(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary, if she will make a statement on the appointment of the National Security Adviser and other senior civil service positions.
The Prime Minister has outlined today in Dudley how the Government will move to a new phase of their coronavirus response and focus on building a strong domestic recovery. Yesterday, he also set out a new structure of Cabinet committees better to co-ordinate our foreign and domestic policies. These reforms underline the need for separating the roles of National Security Adviser and Cabinet Secretary and head of the civil service.
These two senior positions have, of course, been separate under previous Administrations. Each is of vital importance, given the challenges ahead, and it is appropriate that they should be filled by two individuals who can serve in their respective posts through the rest of this Parliament. For this reason, the Prime Minister and Sir Mark Sedwill agreed some time ago that Sir Mark would stand down in September.
Sir Mark is a supremely dedicated, highly professional and hugely accomplished public servant. As the Prime Minister wrote in his letter of thanks to Sir Mark:
“You have done it all in Whitehall: from Afghanistan to the modernisation of the civil service; from immigration policy to Brexit and defeating coronavirus”.
I would like to add my own personal thanks for the exemplary contribution that Sir Mark has made to this country. Working alongside him has been both a pleasure and a privilege and I know that he will continue to contribute to the service of this country.
Sir Mark’s successor as NSA is also a distinguished public servant. David Frost has served for decades in our diplomatic service. A former ambassador, he has also been director of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s policy planning staff and principal foreign policy adviser to the Foreign Secretary. He is now, of course, the UK’s negotiator, shaping our future relationship with the EU, covering issues from trade and tariffs to security and defence co-operation. As NSA, David Frost will help to deliver this Government’s vision for Britain’s place in the world, supporting the Prime Minister in reinvigorating our national security architecture and ensuring that we defend our interests and values across the globe.
The NSA is a relatively new position, but it is always an appointment for the Prime Minister of the day. The First Civil Service Commissioner has agreed the position can be regarded as a political rather than necessarily civil service appointment. While it is a unique role, David Frost’s status will be akin to that of a special envoy representing the UK abroad, speaking publicly and setting the agenda for policy making. He will not be a permanent secretary or a special adviser, and the civil service will support him in the same way as any other political appointee: with objectivity, honesty, integrity and impartiality.
A competition will be launched shortly for the combined role of Cabinet Secretary and head of the civil service. This is open to existing and former permanent secretaries. We have been fortunate over the years to have been served by a series of outstanding Cabinet Secretaries, including Lords O’Donnell, Turnbull, Wilson, Butler and Armstrong, and, of course, Lord Heywood and Sir Mark. I have no doubt that their successor will continue their tradition of distinguished and dedicated public service.
May I just say, as this is a very important matter, that at some point the Government ought to be coming to the House with statements, rather than me granting UQs? Can we bear that in mind in future?
I am grateful at least to the Cabinet Office Minister for turning up on behalf of the Home Secretary. I am also grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question.
After Sir Mark Sedwill’s letter on his departure—and I thank him for his work—No. 10 put out a press release indicating that the Prime Minister had appointed David Frost, currently the Prime Minister’s European adviser and chief negotiator with the EU, as the new National Security Adviser. The first duty of any Government is to keep people safe, and in carrying out that duty any Government should have objective, and at times challenging, advice from their National Security Adviser. That is why making a political appointment takes this Government into such dangerous territory.
Independent, impartial, specialist advice on national security is crucial. Prime Ministers come and go, but security threats remain and evolve. Can the Cabinet Office Minister give one good reason why this is a political appointment? Can he tell us to whom ultimately the new National Security Adviser is accountable, and if he will be subject to the code of conduct for special advisers in this new special envoy status that seems to be being bestowed upon him? Was the Civil Service Commission involved in this appointment, and if so can the Minister outline what the commission ruled? Have the intelligence agencies and the wider intelligence and security community been consulted on this being a political appointee? And at such a crucial time in our trade negotiations with the EU, how will Mr Frost’s additional responsibilities impact upon him being able to achieve the best outcome for the United Kingdom by the end of the year, as the Government have promised?
Also very worrying is the wider issue of a lobby briefing from February that No. 10 had a hit list of several permanent secretaries that it wanted to push out. Our civil service and our civil servants are world leading and we should be proud of the extraordinary work they do. Weak Prime Ministers take advice only from those who agree with them; those who put the national interest first should welcome different views and welcome challenge. So can Cabinet Office Minister tell us, quite simply: what is the Prime Minister so afraid of, and why will he not put his duty to keep people safe first?
I am very grateful to the shadow Home Secretary for his questions. I am sorry that he did not find time to thank Sir Mark Sedwill for his service—
I did at the start.
Okay. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s kind words now.
The hon. Gentleman asked about objective and challenging advice. Sir David Frost is a distinguished public servant who has spent decades in diplomatic service and as such has given advice to Labour and Conservative Governments without fear or favour. There is no suggestion that Sir David is anything other than an exemplary public servant capable of discharging his duties and responsibilities with authority and integrity, and in a way which will guarantee the safety and security of all. He is, of course, accountable to the Prime Minister, and he will operate as other special envoys have. It is not a novelty, as the hon. Gentleman implied, to create special envoys: under Labour Ann Clwyd was made a special envoy on human rights in Iraq, Des Browne was the special envoy on Sri Lanka and, of course, Michael Levy was made special envoy to the middle east. In each of these roles, appropriate political appointments were made.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the First Civil Service Commissioner. The First Civil Service Commissioner, as I pointed out in my remarks, has agreed that it is entirely appropriate for this role to be carried out by a political appointee. I think it is important that all of us recognise that Prime Ministers, whether Labour, Conservative or any other colour, should have confidence in those advising them, and those advising them should also operate in a way that is true to the highest traditions of public service. That has always been the way in which David Frost and Sir Mark have carried out their duties, and I am confident that will be the case for the National Security Adviser in the future and for the future Cabinet Secretary.
Let’s hear from a former Prime Minister: Theresa May.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I first pay tribute to Sir Mark Sedwill and thank him for his extraordinary public service over many years? I served on the National Security Council for nine years—six years as Home Secretary and three as Prime Minister. During that time, I listened to the expert independent advice from National Security Advisers.
On Saturday, my right hon. Friend said:
“We must be able to promote those with proven expertise”.
Why, then, is the new National Security Adviser a political appointee, with no proven expertise in national security?
Like my right hon. Friend, I, too, want to pay tribute again to Sir Mark. Having served in Cabinet when she was Prime Minister and Sir Mark was Cabinet Secretary, I appreciate just how much we all owe to him for his distinguished public service. I should also say that we have had previous National Security Advisers, all of them excellent, not all of whom were necessarily people who were steeped in the security world; some of them were distinguished diplomats in their own right. David Frost is a distinguished diplomat in his own right and it is entirely appropriate that the Prime Minister of the day should choose an adviser appropriate to the needs of the hour.
Of course, Sir Mark Sedwill should be thanked for his distinguished service, but the truth is that his card was marked last year when he warned the Cabinet that Brexit would be a disaster. He also said that the consequent recession could be worse than 2008 and that prices could go up by 10%. This is all about the revenge of the Vote Leave campaign, whose so-called mastermind is now pulling the strings of this Government—although one does have to wonder about the masterliness of a mind that thinks a good way to test one’s eyesight is to go for a 60-mile drive.
I have three questions for the Minister. First, will he confirm that this is the start of the hard rain that Dominic Cummings promised for the civil service? Secondly, it has long been thought desirable for the Government to have the assistance of a civil service that is neutral, objective, above party politics and free from the taint of apparent bias. Does the Minister think there is any merit left in those qualities? Thirdly and finally, Lord Ricketts, himself a former National Security Adviser, has queried whether Mr Frost, a former diplomat, has the necessary experience of the wider security and defence agenda to fulfil the role of National Security Adviser. Will the Minister detail for us what experience Mr Frost has in those fields? Or should we be left with the impression that, even when it comes to national security, it is more important to have yes men in post than people with the requisite experience?
I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her questions. The objectivity, neutrality and authority of our civil service is a source of pride to this Government, as it has been to previous Governments. I have been fortunate, in a variety of Departments, to work with civil servants of the highest standard, to whom I owe so much. I had the opportunity on Saturday, in the speech that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) referred to, to thank them for saving me from mistakes that I might have made and for ensuring that policies that this Government have developed were delivered effectively.
The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) asks about previous National Security Advisers and their range of expertise. It is true that Sir Peter, now Lord Ricketts, was chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, and permanent representative to NATO, but it is also the case that other previous National Security Advisers, including Mark Lyall Grant and Kim Darroch, were distinguished diplomats, without necessarily being steeped entirely in the world of security and intelligence. It is appropriate that the Prime Minister’s adviser on national security should be someone with diplomatic expertise. It is also the case, of course, that David Frost, in the negotiations that he is conducting with the European Union at the moment, is tackling and dealing with delicate questions of national security and defence co-operation as well.
May I thank Sir Mark for his service, on behalf of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee? Notwithstanding the particular nature of the appointment, is the combination of the National Security Adviser and the Cabinet Secretary posts not a recent innovation? Is my right hon. Friend’s reforming zeal not merely a restoration of things past? Could he also confirm that the Civil Service Commission will be obliged to recommend the appointment of a current or former permanent secretary for the role of Cabinet Secretary, rather than an outsider?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Civil Service Commission has advised, and the Prime Minister has agreed, that it should be either a current or former permanent secretary who becomes the next Cabinet Secretary. He is also right that traditionally the roles of National Security Adviser and Cabinet Secretary have been split. When former Prime Minister David Cameron was in opposition, the then principal national security adviser was of course a political appointee.
Will the new politically appointed special envoy and National Security Adviser be responsible for the performance reviews of the heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ? Does the Minister agree that nothing should be done to suggest any political interference in the crucial intelligence agencies that support our national interest?
The right hon. Lady makes an important point, and of course those reviews are carried out by those who can be fully objective, in the round, in a way that is free of any taint of political interference.
In a speech at the weekend, my right hon. Friend set out a wider strategy for civil service reform and referenced President F. D. R. He said:
“FDR asked his government to remember the forgotten man. In the 2016 referendum those who had been too often forgotten asked to be remembered”.
With that in mind, what steps is he taking to ensure that my constituents in Redcar and Cleveland will never be forgotten and that they have a civil service that truly works for them?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have a superb civil service, but it is also important that we make sure it serves the people of this country even better. The Prime Minister in his speech in Dudley today announced that part of the doubling down on levelling up was making sure that more important policy-making roles in our civil service were carried out closer to people, including on Teesside.
In his Ditchley lecture at the weekend, the Minister said:
“How can we in Government be less southern, less middle class, less reliant on those with social science qualifications and more welcoming to those with physical science and mathematical qualifications”?
I am pleased the Government now think that experts are important, but can he set out how his Ditchley commitments were taken into account in the political appointment of a non-expert and arguably initially part-time new National Security Adviser?
There is no question but that David Frost is an expert. Someone who spent decades in diplomatic service, is currently conducting a complex international negotiation and was head of policy and planning at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is hardly an ingénue in the world of foreign affairs, but I am grateful to the hon. Lady for pointing out that we need to be a little less southern. Voices from Lancashire and Scotland are always important in the national conversation.
Following up what the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said, may I ask who reports to who? Do members of the various security services report to the National Security Adviser or to a Cabinet Minister? Does the National Security Adviser report directly to the Prime Minister or to another person?
The Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ are answerable to the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, and MI5 to the Home Secretary, and the National Security Adviser is, and always has been, accountable to the Prime Minister of the day.
Could the Minister try a wee bit harder to explain to everyone watching why Sir Simon McDonald, Sir Philip Rutnam, Sir Kim Darroch and now Sir Mark Sedwill have been hung out to dry by the Government, when a man with great power but no responsibility, who can flout laws, and who is openly laughed at and disbelieved by the Great British public still has a job?
I am not sure to whom the hon. Gentleman is referring—[Interruption.] I’m not, I’m not—I’m a simple soul. I am not sure to whom he was referring in the second part of his question, but all those he mentioned are distinguished public servants. In particular, I would like to place on the record my thanks to Sir Simon McDonald for the excellent work he has done, and is still doing, at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and to Sir Kim Darroch, who was a very distinguished National Security Adviser as well as a great ambassador to the United States.
Given the timing of David Frost’s appointment, could the Minister please outline the extent to which security considerations will be on the table during our Brexit negotiations and, in particular, on any role that David Frost might have in the forthcoming integrated review?
It is the case, as my hon. Friend rightly points out, that one aspect of our negotiations on our future relationship with the European Union relates to internal security as well as defence co-operation, and Mr Frost is well-equipped, well-briefed and authoritative on those issues. It is also the case that an integrated review of defence, aid and foreign policy will be carried out by the National Security Council. It will be the case that David Frost will lead on that, ably assisted by the two deputy national security advisers and, of course, ultimately accountable to the National Security Council itself, which is a Cabinet Committee.
I served on the National Security Council in the first two and a half years after it was set up—with my right hon. Friend in fact—and it does seem to me that it is clearly sensible to have the National Security Adviser separate from the head of the civil service. Both are very exacting roles: they may fit closely together, but they are very different. I have read digitally my right hon. Friend’s brilliant, and long, speech at the weekend: will he confirm the centrality of the National Security Council—the reform that we introduced in 2010—and in particular in its role of wiring together defence, diplomacy and development in our national interest?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on displaying the stamina to read all of the speech. It would have been a shorter speech had I had the time to edit it appropriately. His point is absolutely correct. The creation of the National Security Council was an innovation pioneered by David Cameron when he was in Opposition. The potential National Security Adviser at that time was a political appointee, and it was the case when the coalition Government was formed that the distinguished figure of Lord Ricketts, then Sir Peter Ricketts, became the first National Security Adviser. It is an innovation in the governance of the UK, but it is one that has served us well, and it is of course the case that national security advisers in other countries are very often political appointees.
Will Mr Frost have finished with his duties as the EU negotiator by the time he takes the security job, or is it still the Government’s view that the National Security Adviser should be a part-time role?
We are confident that we will be making progress over the course of the next few weeks in EU negotiations. They are being conducted intensively, specifically at the request of the Prime Minister and the President of the European Commission.
May I thank Sir Mark for his service and wish his successor all the best? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fundamental changes that are needed in the civil service go beyond personnel changes at the top and need to reflect the people’s priorities?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course it is the case that there will always be turnover in the civil service. The normal length of tenure for someone in a permanent secretary role is five years, and it is also the case that previous Governments, in order to ensure that they could achieve their agenda, had political appointees. It was the case that the previous Labour Government had, in the persons of Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell, two political appointees who were given the power through Order in Council to give direction to civil servants. My hon. Friend is right that we need to ensure we have the broadest possible talent pool and an exciting agenda of reform.
We have heard that we lost Kim Darroch, Philip Rutnam, Simon McDonald and now Mark Sedwill. In appointing Sir David Frost as National Security Adviser, is this what the Minister meant in June 2016 when he said that
“people in this country have had enough of experts”?
Does he believe now that we have gone from “Yes, Minister” to “Yes, special adviser”?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of what happened in 2016, when the people of this country voted to leave the European Union. I am afraid that he has edited what I said at the time, which was that we had had enough of experts from organisations with acronyms that had got things wrong in the past. I was specifically referring to the legions of economic modellers in organisations like the IMF and the CBI who argued that we should join the euro and then were proven wrong because we were successful outside the euro. My own view is that expertise is to be applauded and should be rewarded, particularly in quoting opposing politicians. So I hope that he will look back again at the record and gently correct it.
I strongly support the split of the two roles; they are very big and very different jobs. When the Government come to appoint a new Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service, will they pay special attention to the need to improve the accuracy, timeliness and relevance of data being used by chief executives and other senior managers throughout the civil service and the agencies, as well as by Ministers, so that they can ask the right questions and provide the right supervision? There could be a lot of improvement in that area.
My right hon. Friend is right. He was intimately involved in a programme of Whitehall reform when he was head of the Prime Minister’s policy unit in the 1980s, as a very young man. The innovations that were brought in at that time under political appointees such as Sir John Hoskyns and others helped to create the “next steps” agencies, which were so vital in ensuring that there was greater accountability in the delivery of public services. We could do well to learn from some of the examples that he set.
Under this Dominic Cummings Government, senior civil servants are in the firing line like never before, with three resignations and one industrial tribunal all in the space of six months. What steps will the Minister take to end this toxic workplace environment for senior civil servants, or can we expect a season of hard rain which puts us on a slippery slope towards US-style yes-men government based on political appointments?
Well, the Scottish National party knows something about the importance of political appointments in government in order to deliver its agenda. It is only fair to record that, far from there being any sort of toxicity, the environment in which our civil servants work is one characterised by their determination to put public service first, and for that I thank them.
What reassurances can my right hon. Friend give the House that, rather than leading to delays and disruptions, these changes to the civil service’s top team will turbo-charge the Government’s levelling-up agenda—an agenda that the Prime Minister reiterated his commitment to today?
My hon. Friend is right. We need to ensure that we reform how the Government work in order to deliver better for the people whose taxes we spend and in whose name we act. The Prime Minister’s speech in Dudley today was a clarion cry for reform, and we need to ensure that Government are in a position to deliver it.
Sir Mark Sedwill steps down at the end of September and will be replaced as National Security Adviser by David Frost, who will also remain the EU chief negotiator, which he says will be his “top single priority” until the negotiations have concluded. If the negotiations carry on into October and beyond, who will have the nation’s security as their top single priority, or is this just a case of misapplied persistent experimentation?
Like me, the right hon. Gentleman is a believer in experimentation, scientific method, empiricism and pragmatism. As we both know, the negotiations with the European Union are accelerating at the moment, as both sides seek to find a conclusion over the course of the next five weeks.
I am sure the Minister agrees that the incorruptibility and independence of mind of the civil service is one of the key features of our government, but it occurs to me that there may be a bit of hype around this issue. Surely someone who spends decades as a professional diplomat can hardly be accused of not knowing anything about national security, and surely independence is in their DNA. There is also hype about all these advisers—about Dominic Cummings and David Frost. These people just give advice. Can we not rely on the Prime Minister and the Minister to actually run the country? They are quite capable, are they not?
As ever, my right hon. Friend speaks good sense. It is the case that national security advisers, like other advisers, are there to advise, and then Ministers decide.
The Minister has said that he believes that civil service objectivity, neutrality and expertise is a source of pride, so why are his Government riding roughshod over that objectivity, neutrality and expertise and politicising a very important national security appointment?
I should say that we never had a National Security Adviser under a Labour Government. Some of us might think that we were well or poorly governed at that time, but it seems to me slightly recherché of the Labour party to object to the evolution of a role that it had no part in either creating or advocating.
Can my right hon. Friend outline what steps the Government are taking to attract new talent to the civil service and ensure that we have the right people in the right job and the right location, so that the civil service works for all constituencies, such as Hyndburn and Haslingden?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In the speech to which some hon. Members referred earlier, I made the point that we needed to disperse decision making in the civil service, and one of the locations I suggested we should think about locating more key decision makers was east Lancashire.
From addressing nuclear proliferation to countering terrorism, there is a need to build and sustain relationships with European allies and, indeed, to secure a future relationship deal on policing and security co-operation. So how do the Government plan to reconcile David Frost’s role as National Security Adviser with his role as Brexit negotiator, in which he is currently engaging in brinkmanship, and indeed the risk of no deal at the end of the year?
I should think that it is precisely because David Frost is involved in complex and serious negotiations about security and defence co-operation with our European allies that he is supremely well placed to take on the role of National Security Adviser.
Having served in Afghanistan with Sir Mark, can I add my thanks to him as a hugely distinguished civil servant, diplomat and indeed, in many ways, our top securocrat? Can I also pay tribute to the work that he has achieved in reforming the government in the last few years?
Before the new National Security Adviser appears before the Foreign Affairs Committee, as he surely will in his new post—I am sure the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will add weight to make sure that that representation or that parliamentary scrutiny happens—can my right hon. Friend assure me that the new National Security Adviser will actually work to build up alliances, not just simply talk about Britain first?
My hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Select Committee, makes a very important point. David Frost has already appeared in front of Select Committees—the Select Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union and also the House of Lords European Union Committee—and I am sure that he would be delighted to take up that invitation. As my hon. Friend quite rightly points out, the building and maintenance of alliances are critical to projecting our interests and protecting our values globally.
Can I add my thanks to Mark Sedwill for his work both in security and as Cabinet Secretary? Mr Frost is a political appointment. He has been given a seat in the other place, but he is not a Minister; he is a special envoy. Picking up on the question that the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee has just raised, will the ISC and other Committees that scrutinise his work be able to summon him before them to scrutinise what he is doing? That is important if we are going to have clear parliamentary oversight of his role. I think that needs clarifying, because the Minister in his reply to the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee did not answer that question.
I am sorry if I failed to provide the clarity required, but I am sure that for all Select Committees, including the very important ISC, David Frost will make himself and his colleagues available so that he can answer questions.
The civil service review into the effectiveness of the National Security Council concluded:
“The NSC demonstrates the potential benefits of a ‘strong grip’ at the centre and the ‘halo effect’ of consistent prime ministerial investment of time and effort in committee work.”
Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that this strong grip will only be increased by the appointment of David Frost as National Security Adviser, a person who works effectively with the Prime Minister, has his full support and has demonstrated impressive ability during the trade negotiations with the European Union and during his long diplomatic career?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is important that someone in that role commands the confidence of the Prime Minister and is capable of working effectively with him. I should say—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) makes a comment from a sedentary position. The Labour Government between 1997 and 2010 were responsible for many good things, but the idea that they were entirely free of any political appointees will, for most students of contemporary history, seem to be a form of selective amnesia.
During an evidence session of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee last March, Mark Sedwill came under considerable scrutiny regarding the demands of fulfilling two very important roles. The Minister is now asking David Frost potentially to do the same, as he is currently the UK Government’s chief Brexit negotiator and, as was mentioned earlier, he has stated that that is his “top single priority”. Given his lack of experience of the wider security and defence agenda, does the Minister not think that his entire focus from day one should go on this new job, or is the role of National Security Adviser now reduced to being a yes man to the Prime Minister?
I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that the role of National Security Adviser did not exist before 2010; it was created by David Cameron as Prime Minister. The hon. Gentleman is also quite wrong to say that David Frost has no experience in these areas. He is a distinguished diplomat, he has been an ambassador, and he is dealing with negotiations at the moment that involve security and defence co-operation.
Does my right hon. Friend share my genuine confusion at the ambivalence of those on the Opposition Benches and at the fact that someone who was first appointed to the Foreign Office at a time when the shadow Home Secretary was seven years old and who has served in Denmark, Paris, Cyprus and the United Nations does not command their full support?
I quite agree with my hon. Friend. One of the surprising things about the tone taken by some Members on the Opposition Benches is the idea that someone who has dedicated their life to public service, such as David Frost, should be barred from office.
If I am honest, I do not really care who the Prime Minister appoints as his National Security Adviser. It is entirely up to him; he can appoint all the duff ambassadors who have ever walked through the Foreign Office, if that is what he wants to do. However, my fear is that in creating this mixed role, where somebody is a quasi-Minister who has been given a job for life in the House of Lords, who is a member of the legislature but it is meant to be a special adviser, and who is a special adviser who can none the less give direction to civil servants, he has created Frankenstein’s monster.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making the point that the choice of National Security Adviser is properly one for the Prime Minister. I dissent from the assertion that there was anything duff about the ambassadorial role that David Frost played. He has been a very distinguished civil servant—
You didn’t work with him as an ambassador!
He was a very distinguished civil servant, and it is certainly the case that those whom I know who work in the Foreign Office have nothing but praise for him. Talking about political appointments, the distinguished former Cabinet Minister, Paul Boateng, was appointed by a Labour Government as high commissioner to South Africa and, as I mentioned earlier, a Member of the House of Lords, Michael Levy, again a distinguished figure who was a fundraiser for the Labour party, was appointed as a special envoy to Israel. My own view is: Michael Levy, Paul Boateng—good appointments; David Frost—excellent appointment.
The National Security Adviser is clearly a very important role. It should be a separate role and I am sure that David Frost is well qualified to do it. On the confidentiality of secure Government information, could the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster update the House on what happened to the investigation into the leak of the diplomatic telegrams from Sir Kim Darroch?
My hon. Friend, who was a distinguished Foreign Office and International Development Minister, raises an important point. This is an area outside my immediate responsibility, but I will report back to the House on it.
I congratulate the Secretary of State for making the most outrageous points and keeping a straight face. He is very good at doing that. Will he answer the question asked right at the beginning of this debate by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May)? Precisely what are the new National Security Adviser’s qualifications in national security, which, after all, all of us care about because it is about the safety and security of each and every person in this country? What are his specific qualifications and expertise, and why on earth, given his other job, was he considered even for a second for this role?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her compliment.
I know it was salty, but nevertheless there was an air of sweetness about it as well.
The broader point, though, is that, as I mentioned earlier, David Frost is involved in one of the most complex diplomatic negotiations that has ever been conducted, and a diplomatic negotiation that relates specifically to defence and security co-operation as well as to tariffs and trade. He has been a civil servant—a diplomat—for decades. It is the case that Mark Lyall Grant, who was National Security Adviser, and Kim Darroch, who was National Security Adviser, were not people who were steeped in the world of intelligence and security; they were gifted diplomats and gifted public servants, and of course they were supported, as David will be, by a superb team in the National Security Secretariat.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that a key lesson from all research about politically led organisations is that one-size-fits-all structures are doomed to fail, that leaders need to be able to structure their top teams to best deploy the available talent, and that leaders remain politically accountable for any decisions that they take as a result of their advice?
My hon. Friend, who is a very distinguished council leader, is absolutely right. During the second world war, for example, the Churchill-Attlee Government appointed people such as Professor Frederick Lindemann, who came from outside Whitehall but added specific expertise. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach towards government; what it does, when it is done well, is marry the expertise of the civil service with challenge from politicians and others.
To my mind, it is just inexplicable that the Government would seek to completely overhaul the civil service at a time when stability and clarity are crucial in tackling the covid crisis. Why on earth have the Government chosen a time of unprecedented uncertainty to dismiss the head of the civil service and then to set out on the inherently ideological vision of the unelected Dominic Cummings to politicise the UK’s world-class civil service?
I am glad that the hon. Lady says that the UK’s civil service is world-class. That is one of the reasons why I hope that Scotland will continue to benefit from its expertise and authority and that the chimera of separatism will be seen off. I will make sure that the hon. Lady’s paean of praise to the UK Government is shared across Scotland between now and May.
I join many colleagues across the House in paying tribute to Sir Mark Sedwill for his many years of distinguished service. Today, we heard the Prime Minister talk about levelling up and about how talent is spread right across our country. There is great talent in Bishop Auckland, but many young people in the north-east do not see the civil service as an achievable place to work. Does my right hon. Friend agree that getting some major elements of the civil service out of London—perhaps into County Durham—is a great start to making that happen?
My hon. Friend is spot on. Whether they are in Newcastle, County Durham or Teesside, we need to make sure that the many talented young people in the north-east regard public service as within their reach. We need to bring Government closer to them to better reflect the diversity of this country, and to better reflect the cognitive diversity that means having appropriate challenge for Government.
The first duty of any Government is to keep their citizens and their country safe and secure. However, the Prime Minister, having gradually forced out a highly respected national security expert, has decided to replace him as National Security Adviser with his political friend—someone who has never worked in defence or security intelligence and who, in fact, until recently was the head of the Scotch Whisky Association and the chief executive officer of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Can the Minister explain why the Government hate hiring experts? Will he also confirm widespread rumours that the Prime Minister believes his plumber should be the next manager of the England football team?
Speaking as a supporter of the Scotland football team, I think that appointing a plumber to be the manager of the England football team would be a novel and interesting way of evening the odds.
The SNP is with me on that.
My right hon. Friend may not be aware that there was a six-month stand-off in 2018 between the then Defence Committee and No. 10 over whether Sir Mark Sedwill, newly appointed as National Security Adviser, should appear before that Committee, because it was argued that he appeared before the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy and he need not come to us. Can my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that this National Security Adviser will indeed testify as required before all relevant Committees, including the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Defence Committee and, who knows, the ISC, if it is re-established by then?
I very much take on board my right hon. Friend’s point. it is the case that normally for any particular official or Minister there will be one Select Committee, which is the principal area to which they will be accountable. But, speaking for myself in my own role, I have been held accountable by the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union as well as by PACAC. I know that David Frost will want to engage with all the Committees of this House and the other place in order to ensure appropriate scrutiny.
The Minister must have misheard the question from the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, but, because I am very kind, I will ask him again. Will the party politically appointed National Security Adviser be responsible for the performance reviews of the independent heads of intelligence and security services?
I know that the hon. Lady was a very successful teacher before she came to this place, so I am grateful to her for giving me the opportunity to resit the exam, and I hope that I will be able to pass it this time. It will not be the case that there will be any individual responsible for that, no.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that appointments to civil service positions need to reflect the experience of people of all backgrounds to be relevant to the needs of the hour? That means all types of school, all parts of the country, people from the charity sector and the private sector, as well, of course, as talented and skilled public servants?
Yes, I absolutely do agree, and diversity of background and cognitive diversity are important in public service.
The idea that this is about social mobility is for the birds. General Sir Richard Barrons, the former chief of Joint Forces Command and indeed a Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff, described this as
“a move for ‘chumocracy’. Someone in Boris Johnson’s inner circle is being moved higher up the inner circle”
He also said that
“when it comes to matters of security, his knowledge is zero, and that is a matter of concern.”
One of the key lessons from the Chilcot inquiry was the importance of speaking truth to power. How can a political appointee of this nature, part of the chumocracy, speak truth to power?
I note that the Chilcot inquiry was an inquiry into the conduct of foreign affairs under a Labour Administration. Anyone who has seen how those in the National Security Secretariat discharge their responsibilities under this Administration will know that they consistently speak truth to power.
May I put on record my thanks to Sir Mark Sedwill for his public service? I served with him when he was permanent secretary at the Home Office, and I served in that Department as Immigration Minister. I know that he brings a tremendous set of skills and has served our country faithfully over many years. Looking at the responsibilities of the National Security Adviser as the secretary to the National Security Council, which covers a wide range of matters, not just national security, it seems to me that David Frost is eminently qualified. That council also has the heads of the agencies and the military chief sitting on it. May I ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster whether, given all the threats and challenges facing the country, he anticipates the National Security Council sitting relatively frequently in the months to come?
I am really grateful to my right hon. Friend for making that point; I should have made it earlier. It is the case that when the National Security Council sits, it is absolutely required that the representatives of the various security and intelligence agencies that keep us safe are there, along with key military and diplomatic figures. The National Security Adviser is one of a number of those with expertise, and it is the case that the National Security Council is now meeting more frequently, not least to take forward the integrated review that I know he supports.
Don’t prorogue Parliament as the Supreme Court will find it unlawful. Don’t approve this planning application, Secretary Jenrick, as it will be found unlawful. Is this not just the latest case of the Government absolutely ignoring civil servants and making party political appointments that are wholly inappropriate. Does the Minister agree with that?
It may surprise the hon. Gentleman, but, no, I do not. Of course, we benefit from impartial and authoritative advice, but, ultimately, Ministers decide. It is certainly the case that, in the Scottish Government, I know that the excellent civil servants there provide robust challenge, but, just occasionally, Ministers of the Scottish Government sometimes take a different view.
You would think that nothing had changed since the fall of Thomas Cromwell. Has my right hon. Friend read Hilary Mantel’s “The Mirror and the Light”? It is not really like that, is it?
I have not had the opportunity to read Ms Mantel’s latest novel, but I hope to have the opportunity to do so over the summer. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that, historically, government has been carried on by a mixture of those who are dedicated public servants in the civil service and outside appointees of a political hue.
On Radio 4’s “Today” programme yesterday, the Secretary of State for Education said that making the National Security Adviser a political appointment was following the example of the United States. President Trump has had well-documented rows with his security services. I always say that when it comes to issues such as Huawei or other security issues, we can follow and trust in the advice of our security services because we know it is non-political. Can I still say that?
Yes, absolutely. If advice comes from the agencies, then that advice will always go, absolutely direct, to the Prime Minister and to the relevant politician. The record of previous national security advisers in the United States of America, from Condoleezza Rice to Henry Kissinger, is a distinguished one. Having people of that stature reflects well on the Presidents who appointed them, and it makes the case that a national security adviser of the kind that David Cameron introduced is a welcome innovation.
In 1987, David Frost was appointed to start his career in the diplomatic service. He served there for a quarter of a century. He has since served in senior appointments both in government and in the private sector. Does the Minister agree that it is exactly people with this range of experience that we need in senior government positions?
My hon. Friend, who has served in government as a political appointee, knows absolutely whereof he speaks. As I say, I find it somewhat curious that Opposition Members who have themselves supported the Government on many, many political appointees are now having a fit of the vapours at the idea that there should be a political appointee.
The Minister claims that there was an issue with Sir Mark Sedwill carrying out two roles, so how is it practical to combine the role of National Security Adviser with a commitment to intensify EU negotiations—or have the Government already given up on a good deal?
It is precisely because we do want a good deal that negotiations are being intensified. That decision was taken by the Prime Minister and by the Presidents of the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council. We all wish those involved bonne chance.
I very much welcome the appointment of David Frost, who is well qualified for the roles that my right hon. Friend has outlined. At the weekend in a Government press release, David Frost is said to have said that he is particularly exercised by the importance of the integrated review and the formation of the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. What role does my right hon. Friend envisage for David Frost in the formation of that very welcome new Department? When will the new permanent secretary be appointed to the Department? Does my right hon. Friend agree that he or she has to be an excellent change manager? What relationship will David Frost have to the new perm sec?
That is a very thoughtful set of questions from a very successful previous Minister in the Foreign Office. It is right that the integrated review should look at how diplomacy, aid, and defence and security mesh. He is right that David Frost’s experience equips him well for that role. There will be no single individual who will be reviewing these matters. There will be a range of people, including existing civil servants. I should add that one of those is also involved as another political appointee in the Prime Minister’s policy unit—a biographer of Clement Attlee. I am sure that the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) would agree that that is a qualification for high office.
Listening to the excellent Minister, I have learned that the National Security Adviser is not going to be a civil servant or a special adviser but a special envoy who will travel all over the world. Since we are adopting the idea from America of appointing people into government who support the Government—not a bad thing, I would say—would it not also be a good idea to take from America the idea of confirmation hearings and let this appointment be made only after a Committee of this House has held a confirmation hearing?
That is an interesting constitutional innovation. I remember that when I was shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, the then Children’s Commissioner was interviewed by the Education Committee. The Committee said that she should not be appointed, but the then Secretary of State, Ed Balls, did appoint her, and he was entirely within his rights to do so. Of course Select Committees have an important role to play, but ultimately Ministers decide.
National security is reserved, but protecting communities requires co-operation with Governments and agencies that are devolved. How can the devolved Administrations have confidence in a lead official who acts not in the wider public interest, but at the beck and call of the Prime Minister?
I think that the devolved Administrations can have confidence in David Frost. He has talked to the Ministers in the devolved Administrations who are concerned with the fate of the EU negotiations. We were reminded by the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) that David Frost was, for a while, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, so those in Speyside and elsewhere in Scotland can be confident that this is a man who has their best interests at heart.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I suspend the House for three minutes.