Yes Minister (1980) s02e04 Episode Script

The Greasy Pole

Humphrey, what are you havering about? I'm simply saying we can't take the Minister's approval for granted.
The Italian government have offered a massive contract to manufacture propanol at our Merseyside plant, which means saving a plant we were going to have to close, saving jobs, earning export royalties.
- He has to give us the go-ahead.
- But if the Minister thinks Ministers don't think! Don't talk to me about Ministers.
I've been chairman of British Chemical Corporation for ten years, and in that time dealt with nineteen different Ministers.
They've usually not had time to see me, because they're too busy bribing Trade Union leaders not to strike.
- They've never bribed anybody.
- Oh, no? "Have a quango, Tom; a knighthood, Dick; a peerage, Harry.
" - But the Minister's worried - Of course he's worried! If I'd never done anything to worry those vote-grabbing baby-kissing jellies, we'd have gone down the tube years ago! - But propanol contains metadioxin.
- So what? Dioxin was released at Seveso.
It can damage the foetus.
That's dioxin, for Christ's sake! Metadioxin is an inert compound.
It's been given a clean bill of health by Washington.
The Henderson Committee, which you set up, will give it the OK, too.
I know, Wally, but the name could be politically sensitive.
But I've taken metadioxin out of the proposal.
- I call it propanol.
- Very wise of you.
- You told me to.
- Very wise of me! But the Minister may raise no objections, it just needs tact.
In that case, there's no problem.
I'll have a tactful word with Hacker and persuade the blancmange myself.
Don't take this amiss, Wally, but I might just be able to manage without your unique brand of tact.
- This is wonderful news, Humphrey.
- Yes, Minister.
We turn a run-down plant from loss-maker into a profitable unit, the largest manufacturer of propanol in Europe.
- Yes, Minister.
- Equipment made in UK factories.
Income for the local authorities, foreign exchange from exports.
- Too good to be true! - It is true.
Good old propanol What is propanol, actually? It used to be made with dioxin until the Seveso explosion, then they developed a safe compound, metadioxin.
The Italian factory is sealed off so they've asked the BCC to make it.
- An ill wind.
- Quite so.
- But this stuff is perfectly safe? - Perfectly.
Weak Ministers might have doubts over the similarity of the names, but no one with any backbone would be deflected from such a beneficial project on such a useless pretext.
I know just the sort of Minister you mean.
Political jellyfish.
Terrified of taking any decision.
After all, every decision upsets someone, doesn't it? Good government is doing what's right, not just what's popular.
- Absolutely, Minister.
- But this will be popular? - Very popular.
- Humphrey, I want to be sure.
You not asking me to make a courageous decision, are you? Of course not, Minister.
Good, good.
Should I take it to Cabinet? - I think the less said, the better.
- Why? Although metadioxin is totally harmless, the name may cause anxiety in ignorant minds.
Humphrey, you're talking about my Cabinet colleagues.
I was referring to the Friends of the Earth.
(PHONE RINGS) Yes? Joan Littler has arrived, MP for Liverpool South West.
Know what she wants? She's the Prime Minister's PPS, and the new plant is in her constituency.
- Show her in.
If you'll excuse us? - The PM's PPS? I think I'll stay.
Joan Littler, member for Liverpool South West.
- Do you know Humphrey Appleby? - Delighted to meet you.
Do take a seat.
- Thank you, Bernard.
- Bernard Now, what can I do for you? Jim, what's the British Chemical Corporation up to in my constituency? They'll be announcing a very exciting project, with new jobs.
Yes but there's some very worrying rumours.
- Such as? - Rumours of dangerous chemicals.
All chemicals are dangerous The Minister means the rumours are unfounded, no cause for alarm.
Can I have your assurance there'll be a full public enquiry? Not a bad idea The Minister was about to say there's no need for an enquiry.
- A report will be issued shortly.
- I came here to talk to Jim.
- You are talking to him.
- But he's not answering, you are! - The Minister and I are of one mind.
- Whose? Yours? I've heard this factory made the chemical that poisoned Seveso! - That's not true.
- Isn't it? The chemical in Seveso was dioxin.
This is metadioxin.
- That's virtually the same thing.
- Just a similar name.
It's the same name with "meta" stuck on the front.
- That makes all the difference.
- Why? What does "meta" mean? - What does "meta" mean, Humphrey? - "With", "after" or "beyond".
From the Greek, of course.
"After" dioxin or "beyond" dioxin.
If it's in the accusative, it's "beyond or after", with the genitive it's "with", as in Latin, as you no doubt recall.
The ablative is used for words needing "with" to precede them.
But of course, there isn't an ablative in Greek.
- Well done, Bernard.
- Thank you.
- You see? - Not exactly, no.
- I thought that was perfectly plain.
- What I insist on knowing is what is the actual difference between dioxin and metadioxin.
Metadioxin is an inert compound of dioxin.
I think I follow that, Humphrey, but could you explain it a little more clearly? - In what sense, Minister? - What does "inert" mean? It means it's not ert.
Wouldn't "ert" a fly.
- What did you say, Bernard? - Nothing, Minister.
- What does that mean in practical terms? - You mean chemically? - Yes, chemically.
- What does it mean chemically? I can't explain it in layman's language - Do you know any chemistry? - Of course not, Minister.
I was in the scholarship form.
- And what's a compound? - Don't you know any chemistry? No.
Do you? - We ought to, oughtn't we? - A compound is a You know what compound interest is? Yes, well, a jolly good thing.
That's the sort of thing a compound is.
That's it, then.
To sum up, I think we're all of the same mind, broadly speaking.
We're ready to go ahead.
I've said no such thing! The only difference is in the name, dioxin and metadioxin, like Littler and Hitler.
Not that you're like Hitler because your name's similar! - That's not the point.
- What is the point? The point is this factory is in my constituency! It'll be good for the constituency, more jobs, more money.
The only people we'll offend are a few environmentalists.
At most, it won't cost us more than 100 votes.
My majority is 91.
Not to mention the three marginal constituencies bordering mine! Could I intervene just once more? The case for the BCC manufacturing propanol is overwhelming.
Great jobs, increased income and secure, profitable export orders.
- Export orders.
- Furthermore the drug has been declared safe by Washington, - Washington.
- We're preparing a report, too.
The Minister is confident that this scheme is to the advantage of your constituency and the country.
If it proves not to be safe, I won't allow its manufacture here.
But if the report says it is safe, that'd be absurd, wouldn't it? I'm not satisfied with that, Jim.
Remember that the party made you an MP, and you can't be a Minister if your party loses the next election.
You still don't look happy, Minister.
Suppose the report isn't as conclusive as you say.
- Oughtn't I to meet this Henderson? - No need.
He's a brilliant Cambridge biochemist, chosen with some care.
Suppose he produces a cautious, wait-and-see report? We don't publish it.
We use the American report instead.
Fine! - You mean we suppress it? - No, we just don't publish it.
- What's the difference? - All the difference in the world! Suppression is the instrument of dictatorships.
We don't talk of that sort of thing in a free country.
We take a democratic decision not to publish.
What am I to say to the press and parliament? "We hoped the report would say it was a wise decision.
" "But we've cocked it up so we'll pretend the report doesn't exist.
" - Very droll.
- What would I say? There's a Government procedure for suppress deciding not to publish reports.
- Really? You simply discredit them.
Good heavens! How? Stage One, give your reasons in terms of the public interest.
- Hint at security considerations - Mind if I make a note? This could be useful for discrediting some of the party's idiotic research documents.
The report could put pressure on Government and be misinterpreted.
Anything could be misinterpreted.
The Sermon on the Mount could be! Indeed, it could be argued the Sermon should not have been published.
A most irresponsible document.
All that stuff about the meek inheriting the earth could do irreparable damage to the defence budget.
I suppose you're right.
What else? Say it's better to wait for a more detailed study over longer time.
- Suppose there isn't one? - Commission one.
Gives you even more time to play with.
- All this is Stage One? - Yes.
In Stage Two discredit the evidence you're not publishing.
- How, if you're not publishing it? - It's easier if it's not published.
Do it by press leaks, of course, not directly.
Say it leaves important questions unanswered, the evidence is inconclusive, the figures are open to other interpretations, that certain findings are contradictory, and that some of the main conclusions have been questioned.
- Suppose they haven't? - Then question them! Then they have! But you'd have to go through it with a fine-toothed comb.
No, no, no.
You'd say all these things without reading it.
There's always some questions unanswered.
- Such as? - The ones that weren't asked.
- That's Stage Two? - Yes.
In Stage Three you undermine recommendations.
"Not a basis for long-term decisions.
" "Not sufficient information on which to base a valid assessment.
" "Not really any need for a fundamental rethink of policies.
" "Broadly speaking, endorses current practice.
" It's easy.
- That works? - Nearly always.
- Suppose it doesn't? - Move on to Stage Four.
- Stage Four? - Discredit the man who produced the report.
Off the record.
Say that he's harbouring a grudge against the Government or, better still, that he used to be a consultant to a multi-national company.
- Supposing he wasn't? - Then he's hoping to be.
Everybody's hoping to be a consultant to a multi-national.
Or he's trying for a knighthood or vice-chancellorship.
There are endless possibilities.
Excuse me.
The press officer rang to say there's an item on the news.
Yes, yes.
Why wasn't I told? The BCC aren't obliged to clear it with us.
a row has blown up on Merseyside about a plan for the BCC to manufacture propanol under licence for the Italian government.
Apparently, propanol contains metadioxin, which the BCC claims to be completely harmless.
It is a compound of dioxin, the chemical released after an explosion at Seveso in July 1976, spreading poisonous dust over a 4-mile radius.
On Merseyside, protesters voiced their opposition to the BCC scheme outside the factory gates.
(CROWD SHOUTING AND JEERING) I'll tell you what we'll do.
Sir Wally can take his poison chemicals somewhere elsel I've a daughter expecting a baby, and my grandchild's not gonna be deformed for them bloody Eyeties' sakel If the Government cared about people, they'd never allow itl The BCC said a report on the safety of propanol was due to be published shortly by the Department of Administrative Affairs.
And now abroad again - This metadioxin is dynamite.
- It's totally harmless.
Only chemically, not politically.
- It can't hurt anyone.
- It could finish me off! Yes? Minister, Number 10 on the phone.
The political office - the PM's just seen the news.
Hello, Jim here! Yes, I just saw that, too.
We don't need to be too worried about a little local difficulty.
Not in view of the jobs and exports No, not many jobs.
Ninety, I think.
Yes, but You do, do you? Yes, well I was coming round to that viewpoint myself.
Humphrey - Something just struck me.
- I noticed.
There are arguments against this scheme.
- Minister, you've already agreed - It could lead to a loss of public confidence.
- You mean votes? Votes? No, no.
It's not the votes that are a consideration at all.
But you see, it's the public will.
This is a democracy - and the people don't like it.
- The people are ignorant and misguided.
It was the people who elected me! In a week, the whole thing will have blown over, and in a year's time, we'll have a safe and successful factory.
A week's a long time in politics.
A year's a short time in Government.
You're in Government, I'm in politics and the PM is not pleased.
- With the greatest respect - Going to insult me again? You're putting party before country.
Can't you think of a new cliché? Minister, a new cliché could be said to be a contradiction in terms.
Humphrey, you lead a sheltered life.
I intend to survive and I'm not crossing the PM.
Why must you be so concerned with climbing the greasy pole? The greasy pole is important.
I have to climb it.
Why? 'Cause it's there! The editor of the Times, please.
Thank you, Bernard.
How come the Times knows about the report before I do? - There's been a leak.
- I know that! It was "Confidential".
I only got a draft last night.
- At least it wasn't "Restricted".
- Why? "Restricted" means it was in the papers yesterday.
"Confidential" means it won't be in the papers till today.
Who leaked this? Humphrey? - I'm sure he didn't, Minister.
- Are you? - He probably didn't.
- No? - It might have been someone else.
- These leaks are a disgrace! - People think it's the politicians.
- It has been known.
In my opinion, we're far more leaked against than leaking.
"Political cowardice to reject the BCC proposal craven expediency.
" "Hacker has no choice.
" Humphrey thinks he's got me committed! It's an unofficial leak of a draft report.
You're committed to nothing.
Does the report give you a way out? Sir Wally McFarlane is waiting to see you.
All right.
But he's wasting his time.
- Come in, please, Sir Wally.
- Thank you.
- Morning.
- May I join you, Minister? - If you like.
Do sit down.
- Thank you, Jim.
- Now - Thank you, Bernard.
Sorry about that.
I see from the press the Henderson Report comes clearly on our side.
- I've seen that, too.
- That committee leaks like a sieve.
So there's no real case for refusing permission for the new plant.
- I'm not sure yet.
- Now look, Jim We've been working on this for two years, it's very important.
I'm the chairman, and I tell you as a chemist, metadioxin is safe.
You experts always think you're right.
The more inexpert you are, the more likely you are to be right? Ministers are not experts.
They're chosen because they know nothing.
You admit that? Nothing about technical details.
Ministers must take a broader view, that's why I cannot commit yet.
Look, Hacker! This is the wrong decision and you know it.
It's cowardly and craven! - I am not cowardly - Sit down! You'll lose a few votes from a few people in those constituencies? - It's pathetic! - It's politics! Exactly! I'll be writing to the Secretary of State for Industry.
I am prepared to resign if you block this one! How do you feel that went, Minister? - We'll have to get another chairman.
- Get another?! Nobody would accept a job like that! Nobody wants to be chairman of a nationalised industry! Instant ruin! They may as well accept the golden handshake the day they start.
- We'll find someone.
- Some useless American geriatric.
Not necessarily.
How do you expect to find a decent replacement, when we forced his predecessor to resign for taking a sound decision, which we blocked for political reasons? - I have no choice.
- A Minister can do what he likes.
It's the people's will.
I am their leader.
I must follow them.
My hands are clean.
I thought it was rather difficult to keep one's hands clean while climbing the greasy pole.
We must stop Wally making a fuss.
Press conferences accusing me of lack of faith.
- Interviews on Panorama.
- What am I to do? If I stop the scheme, the Times will accuse me of political cowardice.
If I let it go ahead, the Mirror will say I'm murdering unborn babies.
If only the report had any doubt about the safety of metadioxin.
- Are you sure it doesn't, Minister? - Not as it stands.
- Henderson's a Cambridge man? - Yes.
- Which college? - King's.
Why? Nothing.
Just wondered if it was my old college.
Weren't you at the LSE? Yes, so I was.
- Have you got his file? - It's with the report.
- Got a Cambridge telephone? - You do realise - not that you have any such intention - but it would be most improper to influence an independent report of this nature? Most improper! Out of the question.
Just it might be nice to pop down to have tea with my old friend, R.
Crichton, Provost of King's.
Get him on the phone.
Yes, Minister.
Get me King's College, Cambridge.
Who knows? Professor Henderson might drop in for tea.
That'd be a happy coincidence, wouldn't it? - Perfectly natural.
- Nothing improper about that.
- How can a coincidence be improper? - My feeling entirely.
(PHONE RINGS) Yes? Lord Crichton, please.
How's the move from the Commons to the Lords? Like moving from animals to vegetables.
- Professor Henderson's here.
- Good to see you.
Come and meet an old friend, Jim Hacker.
- Jim, this is Professor Henderson.
- Professor Henderson! I didn't expect to see the Minister.
- What a coincidence! - Yes, what a coincidence! - You know each other? - We haven't met.
- I'm writing a report for him.
- Well, what a coincidence.
- Yes, what a coincidence! - Extraordinary coincidence.
- You're happy with my report? - Absolutely.
- You must've worked very hard.
- Most of it was done by Washington.
Excuse me, I'll go and help with the tea.
Tell me, have you ever written a Government report before? - No.
- Your name will be on it forever.
"Henderson Report".
- It's a kind of immortality.
- I hadn't thought of it like that.
- But if it were to go wrong - Go wrong? If this metadioxin isn't as safe as you say your career Very courageous! None of the standard tests show any evidence of teratogenic toxicity.
- Standard tests? Quite.
- What do you mean? Well, I was making a few notes on the train coming down.
I'm not a biochemist, but it would appear that the US report leaves some important questions unanswered.
Some of the evidence is inconclusive, some findings have been questioned, the figures are open to interpretation, and different results might come from a more detailed study.
- Obviously, but - But if anything did go wrong, a delayed effect, the press would go straight to your report.
And if it turned out that you'd ever done laboratory trials for a multi-national drug company - That was 15 years ago.
- 14.
You know what the press is like.
No smoke without a fire.
It could be a millstone! The popular press would be merciless, if anything went wrong: "Death Agony of Henderson Report Victims.
" Yes Yes! I don't know what to do! I can't alter the evidence, the report says it's a safe drug.
- Quite.
I see you have no choice.
- Stop talking shop.
Our Professor of Economics is dying to talk to you.
You're not worried about this report? I've done lots of these things.
It's the phrasing of the conclusion, that's all the press ever read.
Now how does it end? "On existing evidence, the committee can see no reason not to proceed.
" Well, it's just a question of a tidy bit of re-drafting.
"While the committee feel there's no reason not to proceed on existing evidence, "it must be emphasised that metadioxin is a recent compound, "and it would be irresponsible to deny, after further research, "its manufacture might be proved to be associated with health risks.
" Yes, that seems perfectly fair.
Could you just say that again? Better than that I'll jot it down for you.
The Minister for Administrative Affairs, James Hacker, has announced he'll not give approval for the BCC to make propanol.
The Henderson Committee, while generally approving the drug, said it could not deny that future research might disclose risks.
(CROWDS CHEERING) Mr Hacker made his announcement today while visiting BCC's factory, where he was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd.
And now sport.
Following last night's defeat Well, Minister? Well, Humphrey? - Do you feel like a hero? - Indeed I do.
- And Number 10 will be delighted.
- One of the worst decisions ever! And one of the best political decisions I've made.
What do you think, Bernard? Well bearing everything in mind and after due consideration considering all the implications and points of view well, in other words, in fact, I am bound to say you look awfully good on television, Minister.
Humphrey, can we manage a CBE for Henderson? Certainly not! He's unreliable and lacking in judgement.
I can't think why he cast doubt on his whole report in that final paragraph.
I think he has excellent judgement, enormous stature and great charm.
I thought you said you'd never met him.
I meant intellectual stature, Humphrey.
And charm? He writes with charm.
Doesn't he, Bernard? Oh, yes, Minister.