Public Administrtion Select Committee April 25th
Q<443> <Paul Flynn:> One of the reforms that took place under the last Government was the introduction of the independent adviser on ministerial codes. That was implemented once in the last Government, and the person involved was found not guilty. There has been a great deal of unhappiness—including from the holder of the office last time—about the fact that the inquiry into the Secretary of State for Defence and his adviser was inadequate, and probably illegitimate, because it was not conducted according to the ministerial code. It was not conducted by the independent adviser, who said he should have conducted it. The Chairman of the standards committee said he should have conducted it. We feel it was done over a quick period, almost over a weekend—a matter of days—by a civil servant who produced a report that was inadequate in many ways. There is a great deal of concern about this. If we follow on from that, we know that the independent adviser resigned—
<Chair:> Are you giving evidence, Mr Flynn?
<Paul Flynn:> Yes, okay, I am. You are allowed to question me on this afterwards. Under the previous Government, this Committee asked for pre-appointment hearings for those appointed independent adviser. We do not have that system, but we had a virtual pre-appointment hearing, which members of this Committee took that way, and we questioned the replacement. I think the message has been conveyed to you that Committee’s view is that the new appointment does not have the robust independence that we regard as necessary. Are you going to ensure that his appointment is discontinued?
<Mr Maude:> No.
Q<444> <Paul Flynn:> Why?
<Mr Maude:> Well, it is not my appointment, for a start. This is an adviser to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister writes and disseminates the ministerial code. He appoints an adviser to advise him on the code and compliance with it.
Q<445> <Paul Flynn:> Don’t you give advice to the Prime Minister on this?
<Mr Maude:> On what?
<Paul Flynn:> On the suitability of the new appointee.
<Mr Maude:> I have no reason to question the suitability of the appointee, whom I have known for a long time. I am extremely aware of both his independence of mind and ability to express his view robustly; I know he will do that.
Q<446> <Paul Flynn:> Isn’t it a difficulty that you have known the person for a long time?
<Mr Maude:> Why?
<Paul Flynn:> Doesn’t it reinforce the view of cronyism in government if you are appointing people who you know have been saying, “Yes, sir; no, sir; three bags full, sir,” to politicians over the years, will they not take tough decisions involving politicians? He appeared before this Committee and we questioned him at some length, and the Committee’s view, which I believe may be unanimous, was that he is not the person for the job. You can disregard the view of the Committee, but do you think the Prime Minister should?
<Mr Maude:> He is not there to make decisions. He is there to advise the Prime Minister. The title is adviser to the Prime Minister on the ministerial code.
Q<447> <Paul Flynn:> The last time you were before this Committee, you disagreed with my suggestion that the Government were creating an ineptocracy. Have you had a chance to revise that view in light of the almost daily disasters that have come from Government policy, including one in which you were involved, which resulted in a wholly unnecessary, Government-created panic about a petrol shortage?
<Mr Maude:> No.
<Robert Halfon:> On a point of order, Mr Jenkin. What does that have to do with business appointments?
<Paul Flynn:> The witness has said that he would talk about anything. You must not see yourself as a guardian.
<Mr Maude:> I have given my answer: no.
Q<448> <Chair:> The purpose of raising this question is that we are waiting for the Government’s response to our inquiry, “The Prime Minister’s adviser on Ministers’ interests: independent or not?”, and we look forward to that response. We feel that this question of the independent adviser on ministerial interests overlaps with the conflict of interest question relating to business appointment rules.
<Mr Maude:> I understand that.
<Chair:> We want to draw that to your attention, and I do not think we need to pursue that further at this stage. The point has been made that, for all your respect, which we share, for the individual in that post, who is a most distinguished public servant, we do not feel it is likely that he will command public confidence in that role as an independent adviser. The Prime Minister can appoint as many advisers as he likes, but whether they are independent and can command public confidence in that role is another question.
I think we will move on. Is that all right, Mr Flynn?
Q<449> <Paul Flynn:> It is not all right. I did not hear the answer to the question of whether Mr Maude is apologetic for his contribution to the fuel panic.
<Mr Maude:> That was not the question you asked.
<Chair:> That topic is not for discussion today.
<Paul Flynn:> Well, Mr Maude said that he would talk about anything.
<Chair:> No. If you wanted to raise that, you could have raised it before. We are not going there now. Could you ask about the appearance of—
<Paul Flynn:> I appreciate that you are friends together. We have a Conservative little triangle here trying to protect the witness, which is not the purpose of the Select Committee. This is a matter of great concern. The country was put to enormous inconvenience by the witness before us. Will he apologise for his behaviour?
<Chair:> Mr Flynn, if you wanted to raise that matter, you could have raised it in the pre-meeting, so that we could discuss how to raise it. You did not do so.
<Paul Flynn:> The pre-meetings are between ourselves. I do not really want to reveal what goes on in the pre-meetings, but your idea of a pre-meeting is to— the two of you are pals. You dine together.
Q<450> <Chair:> I do not wish to prevent Mr Maude making a comment on this matter, if he wishes to do so.
<Mr Maude:> I can see how incredibly shocking it is that colleagues should talk to each other.
<Paul Flynn:> That is not the point. It is shocking that points of order are accepted by the Chair to stop my asking a question, or to prevent you from answering a legitimate question. You upset the country greatly—you personally. You made a statement that possibly led to an accident. Are you going to apologise for that?
<Charlie Elphicke:> That is outrageous.
<Robert Halfon:> On a point of order, Mr Chairman. What does the petrol issue have to do with the business appointment rules?
<Paul Flynn:> The witness said that he is willing to talk about anything; he is clearly not.
<Chair:> Mr Flynn, I am calling you to order.
<Paul Flynn:> If we—
<Chair:> Order. Can we concentrate on business appointments?
<Paul Flynn:> Well, we could if you decided to conduct this Committee in a fair way. This Committee had a good reputation, and under you it has lost that reputation. Unless you are willing to allow fair questions to be asked, as the witness suggests, there is not much point in conducting the business of this Committee.
<Chair:> I do not wish to suspend the Committee, but I would like you to ask your questions about the business appointment rules.