Yes Minister (1980) s02e07 Episode Script

A Question of Loyalty

You'll let me have your redraft on establishment levels by Thursday? You need it that early? I don't need it that early, but the Minister has to read it before facing the select committee.
What makes it harder, he has to remember it.
Harder still, he has to understand it.
Incidentally, did you write the Minister's Washington speech? Yes, Sir Humphrey.
- Splendid.
Well done.
- Thank you, Sir Humphrey.
The Minister's in now.
Right, thank you all.
Have you enjoyed having your Minister away for a week? Not very much.
Makes things very difficult.
Ah, Bernard! A Minister's absence is a godsend! You can do the job properly for once.
No silly questions, no bright ideas, no fussing about the papers.
I think our Minister doesn't believe he exists unless he's in the papers.
I'll bet the first thing he says is, "Any reports on my Washington speech?" - How much? - A pound.
He won't because he's already asked! In the car on the way back from Heathrow.
You're learning, Bernard.
Sit down.
See why a Minister's absence is a good thing? - Yes, but so much work piles up.
- There we are.
With a couple of days' briefing before he goes and debriefing after, he's out of our hair for a fortnight.
If he complains of being uninformed, say it came up while he was away.
Hence so many summit conferences? That's the only way the country works! Concentrate all the power at Number 10 then send the PM away to EEC summits, NATO summits, Commonwealth summits, anywhere! Then the Cabinet Secretary can run the country properly.
We ought to see him now.
What do you think of the Washington speech? "British administration as a model of loyalty and efficiency.
"A ruthless war on waste, cutting bureaucracy to the bone.
- "Britain can teach the world!" - Can we prove it? A good speech isn't one where we can prove he's telling the truth.
It's one in which nobody else can prove he's lying! But even so, I'm sure it was good, but I just wondered whether it was boring for the audience.
Of course it was boring! Bored the pants of them! Ghastly to have to sit through it, I should think! Ministers' speeches aren't written for the audience.
Aren't they? Delivering a speech is just a formality you go through to get into the papers.
We can't worry about entertaining.
We're not writing for a comedian.
Well, not a professional one! The point is the speech said the right things.
- But why say it in public? - It's vital.
Once it's printed, the Minister has to defend us in select committees.
- He defends us anyway.
- Well only to a point, Bernard.
Once something goes wrong, the Minister's first instinct is to rat on his department.
We must nail his trousers to the mast.
- You mean nail his colours? - No, his trousers.
Then he can't climb down! Come on.
- Welcome home, Minister! - Hello, Humphrey.
Bernard, didn't you say there were some press cuttings on my speech? Yes, I put them in the box, Minister.
Minister, you do realise the importance of tomorrow's hearing? Indeed.
The press will be there.
It's not just a question of the press.
It's a scrutiny of this department's future operation.
If it emerged that we were extravagant or incompetent - Are we extravagant or incompetent? - Of course not.
But there are hostile members, especially the one for Derbyshire.
- No! Betty Oldham won't be there? - Yes, alas.
I urge you to master this brief, and ask if you have any problems.
Another brief? I've only just mastered one.
Really? What was in it? I can't remember.
So difficult to concentrate on a plane, all those drinks and movies.
- And they wake you up.
- Of course, Minister.
Frightfully difficult to concentrate if you keep being woken up.
Seriously, this is the only brief with possible questions from the committee with appropriate answers carefully presented to give our position.
Is it absolutely accurate? They're carefully presented to give our position.
These committees are important.
I cannot be seen to mislead them.
You will not be seen to mislead them.
- The truth? - And nothing but.
- The whole truth? - Of course not.
- We tell them we keep secrets? - Indeed not! Why not? "He that would keep a secret must keep it secret, "that he hath the secret to keep.
" Who said that? It was Sir Humphrey.
- Who said it originally? - Francis Bacon, wasn't it? Oh, yes.
Why can't we go anywhere without briefs? In case they get caught with their trousers down.
Trousers down! Pick them! Very droll, Bernard.
- Are we going to be interrupted? - Your diary's empty today.
What was in that submission I read? More or less a rehash of last year's report.
And the year before? And the year before that? Yes, ever since 1867.
With appropriate alterations.
Shall we go through it? Must we? I'm still jet-lagged.
All the press will be there.
Right, let's get down to it.
The fact is that the Department of Administrative Affairs is run to a high standard of efficiency and supports and services the administrative work of all Government departments, as we've said in our submission.
Thank you, Minister.
Questions? - Mrs Oldham? - Thank you.
Minister, have you heard of Malcolm Rhodes? No.
He was assistant secretary in the DAA until he resigned last year.
There are 23,000 people in the DAA.
But he resigned or was eased out.
Became a management consultant and has just written a book - this is an advance proof - in which he makes astounding allegations of waste of public money, particularly in your department.
Could I have a word with my officials, Mr Chairman? - Know about this? - Not about the book.
- Who is Rhodes? - He's a trouble-maker.
- What's in the book? - Don't know.
- What do I do? - Stall.
"Stall", meaning avoiding answer.
Yes, I know what stall means! You've sent me into a typhoon without even an umbrella! An umbrella's no use in wind Shut up, Bernard! Have you had sufficient consultation with your officials? I Let me read you some scandalous facts Mr Rhodes reveals, and I quote, "No 4 supply depot in Herefordshire, "two former aircraft hangars used only for stores "but which are centrally-heated to 70 degrees day and night.
" - What do you say about that? - I can't answer without prior notice.
- It might not be true.
- It is.
I checked.
What reason can there be for such appalling extravagance? Some materials deteriorate at low temperatures, depending on what it is.
Copper wire.
Yes, well copper wire? It can corrode in damp conditions.
It's plastic-coated.
Plastic-coated? I Plastic-coated? I'll certainly have it looked into.
He says you insist on ordering all pens, pencils, paperclips and so on centrally, then distributing them against departmental requisitions.
That seems to be quite sensible.
Savings through bulk purchase.
He demonstrates that this is four times more expensive than if officers bought what they want on the High Street.
Very interesting.
If so, we'll change the system.
We're not a rigid bureaucracy.
He said he proposed this change when he was in your department, and it was turned down as people were used to the existing procedure.
- How's that for rigid bureaucracy? - I'll have it looked into.
- "Looked into"? - Yes! You said in your Washington speech last week that you conducted a war on waste and could teach the world a lesson.
How do you reconcile that with spending £75,000 on a roof garden on top of the supplementary benefits office in Kettering? I'm I'll - Have it looked into? - Yes! Yes, I will! The DAA's Permanent Secretary is due to appear next week.
Isn't he the appropriate person to answer the questions? Thank you.
See that Sir Humphrey's notified.
Perhaps you might let him see the allegations? "Allegations of Government waste"? "Big questions to answer"? - You've put me in a difficult position! - What about me?! The PM's demanding economies, and we've been wasting all this money! No one's been saving anything, you should know that! They look as though they have.
- Couldn't you have stalled? - Stalled? Blurred things a bit.
- You're good at blurring the issue.
- What? You have a considerable talent for making things unintelligible.
- I beg your pardon! - I mean that as a compliment.
Blurring the issue is one of the basic ministerial skills.
And the others? Delaying decisions, dodging questions, juggling figures, bending facts and concealing errors.
What was I to do? Make it look like you'd do something and do nothing.
Like you usually do.
- But if these revelations are true - Exactly, Minister, "if".
You could have discussed truth.
The committee isn't interested in truth.
They're all MPs! - What about a security matter? - HB pencils a security matter?! Depends what you write with them! Why build roof gardens on top of offices? We took over the office design from an American company, and it happens that nobody noticed the roof gardens on the plan.
God! It's a tiny mistake anyone could make.
Tiny mistake, £75,000? Give me an example of a big mistake? Letting people find out about it! Why are we heating sheds full of wire? - You want the truth? - If it's no trouble.
The staff are using the sheds for growing mushrooms.
Stop them! They've been doing it since 1945.
It's the only perk in an extremely boring job.
What about Rhodes's proposals for stationery? He was a trouble-maker and crank, unhealthily obsessed with efficiency.
Why didn't we adopt his proposals and save millions? - Yes, but a lot of work to implement.
- So? - Taking on more staff.
- Humphrey! - Disprove it.
- I can't, obviously.
- Exactly! - Making it up? - Of course.
- Why? As an example of how to handle a select committee.
Sir Humphrey, let's get down to details.
- This heated aircraft hangar.
- Indeed.
I do understand your concern, but it gets frightfully cold in Herefordshire.
- Even civil servants - We aren't talking about civil servants.
We're talking coils of wire plastic-coated to keep them warm! - Staff are in and out all the time.
- Why? Taking deliveries, making withdrawals, checking records, fire inspections - They can wear gloves, can't they? - But it's a staff welfare policy.
I suggest this policy is costing the taxpayer millions! Nothing to say? I can't comment on Government policy.
- But you advise the Minister.
- I can't disclose how I advise him.
- The Minister's responsible for policy.
- All right.
We'll ask the Minister.
What about stationery savings? It would've meant considerable Government patronage on junior staff.
"Considerable Government patronage"? Buying a packet of paperclips? It's Government policy to exercise strict control over who can spend its money.
It's common sense to let people buy their own paperclips.
Government policy is nothing to do with common sense.
Don't you think it's time the policy was changed? Well, Sir Humphrey? I can't comment on Government policy.
Ask the Minister.
The Minister advises us to ask you.
I'm advising you to ask the Minister.
- When does this end? - As soon as you like.
Let's come to the roof garden.
Yes, with pleasure.
This was part of a wide variety of roof insulation schemes, which the Government was testing in the interest of fuel economy.
But £75,000! It was thought the sale of vegetable produce might offset the cost.
And did it? - No.
- Then why not abandon the garden? It's there now, insulating the roof, and we aren't building any more.
But you've wasted £75,000! All proposals were tested for fuel saving.
At this fantastic waste of taxpayers' money? You agree it was wasted? I can't comment on Government policy.
Ask the Minister.
Look, whatever we ask the Minister, he says is a question for you.
Whatever we ask you, you say is a question for the Minister! - How do we find out what's going on? - Yes, I see there is a dilemma here.
While the Government regards policy as the responsibility of Ministers and administration as the responsibility of officials, questions of administrative policy cause confusion between the policy of administration and the administration of policy, especially when responsibility for the policy of administration conflicts with responsibility for the policy of administration of policy.
That's a load of meaningless drivel.
Isn't it? I can't comment on Government policy.
You must ask the Minister.
- A great help! - I did my best.
Best for yourself, perhaps! But your answers solved nothing.
We'll both be there, getting the third degree from that committee.
We've got to have the same answers! - Let's establish our position.
- What are the facts? The facts are neither here nor there! I see.
What's our position? We choose one of the five standard excuses to deal with each allegation.
Five standard excuses? First, the excuse we used in the Anthony Blunt case: "There's an explanation for everything, "but security forbids its disclosure.
" Second, the excuse we used for comprehensive schools: "Because of budget cuts, supervisory resources went beyond their limits.
" - That's not true, is it? - But it's a good excuse.
Then there's the excuse for Concorde: "A worthwhile experiment, now abandoned, "but not before it had provided much valuable data and employment.
" But that is true, isn't it? Oh, no, of course it isn't.
Four, there's the excuse for the Munich Agreement: "It occurred before important facts were known and couldn't re-occur.
" What important facts? That Hitler wanted to conquer Europe.
- I thought everybody knew that! - Not the Foreign Office.
- Five? - Five The Charge of the Light Brigade excuse: "An unfortunate lapse by an individual, "dealt with under internal disciplinary procedures.
" - That covers everything? - Just about, so far.
- Even wars? - Small wars.
- It's real teamwork from now on.
- United we stand, divided we fall! Minister, you're due at the House.
The PM's adviser wants you to pop in for a drink.
Sir Mark Spencer.
- Mark Spencer? - I suggested 5.
30? Fine, yes.
Oh, dear.
I knew there'd be trouble.
The PM wants to know why our replies have been so feeble.
Perhaps it's just for a drink.
They don't ask you for a drink just because you're thirsty! I'll meet you back here at 6.
30, and we'll cook up a story.
- Agree our position, Minister.
- That's what I said.
(KNOCK AT DOOR) Come in! Hello, Jim.
- Scotch? - Thanks.
- How are things going? - Fine.
That select committee was a shock, throwing the book at us, but everything's under control and Humphrey and I can explain it.
The PM shouldn't worry.
I'd like to know where Malcolm Rhodes got all his information.
And who gave the proofs to Betty Oldham? The PM must be livid.
It's no fault of mine.
- Why do you think the PM's livid? - Surely? Let's look at the situation logically.
Sit down.
Of course.
Let me ask you some questions.
What is the PM trying to achieve in public expenditure? - Cuts, obviously.
- Why so little success? - Obstruction from the civil service? - Are all the Cabinet committed to it? - I think so.
I certainly am.
- But no Minister's made any cuts.
- Rome wasn't built in a day.
- No.
It's because all the Ministers have gone native.
- Surely? - The civil service has trained them! Well, maybe true Certainly not of me! If a Minister were really trying to cut expenditure, how would he react to a book exposing Government waste? - I should think he'd - Mmm? It would depend What are you trying to say? Know what the civil service say? You're a pleasure to work with.
Oh! Oh That's what Barbara Woodhouse says about her spaniels.
Sir Humphrey said you're worth your weight in gold.
What does that suggest to you? That I've failed utterly? You look as if you need another Scotch.
The PM isn't pleased with my performance at the committee.
- I failed to cover up the failure.
- On the contrary.
because you're covering up too well.
Don't you see? You're protecting the civil service.
The PM and I are doing our best to expose why cuts in expenditure are not taking place.
And you are helping the civil service to defy the Government.
Am I? You were wondering where Betty Oldham got the proofs and where Malcolm Rhodes got that inside information.
Can't you guess? (WHISPERS) You mean the PM? Of course not! Not directly.
(WHISPERS) You mean you? What am I to do at the select committee? There's only one course open to you.
Absolute loyalty.
Who to? That's your decision.
It was an error that occurred before important facts were known.
I assure you it is an oversight that couldn't possibly happen again.
- Wouldn't you agree, Minister? - Perfectly correct.
The correct official reply.
But I've been thinking very deeply over the last few days, and there's no doubt that this committee is on to something.
Of course there's waste.
And excuses can always be found in individual cases.
But you have convinced me our approach is wrong.
Ministers and their civil servants so often cover up and defend where they should seek out and destroy.
I've spoken to Mr Rhodes, author of this invaluable book, and he'll head an independent enquiry into the field of administration, starting with my department.
And how does Sir Humphrey react to this? Sir Humphrey is in complete agreement with me.
We work as a team.
I must say, he's a pleasure to work with.
But this account of what's been going on doesn't square with your Washington speech about a war on waste.
Well, I'm an old-fashioned sort of chap, Betty, and I believe in a thing called loyalty.
Whatever you say in private you defend in public, eh, Humphrey? In that case, aren't you being disloyal now? No.
I believe a Minister has a higher loyalty.
A loyalty to Parliament and the nation.
And that loyalty must be paramount, however hard and painful that may be.
Of course, one is loyal to one's department and officials, until the evidence is overwhelming, but I must say in public, that reforms can and will take place, and I know I shall find in Sir Humphrey my staunchest ally.
Isn't that so, Humphrey? (CROAKS) Yes, Minister.
Yes, Minister.
- A big help! - I did my best.
The best for yourself! This is your idea of teamwork? Amusing! - I had to do it.
- Had to do what? Cravenly admit everything to them? Don't you realise how calamitous this is for us? - Not both of us, I hope.
- You hope in vain.
We're up in arms, with very little confidence in you.
As for Number 10, I shudder to think how the PM will react to your public admission of failure.
A personal letter from the Prime Minister.
I did warn you, Minister.
Bernard, you should give some thought to drafting a face-saving letter of resignation for the Minister.
"Dear Jim" "Dear Jim"? "We haven't seen enough of each other lately.
"Are you free for lunch at Chequers on Sunday? "We shall just be the family.
I look forward to seeing you.
" I don't think I? It has paid off! A conspiracy! That drink with Mark Spencer! "not seen enough Lunch at Chequers" It's hand-written! Do you realise how much it's worth? I believe the going rate is thirty pieces of silver! No, Humphrey.
Loyalty and integrity have received their just rewards.
Loyalty?! I have backed you up the same way you have always backed me up.
Isn't that so? Sorry? Did you say something? I think he said, "Yes, Minister.