Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
THURSDAY 28 FEBRUARY 2002
20. But you have explained that your central
role is on propriety issues on the Government's Information Service.
Here is a Director of Information who has gone for propriety reasons,
and I am asking you why.
(Mr Granatt) I am sorry, sir. I really do think that
is a matter for the Department to talk about because it is them
that will explain the reasons why that is happening. I am not
21. So you cannot help us at all?
(Mr Granatt) I can help you, sir, with on my views
on what was happening, as set out in my letter.
22. Is it a mystery to you why he has gone?
(Mr Granatt) It is not a mysterynot at allbut
I refer you to the facts as set out in the Secretary of State's
23. But has he behaved improperly? You are guarding
propriety and here is a director of information. I want to know
if he behaved improperly or not?
(Mr Granatt) I have no specific information apart
from what I saw in the Secretary of State's statement yesterday
as to his behaviour and the circumstances which appear to have
led up to his departure from the department. My role in this has
been set out in my letter. My job in this case as explained in
the letter was to ensure that he knew and everybody else in the
system knew what my view was, the central view was, on leaks attributable
to the briefing which could lead to the undermining of ministers.
That is my central role.
24. But the permanent secretary's letter does
not help us here either because that does not tell us why he had
to go apart from the fact that his position was said to be "untenable".
It does not tell us where the breach of propriety has taken place?
(Mr Granatt) Sir, I find it very difficult to continue
down this path without referring back to what I said. The position
was set out by the Secretary of State yesterday. The Permanent
Secretary set out his position as well. I cannot add to what those,
literally, said about that; it is a matter for the department.
If somebody is going to leave the department at the requirement
of the department or themselves, it is for them to answer that
question or the department. My job is to set out here as, in that
letter, the standards that we expect and the whole Service expects
of people within the Service. That is a consideration of behaviour
for everybody and a matter of fundamental importance, as I set
out. The trust between ministers and civil servants is fundamental
to the way we do our job. One reason why somebody might leave
might well be that that trust and confidence no longer exists
but if that is the particular case, between Mr Sixsmith and the
department, then I would urge you to ask them that question.
25. So you are inviting us to ask the Permanent
(Mr Granatt) I would, indeed.
26. Reading your handbook, I do not see the
word "spin" there at all. What do you think "spin"
(Mr Granatt) I have answered this question before,
I think, before the Public Committee on Standards in Public Life.
It depends on who you are, I suspect. "Spin" in my calculation
has always been a derived from the term "spinning a yarn".
How do you define the emphasis or gloss that a spokesman or anybody
else would put on something that is said on behalf of a Government
department. If it is the process of ensuring that a journalist
or somebody else understands the context in which a statement
was made and understands the emphasis, then I think we would all
plead guilty to spinning. If it is an attempt to mislead or not
to tell the truth or hide the truth, then that is something that
would be entirely outside what we should be doing.
27. This is a bit of a bog, is it not? That
is why we have to try and get our minds round it yet again. I
heard Bernard Ingham, a civil servant, Mrs Thatcher's press secretary,
saying that his job was to put what he called a "positive
gloss" on things. What I want to know is, is it the job of
the civil Service to put a positive gloss on things?
(Mr Granatt) I think the job of the Information Service
and the Civil Service generally in these circumstances is to provide
ministers with the best platform possible for explaining their
policies to the required audience, be it the public at large or
specific audiences. I have heard other colleagues say that the
definition is to put things in the best possible light, but I
think this is a slightly dangerous definition. I think one has
to make sure that, whatever one says, the merits of the case are
well expounded and the truth is told.
28. But "positive gloss" sounds to
me like "spin", and I want to know if you think this
is quite legitimate for civil servants to do?
(Mr Granatt) I go back to what I have just said. I
think it is legitimate for civil servants, and the guidance on
the work of the GICS says this, to if necessary robustly expound
the reasons why a Government believes a policy or a course of
action is the right one, but not to the exclusion of the truth.
29. But if civil servants working in your Service
are able to do this kind of spin, because you were saying quite
(Mr Granatt) With respect, sir, I am not talking about
spinning in that way, and I am not sure I quite understand what
Bernard was saying about positive gloss. I use my own definition
which is what I said and provide the best platform for ministers
to get their point across, and ensure that the merits of the case
are fully exposed.
30. But it is the glass half full/glass half
empty scenario. Your story would be that it is half full, even
if one could tell it like it is half empty?
(Mr Granatt) If you believe what I am saying is what
you would define as "spin", then I would accept your
definition of it.
31. The point is to know where this funny boundary
line between what civil servants working in your Service can do,
because you are describing all the positive presentation they
can engage in, or cannot do, and what the special advisers engaged
in information can do. If you can do all this, what is the missing
bit that has to be done by somebody else?
(Mr Granatt) I think the missing bit the special advisers
can do is spelt out in the rules as applying to them through their
model contract and their code. They are allowed to put Government
information into a political context. For example, they can explain
how the policy concerned fits in with the ideology of the party
in power and how this meets with political priorities. Those are
not things civil servants can do.
32. You can see why we get into trouble here.
(Mr Granatt) Of course.
33. You said earlier that you were content to
take the lead of the Secretary of State on this matter, and you
also said you did not think that Mr Sixsmith had behaved improperly.
Yet there was no doubt that in the House of Commons when he was
making a statement two days ago the Secretary of State was suggesting
that Mr Sixsmith had behaved improperly. Are you not prepared
to follow the Secretary of State in that?
(Mr Granatt) Sir, I would stand by what the Secretary
of State said in his statement. I did not say he did not act improperly;
I said the detail in this matter was one for the departmentparticularly
the Secretary of State and the permanent secretary.
34. Would it be all right to ask you if you
had involvement in meetings concerned with this and spoke to Mr
(Mr Granatt) I , indeed, spoke to a great number of
people during this matter, including Mr Sixsmith.
35. The arrangement whereby two people leave
at the same time is one which is not unknown in the Civil Service
in order to resolve personality problems, but when you have a
suggestion which Mr Byers made that the way the press was operating
was also a serious problem, surely that would concern you in a
(Mr Granatt) What concerned me was what led me to
write that letter which was the accusation that arose in the lobby
briefing on the morning I wrote the letter that the integrity
of the people working in the press office was being called into
question. I felt it necessary, for reasons I have set out, to
write to Mr Sixsmith and copy that around Whitehall so that all
the people were reminded openly precisely what the considerations
are in the work we do. But I do not have detailed knowledge; I
have not conducted an investigation into what happened at the
press office of the DTLRthat is something for the department.
36. I think some people might feel that you
do have a legitimate claim to investigate what happened and make
sure it does not happen elsewhere in the Civil Service. Why are
(Mr Granatt) Because I do not have the means or the
authority to conduct such investigations. They are matters for
the Secretary of State and the department and they are the people
who are accountable for it. My role is as an adviser; it is to
set out the rules; and if I was asked to take part in such an
investigation I would do so.
37. But you might choose to advise the head
of the Home Civil Service that such an overview of Government
would be suitable?
(Mr Granatt) Indeed I might.
38. Are you tempted to?
(Mr Granatt) I think, before I took any such action,
I would want to see what happens after this affair is concluded
and to take a view on what is happening across the Service. I
think it is reasonable to point out that what we are seeing at
DTLR is not happening across the rest of the Service.
39. No, but it has echoes of things which happened,
as the Chairman mentioned shortly after the present Government
came to power, and which must be unwelcome in that period of the
history of the Civil Service?
(Mr Granatt) Undoubtedly a time of that sort of change
is unwelcome. I would also point out that there was a fair old
turnover of people in that role after the 1979 election.