successes as a result of preappointment hearings. Could you comment about the general use of them? If there is not a preappointment hearing for the special adviser, should the Minister be subjected to examination by the Committee to justify his appointments?
Zoe Gruhn: Absolutely. In fact, in another publication of ours, "Balancing Act", we did talk about having a postappointment hearing after the early stages of appointment, which takes place in front of the Committee and which the Minister has to attend to justify. All the points that have been made about looking at the suitability of the special adviser in terms of their career background, their skills capabilities, what is required of them in the role, whether they are matched against that, and how prepared they are in terms of their own training and development, are all important qualities to ensure that you are going to get the best possible person for the role. I see that as being really important. The more transparent the process can be, the better.
Q78 Paul Flynn: Could you enlarge on why you are against preappointment hearings?
Zoe Gruhn: As I say, from our earlier research, it was a lot to do with the fact that, because of a committee being set up representing different parties, the ministerial appointment of the special adviser is a very partisan view. That person is responsible to a Minister. As more and more cases have come to light, I think there is actually a need to have some kind of public appointment process. It may be that it is appropriate for just the very highprofile type of special advisers who you get at Number 10, at that very senior level. It may be that that is where it is appropriate for it to be more public.
Q79 Paul Flynn: Do you believe that select committees work on a partisan basis?
Zoe Gruhn: That is a good challenge. No, I appreciate the point you are making. Ideally it should not happen, but I am conscious that sometimes, as we have seen, there are special advisers who have been around in the past, or may be now, who are seen as much more of a comfort blanket to the Minister and are not necessarily appropriate to the role. How receptive a Minister would be to that person being seen to go through a quasiinterview process could be difficult.
Q80 Chair: Can I just interject here? Select committees do have the power to summon special advisers to give evidence anyway. Whether it is a preappointment hearing or just a hearing on the activity of that special adviser, it seems perfectly appropriate, doesn’t it?
Zoe Gruhn: Yes, it does. It is more about what is constitutionally appropriate. We would not necessarily be suggesting that the Committee is responsible for appointing civil servants or permanent secretaries.
Q81 Chair: Do you think Andy Coulson would have been appointed to Number 10 if it had been axiomatic that his appointment would have resulted in his appearing before a Select Committee, as a matter of course?
Zoe Gruhn: Would he have been appointed if he had more detailed security vetting? That may be another question.
Q82 Chair: Or Alastair Campbell?
Zoe Gruhn: Certain special advisers, in quotes, who have access particularly to key documents, do need to go through a substantial vetting process. In the case of the former, he possibly did not go through that enough. With Alastair Campbell, there was actually a change in the Code to enable them to have the responsibility to order civil servants around, which is unusual. That was just treated as a oneoff, I believe. Certainly you can be bringing them back to ask them about their suitability in role.
Q83 Paul Flynn: Isn’t this the Lord Butler idea that, as the special advisers are neither fish nor fowl at the moment-they are neither civil servants, nor political people-we do need a special category in which they are paid out of a special Shortmoney allocation that the parties have. Wouldn’t that be a most sensible reform?
Professor Smith: In a way, all these things-whether it is the preappointment hearings or how they are financed-come back to the points that were raised in the last session and this session about clarity of the role and transparency. Actually, if there was clarity and transparency about what the special advisers were doing, whether just in a document or in a select committee hearing, these other issues about where and how they were paid would actually be less important. They are only important because the fundamental issues about openness and clarity of function have not all been sorted out.
Q84 Greg Mulholland: A question I asked in the first session was whether you think there is sufficient clarity between the role of special advisers and civil servants, because clearly they are supposed to be different yet complementary, but in reality they seem to be rather confused at times and overlapping. I think that is something the Institute for Government has perhaps done the most to look into. Do you think that is an issue? If so, how could that be better addressed and clarified?
Zoe Gruhn: It should not be an issue. If you have really good special advisers who know what their role is about, senior civil servants, and civil servants generally, really appreciate very effective special advisers. Even though there may be some shared understanding around policy issues, the special advisers do actually understand the party nuances and the political aspects to it. That is a really important role to have.
Where it has not worked very well, where there is a confusion, is quite frankly when the special adviser has been ineffective. The civil servant ends up bypassing that special adviser and trying to go directly via the private office to the Minister. That goes back to the point I have been making around looking at what it is that you require, what are the capabilities of the person, what training they have had and, should they be able to perform effectively in the role, how exactly that is being fed back to them. Not enough time is actually given to that at all.
Mr Brack mentioned earlier that he came to a couple of our induction sessions. Initially, they were well attended. After that, they were very poorly attended, and that is because it was not given the importance that it needed to prepare people in role. What is really important is that, for anyone going into the role, whether in the world of politics or any organisation, you need some preparation. To simply throw them in at the deep end-and I have spoken to a number of current special advisers who really have struggled right at the beginning-I consider that to be an exceptional waste of taxpayers’ money, both in terms of effectiveness and efficiency.
Q85 Chair: It is ironic, isn’t it, that government lectures business about training and improving the quality of people, but then does not practise what it preaches?
Zoe Gruhn: I know.
Q86 Greg Mulholland: Do the other two have any comments?
Professor Smith: I agree.
Q87 Greg Mulholland: Whose responsibility should it be to ensure that special advisers are given a proper explanation of what their rather strange status as a temporary civil servant means? We have just had a discussion about whether we can have a different system but, as we have the system we have, whose responsibility is it? Do you think that is adequately done at the moment?
Professor Smith: It probably has to be someone in the civil service, because they are the ones who actually understand how government works. It goes back to the point Zoe was making about training. What probably also needs to be done is the obvious thing of some sort of induction into a Department and what the roles of different people are and where they sit in that organisation. All these simple things are not really done, probably because of the speed of government.
Dr Blick: We heard some reference earlier to the Code for special advisers. I am afraid I am going to have to go back to Harold Wilson again. When the Code was actually drafted as part of the model contract in 1997, when Labour was coming in, they were going to bring in more special advisers. It was decided there was a need to publish a document that set out what special advisers were there to do and what they could and could not do. They rifled around looking for something they could base it on, and they found a speech given by Harold Wilson in June 1975, I believe, to the Heads of Commonwealth governments. The Code we have now is still, to a large extent, derived from this speech that Harold Wilson gave in 1975. The nature of this thing is more about what they can do and what they do.
There is scope for more work on things that they cannot do, as we have seen recently. I would offer as one example of what should be in the Code that they cannot do is being anywhere near a quasijudicial activity by their Department. Before we can explain to special advisers what they can and cannot do, and what their role is, there needs to be a bit more work going into the actual detail of what that role is, particularly in terms of what they should not be allowed to do. That is one example I would like to suggest. I am sure that, if it was looked at in more detail, there would be some other issues that should be put into the Code about what they cannot do. If the Code was more clearly drafted in those areas, it might be easier to explain to them what they were not supposed to be doing. At least they would have less of an excuse if they then broke what was in the Code.
Q88 Chair: Can I interject on this point? It has been put to me by one special adviser privately that any special adviser who needs to start reading a code to understand what they should and should not be doing should not be a special adviser. Fulton said that special advisers should be people of "standing and experience", and that it is a matter of integrity and having the right instincts. Anybody who needs to make reference to a code about what they need to do should not be in the job. Do you not have some sympathy with that?
Professor Smith: No, that goes back to the fundamental problem, or one of them, with the British constitution, and that Lord Armstrong phrase of being in charge of your own accountability. It is that sense that we all know what the rules are and, if we do not, we should not be in the gang. Actually, that goes against the things we have been talking about, in terms of clarity and transparency. Those undertaking the role and those outside need to be clear what that role is, and should not be allowed to judge for themselves whether they are carrying it out or not.
Q89 Chair: Who should be responsible for ensuring that a spad complies with the spad Code?
Dr Blick: The Minister.
Professor Smith: I would say the civil service.
Zoe Gruhn: Just looking at the Code quickly here, it is actually quite clear and is supervised by the head of Propriety and Ethics in the Cabinet Office. There need to be revisions to the Code, particularly in the way that Andrew has explained about the do’s and don’ts. That could be extended more. Because it is this peculiar relationship-you are existing within the civil service and operating across government, within that Department-to understand what the Code is about, absolutely for that particular role within the Cabinet Office, I also think that the Minister should be in the room at the same time as they are hearing this, because they should be accountable for that spad, so they need to actually understand exactly what is required within the Code and what is not.
Q90 Chair: This arrangement seems to leave the permanent secretary in the Department out of the loop.
Zoe Gruhn: No, the permanent secretary absolutely on the first day-
Chair: He should be in the room as well?
Zoe Gruhn: Yes. On the first day, the special adviser should meet the head of Propriety and Ethics to go through the Code. That is really important. It is part of the induction and a reminder, in the same way that a Minister would have that as part of their induction as well. The permanent secretary has a very important role to play, because they are going to be working with that special adviser, in particular through the Minister.
Q91 Chair: Who enforces the Code?
Zoe Gruhn: The enforcement of the Code has to come through the Minister being accountable for the individual.
Q92 Chair: With the greatest respect to my colleagues who are Ministers, I would have thought they were the least competent and the most conflicted, in terms of supervision of a special adviser, aren’t they? Surely the permanent secretary who is responsible for the conduct of all civil servants within his or her Department should also be responsible for enforcement of the Code in respect of the special adviser?
Dr Blick: If we are talking about who gets blamed if the Code is violated by the special adviser, it should be the Minister. If we are talking about who makes the special adviser aware of paragraph 7, subsection C of the Code, then that should be the civil service end of things. Ultimately, the whole point of the system of special advisers is that they work to the Minister. If things go wrong in some way or other, it is the Minister who has to get up in front of the House.
Q93 Chair: When the permanent secretary neglects to intervene when the Minister is not enforcing the Code, do you not see that this has all got a bit confused? How do we deconfuse this, so that special advisers are not thrown to the wolves in the way that we have seen?
Zoe Gruhn: I think there should be revisions within the Ministerial Code of Conduct, because they are responsible for that special adviser. You have just heard from three different special advisers from three different parties all saying that they are accountable to their Minister and, ultimately, the Prime Minister. That Secretary of State has a direct responsibility for their behaviour and actions. If there is a transgression, that should be part of the Ministerial Code, as well as within the special adviser Code, where they are actually held to account in the way that Andrew has just described. I do think that will help with the clarity of that position.
Chair: That is a very good suggestion.
Q94 Paul Flynn: One of the worrying things that has come out of the present situation is the perception that lobbyists have that special advisers are a channel to the Minister, in order to manipulate and to influence him. There is also the possibility that the channel-not only the extraordinary number of communications from News Corporation to Jeremy Hunt’s special adviser-was running the other way, and that information was given in advance of publication here and publication to Parliament, in order to strengthen the response that News Corporation would have. This is an alarming situation. If it is common among the world of lobbyists, and Parliament is looking to reform lobbying at the moment, we should consider and possibly introduce new reforms and new restrictions on their activities.
Professor Smith: There are two separate things here, in a way. One thing to remember, again, is that civil servants have contact continually with interests. Day to day, they will be talking to different groups so, in that sense, a special adviser talking to groups is not doing anything different from a civil servant.
Q95 Paul Flynn: It is unlikely they would get 500 texts.
Professor Smith: That then is a different issue. That is an issue about individual behaviour and what responsibility the Minister should take. You cannot legislate for every possible eventuality. It would seem to me that someone was clearly breaking the rules in what was going on in that situation. The rules are there and they have been broken. I do not think it was necessarily a problem with the rules; it was a problem with behaviour in that situation. One way of avoiding all that is transparency. Of course, one of the issues that really comes out of these cases is how texts are used. The civil service has lost sight of a whole realm of information. If you go back 25 or 30 years ago, the permanent secretary more or less saw everything going on in the Department. Now, civil servants are not seeing a large chunk of activity that is going on within the Department, because of the use of new technologies. That is a big issue that has not been dealt with, but it is another inquiry, in a way.
Q96 Chair: Conversation has never been accountable. Conversations now take place more over different media, rather than just verbally, but conversation is never going to be subject to Freedom of Information.
Professor Smith: No, but civil servants sat in on more conversations, I would say. They listened to every telephone conversation that a Minister made in his Department. Actually, mobile phones are bypassing that process.
Q97 Chair: So Ministers should not be allowed mobile phones?
Professor Smith: They might have more time for work.
Q98 Paul Flynn: Dr Blick, how do we bring the people who live in the dark into the light?
Dr Blick: Preappointment hearings would be one way of doing it. One of the reasons for the title of the book was that I thought bringing these people into the light would actually be helpful for their reputation, because most of them are doing a very valuable job. As I said earlier, we only really hear about it when it has gone wrong. Unfortunately, when it does go wrong, it is often because they were doing exactly what their Minister wanted them to do and have been caught. That is where the value of regulation and bringing people into the light ends, because the problem from their point of view is not that they are unwittingly breaking the rules, but that they were doing something that they were encouraged to do by the Minister, at least tacitly.
Zoe Gruhn: One thing I would also like to add, because Andrew has focused very much on preappointment hearings around transparency, is that that there needs to be better transparency once they are appointed as well. That is ensuring-I am sorry to say it, but I am going to repeat it-that they go through an induction, they have training, they know what the job is about, they have clear objectives and they are actually being measured against them. Someone mentioned 360-degree feedback before. There should be some kind of a process where you are actually hearing about how well they are performing in the role. Are they working across government? Are they working well with the civil servants? Are they helping the Minister to be more effective in what they are trying to achieve, etc? The more exposure you have and transparency around that, the less likely we would have some of these issues that are coming up right now. That is really important.
One other thing I would just like to mention is that our research with some special advisers is looking at their behaviour. There are some special advisers whose standards of behaviour and conduct could be better in relation to civil servants. That is actually about not behaving badly and demonstrating some level of respect, in terms of working with other individuals. That is missed off; that is not in the Code at all, as indeed, there is nothing about disciplinary procedure within the Code, and I think that should go in as well.
Q99 Chair: They were some very useful points. Thank you very much. Is there anything else that any of you would like to add, which just needs a little emphasis?
Professor Smith: You mentioned the point about special advisers being people of integrity and experience. One of the issues is that, these days, a lot of special advisers are very young and come in very early. It is part of the process of becoming MPs and Ministers, as we have seen with a lot of current Ministers in this government.
Chair: And the Prime Minister.
Professor Smith: And the Prime Minister. There is an issue about how special advisers are part of the transmission belt into government, which is then blocking people getting in from other sources. That is a big issue, but I think it is an important issue.
Zoe Gruhn: That also picks up on the role of the specialist adviser that I was talking about. The likelihood is that experience, knowledge, etc, would probably mean that they would be that bit more mature.
Chair: Many civil servants would feel happier with a special adviser who did not know too much, in my experience. Thank you very much indeed for your most helpful evidence. We are very grateful to you.