Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER 2001
40. May I move on to the next chapter of your
report and probe you a bit on the devolution framework. Under
paragraph 3.6 you say, ". . . the new arrangements have not
operated as smoothly as they might". Indeed in your Foreword
you use similar words. Then over the page you say, ". . .
all parties are committed to addressing weaknesses". Could
you enlarge upon that a little? In what ways were things not moving
smoothly and in particular what weaknesses have you identified
which everybody is determined to address?
(Mr Murphy) It is just a question of getting used
to new systems as much as anything else. That was something on
both sides of the equation really. Here is a new Assembly in Cardiff,
just set up, brand new, new members of the Assembly elected, in
a sense a different type of civil service which is dealing with
a totally new body. So a body establishing itself and at the same
time up here Government departments which have been going for
many, many years having to get used to this new set-up. Clearly
in the first year or two there were lots of teething problems,
of course there would be. My job is to ensure that I apply the
medicine which takes away the pain. A lot of that is behind the
scenes, it is done by telephone, it is done by meetings, it is
done by sitting around the table working things out together.
I really would not think it appropriate to go into the details
of all those issues, but simply to say to you that we have overcome
those difficulties. To give one example, the way in which we draft
legislation is much smoother than it was in the earlier period
of my term of office because we have got used to the way of doing
things now; also getting my Cabinet colleagues and other Ministers
and officials used to the concept. It is no longer a Welsh Office,
but it is a National Assembly and I believe that is working.
41. May I take you to page 30, paragraph 5.10.2
People with Disabilities? There is an interesting sentence there
which states, "The Wales Office does not currently employ
any staff with disabilities". "People with disabilities"
is not a new category. You end the paragraph by saying, "The
office has worked closely with English Heritage in planning this
work, and hopes to be able to make progress in the near future".
"People with disabilities" is not a new category. When
can you hope to make any progress? Is it a fact that you do not
currently employ staff with disabilities because Gwydyr House
is not friendly, certainly not friendly towards people with disabilities?
(Mr Murphy) One of the problems is that Gwdyr House
is very old and is a listed building. There are difficulties in
making major alterations there, which is not the case in more
up-to-date buildings. The other general point is that obviously
it is a tiny department and it is very different from the large
departments which have the opportunity and scope to be able to
employ people in a variety of different ways.
(Mrs Jackson) I do not believe that anyone with a
disability has replied to our advertisements for jobs.
We do now have disabled toilets inside Gwydyr House; access for
wheelchairs is still a problem, but there is no bar to people
who have different kinds of disabilities being employed in Gwydyr
House. We also have some offices in the Assembly and there wheelchair
access would be perfectly okay.
I cannot remember, though I would need to check, whether we have
ever turned down anyone with a disability. Our appointment procedures
are on full equal opportunity terms. We use the Assembly's procedures
for equal opportunities, on each appointment we have to fill in
the monitoring form on equal opportunities, so our appointment
procedures are full equal opportunities. We are a small department
and people have not applied.
42. On the same page you refer to major refurbishment
of Gwydyr House, but you did not include in that refurbishment
ensuring that there was wheelchair access and possibilities for
wheelchairs to move within the building. Does that not send out
the wrong message to disabled people within our community?
(Mr Kilner) Within the building there is not that
problem. Refurbishment included changes to the toilets and the
layout of the building; inside the building there is no problem.
43. You do say in your report that wheelchair
access to and within the building still needs to be done and you
were talking to English Heritage about it
(Mr Kilner) There we are taking about immediate entry.
The point about disabled access into the building is very much
a case of trying to square the competing demands of being a listed
building with the Disability Discrimination Act. We did think
a few months ago that the answer was to provide separate access
at the rear of the building for wheelchairs. Thinking has moved
on slightly on the Disability Discrimination Act and the view
now is that the access provided for wheelchairs should be, so
far as possible, on the same side of the building, same entrance
that we and everybody else uses and so on. That has left us again
with the problem of reconciling the competing demands. Our architects
have come up with the idea which involves having a lift. The problem,
as you know, is that there are five or six stone steps to get
into the door of Gwydyr House. The idea that we have come up with
now is that we should have a lift to deal with those steps but
that instead of rising from pavement level up to the front door,
it will descend from pavement level and there will be a separate
entrance below the existing front door. We hope that comes much
closer to meeting the spirit of the Disability Discrimination
Act than having a completely separate access at the rear of the
building. We are currently talking to English Heritage and Westminster
City Council to establish that it meets their requirements from
the listed building point of view. If it does, then we shall go
ahead as soon as possible and implement that.
44. Did you consider delaying the refurbishment
until you could tackle the access question?
(Mr Kilner) My understanding is that we thought we
were under way on tackling the access question while the refurbishment
was going on, so that it was not a question of rushing ahead with
one thing without the whole.
45. You mentioned that your uptake of people
with disabilities through job advertisements was zero. Do you
think you are advertising in the right place? Are you advertising
in specific magazines or newspapers like Disability News or RNIB
or RNID publications to attract people with disabilities?
(Mrs Jackson) Because we are such a small department,
we provide very few career opportunities for staff. You could
not spend a satisfying career starting at the bottom of the Wales
Office and working up through it. Therefore all our staff are
on secondment either from the Assembly or from other Government
departments. The Wales Office does not directly employ any staff.
Although we pay salaries they are on secondment in the same way
that much of Cabinet Office is staffed by secondees. That means
that our only real option is to trawl for staff from the Assembly
and our concordat with the Assembly, which was discussed with
the Assembly trade unions, is that we will always trawl the Assembly
first for secondees and if that does not yield us any then we
go to other Whitehall department. That means that we are going
inevitably into an internal civil service pool. We talk about
this very often, about advertising for an external staff member,
but the structure, the time it would take to move on up, the possibilities
for career development in an office of fewer than 50 people within
the civil services are just so small that it does not make sense
for us to be staffed in any other way.
46. So it looks as though your report is going
to be the same next year then.
(Mrs Jackson) Not necessarily. There are plenty of
disabled people in the Assembly, it is just a question of whether
they want to come to work for us.
(Mr Murphy) There is a problem in terms of staffing
generally, particularly staffing with disabled people and others,
that it is a positive decision on the part of people to move from
Cardiff to London, to stay for a number of days or perhaps stay
here for a number of months, whatever it might in the way they
have their accommodation, but that is very different from an ordinary
Government department here or the Assembly in Cardiff. That is
one of the reasons. However, I shall have a look at the whole
question of disabilities and go through both access and employment
because I am sure that is something which exercises the Committee.
47. We are in danger of following one avenue
on this. We are not just talking about members of staff. Other
people wish to visit Gwydyr House. It is after all the Wales Office.
Members of Parliament who have disabilities for instance have
in the past failed to enter the Wales Office. It is all very well
for Mr Kilner to say that there are facilities within the building,
but you cannot get into the building. The Committee have not just
raised this matter in the year 2001. We raised it two or three
years ago as a committee and still nothing has been done about
it. Mr Caton's question is very pertinent: why on earth was this
not taken into consideration when a major refurbishment was being
planned? Are you all suitably embarrassed? It is not up to the
people who wish to apply for jobs at the Wales Office to consider
themselves as somebody special. They would probably think "Gwydyr
House? No, I won't be able to get there if I am wheelchairbound"
and then would not apply for jobs within Gwydyr House. That is
patently obvious to me as a member of this Committee.
(Mr Murphy) We shall have a look at that situation.
I take your point about the access but it is important to hear
what John said, that it was considered during the course of the
recent refurbishment, but because of the complications we have,
being a listed building, it was not easy to deal with. I shall
continue to look at it and see what can be done. It is probably
one of the most difficult buildings within the Whitehall complex
to be able to adapt in the way we should like to. It was examined,
it is still under discussion and we shall continue looking at
it and make sure the Committee are made aware of developments.
48. I am sure the Committee would welcome your
very positive response to that. May I also suggest that in that
review you consult with the Commissioner for Disability Rights
in Wales, Dr Fitzpatrick, who I am sure would come forward with
some very useful proposals?
(Mr Murphy) I know Dr Fitzpatrick and I shall certainly
49. I want to express a bit of concern about
the proposal to go down on a lift to a door which is at a lower
entry to Gwydyr House, if that is correct. Really the thinking
behind all the disability discrimination legislation is to have
something as normal as possible and where everybody else goes
in. Is there no possible way of gaining access through the same
door as everybody else?
(Mr Kilner) Ideally that is what we should like. We
have given it to our architects who have thought about it long
and hard and are much closer than I am to knowing precisely what
can and cannot be accepted under the listed building arrangements.
Their view is that that is the nearest to a shared access which
would meet the conflicting requirements of disabled people and
of the listed building.
50. It seems a bit worrying that disabled people
have to go down to the basement to get in.
(Mr Kilner) The detailed plans are on their way to
Westminster City Council and we have to see what they say.
51. May I go on to the next page, page 31, where
you give us figures for the percentage of women at each grade
in the Wales Office? May I make a suggestion for future reports?
It would be a good idea to have at a glance the situation in your
previous years' reports so that we can check these things. Also,
to make it more user-friendly, could you tell us what SCS and
so on means? I do not know how many members of the public in Wales
or indeed in London will read this report but it would be more
user-friendly if you gave a bit more information rather than use
civil service jargon.
(Mr Murphy) It is a normal description of grades of
(Mrs Jackson) There is no reason why we could not
put a key.
(Mr Murphy) It is fair to say that the Wales Office
are doing extremely well so far as the employment of women is
concerned, starting at the top, right through all the different
grades. Lots of my senior advisers who come from Cardiff are women
and that is something in which we, together with the Assembly,
are leading other departments in the country.
52. I am grateful for the opportunity to question
the Secretary of State. From what I have heard today in his opening
comments he does not actually run anything, he is not evaluated
and sometimes he does not even have the intention of telling people
what he gets up to. We have a department with only 18 people who
can answer letters and a department which does not pay its bills.
So I do think you are perhaps as brave as a dragon going into
the years 2002-03 with a flat budget of £2.3 million. I am
also quite curious as to how efficiency savings are going to absorb
any effects of inflation. Perhaps you could comment.
(Mr Murphy) If I might say so, the evaluation of a
political department which is wholly new cannot be done in quite
the same way as other Government departments. I have made that
point throughout the afternoon session. The effectiveness of what
we do cannot be measured in the same way because lots of the problems
we have to overcome are overcome before they ever reach the public
domain, and they never do. Indeed were it to be the case that
lots did reach the public domain, I should be failing in my job
completely. One of the reasons for my existence is to ensure that
we have smooth relations between the Assembly and Westminister
and Whitehall in these areas of devolution. It is that protection
of the constitutional settlement which is so vital to us in Wales
which is the main raison d'être for the existence
of the Wales Office and for my position at the Cabinet table.
We are very much part of the United Kingdom, but we are also devolved.
The existence of my job is about ensuring that we have a successful
devolution project, but also that Wales is seen as very much part
of the United Kingdom. That is what I am about. As to the points
you make regarding those figures ahead of us, the great bulk of
our expenditure inevitably is upon people and supporting people.
You cannot have a legislative process which does not have people
advising me on how primary legislation is to be drawn up or how
our details of policies ought to be dealt with. That is done by
people who are experts in their fields and have to advise me and
my deputy on these issues, but also other departments in the Assembly.
There are two areas of expenditure which are in this report which
are on their own, freestanding. One of them is the question of
the payment of lords lieutenants which still resides with my office.
The other was the big question of the North Wales child abuse
inquiry which had to be dealt with by the Wales Office and was
a matter for considerable expenditure. I propose to have a very
close look at staffing levels with the aid of outside experts
and it will be within that area that we shall see whether there
is a variation in the expenditure of this office over the coming
years. My aim is to keep it as low as possible, consistent with
an effective operation in the office and ensuring that we do the
job as well as we think we can. It is up to you and others to
decide whether we do that job effectively. It is also up to people
in Wales and in the Assembly to have their view too upon the effectiveness
of the Wales Office. I know that it is a matter of common policy
amongst political parties in Wales, certainly as there are primary
legislative powers here in Westminister for Wales, that the office
continues. The way in which we evaluate the success or otherwise
of the office can very often be a matter of subjective thinking,
but most particularly I cannot go into every detail of what I
say or do or talk to the First Minister about, no more than anybody
else in Government can. It comes down at the end of the day to
whether in fact that devolution settlement was smoothly worked
out between ourselves and the Assembly. I believe that it has
been successful: it is for others to judge.
53. That does not really answer the question
as to how you are going to achieve efficiency savings on your
flat budget of £2.3 million.
(Mr Murphy) It does. I said that the bulk of the spending
relates to people and their salaries. I cannot give an absolute
answer to that until I have decided how we are going to spend
money on people as a consequence of that review which I have initiated.
Obviously we shall look at other savings as well which are incidental
to the employment of people, but they are always incidental because
the bulk of the budget is salaries. Clearly we need to look at
that and I do not know what the review will come up with. We shall
have to wait and see.
54. That is what concerns me. We are obviously
worried about compromising the department's performance against
its targets. If you are going to leave it in the hands of a review
body, that is not exactly a comforting statement for us.
(Mr Murphy) I did not say that. I said I would listen
to what the review body advises me on, I will talk to my colleagues,
I will take cognizance of the views of this Committee which have
been expressed over the last few years and I shall see what is
consistent with an efficient running of an office to serve the
people of Wales and to serve Members of Parliament and to serve
the settlement. Then I shall have a look at the figures as well
and come to a conclusion on that, always in the knowledge, I repeat,
that the cost of running my office equates to the cost of running
a department of a medium-sized local authority in England of Wales.
55. In the report by your Department for the
year 2000 the voted Wales Office expenditure, including the line
related to specific running costs, was set at £3 million
per annum both for the last financial year and the current financial
year. However, in this year's Departmental Report the figures
changed quite significantly; you may argue possibly numerically
small, but nevertheless as a proportion large. They have risen
to £3,362 million and in this financial year £3,612
million. What is the reason for those increases? What was not
budgeted for last year which has suddenly arisen since?
(Mr Kilner) The clearest figure is probably at Annex
3 and that shows that our running costs have been fairly flat,
but that over the three years up to 2001-02, additional money
was required for the North Wales child abuse tribunal which ends
this year. That then creates a drop in the total figure for the
last two years of the period. If you look at Annex 3, you will
see the first line, pay bill and general administrative expenditure,
starting this year and running ahead is £2,279 million each
year. So that element is rather flatter than the total would suggest.
56. Indeed your report distinguishes between
the voted Wales Office expenditure and what are described as running
costs. Could you distinguish the difference between those two
figures? Why has the total figure risen by 89 per cent over the
planned period here and 79 per cent since the first year we are
starting from, which is July 1999, which is the comparable base
line from which we begin?
(Mr Kilner) The first year, 1999-2000 was a partial
year because the office only came into being on 1 July. It may
be that if you are taking that year as your base, you get a rather
57. I accept that but you can see that there
is a significant difference between last year's anticipation when
you were well under way and this year. There is quite a leap in
those two financial years.
(Mr Kilner) There was a spending review between the
two reports, so that would have changed the figures. I go back
to the point that some years do have in the North Wales child
abuse tribunal funding which tends to inflate them.
58. What additional functions did the review
show the department that you had not budgeted for?
(Mr Kilner) My understanding is that it did not add
any major functions.
59. With the same functions the figures rose
by £362,000 and then £612,000 in those two financial
(Mr Murphy) Yes. We shall write to the Committee on
the detail, but there are elements, particularly with the child
abuse tribunal and the lords lieutenants and others too, which
change and numbers of staff and staff getting normal pay increases
all have an effect as well.
2 In fact one person with a disability applied for
a job since publication of the Departmental report and was appointed.
However, access to the building is not an issue. Back
We have not had any other applications from people with a disability. Back
See Annex page 16. Back