Motion to Take Note
My Lords, when I joined your Lordships’ House 23 years ago, I was in the middle of research funded by the ESRC into the role of senior Ministers and their relationships with senior civil servants. Many of the problems I identified then remain today. Over the past 20 years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of training those who lead government, but the capacity to deliver that training has not kept pace with the aspirations.
My proposition is that those who head departments should have some training in how to lead. Leadership entails not just being able to manage an organisation in terms of ensuring that it runs efficiently but, crucially, creating a vision, getting others to buy into that vision—making them feel they have a stake in it and have contributed to it—and being able to turn that vision into action. Let me flesh out the two primary components of this proposition; the first covers who should be trained and the second what the training should—indeed, must—include.
We have a system of government where, historically, senior civil servants and Ministers have been generalists, lacking specialist knowledge and training in management. Although the importance of training civil servants has been variously recognised and led by bodies such as the Civil Service College, the National School of Government and Civil Service Learning, less attention has been accorded to the value of training Ministers, even though it is Ministers to whom we look for leadership and generating the vision—the goals—that civil servants are then expected to deliver.
Ministers matter. The doctrine of individual ministerial responsibility is important not so much for ascribing culpability when things go wrong but for ensuring that senior Ministers have line control of departments. Despite recurrent claims of prime ministerial or presidential government, the resources of No. 10 are limited and Prime Ministers are rarely interested in the whole gamut of public policy. They may determine high policy, but middle-level policy remains with senior Ministers. I have argued that the baronial model of government is as applicable in British government as that of prime ministerial government.
Some Ministers have their own fiefdoms. Legal powers are vested in senior Ministers—formally the Secretary of State—and not the Prime Minister or Cabinet. Ministers matter not only for what they may decide to do, but for what they decide not to do. They are important gatekeepers. As Heclo and Wildavsky noted many years ago in their seminal study, Cabinet Ministers are
“chief executives of their own departmental empires”.
Ministers matter, not just in terms of the powers vested in them but in how they seek to use them. I generated a typology of Ministers, comprising commanders, ideologues, managers, team players and agents. I distinguished purpose in office from the skills necessary to achieve it. Ministers may have a vision, but they may not have the ability to turn it into action. Some may be skilful politicians, but they may lack any clear vision.
New Ministers will typically come into office with no training or experience in running a department and often with no experience in leading others. They learn by observation as junior Ministers or by seeking to translate experience from a previous occupation, which may not always be apposite. At the time of my research, it was very apparent that Ministers got very little, if any, guidance from No. 10 as to what was expected of them. Providing guidance is clearly important, but Ministers need leadership skills to deliver their policies. The recent report of Policy Exchange’s Reform of Government Commission, entitled Government Reimagined, recognised that Ministers must develop skills to lead a department successfully.
I am delighted that the National Leadership Centre has been created and is designed, as the name demonstrates, to offer a leadership programme. I note that the evaluation report on the first year of the NLC states that
“one leader considered the engagement in training to improve their leadership capability and capacity as being a duty of all public service senior leaders”.
However, it does not reach all such leaders. It is designed for only 100 of them. The programme is selective and, as the evaluation noted, the recruitment process lacks transparency. It should encompass all senior civil servants—and Ministers.
I therefore very much welcome the Cabinet Office and Civil Service Declaration on Government Reform, published in June, which recognises the need for training Ministers as well as civil servants. It recognises that the training should encompass skills. There is a commitment not only to online provision but to a physical campus—in other words, a reversion to what existed before training was moved online for cost reasons.
Commitment to training Ministers is a major step forward, but within the declaration the focus is very much on the Civil Service. Of the 30 concrete steps promised for implementation this year, only one refers explicitly to Ministers, namely number 9:
“Put in place a training programme for Ministers, including project and commercial skills.”
Training in skills should not be confined to project and commercial skills, but should encompass how to develop strategy, crisis management and understanding the environment in which one has to work to achieve goals. Ministers who are commanders and ideologues will have clear future goals, but knowing what you want to achieve is different from knowing how to get there. Engaging in strategic planning is crucial; so too is crisis management. Training in crisis management is best practice in leading companies and, I was very pleased to see, appears to be included in the NLC leadership programme. Key to handling a crisis is, first, being able to recognise that there is a crisis—which is not as simple as it may sound—and, secondly, knowing how to respond.
In terms of the political environment, it is crucial not to be insular. Both Ministers and civil servants need to appreciate the significance of Parliament. Senior civil servants should not see it as an irrelevance or an adversary, or something to be left to the Minister to handle. I achieved an amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill in 2010, which became Section 3(6) of the Act. It requires the Minister for the Civil Service to have regard to the need to ensure that civil servants who advise Ministers are aware of the constitutional significance of Parliament and the conventions governing the relationship between Parliament and Her Majesty’s Government. Although this forms part of the Civil Service Code, no record is kept centrally of what departments have done to give effect to it, and answers to questions I have asked on the subject have been notably unforthcoming.
It is not just civil servants who need to be trained in the significance of Parliament. Ministers will benefit from it as well. The fact that a Minister is an MP or Peer does not mean necessarily that they have a clear understanding of the body of which they are a Member. Some Ministers are notably dismissive or defensive in the Chamber and in Committee. Ministers in the Commons frequently lack an understanding of the role and significance of this House. I fear we even have on occasion a Minister in this House who does not fully understand or appreciate its role. Parliamentarians are among those whom Ministers need to buy into their vision.
Acquiring or honing leadership skills will enable Ministers to deliver on their policy goals. It is not a case of creating identikit Ministers. There is more a danger of that in imposing specific processes and potentially producing a tick-box approach than in empowering Ministers with the skills to lead and achieve the outcomes they seek.
I can find nothing in the declaration and the list of actions that addresses skills necessary for effective leadership. There are some very welcome commitments in terms of recruitment to the Civil Service and ensuring closer engagement with Ministers, but the emphasis is on establishing frameworks and processes. I am not decrying what is proposed—I very much endorsed it—but, rather, am drawing attention to what is omitted.
The same applies to the report of the Commission for Smart Government, chaired by my noble friend Lord Herbert, who I am delighted to see is speaking in today’s debate. It recommends giving each Minister on appointment a formal and public “commission letter” stipulating what they are expected to accomplish and with public reporting on performance. As I read it, there are no recommendations on how Ministers are to be proficient, to provide leadership, in delivering what is expected of them. Checking that Ministers have delivered what is expected of them is important, but more important is ensuring that they are provided with the skills to do it.
I look forward to the contributions of other noble Lords—we have a quality line-up—and to my noble friend the Minister explaining the Government’s plans to deliver training, especially for Ministers. Given that the June declaration embodies commitments to be implemented this year, how far advanced are plans for a physical campus and what skills training will Ministers be expected—indeed, required—to undertake, and will such training apply to current Ministers and not just new Ministers on appointment? I very much support the proposal for a mandatory induction package for the senior Civil Service, but what training will be provided for all existing senior civil servants? In particular, what steps are being taken to ensure that the senior officials who advise Ministers are fully cognisant of the importance of Parliament and the relationship between Parliament and the Executive? Simply saying that the requirement is in the Civil Service Code is not an answer to the question.
My Motion calls attention to the case for enhancing the quality of government through the introduction of training in core leadership skills for Ministers and civil servants. It is surely a public good. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Norton, on this debate. I look forward to the quality of the answers the Minister will give to the questions he raised. Indeed, while he was speaking I recalled the preparations made in the 1990s for the then shadow Cabinet, and indeed the whole of the Front Bench. We were involved in seminars, training and away days at Templeton College; that was very good discipline and preparation, especially for a party that had so few people who had ever been in government before. I am not sure how long that approach lasted, and much of what the noble Lord said is an entirely timely reminder for everyone about what needs to happen.
I also recall that every time I became a Minister—several times—I was given a great deal of paperwork about my obligations and the way to behave, but I was also spoken to by the Permanent Secretary, and perhaps that was more important in outlining ministerial responsibilities. That approach might still exist, or exist in theory, but I am not sure how successful it is for Ministers’ obligations to Parliament. The noble Lord referred to that.
I will emphasise not the nature of the training that should take place but why it is so important that we have a new approach at this time. As I see it, the basic problem is the lack of respect for Parliament on the part of Ministers. We see that in the dismissive answers given to Parliamentary Questions and in announcements being made outside the House. The Speaker in the other place has tried to get the Government to behave more appropriately.
It is also a very significant problem in the way Ministers approach legislation. For the last number of years I have been a member of the Constitution Committee of this House. During that time, I have become increasingly concerned, and indeed alarmed, at the extremely unhealthy trends that I think are accelerating—trends in what government Ministers think they can get away with without properly consulting Parliament, in an attitude that I can describe only as cavalier. Time and again, the Constitution Committee has looked at Bills coming before the House and expressed very significant concerns at their skeletal nature and the vast number of Henry VIII clauses giving Ministers great delegated powers, allowing them to create offences and even to give effect to an international treaty by statutory instrument, as opposed to an Act of Parliament. Almost every time the committee examined a major Bill, we expressed serious concerns about the Government’s approach.
The more significant problem is not the issues in each individual Bill but the underlying trend we are seeing of moving away from Parliament making our laws and Ministers increasingly taking powers to change the rules, regulations and guidance. This has obvious dangers for a parliamentary democracy—the Government must be accountable to Parliament and Parliament must make our laws—but it is also dangerous for Ministers. Ministers are much more likely to get legislation that is right, workable and not open to legal challenge if there is appropriate parliamentary scrutiny. We have seen this time after time.
The situation has been made worse in recent years. During the Brexit negotiations, and subsequently, the Government’s brinkmanship meant that vital legislation had to be fast-tracked through Parliament. That was not inevitable. It was the Government’s choice in their tactics with the EU, and their tactics in handling Parliament and minimising parliamentary scrutiny. We have also seen with Covid that the Government have taken unprecedented extra powers, using statutory instruments to change rules, regulations and guidance frequently and often very late in the day.
I think there is a very real danger that Ministers, and indeed civil servants—and maybe even parliamentary counsel—will think that this is a new norm and that the Government can actually get away with anything; that bouncing Parliament and riding roughshod over important conventions is the way the Government can operate in the future. That is very dangerous and should be resisted by this House. It is also why this kind of training for Ministers, civil servants and everyone involved—including Members of Parliament, who do not always understand this House—is absolutely essential. People have got to learn not just the principles surrounding parliamentary democracy but how a functioning democracy actually works best. That is why I am very pleased to support the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Norton.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor. I must say that I agree with a great deal of what she said in relation to the conduct of the Government towards Parliament and the need for that particular relationship to be scrupulously observed.
It is a long time since I was a Minister but, in those days, it was a terrific fault if, by any chance, some proposal leaked out before it was put before Parliament; a complete investigation would normally take place into why that had happened and to prevent it happening again. I think partly that was due to the attitude of the most senior Minister in the Government—in my case, for most of the time, it was Margaret Thatcher—but it was indeed a very important consideration.
I am interested in the idea of instructing Ministers in what they should be doing. I am not sure whether this instruction would be given before they become Ministers, in the hope that they may become Ministers, or once they are in office, after they become Ministers. Whatever, it is certainly very important.
I looked through the papers that are recorded in the back of the brief that the Library has prepared for us and I took out this phrase:
“We will also ensure Ministers receive training in how to assess evidence, monitor delivery, and work effectively with Civil Service colleagues.”
The best I can do is to say just a word or two about my own experience as a Minister in two departments—both a long time ago, but I think the principles remain.
The first principle is that the Minister and all the staff of the department, whether they are civil servants or other agents that are used in the particular office in question, are one team. The Minister is responsible for that team and must take responsibility for any errors that take place. We all make mistakes—I have not met anyone yet who has never made a mistake; I look forward to that possibility but, so far, it has not materialised—and it is absolutely essential that the Minister takes responsibility for his department and what it does in his name. It tends to be a very divisive matter if the Minister starts to make out that something or other has happened that he did not want.
The second point I want to make is that the Civil Service and the other advisers in various departments are there to assist. I think it is vital for the Minister to give time to these people to express to him or her what their view is of a particular matter.
When I became Lord Chancellor, a long time ago now, I was very interested to hear what the civil servants, staff and officials had to say about quite difficult decisions that from time to time we had to make. I was told by my private office a week after I came into the office that they had doubled the amount of time allowed in my diary for consultations with officials. I think that indicates that I felt that the only way to be really sure that you were doing what was right was to try to find out what the advice was and discuss why that advice was given. As I look back on it now, I think that most of the decisions I took were agreed between myself and the official responsible for looking into the matter.
The whole position of being a Minister is surely very responsible, and one of the things a Minister is responsible for, in the public interest, is having a relationship with the press. When I became the Lord Advocate, there was no connection between my office and the press: rather, it was thought of as a rather unworthy kind of connection. I did not agree with that and I was determined to try to raise it. Help was given by my Secretary of State, George Younger, from the Scottish Office. One of the officers there told me that, if you have a case, the thing to do is to say when you are going to make a statement on it, make a complete investigation and, when that has been given, say “That’s all”—otherwise, the thing drags on and becomes an impediment. These are just some little advices I got out of practice, and I suspect they are pretty good advices still.
My Lords, it is not merely because the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, recommended me for appointment to the High Court Bench in 1988 that I say that it is a privilege to be following him—noble Lords will discover why in a moment. It is also a privilege to be following the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, whose chairmanship of the Constitution Committee when I was on it was absolutely marvellous.
We all know that we do not know it all. Look at us: very modest, very humble, and we recognise our own limitations. But there is a very strange thing about humanity: we must recognise also a tendency, when people suggest that we do not quite know everything—particularly on something we think we do know about—to slightly resent it. If a group of us is being asked to examine whether we know it all, we think, “Well, who are these people questioning whether we know very much?” We do not like criticism, and I say that because it was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, who was such a stalwart supporter of training for judges.
You may not believe this, but when I was a junior judge and went into court to sit as a judge—I had had quite a lot of years of experience prosecuting, defending, and seeing other judges, some good, some not so good—I just sat as a judge, trying two policemen on corruption judges. It was very small corruption: just taking bribes to stop people being prosecuted for speeding. But I had not had a day’s training. More importantly, very significantly impressive people with wonderful brains who worked in the commercial world were sent out on circuit to try murder and rape trials who had never spent a day in a criminal court.
When it was suggested—I was a very strong supporter of this, rather ahead of my time, I regret to say—that there should be judicial training, the judges largely—we are talking about the 1970s—thought that this was a bit of an insult. They thought it was not appropriate. I remember them saying to me, “This is an interference with judicial independence; the Government’s trying to tell us what to do.” This is where I particularly draw attention to the privilege of following the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, because he gave the most astonishing support to the idea that we had got to go through a judicial training process. I think, as all his career has shown, that he put principle ahead of any fleeting unpopularity.
Listen to my own experiences when I was running part of it. There was the day a black civil servant came to tell us, when we were setting up a body to look into and train us in diversity and prejudice, that he had been stopped 38 times driving a good middle-class car in 37 years. He then asked us, “And how many of you have been stopped by the police driving your car?” There were about 40 of us there, and not one of us had been.
The other remarkable moment was with that extraordinarily brave young woman who was the victim in the “vicarage rape case”, which all noble Lords will remember. I asked her, and she agreed, to come and talk to judges about how she had steeled herself to give evidence that would not give the perpetrator a moment’s satisfaction that she was still upset by what he had done to her—which led the judge to say that there was no sign of great trauma. We learned from all sorts of people. It is not possible for a judge now to sit on the Bench and to try sex cases, family cases—any sorts of cases—without having been trained.
Junior Ministers are rather like I was in my first trial. You are a Minister, you follow more senior Ministers, you move up the ladder, you are picking up all the habits that your Ministers have—some good, hopefully, and some not so good, inevitably. By the time you are a Secretary of State, you are ultimately, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton, pointed out, responsible for the legislation. If I were in charge of training—and I did do it for some time for judges—I would train Ministers in constitutionality. It is a funny word, that, but it embodies everything that the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, were talking about.
Since 2005 we have not had a proper Lord Chancellor. The old Lord Chancellor would be sitting at the Cabinet table, occupying a different function from the other Members of the Cabinet, there to tell them, “This won’t do, this is not the rule of law”—or whatever it might be. Now Mr Raab has become the Lord Chancellor, and everybody regards it as a demotion. As for the Minister for the constitution—this is not at all a personal criticism of Chloe Smith—she is not in the Cabinet. The Minister for the constitution is not a member of the Cabinet. This is why I suggest constitutionality.
I would have a day’s course with the chairs of our three committees—the Constitution Committee, delegated legislation committee and the secondary legislation committee—going down to talk to Ministers. No doubt they would take them copies of their reports. Perhaps they could be reinforced by the opportunity of having their legal advisers there, too—not the whole lot of them, just those three people. If the Government of the day said, “Ah, well, they’re not in our party,” then have the previous one. That way we would alert Ministers to the reality of what is going on; they are not paying sufficient attention to our constitution.
I will just add this. This is not a particular party I am arguing against. They all do it. Power does tend to corrupt.
My Lords, I declare my interests in the register, particularly my chairmanship of FMA, which provides support to Governments outside the UK on public sector and efficiency reform.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Norton on securing this debate, which is very timely. What better day to be debating the need for training Ministers than when the reshuffle has just happened and a raft of new Ministers are taking up their posts? I recall, in the early days of the coalition Government, a Minister from our coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, describing how he felt that he had been parachuted deep behind enemy lines with no map, no compass and no one to give him support in how he should execute the quite senior office to which he had been appointed. I have believed for a long time in the need for Ministers to have support and training.
Before the 2010 election, when I was leading the work of preparing the Conservative Party for the possibility of being in government, we drew on the activity that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, described. We organised a number of sessions; we wheeled out some of the old warhorses, such as my noble friend Lord Heseltine, with a reputation for knowing how to get things done in government. Subsequently we organised, on a very informal basis, some induction sessions after each reshuffle for new Ministers—but it was voluntary and not as well organised or as rigorous as it should have been. I deeply believe that this is really important.
The Institute for Government—IfG—supported the work that we did before that election and afterwards, and it can play an important role in this area. I am delighted to say that the Major Projects Leadership Academy, based in the Saïd Business School at Oxford, which we set up in 2012, now has a programme for Ministers, where they spend eight one-hour sessions over an eight-week period learning about many of the things that my noble friend Lord Norton has described: the need to articulate a vision and knowing how to turn that vision into reality. That is a positive development, but again I think it is voluntary when it should not be so.
The second part of my noble friend’s Motion, civil servants, are something with which I have had a great deal to do. For five years in the coalition Government I had responsibility in the Cabinet for the Civil Service, and I have a few reflections coming out of that. The first is that in the Civil Service we still have a class divide. There is a white-collar class of policy mandarins, to use the word, who basically sit above the salt and essentially have a stranglehold on the top jobs, and then there are the blue-collar civil servants who are specialists in finance, procurement, IT and major projects but rarely get the top jobs. There is not parity of esteem, something that we must work towards. We need to have the scope for civil servants who have skills and much-needed capability beyond the ability to provide analysis and policy support, and they need to have at least as good a chance of securing those top jobs.
Some 53 years after the Fulton committee report, there is still too much of the cult of the gifted amateur. My noble friend referred to generalists; that is another way of putting it. It is not that they are not gifted; many of them are extremely gifted and many very professional, but we still appoint people into very responsible posts—Permanent Secretaries of departments with budgets of tens of billions of pounds—who are woefully underprepared, and then we complain when they fail.
I tried to address this issue by starting a programme where younger Permanent Secretaries with a period ahead of them would attend top leadership courses at the best business schools in the world, where they would mingle with people from other sectors, including the private sector. These courses at Stanford, Harvard, INSEAD and others are incredibly valuable. I was told by the then Cabinet Secretary that we could not justify the cost because they cost $70,000 or so. These are people who we are putting in charge of tens of billions of pounds a year, but I was told that the Daily Mail would not wear it. My response was, “If they want to have that argument, bring it on. I’m very happy to make the case for making this investment in the people we are asking to take on these roles.”
We eventually got agreement that this would happen about 18 months before the 2015 election. I was consistently told that it was happening and all under way. By the time the election happened and I moved on, instead of 10 Permanent Secretaries going through three months at Harvard, Stanford and INSEAD, one Permanent Secretary, my own, had done one week at IMD in Lausanne. He said, “Minister, it was good, it was fine, but it wasn’t what you had in mind.” I have never understood why there was such resistance to giving these people, on whom we make such important demands, the support and backing they need to be able to undertake these public responsibilities.
We owe my noble friend a serious debt for drawing attention to the need for us to step up a good deal on this subject.
My Lords, I think that, like the noble Lord, Lord Norton, every Member of this House would be in favour of better training for Ministers, though I must say it would be a bit of a challenge to train Gavin Williamson. I have been involved in one or two attempts, and it is not always easy to get Ministers or people who expect to be Ministers to accept training. Tony Blair was very superstitious about it, because he thought that if he allowed his shadow Ministers, as they then were, to be trained, that would somehow put a jinx on the election and the gods would take their revenge on him. There are of course also some politicians —I certainly do not say many, but there are some—who think that they are omnicompetent without any training at all.
There are some difficult issues in training; it is not altogether straightforward. I want to draw attention to just one which is part of my experience—and, as it happens, of that of the Minister who is responding today. The appointment and use of special advisers is quite contentious. Some of the contention has revolved around appointments, most famously when the Government lost a very competent Chancellor because Dominic Cummings insisted that he, Cummings, should control the special advisers. What the role of special advisers should be relative to other advisers to Ministers is also contentious. I can say with complete confidence that there is no comparison between the job I was brought in to do for Tony Crosland in 1974 as a special adviser and the jobs that special advisers do today. They are much more powerful, and in Cummings’s sad case, he was for a brief period the second-most powerful person in the land.
Good special advisers still work with civil servants, but when you are training Ministers what doctrine are you to teach as to the role of special advisers? Who decides what is to be taught? It really is not easy, though I am sure there are ways forward.
I hope I am not being too frivolous in saying that there is one essential difference between training civil servants and training Ministers. Civil servants can be incentivised to do the right thing by training—the noble Lord, Lord Maude, has just told us some of the things he did to try to do it: they get promoted better and they get performance bonuses and so on. However, much of this does not apply to Ministers. They are paid by grade rather than performance; there is no scope for awarding them for good performance by giving them more cash. As for incentives for civil servants, number one in most Ministers’ lists is not making sure that the public get maximum value for money out of some big spending programme. Most Ministers want to rise, and the incentive on them is to do what helps them to rise: perform well in the House of Commons or the House of Lords, appeal to powerful factions in their parliamentary parties by saying what they think will please them, look good on TV, and, above all—we saw an example of that yesterday—please the Prime Minister. I do not want to be too pompous about all this—this is what Ministers do; it is part of politics, and I do not expect it just to go away—but we must remember that these are not incentives that lead to better government.
My Lords, I commend my noble friend Lord Norton on his timely choice of subject and his speech. Yes, more should be done to train Ministers, but for some jobs there are no readily available courses. For Government Chief Whip, for example, you need a PhD in behavioural psychology, some time as a regimental sergeant major and a spell as director of adult services in a local authority in special measures.
More seriously, we all speak from our own experience. I started my ministerial career in 1979 and made many mistakes; it ended 40 years later in 2019, hopefully with fewer. I did 22 ministerial years in eight different departments under five different Prime Ministers. Like others, I had no formal training whatever. I bought Gerald Kaufman’s book How to be a Minister and learned by watching Ministers in the Chamber and in the media when we were in opposition. This can give one a basic grounding in some of the qualities needed to do the job, but it does not cover everything.
If I had to select one piece of advice, from many, for prospective Ministers—which may not be mentioned by anyone else in this debate—it would be to understand exactly how government accounting works. One of the most vital tasks of any Minister is negotiating your department’s budget, now under way in Whitehall. This can determine the success or otherwise of your department’s policies and sometimes your own future.
In the 1980s, that meant understanding the intricacies of the so-called Ryrie rules. Ten years ago, it meant knowing exactly what the DEL/AME switch was, DEL being departmental expenditure limits and AME being annual managed expenditure. Yes, one can rely on one’s civil servants for much of the briefing, but when it comes down to a bilateral with the Chief Secretary or a solo appearance before star chamber, or indeed an interview with a well-briefed journalist, you need to be right on top of your department’s finances. It may not be the most exciting part of the job, but it is crucial. If you are forced to make concessions, do not expect a Treasury Minister to appear on the “Today” programme to defend the cuts you are obliged to make.
Much of my party’s emphasis has been on getting the number of civil servants down, and when I became a Minister in 1979 there were certainly parts of government where sheep could safely graze. But I want to make the opposite point and argue that there are now too many Ministers in the Commons; Lords Ministers are overburdened. As a former Chief Whip, I understand the attraction of a large payroll and extensive patronage, but I believe the numbers are too high.
In 1979, when the Department of Transport was responsible for the nationalised airlines, railways and airports, it had two Ministers, my noble and learned friend Lord Clarke of Nottingham and the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. There are now six. In 1979 I was a Minister in the DHSS, which combined the responsibilities of the DWP and DHSC. There were five of us. There are now seven in DHSC and six in DWP. It may not make me popular with the Government, but I believe the numbers could usefully come down. It would enable us to reduce the cost of government and do away with the inequity of unpaid Ministers, not least in your Lordships’ House.
Related to that, Ministers are moved too soon and too often. In my first nine years as an MP there were two Housing Ministers, Reg Freeson and John Stanley. Between January 2015 and July 2019, there were six. I know from my own experience that it takes time to build up a relationship with social housing providers, local authorities, planners, architects and other stakeholders, and to understand the legislative and financial framework in which you operate. It took me two years before I was really confident in the job—and I was lucky; I did it on and off for nine years. There are too many other examples of swift turnovers. Between May 2015 and July 2019, there were five Lord Chancellors. Between March 2016 and September 2019, there were six Secretaries of State at the DWP.
I have a lot of respect for the Civil Service, but it is not only Ministers who move too quickly. Read my noble friend Lord Freud’s recently published book, Clashing Agendas: Inside the Welfare Trap, in which my noble friend Lord Maude of Horsham stars. Of the introduction of universal credit, he writes: “In practice, I found that I was the only senior figure with an institutional memory for the totality of what we were trying to do … there were no fewer than six senior responsible owners and six programme directors in the first five years of building Universal Credit”. That is the other side of the coin, reversing the usual picture of transient Ministers and permanent civil servants.
He makes another point about the Civil Service with which I agree. The capacity of the Civil Service has been reduced by contracting out. My noble friend Lord Freud suggests bringing some of that capability back in-house. He says:
“Purely in terms of IT, the lessons learned imply bringing development capability back in-house; building big integrated teams to adopt agile technology”.
This debate is about becoming a Minister and I end, appropriately, with a wish that Ministers learn when to stop. More should resign when their behaviour is unacceptable or, as my noble friend Lady Sugg did, to her credit, when they disagree with government policy. Far from detracting from the authority and credibility of government, more resignations would actually enhance it.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth on this very interesting debate. My noble friend Lord Young of Cookham is right about the importance of accountancy and the dangers of transience. I rise to speak because I was both in the senior Civil Service for 14 years—much of this at its heart in the Cabinet Office and No. 10 —and a government Minister for three years, at BEIS, DCMS and the Treasury. Today, I will emphasise the importance of education and experience as well as training, the need for apposite training and the importance of diversity of thought and cost-benefit analysis.
In my experience, what happens in early life and in your career before reaching senior positions is every bit as important as any training. Even William Pitt the Younger would have struggled as Prime Minister at such a young age without his elite education. Most good Ministers have had a number of government roles on the way up, learning from discussions on Bills, in debates, from crises and how to get departments to act effectively in the desired direction. They learn leadership on the job and from effective, and ineffective, Secretaries of State.
Most leading civil servants have strong academic credentials and many years of experience in different but related roles. Many serve Ministers extremely well. Many of us will have specific examples in mind. This was the Northcote-Trevelyan model, and it is a pity that it is being steadily undermined. Most of the best Ministers are bright and educated, and they bring wider experience—for example, in the services, the law, business and so on—and not just years as spads, good though some spads definitely are. Spads’ focus is usually on their Minister’s star, not on the longer term, and their value is limited accordingly.
How can training help? Here I draw on my 15 years of experience as an executive director of Tesco, at a time when we were a growing and global business. Many were from modest backgrounds, and all shared a laser-like focus on the end goals and an ability to lead, motivate people and get them to deliver—or go elsewhere. We had good training programmes, but they were sponsored and led by the key directors, not just by the training function. Every manager helped their staff to do better where they were weak or had potential, and training was designed to help with that. We gave our teams wide discretion. We were all taught not to spend time on doing things just because we liked doing them but to delegate wherever we could and to address training needs. We cut out needless layers of management so that everyone’s jobs were more challenging and satisfying. These are not skills that you can suddenly learn when you get to the top.
My observation of Civil Service training was that it is self-selecting and that those who needed it did not get it, although they might be attending other courses that they fancied, at public expense. Training should be directed at those who need it, not at those who want it. My only training in my ministerial capacity was in dementia, which was a rather good initiative of David Cameron’s, I have to say. I also learned some excellent Dispatch Box skills from my noble friends Lord Howe and Lady Noakes.
Another problem is the prevalence of fashion in politics, which has, in my lifetime, extended down into the Civil Service. Diversity is a good example. As a woman who started her career as often the only female fast-streamer or executive in the room, I welcome aspects of diversity and have tried to help others on the way up. However, diversity of thought seems to have gone out the window as a desirable characteristic. Unfortunately, this reflects the position in even our best universities, where holding certain political opinions seems to be almost a requirement for employment. The sooner the Civil Service and universities reverse this unwelcome trend, the better. Overall, a great deal of attention is given to diversity, without dealing with this area where it is lacking: diversity of thought.
Finally, I want to make a specific point. I am well known as an enthusiastic supporter of impact assessments. The principal reason for my enthusiasm is that they enable all of us to judge the cost benefit of the action that the Government propose to take. This is the most important area of decision-making in government. The academic side of the process is well developed, and all Ministers and senior civil servants, without exception, should be properly trained in its mysteries—another one for the list of my noble friend Lord Norton. A broad cost-benefit assessment, prepared while decisions are being taken, can help a Minister and a senior civil servant to identify the likely perverse effects of a policy—one that may even end a successful career—and reach a sound conclusion.
I do not have time to deal with all the ideas outlined in the helpful Library Note. Suffice it to say that some are more realistic than others. I look forward to a further discussion with my noble friend Lord Norton.
My Lords, is it not serendipitous that we are having this debate at the time of a reshuffle? The Institute for Government paper, Professional Development for Ministers, states:
“New ministers have to pick up their duties almost immediately and have a limited time to make a mark. From 1997 to 2015, secretaries of state stayed in post for an average of two years and two months, with junior ministers only getting one year and eight months in the job.”
George Freeman, a former Minister, is quoted as saying:
“There’s no training, no guidebook, no manual, no induction! You leave the Cabinet room with promotion ringing in your ears … and walk straight into the department and start doing the job.”
In fact, in a survey carried out by the institute, the most frequently mentioned negative factors determining ministerial effectiveness were “Rapid turnover of Ministers” and
“Lack of adequate preparation, induction or development”.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Norton, for initiating this timely debate. He said that Ministers matter. He said that Cabinet Ministers are the CEOs of their departmental empires. The noble Lord, Lord Maude, with all his experience, spoke about the tens of billions of pounds of expenditure and hundreds of thousands—millions, in the case of the Department of Health and Social Care—of employees that many Ministers have.
Yet it is a revolving door. The average tenure of a FTSE 100 chief executive is five and a half years. I am proud to be the chancellor of the University of Birmingham. Our vice-chancellor, Professor Sir David Eastwood, is about to retire after 13 years. Birmingham is among the top 100 universities in the world. He did not achieve that overnight; you need time to be able to do it. I served as the senior independent director of Booker. Charles Wilson, the chief executive, took Booker—including its board and its team—from being a £300-million, AIM-listed company, as it was when I joined in 2007, to merging with Tesco nine or 10 years later, with a value of £4 billion. It was not overnight; he needed the time to do it.
How many Ministers have genuine business experience? Look at people such as Nadhim Zahawi, who did such a fantastic job with the vaccination programme, or Sajid Javid, with his global experience working for American and German banks in east Asia, America and Europe. How many of them attended business school? The noble Lord, Lord Maude, talked about that. I have a degree from India and a law degree from Cambridge. I am a qualified chartered accountant. When I started Cobra Beer, I thought, “That’s it, I’ve done enough education for generations”. Then I realised the value of lifelong learning. I am now a proud alumnus of three business schools: the Cranfield School of Management, the London Business School and the Harvard Business School.
The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, of which I am proud to be a fellow, says that the concept of continual professional development is embedded in you from the time you start as a trainee accountant right through to now, when I have to certify to that. In 2019, the CBI, of which I am president, produced the report Great Job: Solving the Productivity Puzzle Through the Power of People. It states:
“Great people practices make business sense. A business’s most important source of value is its people … firms that attract and retain people by improving leadership and management, and the practices that develop and engage staff, do better. Even small improvements in firms’ people practices are associated with sizable productivity increases … UK businesses primarily invest in staff development through training”.
It makes sense to do this.
The Commission for Smart Government had a piece about learning from the pandemic’s successes. I was very privileged to learn so much from my late father, Lieutenant General Bilimoria, who was commander-in-chief of the central Indian army, with 350,000 troops. One of the things he always said was that the true test of leadership is not in the good times but in adversity—and, wow, have we had the chance to learn about leadership from adversity. The report quotes Dame Kate Bingham:
“The instruction I was given by the Prime Minister was to save lives as soon as possible, so we had a very clear goal.”
And she did it, thanks to that empowerment. In eight months, she created what we have had: one of the best, most impressive vaccination programmes. So, we have had great lessons over here, and I have learned as well about the collaboration with business that we have carried out with the CBI.
This document—the Declaration on Government Reform—co-signed by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Secretary is excellent news. The recommendation it makes about people, performance and partnership is fantastic. That is just what we need to do. Michael Gove spoke at the Ditchley Foundation, where I am proud to be a governor, last year. He made a speech on the Declaration on Government Reform and called for more training for both Ministers and officials to meet present and future challenges. He was absolutely right on that. On this document that both the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Secretary, Simon Case, signed, it says:
“We have superb people at every level of public service”,
which I could not endorse more, but that:
“We will invest in training for civil servants and for Ministers”.
Could the Minister update us on that?
The document also said:
“We will set a new standard for diversity and inclusion”.
I am proud to have launched Change the Race Ratio at the CBI to promote diversity across all business. I give full credit to this Government for diversity: just look at the Cabinet table and the diversity around it. I have always said that we will have a member of the ethnic minorities as a Prime Minister of this country. I have been saying that for years, and that day is imminent.
We should be sending our Ministers to the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford, the Saïd Business School at Oxford, the Cambridge Judge Business School and the London Business School.
To conclude, I attended a virtual session with my fellow Harvard Business School alumnus, Prime Minister Mitsotakis of Greece. In this meeting last year, when Greece was doing very well with the pandemic, he said, “I am accused by my opponents of treating Greece like a company—and I take that as a compliment”.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Norton on securing this timely debate. We have heard many interesting speeches.
The challenges that face any Government are clear; any Government would have faced rapidly rising demand and a second digital revolution. But, of course, those challenges have been exacerbated by Covid, which has now produced an overhanging deficit. This Government already had a very bold levelling-up agenda before Covid arrived. As noble Lords have said, Covid revealed weaknesses in our system of government—particularly failures of preparation, delivery and execution—but it also revealed potential strengths and solutions. As the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, just referred to, the Vaccine Taskforce is one very good example of that, and of fusion government: the bringing together of talent from inside and outside government, real leadership being shown, real expertise deployed and, crucially, individuals being empowered with specific tasks and budgets and being held to account—and yet that appointment was very strongly attacked before it was revealed to have been so successful. I think we should reflect on that.
My own qualifications for speaking in this debate may be said to be limited, having been a Minister for a short period only. But I actually have a long-standing interest in government reform as the co-founder of the Reform think tank, of which our new Foreign Secretary is an alumna, and as the chair of the Commission for Smart Government—which the noble Lords, Lord Norton and Lord Bilimoria, referred to—set up last year to look at how we could deliver more effective government.
I want to emphasise that this independent commission was cross-party and non-party. It consisted of former politicians, former Permanent Secretaries, senior advisers, very senior businesspeople and a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, who is of course a former Permanent Secretary, the noble Baroness, Lady Cavendish of Little Venice, the noble Lord, Lord Nash, who is the current government lead non-executive director, the previous government lead non-executive director, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stuart of Edgbaston. Our commission concluded that, regrettably, our system of government is no longer world-class and we should be honest that in many respects it does very good things and in other respects it fails to deliver; that without transformative change, no Government will meet their policy goals; and that an understanding of that is absolutely crucial.
I want to put on record my strong view that we should not allow any sensible, objective and calm critique of our system of government to translate into an attack on the Civil Service. I am proud to be the Prime Minister’s special envoy on LGBT rights. As such, at the moment I am working with simply brilliant civil servants in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and in the Government Equalities Office; I see their commitment and passion, how hard they work and their abilities. It is not a criticism to say that we need to ensure that we have a system that is resolutely focused on better performance and on the capabilities of civil servants.
No other organisation would look at itself and consider how much more training it needs to give, the quality of that training, the quality of its people, whether it has the right people and whether they have the right skills and somehow make that an attack on itself or see it as an attack on its own people. Of course it is not. It is about instilling a high-performance culture in the organisation and ensuring that any organisation is equipped to meet today’s challenges. There is so much evidence that we are not. We must move on, and I believe we have moved on, from the idea that this is about Whitehall wars—an attack by politicians on civil servants. We must do so for two reasons. First, because that attack is not merited, and, secondly, because, frankly, politicians are part of the problem. It is our system of government which is not working properly and which we have to sort out. That is why the Declaration on Government Reform is so welcome.
Our report made a number of important recommendations in relation to civil servants, including setting up a
“world-leading MBA-style executive training programme … and … A rigorous test of knowledge and experience of technology”—
which all senior officials should have to undertake— and an
“in-house Crown headhunter to help bring in high calibre people from outside government”,
because we have seen that that can be so effective.
But crucially our report also focused on Ministers. We noted that, as has been said, Ministers begin their roles unprepared, suffer from a lack of clear directional mandate, feel that they do not have enough support, and feel that they can be held accountable for mistakes which others have made and which they are powerless to address. We therefore said that ministerial training should be a crucial new focus, and that Ministers and civil servants together should be trained in the new Queen Elizabeth II school of public service, which should be set up specifically for this task. We said that Ministers should be able to appoint outside advisers but that they should be held properly to account. We said that the commission letters that new Ministers will now be receiving, setting out their new role, should be made public, so that Ministers can be held properly to account.
In conclusion, we also said that the red box should be scrapped. If there is one obvious metaphor—one obvious exemplar of a system that is, frankly, completely antiquated—it is that papers are printed off, Ministers read them and then they are carried around in vehicles in wooden boxes. It is an absurdity and an anachronism, and it points to the fact that our system is simply not up to date. Let us introduce modern workforce management methods, proper training and proper accountability, and better performance will follow.
My Lords, I have never been a Minister, MP or civil servant, so the noble Lord, Lord Norton, will have to forgive me if I make my remarks as an erstwhile civilian. But I have worked in education and am familiar with the training world. I am afraid that, when I hear the words “advocacy of training” and “leadership skills”, my heart sinks. My dread is that it treats leadership as a technical matter, reduces virtues to techniques and can rip the heart out of what it means to lead. To be honest, if ever there was an example of our soulless technocratic era, it is the proliferation of leadership skills courses over recent years, comparable only to the ever-growing number of organisations that pay consultants to write their mission statements—always to me a worrying sign of an institution’s lack of mission.
Of course, I am all for reform, effective government and professionalising Whitehall. I want new Ministers and staff to be able to upgrade their technical skills, and to understand procedure and how to improve drafting legislation and so on. Any measures that make government more accountable and less opaque and arcane are admirable, but I query whether leadership skills training is the remedy, and worry it might turn leadership into performative competence with too little regard for content.
In introducing this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, talked of the need for Ministers to have the skills to sign up their teams to their vision. My worry is that they do not have a vision, not that they are not trained in how to share it. It reminds me of Debating Matters, a national debating competition for 16 to 18 year-olds that I set up over 15 years ago but is now a charity in its own right. It reminds me of that because its slogan is “substance over style”, and it was set up as an explicit antidote to traditional schools’ debating, which tends to emphasise clever rhetorical tricks and devices, even employing voice coaches and drama techniques. Pupils’ speeches can be stylistically elegant but, while beautifully delivered, can often be banal cliches; some of the Debating Matters pupils might have stuttered and stammered their way through their speeches, but they were content rich. Leadership requires us to give due regard to content.
This morning, I turned on Sky News to see a representative from Rights for Residents, who was eloquently and forcefully explaining the petition that she and others were handing into No. 10 today, in support of residents and their relatives in care homes, who have been denied visiting rights. The Rights for Residents campaign did not exist before this pandemic, but the awful, cruel treatment of residents forced it to exist. It is led—that is my point—by a group of brilliant women who had no experience of public life before this and who have never been on a media training course. They took a lead because it mattered, and they showed courage, integrity and principles. I sometimes think we do not talk about that enough when we talk about leadership skills.
I also feel anxious when I hear proposals about the creation of a physical campus—a school of public service—which we have heard about. This school would apparently be
“a world leading … executive training programme, equivalent to the leading business school offers”,
in which aspiring civil servants, public sector leaders and politicians would be trained together, based on a redefined set of leadership requirements. I immediately thought about the destructive impact that MBAs and managerialism have had on public life. I am sorry, but I do not think this is the solution: think of all the damage that has been done to our language by the gobbledegook and acronyms of managerialism, the performance management frameworks and so on. Then I noticed that a priority for this new school will be to lead high-quality research to develop better understanding of the relationship between leadership, well-being and productivity. I appeal to people not to waste money on that research, because it should be obvious that there is a connection between those things. If you need to be taught that, what kind of a leader are you?
I am also worried that setting up this kind of campus might end up aping other aspects of campus culture. Think of the debacle of the Valuing Everyone training. It was supposed to make us better leaders, but it was condescending and, if anything, did not make us value others and led to the cancelling of several of our Peers for not doing it, because of the rubric and rules. Then there are the endless stories of civil servants being forced to ape the worst of the divisive aspects of student identity politics, when they are sent on training courses on unconscious bias—which is, by the way, pseudoscience—and how to champion diversity, as defined by organisations such as Stonewall.
I make this point because, rather than just saying that what we need to do is to train Ministers and civil servants, we need sufficiently to scrutinise what that training consists of, because it can actually be dangerous. I was struck by the description of the problems at the heart of government given by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor. I agree with her and the shocking examples that she gave of the contempt shown to parliamentary accountability of late and the broader disdain for democracy shown across both Houses for popular sovereignty in relation to the Brexit vote—not because they did not know what the mandate was but in defiance of our electors.
That seems to me not something you can train people out of. It is not a skills deficit, but a democratic political deficit. That should be our focus, and we should not get distracted by all going off on training courses.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Norton for this timely debate, which I fully support. I follow the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, by admitting that I come to it somewhat humbly, acknowledging my lack of experience as a Minister, an MP or a civil servant.
Over the past 18 months, we have become more aware than ever of the importance of effective government, which requires excellence in leadership. When the control of the state extends over our social lives, our access to workplaces, healthcare and leisure facilities and our ability to travel freely, it is terrifying to think that incompetence might hold sway for want of core leadership skills. Among those, I give pre-eminence to the ability to exercise courage and servant leadership, which are mutually interdependent, in pursuit of the common good. Political elites should always be focused on pursuing this, but their hypercompetitiveness and electoral short-termism make courage and servant leadership particularly elusive traits.
Moreover, “Gotcha!” politics has become supercharged by cancel culture: pitiless condemnation of what people say—let alone do—which makes it more difficult than ever to act with courage. Anonymous social media bullies seek to destroy through fear the man or woman who, in Theodore Roosevelt’s words,
“is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; … who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds”.
Good governance always requires taking risks, for the present incumbents to realise long-term rewards which may accrue to other political parties and leaders.
The implementation of my two reviews commissioned by the Ministry of Justice required political and civil service leaders to invest faith and money in the ability of healthy relationships with families and others to reap significant rehabilitation rewards. In the short term, this meant, for example: allowing access to iPads for video visits; home leaves on temporary licence; and enabling more women to stay with babies born during or shortly before their sentence. Retrospective research findings, such as reoffending being 39% less likely when prisoners had received family visits, suggest good outcomes will ensue from such measures, but prospective, longitudinal studies showing reductions in intergenerational crime and long-term desistance, are likely to take more than a decade to yield the irrefutable data that many leaders prefer to act on when making seemingly risky decisions.
Academic business studies expose the limits of such “vigilant” leadership. This is when decision-makers work
“to the best of their limited abilities, within the confines of available organizational resources, to exercise all the caution they can to avoid mistakes in the essential tasks of information search, deliberation, and planning.”
To me, this emphasis on caution, avoiding risks and bureaucratic decision-making can and does stifle initiative and innovation and quenches the spirit of adventure. It can eliminate the need for courage, whereas judging risk/reward ratios and courageously acting on them demands it.
Research on how senior leaders in the US federal Government made their most difficult decisions considered whether they employed this “vigilant” approach to decisions involving informational, technical or political complexity. Notably, leaders said that their most difficult decisions required courage. Those courageous decisions were made after personal reflection and/or consulting a small number of trusted advisers, rather than in ways that could be described as “vigilant”. The researchers concluded that complex decisions required leaders and their advisers to be “ambidextrous”—systematic and highly rigorous but also able, when courage was needed, to stick their heads above the parapet and take risks to reap potentially great rewards.
However, how does one train to develop a courageous risk-reward mindset? It has to be modelled from the top and is closely linked to servant leadership that focuses on the growth and well-being of those being led. I am a Christian and follow the most successful servant leader of all time, who was fundamentally characterised by humility, Jesus Christ, who described his heart as humble and lowly. He is not a bad model to look at even for those who are not Christians.
For the purposes of this debate, servant leadership includes demonstrating loyalty to those above and below oneself in the ministerial hierarchy or Civil Service grade structure and, of course, ultimately to the people of this country—again seeking their common good. Organisational culture experts describe how servant-led employees do not fear being punished for taking risks and trying to do the right thing, as long as their actions align with their organisation’s goals, mission and core values. This makes them perform at more of a risk-taking level. Imagine if the whole of government—politicians and the Civil Service—were infused throughout with courage and servant leadership, where responsibility lies where it should and subordinates are not sent over the top to take the flak.
I know that there is a view that those most senior should be protected where possible from the full force of opposition, but preparing for this debate put me in mind of the Battle of Waterloo, where my great-great-great-grandfather lost an arm. As many in this House will know, Waterloo was a slaughterhouse, the worst carnage in the Napoleonic wars, with huge pressure on British officers, a vast amount of whom were killed or badly wounded. In those days, officers led from the front, exposing themselves to great risk of loss, balanced with the reward of glory in service to their country. We need to see a revival of that courage and servant-mindedness in Whitehall and Westminster today.
My Lords, I start by apologising to the House and the noble Lord, Lord Norton, that I am the only speaker from the Liberal Democrat Benches. There were four Liberal Democrat names down but, unfortunately, my three colleagues had to return to distant parts of this country—the Scottish Borders, the West Country and East Anglia. I have heard from a number of Conservative Peers over the past few months the suggestion that all the Liberal elite are metropolitan. That is not the case. I suspect that the illiberal financial elite is a good deal more metropolitan than we are.
I have some interests to declare. My wife was for some years a civil servant, including a period teaching at what was then the Civil Service College. A number of my other relations and former students are in the senior Civil Service. I taught in a number of Civil Service College courses in the 1970s and 1980s, in senior management courses in the 1990s and in executive courses at the London School of Economics provided by the Spanish Government and a number of multi- national corporations and banks.
The noble Lord, Lord Maude, reminds me of the embarrassing occasion some 25 years ago when I arrived at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard to teach a series of seminars on British foreign policy and recognised among the students the newly-appointed Permanent Secretary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. These things are not entirely new.
The noble Lord, Lord Herbert, also reminded me of the story of the Liberal Democrat Minister under the noble Lord, Lord Maude. The Minister’s private office explained that he could not have a car to take him back to his constituency. When he replied, “So I can take my red box on the train and work on it there?”, the answer was, “No, Minister, you can’t. The red box cannot be allowed on a train. It will be sent ahead by car.”
The Motion refers to the “introduction” of training for Ministers and senior civil servants. Civil servants have been trained, as I have suggested, for some time. Ministerial training presents an existential problem in a political system in which, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, and others suggested, Ministers are expected to answer in Parliament and to the media within a day or two of their appointment. There is a very strong case in general for a slower process of government formation.
I agree with the Commission for Smart Government’s proposals for a longer transition period between Governments—the noble Lord, Lord Herbert, suggested up to two weeks, on the Canadian model—and for
“an interval between announcement and taking up position, to enable incoming Ministers to read up and be … fully briefed before they start work.”
Effective use of junior ministerial appointments as training for senior roles would also help, although some Secretaries of State, in my experience, are remarkably uninterested in treating their junior Ministers as part of a team. Expert advisers—which is what spads were when first introduced—are also highly useful and desirable.
However, there is an underlying issue about political recruitment. Fewer lawyers now become MPs than 50 years ago, as do fewer with experience in local government or elsewhere managing within the public sector. The Commons offers a narrow talent pool. The emasculation of local democracy means that MPs now spend more and more of their time on local issues and less on national or international ones. A Commons Public Administration Committee report in 2015 recommended a parliamentary Civil Service scheme along the lines of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme. That should be considered further.
However, more Ministers in the Lords, or even non-parliamentary Ministers, will not win support from MPs. I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Young, that fewer Ministers must be part of the answer.
Training for civil servants, by contrast, has a long history, from the Fulton report to the Civil Service Department, then to the Civil Service College, which became the National School of Government. A Conservative Minister abolished the NSG in 2010 and sold off the campus. The PACAC report The Minister and the Official noted in 2018:
“It is now widely accepted that the closure of the National School of Government has left a gap”
in the training and professional development of civil servants that has not yet been closed.
What is now proposed is in many ways reinventing the wheel—which does not make it any less desirable. I have heard highly critical remarks from some civil servants about the contracted-out courses that have been provided since 2010 and I strongly support proposals to reconstruct a physical centre for Civil Service training, which would also bring together people with experience across the wider public sector and beyond—what the senior management course used to do.
Mutual trust between Ministers and officials is essential to effective government. Ministers too easily treat efforts to point out the complexities of policy changes as attempts to resist or undermine what they want to do. Many Labour Ministers in 1997 assumed when they came in that officials were naturally conservative and therefore unsympathetic to Labour proposals. Many Conservatives in 2010 believed that officials were pen-pushers and bureaucrats, who would be out making more money in the private sector if they were any good and were concerned primarily with defending their own jobs and privileges. Some still believe that today.
Attacks by Michael Gove and others on “the Blob”, which, for Simon Heffer in last Sunday’s Telegraph, covers the Civil Service, higher education, the Church of England, the BBC—of course—and the leadership of the NHS and the Metropolitan Police, do not help build confidence that this is a Government open to challenge and willing to listen to argument, and who value a well-trained and politically neutral public service. The quality of ministerial leadership in recent Governments has been, at best, mixed. Bad Ministers blame their officials, as bad workmen blame their tools. Ministers have to earn the respect of their officials and hold it. I have seen Conservative Ministers expressing their distrust of the Civil Service in front of senior officials—a leadership style that does not strike me as very effective. I have noted excellent senior officials with whom I worked in government leaving because they felt they could no longer work with Ministers who dismiss reasoned argument. That does not promote smart government either.
I felt there was an air of fantasy about the declaration on government reform this June and the speech by Michael Gove that accompanied it. It spoke of the success of the management of the pandemic, of rational policy-making without concern for tactical advantage, press presentation or partisan patronage. There was no mention of the fiasco and excessive cost of test and trace, of the smell of corruption in the way contracts were handled or the enormous profits that outsourcing companies have made by providing services that local authorities and local public health officers could have managed more cheaply and effectively.
The Commission for Smart Government report also has some fantastical elements. If departmental boards are really intended to provide vigorous challenge to ministerial and official groupthink, then recent appointments of non-executive directors have been extraordinarily ill chosen.
The government of England is dreadfully over- centralised. Ministers in Whitehall concern themselves with the details of issues that were entirely within the hands of local government 40 years ago. Sending bits of Whitehall departments to Middlesbrough or Manchester will not do much to bring citizens and government together. That requires a revival of effective and democratic local government, which would enable Westminster and Whitehall to reduce the numbers of central Ministers and officials, and even to shrink our bloated Cabinet to a size where it might again become an effective body. It is time for a careful review of the cost effectiveness of outsourcing of many public services after a pandemic in which the profits of outsourcing and consultancy companies have risen sharply, with the Government supporting far larger salaries for the flood of consultants than in-house experts would have cost.
If we are to be really smart about good government, we should attempt reforms that will last longer than the life of any one party in power. The Fulton report managed that. I encourage the rational reformers, such as the noble Lord, Lord Herbert, to resist the uber-partisans within the Conservative Party who want to push ahead without consulting anyone outside the Conservative Party, and try to create reforms with wider support that will outlast the next election or two. This is the sort of issue that might usefully have been covered by a constitutional commission, as promised in the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto. Sadly, the promise to establish such a commission has been broken.
My Lords, like other noble Lords I thank the noble Lord, Lord Norton, for giving us the opportunity for what has been an extremely interesting and, as we have heard, timely debate. I doubt that I can do justice, in winding up, to the contributions that have been made. It just shows the breadth of experience in your Lordships’ House that, from different experiences, we come to debate and look at the same issue.
One of the interesting comments the noble Lord, Lord Norton, made at the beginning was about joint learning, in terms of management, for both civil servants and Ministers. I find it interesting, and perhaps worth developing more, how that would work. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, had a point when he said that the role of the Minister and of the civil servant is very different. Indeed, the role of a junior Minister is very different from that of a Secretary of State, who would rarely deal with legislation in Committee. So I think there are lessons to be learned, if there is to be training, about how we would do it better.
What this debate is really about is enhancing the quality of government. Part of that is recognising the partnerships that exist between Ministers, their civil servants, as we have heard from other noble Lords, Parliament and, indeed, stakeholders. I thought it was interesting that when the noble Lord, Lord Norton, referred to the training that was taking place, he said that what was in the spec, as it were, was project or commercial management. It would give me cause for concern if that were to be the extent of this, because it is so important, as we heard, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Maude, and noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, that Ministers and civil servants understand Parliament and the role of Parliament and are able to develop their leadership skills. I take the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, that these cannot be taught, but I would hope that if someone had got to be a Minister they have them latent within them somewhere so they can be brought out and improved. They need to understand the roles that each have and they need to develop the skills to manage their private office, their civil servants and, indeed, their own work. Gerald Kaufman’s book, which was referred to earlier, is quite a useful starting point for many a Minister just to learn some of the tricks of the trade. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord True, will say whether he has a copy—if not, we can send him one.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, talked about the kind of information available. Other noble Lords will know that, when you first arrive at your department, the induction package is paper—lots of it. It can be quite daunting on the first day, because it is not necessarily relevant to what you are doing but to what the whole department is doing.
On Ministers who come into office without having parliamentary experience, I always feel for noble Lords who come straight in and make their maiden speech from the Dispatch Box, because of their attitude to Parliament and how they manage. It is terrifying for them and unsatisfactory for many others.
Some very useful comments were made about the culture of Parliament by my noble friend Lady Taylor, the noble Lord, Lord Maude, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. It seems that the culture of Parliament and of governance comes from the top. My noble friend Lady Taylor, from her experience on the Constitution Committee, gave examples of where Parliament appeared to be an inconvenience to the Government. I have to say that the acts of government, in passing legislation, do not necessarily mean good governance. The Government might get a law through, but, if there has not been good governance and the process has just been, “We’ve got the numbers, we can get this through”, the quality of that legislation so often has to be unpicked later.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, made an interesting point about the role of the Lord Chancellor. The situation is actually worse than he fears, because Dominic Raab, who has the roles of Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, is also the Deputy Prime Minister. That would never have happened in the past; it seems quite a conflict of interest to hold those positions.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, made some really important references to cultural changes. In last week’s debate on standards in public life—it seems to be the Thursday night entertainment for the noble Lord, Lord True, and I to be at the Dispatch Box—we looked at issues where, in the past, Ministers such as Lord Carrington and Hugh Dalton resigned over something that nobody now would bat an eyelid at, but the criteria at the time were that they had been disrespectful to Parliament, or they felt that they had shown bad judgment and they felt it was their duty to resign.
I will make a few personal observations. One of the things that I think is very important for a Minister in their private office when they first become a Minister is to establish what that relationship is and the expectations of the private office. One thing I would say to my private office and team of civil servants was, “I have multiple roles. To you, I am your Minister. That is the role you see for me. I am also a parliamentarian, and it is important that I am in Parliament every day that I am able to be. But I also have a constituency; I am a politician.” Those three roles sometimes come into conflict, but, if your private office understands the roles, they will help you manage that. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, made a very strong point about teamwork between civil servants and Ministers to get the best results from decision-making.
The example from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, on the value of training was quite an emotional one that did him huge credit. Obviously you cannot train somebody to have good judgment, but you can train them to understand the mechanics of how the process works, on what to look out for and on how to get the best out of the system. It is not like training a dog to sit or to beg; it is about training people to bring out the best of themselves.
My noble friend Lady Taylor and the noble Lord, Lord Maude, spoke about the training they had in opposition. Given that I was on the receiving end of most of the noble Lord’s Parliamentary Questions when he was in opposition and I was Minister at the Cabinet Office, I perhaps wished he spent more time doing the training than writing questions to me. I think they were about the census, which he was going to abolish when he came into government—but perhaps on the strength of my answers he decided not to. My impression is that training reduces over time when you are in government. With new Ministers always coming through, perhaps that should be a constant process for both Government and Opposition so that, as we move forward, the skills are always there and inherent in whoever takes office.
The noble Lord, Lord Young, reminded me of some personal examples. He made amusing reference to the kind of training that he had had, or not, and to how you learn on the job. One of my most formative times as a new Minister was going in to watch another Minister take an SI. I learned more about how not to do an SI on that occasion than how to do it—and, having seen how not to do it, I was able to tailor my approach very differently.
In 2002, I was in a school in my constituency and got a call to say, “We need you to go to Northern Ireland. The Assembly is going to be suspended. You don’t have to fly out now, but you need to go tomorrow.” I had been to Northern Ireland once in my entire life at that point. It was not public that the Assembly was going to be suspended. It was the Chief Whip who phoned me, because the Prime Minister was out of the country, and then the phone call ended and there were follow-up calls. I then became the next day the Minister responsible for three Northern Ireland departments—scary or what? I have to say that that was probably the steepest learning curve that I have ever had to navigate. However, it was the support I got from my other Ministers, particularly my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton, who is now in this House, and my Secretaries of State, my noble friend Lord Murphy and my noble friend Lord Reid, as well as from civil servants, that was so important. A civil servant wants to get the best out of their Minister and protect them. But I have to say that those first few weeks were daunting, and I suspect that I am not alone in saying that, as a new Minister, the hours I worked were beyond anything that any trade union would ever find acceptable.
My next experience was when I was at the then Department for Communities and Local Government. Having come from Northern Ireland and having had that workload, with a high turnover of letters and Questions, I was quite strict about how I liked my letters to be written and Parliamentary Questions to be answered, because they go out under your name. At one point, I was called in by the Perm Sec to be told in respect of the Questions I had sent back—I kid you not—“That’s very courageous for a new Minister.” I pointed out that neither was it courageous nor was I new, but it was his expectation that I would accept what was given to me and not question. The noble Lord, Lord Young, talked about how important engagement with stakeholders is to Ministers. I remember once defending a Minister who was being criticised for seeking information outside the Civil Service, which was quite extraordinary.
I also think that it is the job of a Minister to support and empower the Civil Service as well. I recall one occasion when a group of us Ministers had decided that we would independently lower the level at which we would be notified of consultants being employed to undertake certain business and asking the civil servants, “Why do you want a consultant to do this?” The reason was that they wanted to be protected from any criticism of the work they had done. My answer was, “Can you stand across the work you’ve done?” “Yes,” they said. I said, “If you give me a good case, I will defend that. It doesn’t need to go to consultants.” So when we look at the issue of consultants undertaking work, we have also to ensure that we empower civil servants to have the confidence in their work and that the Minister has their back.
I pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Herbert of South Downs, on smarter government. I was reading that earlier today, and some of his comments about not apportioning blame but learning and moving forward were really important.
In conclusion, our democracy rests heavily on good governance. That means integrity, respect, hard work and a willingness to learn, share and make mistakes. We have not touched on the issue of risk, but we have to learn to manage that risk and see a mistake not as something to be criticised but something to be learned from. At the end of the day, we want to enhance our democracy, and we do that only by having the best governance possible.
My Lords, first, I thank my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth for bringing us here again, as the noble Baroness opposite said, on a Thursday afternoon. I said just before the Summer Recess that I did not know what I had done to the Chief Whip for him to put me on to answer the last debate before the recess—and here I am again, so perhaps I should see that as a bit of useful training.
Of course, it has been an outstanding debate. I would think that a debate such as this ought to be read and considered in all the forums that we have mentioned and discussed in this debate. There is so much experience from which people can learn and so much wisdom that has been imparted, and I have felt it a privilege to listen to it.
Despite a couple of elements of mild criticism, no doubt justified in the eyes of the bestower of the criticism, I think all noble Lords who have had the honour of participating in a Government, an Administration or Parliament know that we strive for the best. I do not know anybody who does not strive to do their best in public service and in the performance of their duties. But I suppose it is a condition of man and a condition of this profession of politics that—as I think Enoch Powell expressed it in that famous dictum in his biography of Joseph Chamberlain—all careers in politics, unless interrupted by untimely death, end in failure. So, I suppose we do sometimes fail and fall short of the objectives that we set ourselves. That is a reason to seek to do better. I certainly hope to convince your Lordships that this Government are trying to do better and encourage better performance in the way that your Lordships would like.
I confess to being a bit of a beached whale. I suppose I am one of those old-fashioned generalists: I was educated in classics and history and have spent a life studying history. I learned my trade in the hard school of local government. I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that it would be a fine thing to be desired if more of those in the political world cut their teeth in local government because it is public service at the coalface and at its most intimate.
It was a fascinating debate and there was a general trend of agreement. The noble Baroness, Lady Fox, as ever, made a stringent and an important red team style comment against falling into the complacent view that everything and every training course is either the whole answer or necessarily always the answer. That was an important advisory. My noble friend Lord Farmer, in his short speech about leadership also offered an important advisory.
I was struck by my noble friend Lord Herbert’s antipathy towards the red box. I wondered if one had fallen on one of his toes at some stage in his career. I have in fact never had a red box. It did not seem particularly necessary and one of my colleagues was rather more keen to have it than I was—wild horses will not draw that name from me. Frankly, methods of working have moved on, but paper-based work is none the less sometimes necessary.
Without disparaging training—which I do not, I am going to support it—it is worth noting that the best trained Prime Minister of the 20th century was probably Anthony Eden and the least trained was Tony Blair. I have little doubt which of those was the more effective in office.
I agreed with so much of what my noble friend Lord Norton and others have said. The remarkable speech made by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, for example, followed in the huge light of his experience. He gave us a fascinating and compelling example, along with the particulars of the importance of judicial training given to us by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge.
I was sad at the suggestion that Ministers do not respect the House, and that is not to be chippy or an individual worrying about the criticism of the general. I think that Ministers, if they do not respect this House or the other House, are exceedingly ill advised. Any Minister, whose first duty is to be accountable to Parliament, who comes to this place and the other place without a sense of respect and trepidation—perhaps even a scintilla of fear—is either arrogant or foolish. Parliament is the root of government and the strength of government. I agree with the comments that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, made in that regard.
It is still the case that Ministers have inductions and meetings with the Permanent Secretary. I can say to those who asked that it is not just paper-based. The training now provided to new Ministers, and available to Ministers in situ, is also based on verbal and interactive training, not simply a folder of paper, though I have no doubt that somewhere in Whitehall—probably in my office—a file is being prepared. Covid-friendly files are all over Whitehall at the moment, ready to be perused.
We know that both Ministers and the Civil Service have had their skills greatly tested in the last 18 months. There have been exceptional circumstances—the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, referred to issues relating to Brexit—in Parliament in particular, from which I do not think we should draw generalities. The same goes for the exceptional powers taken in relation to the pandemic, which have been supported across your Lordships’ House. I agree, however, with the point that we must have a care that these particulars do not become generalities. Ministers and civil servants have been required to adapt quickly, work through immense ambiguities and solve unpredictable and unprecedented problems.
We all know, and this has been the underlying message of your Lordships’ debate, that, in order to achieve our ambition for our country to emerge from this pandemic stronger and more resilient, we must have the best people leading and working in government. That was set out, as many noble Lords have referred to, including by my noble friend Lord Norton in his opening and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, in the recent Declaration on Government Reform, and I welcome what noble Lords have said about that.
To deliver the Government’s priorities, public servants must be technically competent, bold and imaginative, and they must have both specialist and generalist knowledge, skills and networks. We therefore believe, and this is the sense of your Lordships’ debate today, that it is the time to invest further in the leadership capabilities and experience of Ministers and civil servants, ensuring that all are offered high-quality and relevant training and development. Perhaps the pandemic is an inflection point to push that further.
We are aware of weaknesses in the way in which we recruit, train, assess, retain—an important point made by many noble Lords—and develop our Civil Service and public sector leaders. The pandemic and, yes, the opportunities opened up by Brexit have been moments of recognition that while excellent training exists, there are gaps and missed opportunities. I have listened carefully to the advice and comments from noble Lords today.
We are placing particular emphasis on improving digital and data literacy and providing training on the vital skills of management: managing projects—as referred to by my noble friend Lord Maude—people and budgets. The last are a hugely important factor, as my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham pointed out. We recognise that we must move fast to fix things. UK Ministers and civil servants should be learning unrivalled management and leadership skills. We must not fall behind.
We also need leadership training to encompass broader themes than just leadership itself, preparing our leaders to deal with the biggest challenges through a precise, tangible, case-method approach. The recent Declaration on Government Reform emphasised the need to focus on knowing things, practising things and learning by doing, particularly in digital technologies and data use—things that all our leaders should understand at a basic level—making the most of the expertise that we have across government to achieve good outcomes for citizens.
The Declaration on Government Reform was agreed in June at the first joint meeting of Cabinet Ministers and Permanent Secretaries. It committed to immediate action on three fronts: people, performance and partnership. The declaration sets out 30 actions that will be taken in the first year to begin the process of modernisation and reform. Work is under way to implement those actions, with flagship projects already being delivered. The declaration has been warmly received and, from think tanks to trade unions, welcomed as a first step in the Government’s reform agenda.
We have been greatly assisted by the advice of others. In a compelling speech from my noble friend Lord Maude—it is 30 years ago that he and I worked together in some rather faltering steps in public service reform—we heard advice to the Government on improving effectiveness of functions, which was warmly welcomed by the former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. His recommendations are centred on a strong functional model, with those three essential elements of leadership, capability and mandate.
Strong progress is being made on this functional reform activity. An example of progress so far includes the Infrastructure and Projects Authority’s publication in January of its mandate, which clearly sets out its responsibilities and those of departmental accounting officers for major government projects and programmes. This is critical to making sure that they are set up for success from the outset, supporting the Government to meet their ambitions.
Multiple functions are actively exploring how this should be achieved. Investment in professional expertise, recognising its importance, will be an integral part of this work. For example, the training and accreditation of contract managers across government is being led by the Government Commercial Function, which is critical to driving excellent value for money for taxpayers. The learnings from this exercise and the experience being acquired and invested are of great importance, and I pay tribute to my noble friend for the work that he has done and is doing in this area. As I said, I agree with my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham on the importance of the knowledge of government finance. Having referred to local government, I must say that you might think that central government finance is important, but you should try local government finance.
I am also grateful for the work done by my noble friend Lord Herbert of South Downs, who also made a fascinating speech. We welcome the Commission for Smart Government’s contribution to the intellectual effort to reform government. This is indicative of the fact that the Government want to listen and learn from all those, on all sides, who have wisdom to bring to this discussion. The previous Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was present at the launch of the report, and he made it clear that the case that the commission makes overall is powerful. It strongly aligns with the Declaration on Government Reform in its focus on digital and data capability and accountability as priority areas for reform, emphasising the need for priority and leadership as vital to the success of government reform. We cannot just do this through changes to organisational structure; civil servants must engage teams and departments with this mission.
On the report’s specific recommendations, the call to establish a school of public service with a campus base is effectively covered by article 6 of the declaration, and we agree that the capability of civil servants is a critical issue. More specifically, the report calls attention to the importance of training senior civil servants in technology to improve efficiency and service delivery for the public. We are making progress with this, with the creation and rollout of an SCS data master class and, shortly, the creation of ministerial digital and data master classes. I look forward to this to ensure that all SCSs and Ministers have a core foundational understanding and can use digital and data expertise effectively.
We also agree with report’s recommendations that “digital transformation” of public services should be at the heart of government reform. This does not necessarily mean that there should be no red boxes, but we take the point. We have established the Central Digital and Data Office to ensure that digital services can be deployed across departmental boundaries.
The Government Skills and Curriculum Unit was established last September to address training issues directly. Its mission is to ensure that there are suitably qualified and experienced civil servants from entry to senior leadership and to create that properly resourced campus for training in government. The intent is also to equip Ministers, on whom many have focused, with the essential knowledge and skills that allow them to be effective in the fiendishly complicated context of modern government.
We have heard a lot of the theoretical construct, from which I do not demur, but it is all too difficult. It may be no excuse when the bullets fly, but in action it is not always possible to adhere to the theoretical constructs. A toolkit of critical insights to smooth the way for Ministers is important in those circumstances. The goal here is not to define or teach a single model of ministerial leadership, which would be counter- productive and unhelpful. I heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, said. The induction and skills programme assembled for Ministers by my former colleague Minister Lopez is optional, but it does emphasise the first principles of working in government and will be available to new Ministers.
In the Declaration on Government Reform, we committed to investing in training for civil servants and Ministers. Consistent and pragmatic ministerial induction and training will help new Ministers navigate the Civil Service and all aspects of their new role, so that they can be as effective as possible as quickly as possible.
The ministerial induction programme focuses on three areas. The first, in response to overwhelming feedback over many years, is a better induction. We have heard from noble Lords with experience in government, including the noble Baroness opposite in her fascinating and entertaining speech, that Ministers need the most support in their initial days and weeks in understanding the machinery of government and Parliament and knowing how to be effective leaders in a department.
It will also offer clear and more accessible bite-size training relevant to their role and to their requests for more knowledge and skills to enhance their impact. There are also bespoke programmes, in partnership with others, to enhance Ministers’ networks and help them to be resilient leaders.
This induction programme will provide practical support in weeks 1 to 6, from how to work and manage a private office to understanding the Civil Service and, yes, the responsibilities of Ministers to Parliament: how legislation should be taken through and how Select Committees can inform and enhance and must always be respected. A series of master classes complements the induction and draws on the experience of other Ministers, in addition to experts sharing their knowledge on topics including data, digital finance, procurement processes and science. Like all good training and development, we will evaluate the impact of this offer.
As my noble friend Lord Maude said, the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer have set out their intention to initiate a significant long-term improvement—this is so vital; it has been true under successive Governments—in government delivery of major government projects. To support this, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority—my noble friend referred to this, or perhaps it was the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria—and the Oxford Saïd Business School have developed a short, modular training programme on major project delivery for Ministers, tailored to their role as client sponsors of strategic projects. To date, four cohorts of the programme have run, with 41 Ministers attending, three of whom are Cabinet Ministers. A fifth cohort is proposed for the autumn. The programme has been well received and strongly endorsed by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.
There is a lot more to say and a lot more listening. I will study Hansard enormously carefully. We know we continue to have a challenging road ahead, both to help the country build back better and to reform government. We owe it to citizens to be the very best public servants—and, as Ministers and civil servants, the very best partners in public service—that we can be. We know that the demands on us as Ministers and civil servants will continue. Through the implementation of training in core leadership skills for Ministers and civil servants and the establishment of a dedicated government campus, we can work together to provide the best possible service for our country. We can build back not only better but in the best way possible, Ministers and civil servants together, as our country deserves.
My Lords, I said in opening that there was a quality line-up of speakers, and the debate has rather proved it; we have had some stellar speeches. One of the things that has been clear is the common theme about the sheer importance of this.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, I say that it is not just a case of using external providers and a one-size-fits-all form of training. I distinguished between purpose in office—what Ministers seek to achieve—and the skills necessary to achieve it. You will get variety and different qualities of Minister. You cannot ensure you are necessarily getting all good Ministers, but you can ensure you are getting the best you can by giving them the skills to deliver. That is the key point.
It is not just using external providers; one of the things that I drew from my own research was the importance of best practice drawn on the experience of former Ministers. When I interviewed those who had held senior office, it was quite clear that when new Ministers come in they reinvent the wheel rather than draw on those who have already invented it. There is a lot of experience out there that we can draw on, from those who have the experience; that is absolutely vital.
In terms of providing training, as my noble friend Lord Maude has clearly indicated, and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, has reinforced, there are the courses available. The supply is there, but a key problem, as my noble friend indicated, is that they tend to be optional—the danger there is that you end up preaching to the converted. The ones who want to do it are the ones who go and do it. It is the ones who are the most resistant who need to be reached.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said in his excellent contribution, there tends to be resistance to training when you first introduce it. Once it is in place, you start to wonder how you coped without it. It is about overcoming that resistance and getting it in there. It then becomes part and parcel of good government. That is absolutely the point that we must stress, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, was saying. We are talking about good governance. This is such an important debate. What could be more important than ensuring the quality of government of the United Kingdom? This is a way of facilitating it.
I am very grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his response demonstrating that we are making some progress. It is a case of building on that and particularly, as I was stressing, not only providing skills training for civil servants but really developing it for Ministers as well. That must be the driving force.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, was making the point about the distinction between Ministers and civil servants; there is no reason why they cannot both be engaged in order to understand the role of the other. That is particularly important to achieving what we seek to achieve.
The exemplar of what we seek to achieve is embodied in my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, because he demonstrated what a good Minister does, which is to work as part of a team, to bring people on board and to ensure that they feel that they are part of the process, because loyalty must be earned; it cannot be dictated. Ministers must have a vision to bring others within that vision, to ensure that they feel part of it. That is the way to deliver this.
We recognise what needs to be done and are moving in that direction. The more that we can do to achieve that, the better for the governance of the United Kingdom. I beg to move.