Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
THURSDAY 18 OCTOBER 2001
PRESCOTT MP, THE
TRADESTON CBE AND
20. Can I go back to the question of the reprimand
from the Permanent Secretary. Was that the outcome of a disciplinary
hearing, a formal charge against Miss Moore?
(Mr Prescott) I am not too sure about
that. I shall certainly bring it to the attention of the Secretary
of the Cabinet who will be here before you and perhaps will tell
you the detail of how the Civil Service machinery dealt with it.
As I understand it, it was not a complaint. I think it might have
been referred perhaps by the Secretary of State himself. I am
not exactly sure about that. Whatever the process, she appeared
before the Permanent Secretary and was reprimanded for her action.
21. I want to bring you back to thisand we
do not know the full circumstancesthe circumstances were
that there was an e-mail
(Mr Prescott) I was referring to the
22. The allegation is that an e-mail went out. I
believe that there are 81 special advisers. Do you not think it
is timebecause this is going to happen again, I suspect,
human nature being as it isthat it was tightened up and
the entire relationship of special advisers to Ministers and civil
servants is debated on the floor of the House and we have a proper
debate to take this forward?
(Mr Prescott) I know that is a concern
of this Committee, indeed I think it is one of your recommendations,
and it is one of the responses we want to give to you. But I am
glad that at least you are generous enough to say there can be
errors of judgment, and in this case there was. The rule did not
make any difference and in fact was not taken into account when
the decision was made.
23. Is the answer that you would like to see it debated
(Mr Prescott) It is open to anybody to
have debates and I think when we get the response to the Code
we will have opened up that debate and, as I understand it, we
wish to include it into Civil Service legislation which will be
put out to consultation and will be debated, so no doubt a debate
will come and perhaps we will all benefit from that.
24. If I could return to the departure of the senior
civil servant to another department. What I am not quite clear
about is how you know there has not been a breach of the Code
of Conduct in that, as far as you are indicating, I believe up
until today there has not been a senior investigation and yet
there is certainly a lot in the press about it. I think this is
a matter of concern. You said there is not a formal allegation
but surely for there to be confidence in the future of this particular
senior adviser, this matter does merit some investigation, so
that you can categorically say there has been no breach of the
Code of Conduct?
(Mr Prescott) If there is no complaint
and we read the allegation in the press by an unknown source are
you saying that we should investigate it?
25. It is a matter of serious public concern.
(Mr Prescott) Would you be satisfied
with that approach? It is a serious matter, and she has apologised
for it. It is clearly getting a lot of attention in the press.
26. There are two issues which have come to light.
I am referring to the one that we do not know very much about.
(Mr Prescott) Is that the possible direction
of civil servants to do something improper?
27. Exactly and I think that is very worrying potentially,
certainly to me as a newcomer, if that has happened behind the
scenes. If you could assure me that somebody fairly senior has
carried out a full investigation to see there was no breach of
the Code of Conduct, then I could sit back and feel fairly comfortable
but I have not heard that from you this afternoon.
(Mr Prescott) No and I do not think I
can give you a proper answer to that. I would suggest the chief
civil servant is coming before you and you may want to ask that.
There is another offence which has been committed and that is
leaks from inside the Department to the press, and I see nobody
asking or demanding that there should be investigations into every
one of them. That is not a proper answer to your question. It
is one I feel is a matter of imbalance between the way this matter
is pursued and the way others are. But the chief civil servant
will be here before you and we will have produced answers to your
recommendations on the Code and you will have another opportunity
to pursue it. If the Committee were still not satisfied, I am
quite happy to appear before you again and give you further responses
if that is the wish of the Committee.
28. We are grateful for that. I think the point of
the last question was of course we do not know what went on, but
my information from within the Civil Service is that this did
happen and therefore it requires something to be done about it.
I think the feeling that something is not to be done about it
does help to damage people's faith in the political system.
(Mr Prescott) I would be grateful for
any information you can give me as to who gave that information
or if you could pass on to that person that they should make the
complaint, we would be delighted to investigate it. The complaint
has not been made by the person this is alleged to have happened
29. We know what happenspeople get moved sideways
into other jobs.
(Mr Prescott) I am afraid if you are
going to call in hand those pressures, I know those problems in
all sorts of directions. There is this great thing that everybody
should be independent and I am not sure independencyI will
probably get into troubled water. The things that we write down
that we would like to happen do not necessarily happen in the
way that we would like them to happen.
30. Can I return to a loose end. It is a general
point, not a specific point about the case. Do you not think it
would be better if these things were more transparent? This touches
on the whole relationship between Ministers and special advisers,
the press, who they feed and the general public, who in an important
sense have a right to know how they are being governed. There
has been a lot of confusion about this. Two of the most powerful
people in the country appear either not to have known, not to
have been told, not to have discussed it, or not to have tried
to work out exactly what happened in this case. It may be that
we need to talk to other people about this. This is not good for
the governance of the country or the confidence people have in
their government. Naturally the press are going to run away and
inventmaybe not who can tellall sorts of fantasies.
Is this a good way to run a country?
(Mr Prescott) You believe that all the
allegations that are made should be investigated and people would
feel more confident about that? I agree and I am not trying to
be trivial in my answer, serious matters should be investigated,
and any direction of a civil servant in an improper way is a serious
matter. If you are asking me about allegations, I have no evidence
to believe that that is the case. If there is, I can only point
you in the direction of the appropriate authority to deal with
it, the person who is directly responsible for all these matters
in regard to the Code and its operation, as they are civil servants,
in special circumstances admittedly, who may have sometimes fallen
31. I hope you will understand that as a Committee
we do have responsibility in this matter
(Mr Prescott) I do not doubt that for
32. So we do have to keep an eye on what is
(Mr Prescott) I am not surprised there
are these questions.
33. Can we now move on to look at the organisation
of government at the centre which you described at the outset.
Could I ask you just to say in a nutshell
(Mr Prescott)While all the press
are leaving and we can get down to normal business.
34. To say, as someone who has long experience of
these matters, what was the problem at the centre of government
to which the new arrangements are the remedy?
(Mr Prescott) It is a very important
question and one that you spent some time in your Committee dealing
with. I think you made a very powerful point about governmentthat
it is too centralised in this country. That is one important thing
and there should be a process for decentralisation, which is part
of what I am dealing with in my job. Secondly, there is the point
that public services are not delivered as effectively and efficiently
as they could be. Not only has your Committee made that point
but others have as well. So there was the appointment of a Delivery
Unit to make sure the machinery is in government to deliverthis
is your point about outputs in this matterand we have made
changes in that direction. What is important of course is the
cross-cutting activities of government in the Social Exclusion
Unit, which again your Committee has recommended, and is doing
a particularly good piece of work. Also the analysis and work
can often be done and recommendations made across departments
but it does not always get implemented, hence the need for somebody
who has a direct responsibility to do that. I think as the Office
of the Deputy Prime Ministerit really started with Mr Heseltine-
there is a need (which your Committee identified) to have a strong
political force inside the Cabinet Office to do that. There have
been other Ministers of the Cabinet Office as well but I think
that the office I hold carries more weight with it by the position
I have and by my relationship with the Prime Minister. And the
other thing which I have always felt very strongly about in government,
is the fact that there is so much demand on the Prime Minister's
time to do things, particularly if a Prime Minister wants his
government to be successful, that could be done by his deputy
and I have always argued that is a good role for the Office of
a Deputy Prime Minister. That is what we are now establishing.
We think that is important. Indeed, the whole process of decentralisation
to regional governments in the White Paper, where the Cabinet
Office has a special responsibility to develop this with the Secretary
of State for transport and local government, these are the reasons
why they are spelt out in the memorandum, and I am delighted to
do that job.
35. There is a feeling that obstetrics has come to
the heart of government and it is a maternity unit at worst. What
I really want to know is who is "Mr Delivery"? Is it
you as Deputy Prime Minister?
(Mr Prescott) We are all delivering in
government. This job of delivery is very important. All administrations
have found perhaps that they have not been able to deliver as
fast as they could or deliver the things they had promised. It
has become quite a cardinal issue in politics and thereforecertainly
in the last Electionwe, probably more than any other government,
laid down what we were going to deliver, and we had better deliver
or we are going to have problems of a major kind. That requires
action to be taken in the way we have addressed it. Working to
the Prime Minister I can relieve him of some of the problems that
he has and the massive demands on his time, especially internationally
but on the domestic scene as well, and I will play a part in helping
to deliver it. At the end of the day this is very much the construction
of how the Prime Minister wants his government to deliver and
I am just helping him to deliver it.
36. The reason I press this is I thought you were
going to become Mr Delivery, this powerful Cabinet Office figure
that we asked for in our report, but then I am struck by the fact
that none of these new units, the Delivery Unit or the Office
of Public Service Reform, reports to you.
(Mr Prescott) They do. We work together.
Gus Macdonald is very much looking at the detail of the delivery
of the programme. We have people who get involved in PSAs. You
said that the Cabinet Office should be involved in that and it
should not simply be left to the Treasury. We sit on the Committee
that deals with that and sets new targets. The day-to-day detail
of making sure the Departments' programmes are generally fitted
to achieve that (because we cannot always assume that is the case
and there is plenty of evidence for that) Gus Macdonald deals
with. I deal with an awful lot of activities on the broader picture
but Gus and I regularly meet, we co-ordinate. As you are well
aware, Gus Macdonald cannot appear in the Commons unexplained,
we are accountable in Parliament, and I cannot afford to be ignorant
of what Gus is doing. I wish him well on that and I get on with
the jobs I have got. We think that is a more effective arrangement.
37. We called for this greater strategic capacity
at the centre and we need to try and find out if we now have it
or not, or whether, in fact, we have new sorts of coordination
problems set up by the new machinery. I am struck by people who
have looked at this, for example, Malcolm Dean in The Guardian
says, "the changes were a badly designed structure which
broke", what he calls, "the three iron rules of effective
management by unclear lines of accountability, confused focus
and overlapping remits". David Walker, and I speak as observer
of these things, says that the Cabinet Office is "in a right
old mess". You can see why people wonder if we have sorted
(Mr Prescott) I cannot see why. All that
is is a conclusion, whether I agree with it is entirely another
matter. Overlapping is the very issue of cross-cutting. You complain
constantly that departments do not take account of other departments
and yet they are cross-cutting. I can recall a Minister making
a statement a little while ago, I shall not name the particular
Minister, who wanted a particular course of action and a change
in direction of his department. It was with regard to speed camerasI
show my hand by saying thatand I had to point out to him
that the targets then set for the Department of Transport was
to reduce accidental death. If he took all of the money off that
and then put it in to reduce crime figures there would be a conflict,
so we would not achieve one objective but we may achieve the other.
Our job is to make sure that confusion that exists does not allow
it to happen, there is a cross-cutting situation. I have a Cabinet
Committee to work out disagreements if Secretaries of State cannot
work it out themselves. We think we are moving in the direction
to get that kind of agreement. He mentioned three points, the
one about confusion. He said there was one about
38. A lack of clear focus, a lack of a clear line
(Mr Prescott) I do agree when you are
working in these areas it means we have to have a clear understanding
between us about who is responsible for what in the system. In
the way of accountability I have to be accountable on the House
of Commons floor for doing it, I cannot say, "I am sorry,
this is done by Lord Macdonald", neither can he say in the
House of Lords, "I am sorry, this is done by somebody else".
We do have this divergence of thinking, our agreement, our objectives
but we specialise in the detail of achieving certain objectives.
In Gus Macdonald's case it is designing and making sure that departments
deliver the objectives we have set for ourselves. I have other
words on decentralisation. I would be actively involved in the
White Paper on regionsyou might say that is something that
I have particular interest forI want to see it delivered
on a further decentralisation scheme in the regions. That fits
in with your argument of greater use being made of regional government
and decentralisation, I get on with the detail of that and producing
the White Paper.
Chairman: Thank you very much. I am sure colleagues
will want to explore some of the issues.
39. Can I, first of all, say it is a great pleasure
to have an opportunity to ask you some questions, I know you are
going to be as helpful as you can in your answers.
(Mr Prescott) Always, Mr Steen.