Ministerial responsibility

There is a debate about what responsibility Mrs May and Mr Green should take for the borders troubles that have recently come to light. Mrs May herself says that she did not want some of the controls lifted at our borders which it turns out have been lifted. She says one of her senior officials went against Ministerial orders. He was suspended from work by another official who also thought he had acted out of turn.

The doctrine of Ministerial accountability is not straight forward. In 1954 the Crichel Down case led to the resignation of Sir Thomas Dugdale, Agricluture Minister. He did not himself handle the land at Crichel Down in the way which offended, but he took the blame for his officials approach. Since then many think that a Minister has to resign as he did if something goes wrong, even if he knew nothing about it.

This doctrine has been modified by subsequent governments and cases. When there was a bad break out from the Maze Prison in 1983 the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland did not resign. He argued that it was not his policy to allow or encourage prison break-outs, so he had no need to go.

Mr Howard, and subsequent Labour Ministers in the 1997-2010 government, sought to argue for a distinction between policy failure and administrative failure. They said that if the Minister’s policy or instructions had led to the problem,the Minister was to blame and should go. If the failure was at executive level, where civil servants had failed to implement the policy efficiently and effectively, the senior official should go.

This approach has been buttressed by the establishment of Executive Agencies. The officials who lead these agencies have more right to speak in public and to lead their section of government than officials within departments. They are usually paid better and may have a bonus based on executing the policy well. Ministers often feel if the mistakes occur as a result of poor Agency implementation, it should be the Head of the Agency rather than the Minister who resigns.

Mr Dancona, arguing in yeaterday’s Sunday Telegraph, suggests the hard and pure doctine of Crichel Down should be modified at least to ensure one thing. Surely he says, if an official deliberately flouts a Ministerial instruction or policy in the anticipation that this will force the Minister to resign, there should be a relaxation to prevent that happening. It would seem tough indeed if a Minister has to go when a critic within the department seeks to undermine them whilst observing secrecy whilst undertaking the violation.

In practice each case is different and is judged on its merits against the mood of the time. Mrs May has on her side the fact that she was trying to tighten controls on illegal entrants whilst easing the queues for the law abiding at the borders, and the clear support of the Prime Minister.

The case has served to highlight the dilemma of the Coaltion government. How can it implement its stated aims, when there are habits of working and assumptions amongst some officials based on the previous 13 years which point in the opposite direction to the Minister’s policy? Will Ministers now devote more time and enegry to supervising and following up once they have set out their general policy aims? As a rule of thumb, there needs to be three times as much follow up, analysis and chasing after the policy launch and press realease, than before when constructing it. If there is insufficient interest in the execution of policy more Ministers are going to be wasting time defending their actions and claiming that the policy was fine, it was just a pity about the implementation.

The public wants the right press release or policy, but it then wants it to be enacted, administered and enforced.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

60 Comments

  1. Single Acts
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    Perhaps it’s me but your support for Mrs May is not immediately clear from this post!

    • outsider
      Posted November 15, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

      Listening to the evidence at the Select Committee, Mr Redwood made a wise judgment to remain “above the fray”.

      My impression was that Mr Clark was a distinguished, upright embodiment of the traditional Home Office culture. In other words, he was the sort of senior official that reformers such as his new boss would wish to remove.

      The way the Civil Service works, however, the old culture was formally carried forward into the operational guidelines for the new pilot. So, although some of Mr Clark’s decisions may have been contrary to the wishes of Mrs May, they were consistent with guidelines set up as recently as July.

      Don’t know how these new guidelines were allowed to be so flawed. Maybe ministers should have double-checked.

      The obvious solution, however, was to encourage Mr Clark to retire with dignity and then to rewrite the guidelines pronto. By making an example of Mr Clark, Mrs May and her Permanent Secretary poked a stick into a wasps’ nest. They may have dramatised the drive for change, which is good, but may also have made a political mistake by muddying the issue of who was right and wrong. It seems whiffy, for instance, that the man who first complained about Mr Clark’s actions is now conducting the “independent inquiry”.

  2. Mick Anderson
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    There are too many ministers, and the Government intrudes too much into our lives. Perhaps a smaller number of ministers with fewer duties would be easier to manage.

    In principle, I can accept that if the staff have directly contradicted an order that has led to a significant failure, the first person to go should be that well-paid official. The minister should only follow if there was a management element to the problem.

    Equally, if I felt that the necessary ministers (such as the Home Secretary) were doing a good job, perhaps I would care if they stayed or went.

  3. lifelogic
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    It seems to me that the ministers are often little more than actors and actresses going from photo opportunity to speech to cabinet. Often without the slightest idea of what is going on at the coal face.

    You then have civil servants and a workforce who cannot be fired easily, or at least not without large pay off and pension (which they may even be intentionally seeking) and are often personally hostile to the direction taken. On the other hand sometimes they can be asked to do the impossible, without the resources to do it or sufficient control & authority over their own staff.

    Meanwhile the Beecroft report (one of the few sensible things to come out of this government) is, I learn, to be buried – because it is reported that Liberals and Cable think having bad staff in position and being unable to fire them is a good idea for business and growth.

    An anti growth anti democratic government from top to bottom so far.

    • lifelogic
      Posted November 14, 2011 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      Does the UK electorate really have to watch the sickening return of the likes of Baroness Uddin and Lord Taylor of Warwick (on TV this morning) to the House of Lords. How are voters expected to do anything than hold the systems in complete contempt when such people return to hold power and to claim their tax free “attendance allowances”.

      Which people (other than expense allowance seekers or people with personal vested interests) would even want to serve in the Lords when they have such proven, disreputable members sitting alongside them.

      Can nothing really be done, for the sake of the reputation of the Lords and UK government in general? Do they want to continue to be held in contempt?

      • lifelogic
        Posted November 14, 2011 at 9:33 am | Permalink

        On TV this morning Lord Tayor still seems to think that, at the time, he did not realise what he was doing anything wrong – (in making claims for journeys which he did not make and from a home which was not his). So even now he does not even seem to recognise his errors.

        I note he is reported to be an evangelical Christian.

      • Bob
        Posted November 14, 2011 at 9:47 am | Permalink

        Couldn’t the allowances be means tested?

      • APL
        Posted November 14, 2011 at 9:57 am | Permalink

        lifelogic: ” .. do anything than hold the systems in complete contempt when such people return to hold power and to claim their tax free “attendance allowances”.”

        Of course the precedent of expelling members from the house of Lords has been set by Blair and the backstabbing Strathclyde, who colluded together to expel those hereditary peers who by right and letters patent sat in the Lords.

        Some dishonest individual who holds his seat because he was a friend of Blair, Cameron or whateverhisface, the Libdum fellow, could now just as easily be expelled.

        That these corrupt people are still there is because their political cronies want them there!!

      • Disaffected
        Posted November 14, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

        Yes there can. Read Guido Fawkes solution. Perhaps it is time for a Judicial inquiry into pay, expenses,lobbying, policy and procedures relating to MPs to instil public confidence. Pervasive corruption appears to be in every corner of Westminster. When is it going to be rooted out? Mr Clegg said the gates of Westminster should be closed until politics is cleaned up- still waiting Mr Clegg.

        How many politicians will appear at the Levison inquiry for phone hacking? Will Mr Blair and Mr Campbell make an appearance; after Mr Blair is the Godfather to Mr Murdoch’s child and he appeared he did not want to seen in the group photograph of the occasion. Most people think there was a witch hunt by the Government to find Dr Kelly. Bearing in mind their key roles in Government I think it is in the public interest that they ought to be forced to appear.

      • uanime5
        Posted November 14, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

        Well replacing the unelected Lords with Senators elected with Proportional Representation would help.

        • Mark
          Posted November 14, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

          Unfortunately election (however conducted) does not prevent corruption and bribery. That is dependent on the integrity of the politicians. Most hereditary peers had very high standards of integrity (although there were undoubtedly also some rogues – but I don’t recall them sitting after they had been exposed in my lifetime). I can think of a number of MPs from all sides of the house who I regard as exhibiting similar high standards. “Cash for honours” has devalued the appointed peerage. The patronage of party machines and election donors has undermined the integrity of many elected representatives from local councils through Parliament to Europarl.

    • lifelogic
      Posted November 15, 2011 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      Perhaps more vegetable arranging than flower arranging.

  4. Mike Stallard
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Actually this all seems rather arcane.

    The work of these officials is kept right away from the general public. Nevertheless, over Free Schools I can tell you that it is the bureaucracy, not the Minister, who is calling the shots – successfully stopping the original reform in its tracks. I have personal experience of this.

    It seems from the media too, that the Labour government often blamed the Civil Service when ministers did silly things themselves. But I do not know about this because I was not given the facts, of course.

    I now read that the (“Rolls Royce”) Foreign Office is very much in favour of supporting the European Project. I read that it is going to go along with the current changes without murmur. Mr Hague, of course, has Eurosceptic credentials of the highest degree. But either he just meekly goes along with the Europhile officials (if what I read is true) or else he rebels and gets a Mrs May situation.

    So this is crucial, not arcane at all.

    • Tad Davison
      Posted November 14, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      On Hague, somebody must have poisoned the well (as one LBJ once famously said). It’s one thing to talk the talk, as so many of these supposed Euro-sceptic Tories do. It’s quite another to walk the walk, and show us their mettle. If Hague or anyone else, can’t stamp their authority on their own department, they shouldn’t be in charge of it. I’d give these Europhile mandarins a boot up the Khyber in a trice if they didn’t tow the line!

      Surely, given the absolute disaster the EU has been for Britain, Hague would have no trouble at all convincing these people how erroneous their stance is. He should also remind them, they are servants of the public, not masters of it, and that democracy doesn’t work in quite the way they have become accustomed to through a lack of guidance from previous ministers who haven’t been up to the job.

      That’s what I find so difficult to swallow. I’m an unrepentant Euro-sceptic for the soundest of reasons, and I couldn’t care less if the whole world knows about it. Hague should be the same.

      Tad Davison

      Cambridge

      • Disaffected
        Posted November 14, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps they hold secrets of his that he does not want to come out in the open? Funny world secrets. Better still if your aims can be achieved by ideology. Russia became head of our secret services through this notion starting at Cambridge.

  5. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    How much has changed since John Reid declared that the immigration department was “not fit for purpose” back in 2006? As for ministers, it has been said many times that too many seem to have a simplistic approach and superficial knowledge of their departmental briefs. They love headline grabbing announcements but have neither the desire, the intellect, nor the competence to follow them through. This includes very senior cabinet ministers. It isn’t difficult to make grand statements; it takes a special talent to see policies fully implemented correctly.

    • norman
      Posted November 14, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      I imagine it’s safe assume that if we peeked under the bonnet of every government department we’d find very little that is fit for purpose so bloated have they become.

      • Tim
        Posted November 14, 2011 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

        Having visited the Home Office many times I never ceased to be underwhelmed with the calibre and laziness of the officials. They live in a “bubble” and just because the elected members have changed, most of them haven’t or their left leaning idiology. Labour spent 13 years appointing place men and women, selection criteria to head all public services and quangos to ensure a self fulfilling leftist/PC agenda. Root and branch reform and competent Ministers who have had real jobs are needed.

  6. Bill Dale
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    Seems bonkers that we have soldiers taking the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan, engaging these people on in the front line to prevent acts of terrorism here.

    Then waving people through at Heathrow to get the queues down.

    I don’t think Mrs May should resign, but I don’t think that she should have named the offending civil servant to the house.

    • Duyfken
      Posted November 14, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      What puzzles me is that Mrs May instituted or agreed to a “pilot” scheme aimed at cutting costs, whereas what we expected from this government is much tighter controls. Of course, it is desirable to increase efficiency but the priority should be that the dreadful performance of the Border Agency be improved, something which I would have anticipated would entail both a sort out in the Agency and also temporarilyincreased resources to tackle the problem. The Home Sec seems to have tackled it back to front.

      Reply: Mrs May introduced intelligence led checks, to increase the chances of finding the illegals – that experiment was successful.

      • zorro
        Posted November 14, 2011 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

        ‘Intelligence led checks’….That suggests that there is specific intelligence to justify the lifting of full controls and Level 2 controls being put in place. So doubtless every occasion of Level 2 being invoked will be noted with the requisite intelligence which justified the lifting of the full controls….or perhaps not?

        ‘Intelligence led checks’ sounds as if it might be the targeting of resources on priority targets but often tends to get wheeled out when resources are being cut or not available.

        For example, 10% more illegal entrants were detected so the pilot was successful or so the argument goes. In what way does the detection of 10% more illegal entrants prove that a pilot of this nature was successful? Who detected them? Was it at the Border or in country?

        Would better proof be an increase in the number of people refused entry at the Border? What do the figures show there….?

        zorro

  7. John Page
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    John’s ratio of 3:1 feels about right. Chasing and checking policy implementation should be junior ministers’ job.

    Didn’t Ken Clarke see it this way when he was a junior health minister?

    Make these functions public, so that people with Mike Stallard’s dilemma know who is the minister for unblockages. It will have to be someone in each department with a dogged and pugnacious nature, nipping at the heels of officials to get things done.

    • Tad Davison
      Posted November 14, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      Amen!

      Tad Davison

      Cambridge

  8. Electro-Kevin
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Is cutting the UKBA by 5000 going to help ?

    I don’t think that anyone here objects to immigration but why do we have to have uncontrolled immigration ?

  9. Mactheknife
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    As a departmental manager myself it is difficult to ensure that everyone is following company policy through the relevant process and procedures, so I do have some sympathy here with Ms May. However there does seem to be some dispute over who said or did what and when which needs to be clarified. If it is shown that she in some way ordered the relaxation then I think she has to be held accountable. If it was the civil servant who disregarded instructions or policy then it is right for him to resign.

    There is one central point though, and that is our immigration controls and the Border Agency do not seem to have changed much from the days of Labour. Does everyone remember the “whistleblower” who blew the lid on the scam in eastern Europe when according to him his instruction were to let anyone and everyone in – even one-armed window cleaners !!

    I was recently in the US and it took 3 hours to get through customs even though I had a British passport and a current ESTA for the US. Everyone is fingerprinted and photographed and its now an accepted part of the entry requirments. Whilst it is an inconvenience it does provide some assurance that the US takes immigration and border controls seriously.

    • Woodsy42
      Posted November 14, 2011 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

      3 hours, when they know who is arriving and when. And that is exactly why I won’t take a holiday in the USA. We as a small island need tourists. It’s not an ‘inconvenience’ its a sign of either insufficient resourcing or inefficiency and a severe dissentive to visitors. They must provide security AND speedy service.

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted November 15, 2011 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      This is for UK citizens. I’ve heard that other nationalities don’t have such delays.

      We are renowned for our own lack of border security – does this explain the levels of scrutiny by the US ?

  10. sm
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Who is in control in our little region of eu-democracy?

    I guess more labour (those counted =net 250k pa) = demand for housing= high rents/house prices. More labour= low wages =low future wage inflation= more room for QE to save the banks =inflation of basic needs= socialized costs= private demand destruction .

    Whats the end game? Manipulated price signals. Labour as a pricetaker, Labours savings inflated away to real capital,Labour completely subserviant to capital.

    (A cynic would might think, this is part of the plan, that statistics are just numbers which the controller want to have been counted.).

    There is a case for a number of new cheaper more effective and efficient brooms to sweep clean. How can it be argued that not checking all bonafides is a saving.

    Do they have no idea of the social cost of allowing an illegal entry to effectively settle? I would suspect it is an exponential multiple of the annual wage cost of a frontline border official. We should bonus them on every valid entry refusal?

    We should be rebadging a huge number of ex service people with Border force uniforms and ensure they are deployed to check bona fides of arrivals thoroughly and courteously. The MOD must have a few spare admirals, generals and logistic types knocking around. They need to be made functional. If needs be close the whole organization down and start from fresh- in the meantime handover to the military.

    With todays technology everyone’s papers should be checked via immigration as a matter of routine.

    It would over the years prove to be a massive saving!

    Talking of deficit reduction, reduction in frontline public services and spending,reduction in energy demand etc is disingenuous when the government is unable to control its borders or who resides within it?

    • A different Simon
      Posted November 15, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      I don’t think you are being cynical at all .

      Mass immigration and structural high unemployment in the UK are obviously deliberate policies as is ensuring a shortage of housing .

      (simile left out ed) the elite are paranoid about global warming .

      Turning us into serfs who consume less is a deliberate policy .
      If that doesn’t work then I expect a biological/chemical agent will be released into the environment/food chain to reduce human fertility .

      Look how quickly they staged the coup in Italy . That should have woken up anyone who was naive enough to believe the power ultimately lies with the people .

  11. oldtimer
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Mr Dancona made a valid point about the vulnerability of ministers to civil service actions that were calculated to bring them down. I am not sure that this helps in resolving the current immigration issue. The nub of this appears to be the carryover of policies from the previous government. The questions in my mind about this are:
    1 Was the coalition aware of these carryover policies? If so, why were they not countermanded? If not, why did officials not brief ministers on the carryover policies when they assumed office? Do they not have a duty to do this?
    2 How did ministers frame their new policies on taking office? Did they implicitly or explicitly accept or authorise the continuation of existing policies unless changed? Or was this question not asked or explored in the first place? If not, why not?

    Until these questions are answered it is hard to know who is responsible – ministers or officials. From my business experience there are, broadly, two ways to define authorities. One is to write an extremely detailed authorities manual, often (always?) found in large multinational organisations, which seek to specify who can do what in all kinds of activity. This often results in slow-moving, hide bound organisations. I suspect that the Civil Service adheres to a version of this model. The other method is to delegate very wide responsibilities within defined boundary lines. This can, in the right hands, produce much more flexible, responsive organisations – something that businesses that operate in fast moving competitive environments absolutely need. I am unclear where the Agencies fit in in all of this. I suspect they are hidebound too.

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted November 14, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

      When we voted Conservative we were expecting this issue to be dealt with some urgency. 18 months in and the situation is worse than under Labour.

    • zorro
      Posted November 14, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

      These are the key questions and get to the nub of the matter. Bearing in mind that Mr Green was shadow immigration minister for most of the last parliament, is he saying that he wasn’t aware of what had been happening at Dover since 2007?

      It all depends on what briefing was passed on to ministers in 2010. That is available for viewing if needs be. I think the above two questions will be clarified by tomorrow evening.

      zorro

  12. lojolondon
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    John, on a totally unrelated matter, I hope that parliament will be in uproar about the situation below – a crowd of 170 people kettled in a pub, forcibly removed and arrested by the police for absolutely no crime whatsoever. Because they MIGHT be about to ‘breach the peace’. Harare, Zimbabwe? No. North Korea or Red Square, Bejing, China? No.

    In Central London, in the year 2011, it is possible for a peaceful group to be arrested if the police “believe that you may be about to breach the peace”. How contrasting is the Police behaviour to their actions with (other groups-ed), with students, and with the Occupy protesters?

    NO MATTER WHETHER YOU ARE AN EDL SUPPORTER OR NOT, THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS BEHAVIOUR ON THE PART OF THE POLICE AND IS TOTALLY AGAINST ALL BRITISH PRINCIPLES OF FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT AND OF SPEECH.

    • Martyn
      Posted November 14, 2011 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

      That was perhaps an example of the return of the old much debated and hated use by the police of the “sus” rules which has crept back into use unoticed. Nowadays a police officer has only to state that “I have reason to suspect that…” to then have the right to arrest or, as you say, kettle anyone innocent or guilty.
      There is no appeal and officer is not required to justify or provide evidence of suspicion at the time, that simple statement being all that is required to arrest and handcuff someone until such times as they arrive at the police station. Where, of course, the police officer’s statement of suspicion, with or without evidence is accepted and the next stage of arrest, fingerprinting etc is carried out and the person, innocent or otherwise then acquires a police record.
      So much for being innocent until proven guilty. It is a disgraceful way of policing, but none seem to care these days or seek to correct it…..

  13. Acorn
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    The problem with churning out so much legislation being; you never have enough people to do the post implementation monitoring. Like all control systems, you should spend far more money on the feedback part of the loop, than the forward part. Hence, you end up needing loads of “regulators” for the feedback function. Eventually, you regulate yourself to a standstill because you forgot to regulate the regulators.

    Excellent piece from Civitas again today. http://www.civitas.org.uk/economy/growthstrategy2011.pdf

  14. Andrew Smith
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Most of the debate on this issue has been about whether Mrs May should resign, and it is an issue worthy of discussion. I suspect she is no more culpable in this case than many other ministers have been who have stayed in office in the past. In so saying I am neither suggesting she should go nor that she should not.

    What interests me much more is whether any civil servants or executive agency managers ever get fired, do they ever have toi move outside the public sector and do they ever suffer any reputational or financial damage.

    I suspect that all or most civil servants who fail are quietly repositioned in the public/quango sector and suffer no long term damage whatsoever. Maybe at worst their “gong” is downgraded a notch or delayed a couple of years.

  15. forthurst
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Are ministers responsible for the lies they tell about the reasons for going to war; I don’t recall many resignations recently? Anybody remember why we are still in Afghanistan?

    Before the last election Cast Iron promised us a border police force. Since the election there have cuts in manpower at the Border Agency.

    This government pretends to care about securing our borders but does pecisely nothing to achieve that end. Human Rights? Financial inducements to liars to come here and sponge of us with a standard of living unachievalbe for very many honest English working people? Meanwhile, we read about asylum seekers frequently revisiting the countries from which they ‘fled’ for ‘poltical reasons’.

    The idea of reducing controls in some ‘low risk’ entry points overlooks the obvious fact that these ‘low risk’ places of entry will become the choice of professional troublemakers. (allegations about crimes committed left out-ed)It is quite clear that the government has given up any attempt to stop this country from degenerating into a mainly third world populated country. Any attempt to improve this country for benefit of the native population rather than vibrants is deprecated and deliberately frustrated. Ambitious well educated English people are responding by leaving in droves (presumably part of the plan).

    The only times that this governments sits up and takes notice is if Brussels tells them to jump, or the (words left out) Pentagon requires cannon-fodder to fight yet another neocon war; then frenetic activity if not considerations of the national interest become the order of the day.

  16. Richard1
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Ministerial resignations after screw-ups by public servants are all very honourable but we need to remember another key duty for ministers: getting the best value for money for the taxpayer. There is not nearly enough accountability in the public sector. In all sorts of areas – the NHS being a prominent example – the taxpayer / consumer of public services often gets a rotten deal as 1) people dont get paid more for doing their jobs well and 2) they dont get fired for doing them badly. let ministers take responsibility if they havent exercised reasonable oversight or have themselves failed. Otherwise we should put pressure on ministers to make sure the public gets a decent service from the millions of people whom we pay to provide such services.

  17. outsider
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    The Crichel Down case was hailed as a constitutional principle and precedent but it never was. Ministers go when they or the Prime Minister wants them to or when public or Parliamentary pressure makes it impossible for them to continue. The better precedent, for politicians, was Mr Callaghan resigning in 1967 to take responsibility for devaluation. By doing so he earned respect and lived to fight another day.

    What get’s my goat is when politicians and heads of organisations say “I take full responsibility” for some fiasco and it turns out to be a meaningless statement. They do not stand down, suffer any penalty or behave any differently in future. This formula seems to be a sort of bravado intended to close debate and say that no-one will actually be held to account. When I hear anyone from the Prime Minister down saying “I accept full responsibility”, I now treat it as cant, the opposite of accountability.

  18. Mark
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Time was when civil servants could be relied upon to be both competent and impartial. That is sadly no longer the case. Recruitment and advancement have followed political dictates. In the case of UKBA, we have seen a succession of cases of corruption at Lunar House where officials have been bribed by foreigners of similar ethnicity to grant settlement and visas. As Damian Green discovered, the paper trail on asylum seekers had been (?intentionally) so messed up that it was impossible to disentangle. The civil service has been subjected to the “long march through the institutions”. It’s time to march them down the hill again.

    Having said that, ministers at the Home Office have been all too reluctant to be bold in tackling immigration issues starting with forthright analysis. Contributors to these pages, and Sir Andrew Green and those MPs supporting Migrationwatch seem to have a rather better handle on the policy needs.

  19. Disaffected
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    I think it is reasonable to expect that both Mr Green and Mrs May should have a good knowledge of what is going on in their department after 18 months in office. After 13 years of a previous government and public outrage on the subject, it would be fairly stupid and/or incompetent not to check or to think that changes would happen automatically. A form of intrusive supervision for a key government policy would be expected.

    The UK has sent troops abroad to fight in Middle East wars in the pretence that is was for our country’s security. The UK is also hosting the Olympic games next year where security will be an issue. When speaking on security this year, Cameron incredulously tells us that we must be vigilant when he knows, or ought to know, that 40,000 Pakistani students enter the country each year with student visas. The same area of the world where the US will not share intelligence in case the Pakistani security forces informed those who we are fighting in Afghanistan. Cameron appeared utterly clueless.

    It now emerges that both Mr Green and Mrs May apparently only knew 10 days ago that 80,000 coaches a day were being let through at Dover without passengers being checked. After so much public interest and associated press about immigration it would not be unreasonable to think they would have conducted some form of checks before now to make sure controls were in place- our service personnel losing life and limb in the Middle East on the basis of preventing terrorism in the UK.

    There was a bit of clue for Mr Green and Mrs May to conduct a review to assess the status quo when the came to office, as John Reid claimed in 2006 that the department was not fit for purpose.

    It strikes me that the security of our nation is meant to be the first priority of any government. When our countrymen are losing their lives and being permanently maimed under the context of preventing terrorism, both should be sacked for incompetence let alone any other ministerial failing.

    Was this a deliberate Tory blind eye because Lib Dems wanted more immigration during the election campaign????

    • zorro
      Posted November 14, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

      Mrs May/Mr Green have been in office for 18 months now….Mr Green was the shadow immigration minister for most of the last parliament. It is very surprising that he was not aware of what had been happening at Dover since 2007…..By the end of tomorrow, things will be rather clearer I think….

      zorro

  20. David John Wilson
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Anyone who has worked for government agency knows that when a minister produces a new policy which involves a change of direction, huge amounts of energy will be employed within the agency avoiding, diluting and diverting that change.
    The officials in the agencies should be made a lot more accountable for implementing change and it should be their jobs which are at risk when they fail not the ministers’.

  21. Iain Gill
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    yes but they ARE responsible the chaos of the open doors ICT visa shambles, the mass immigration seriously damaging the British IT business, and so on, for those reasons they should hang their heads in shame and they should be forced out of office

  22. uanime5
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Here’s what Theresa May said in 2004 during a scandal in which Labour Minister Beverley Hughes was allowing immigrants to be admitted into the UK without background checks.

    “I do think Beverley should resign as minister on this particular issue and I find it absolutely extraordinary that she’s… blamed officials in her department for this decision to be taken”

    “I’m sick and tired of government ministers in this Labour government who simply blame other people when things go wrong.”

    http://politicalscrapbook.net/2011/11/theresa-may-immigration-quotes/

    It would be manifest hypocrisy if Theresa May refuses to resign given her comments when she was in opposition.

    • A different Simon
      Posted November 15, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      Mrs May displayed her true colours when she brought in laws from Europe which do away with safeguards of the individual citizen and bring Europe closer to a police state .

      I agree she should go but am not stupid enough to think that it will make any difference .

      She would just be replaced by whoever Brussels chooses to help further the project .

  23. Alan Wheatley
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    John, this reminds me of a point you have often made with respect to banking regulation: it is the quality and not the quantity that matters. I think we would all be better of with less, better quality acts.

    One thing that annoys me intensely is legislation that is deliberately imprecise such that the legal meaning has to be determined by case law. Case law has a role to play, but it is NOT an excuse for lazy drafting of the act. We are entitle to certainty under the law, and should not have to wait until a test case is heard, usually in a high court, before we can know.

  24. Martin
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    Intelligence lead work is very sensible in immigration work. We are an island with many impossible to police piers and beaches. Even in World War 2 intelligence was seen as more useful than crude guarding of every beach and pier.

    Where Mrs May might be wrong is revealing names & details prior to any possible legal proceedings.

    • A different Simon
      Posted November 15, 2011 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      “We are an island with many impossible to police piers and beaches”

      It’s pointless fitting locks to the windows if you intend to leave the front door wide open .

  25. davidb
    Posted November 14, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    What is it that makes us so very different from the rest of Europe that we are not able to join the Schengen Area? How much does the UKBA cost? Think of the financial savings, let alone travellers time, when there’s a whole agency we don’t need. Is the rest of the continent any more racked with terrorism, drug dealing, organised crime and illegal immigration than our wee island? Why haven’t we been told?

    Perhaps if the attractions of welfare and the impossibility of deportation because of your human rights were addressed we might find ourselves no greater a paradise on earth than any other European country.

  26. sm
    Posted November 15, 2011 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Intelligence has led to more success with current resources- maybe no-one looks at the lampooning cartoons. It is a rich target environment.

    The problem i suspect is the government do not wish to have the capacity to deal with the all hits(problems) from mandatory checks on would be entrants. Thats why the queues form, they cant deal with the scale of the problem.

    Its a strategic political and legal problem and a failure of the leadership from the very top!

    The entire strategy is wrong -checks should be mandatory and an entry fee should be levied to pay for it. An EU fee then a Non-EU fee if – the Master in Brussels allows.

    Why not arrange bail-bonds or similar for the duration of the visit? If the visa conditions are breached,then a licensed or public agency will be paid via the bond or insurance to fund the find arrest and removal.

    There are ways but not the will.

    • A different Simon
      Posted November 15, 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      How about putting the onus on the airline/ferry carriers so that they are automatically billed for the cost of any hospital treatment of passengers they bring to the UK ?

      They would pretty soon make it a condition of boarding that passengers took out genuine travel insurance .

    • Mark
      Posted November 15, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

      There are fairly substantial entry fees raised from those who require visas, and passports have become very costly (I know the US charges much less for its passports). In addition, revenue is collected via Air Passenger Duty, and carriers are charged by airport operators for the use of terminal facilities. There is no shortage of charges already.

  27. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted November 15, 2011 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    There was once a Conservative Defence Minister who attempted to get the head of a British defence contractor sent to jail for selling arms to Iraq in defiance of an embargo. Luckily the Junior Minister, Alan Clark, had a conscience and called a press conference to announce that he had given them the green light.

    The Defence Minister concerned was one of the pro-European great and good. He wasn’t going to admit to an error, even if it meant an innocent man going to jail.

  28. sjb
    Posted November 15, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    JR wrote: “Mrs May herself says that she did not want some of the controls lifted at our borders which it turns out have been lifted. She says one of her senior officials went against Ministerial orders. ”

    I wonder if Cameron is about to lose another senior minister?

    1. She has refused to provide the select committee with communications between her dept and UKBA.

    2. She was not in the HoC earlier to face her Labour shadow.

    3. Her dept has today been rebuked for misusing official statistics to give a positive spin on drug seizures: see http://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/reports—correspondence/correspondence/letter-from-sir-michael-scholar-to-damian-green-mp-15112011.pdf

    4. All this comes after her “I am not making this up” gaffe at the Tory Party Conference.

  29. Mark
    Posted November 15, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    It is possible that economic disaster affecting parts of the Eurozone will lead to significant economic migration. I believe there are some provisions that allow containment of large flows of refugees among the EU arrangements. In any event, the UKBA and ministers need to prepare to deal with such an influx, and perhaps to reinstate full border controls for those coming from the EU should it prove to be on a large scale.

  30. Iain Gill
    Posted November 15, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Permalink
  31. Bazman
    Posted November 15, 2011 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    Theresa May will no doubt be made a Dame for the abolition of the absurd and offensive rules of checking the documents of the passengers of private jets. How many illegal immigrants arrive by private jet?

  32. Simon Denis
    Posted November 16, 2011 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

    Two points are conflated here – diplomatic (why were we involved?) and military (what stupid tactics!). We were involved in WW1 to prevent a Europe wide German hegemony. The French aspect of the situation was not, on this occasion just another “Franco-German dispute”. This time, the aggression was started and sustained by Germany as part of its bid for world power. To ignore this is not merely a blunder, it is immoral. The French people, along with the occupied Belgians, were the victims of a vicious Imperial regime which thought nothing of genocide among its African subjects – the Herero; pushed “attrition” to the quasi-genocidal point of “bleeding” its enemies “white” and was already sick with widespread anti-semitism. It was this same nation which burned the library at Louvain to the ground and murdered four thousand Belgian civilians. Worse, given the upshot, the German Empire smuggled Lenin and his poison into newly Liberal Russia. In short, the Kaiser Reich was already in many ways anticipating the Third.

    As for our tactics, it is true that generalship on the allied side was fairly poor, although the tragic figure of Marshal Petain proved far more intelligent and humane than most at that time; but, given the then state of technology and the inexperience of modern war among the general staff – not surprising after forty years of peace – battles at such a period were unavoidably bloody. True, Haig, Nivelle and co deserve obloquy for their bone headed persistence in attacks which had failed, but this is far from the whole story.

    You mention WW2, but it is our involvement here which mystifies me. Why guarantee Poland when we could do nothing to help it? Why encourage the Poles to resist a notoriously cruel enemy when we were impotent to assist or defend them? Why pitch ourselves into war when we were clearly not ready? Why offer a lunatic like Hitler the conflict he craved as the excuse to escalate his already revolting tyranny? The first war was justified but badly conducted, from the allied point of view – although we won; the second seems to me quixotic and counter productive and failed in its own terms. Belgium in 1919 was free; and Poland in 1945?

  33. Susanna Smith
    Posted November 17, 2011 at 2:30 am | Permalink

    Whatever… who’s going to start rounding up and deporting all those who got in, but shouldn’t have got in and have no right to be here?

    The horse which has bolted and is running amok, still has to caught and returned to its proper stable — instead of which, they’re still squabbling about who left the door open.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

  • John’s Books

  • Email Alerts

    You can sign up to receive John's blog posts by e-mail by entering your e-mail address in the box below.

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

    The e-mail service is powered by Google's FeedBurner service. Your information is not shared.

  • Map of Visitors

    Locations of visitors to this page