yes minister -3

by rainsight on 01/6/2012
scandal that the Civil Service is not buying British.
I sent for Humphrey. He was in meetings all day, but Frank and I will confront him with this tomorrow. I am deeply grateful to Frank. Sir Humphrey is going to be very surprised indeed that we have found out about this so fast.
November 6th
The meeting with Humphrey was a total success.
I showed him the invoices for the computer display terminals. He admitted that the DAA has purchased this brand for the whole of Whitehall.
‘But they’re not British, ’ I pointed out.
‘That is unfortunately true, ’ he agreed, somewhat shamefaced.
‘We make these machines in Birmingham East. ’
‘Not of the same quality, ’ he said.
This is very probably true, but naturally I can’t admit it even if it is.
‘They are better quality, ’ I said firmly. ‘They come from my consti­tuency. ’ I told Humphrey to cancel the contract.
He responded that it was beyond his power to do so, and that it could only be cancelled by the Treasury. He said it would be a major change of policy for the Civil Service to cancel contracts freely entered into. Especially with overseas suppliers.
He suggested (a trifle impertinently, I thought) that I should take it up in Cabinet. ‘Perhaps they would postpone the discussion on the Middle East, or nuclear disarmament, to talk about office equipment. ’
I could see that this was out of the question. I was faced with a dilemma. If it couldn’t be cancelled, how was I to face my consti­tuency party?
‘Why need they know? ’ asked Sir Humphrey. ‘Why need anybody know? We can see that it never gets out. ’
I was staggered. Couldn’t Humphrey see that to keep it quiet was directly contrary to our new policy of Open Government, to which he was as firmly committed as I?
Frank spelled out the only alternative. ‘If the order can’t be cancel­led, it must be published. ’
Humphrey asked why. For a moment I couldn’t quite think of the answer. But Frank saw it at once. ‘Two reasons, ’ he explained. ‘First, it’s a manifesto commitment. Second, it’ll make the last Minister look like a traitor. ’
Two unanswerable reasons. I really am very grateful to Frank. And he is running rings around Sir Humphrey. Perhaps Sir Humphrey is not as clever as I first thought.
Humphrey seemed very anxious about the idea of publication. ‘But surely, ’ he said to Frank, ‘you’re not suggesting that the Minister should make a positive reference to this confidential transaction in a speech? ’
‘A speech! ’ said Frank. ‘Of course! That’s the answer. ’
This is a superb idea of Frank’s. My speech to the Union of Office Employees will deal with this scandalous contract. And we will release it to the press in advance.
I said as much to Humphrey. Frank said, ‘There. Who’s running the country now? ’ I felt his glee was a little juvenile, but quite under­standable.
Sir Humphrey seemed even more worried. I asked him for his advice, which was totally predictable. ‘I think it might be regrettable if we upset the Americans. ’
Predictable, and laughable. I pointed out to Humphrey, in no uncertain terms, that it is high time that someone jolted the Ameri­cans out of their commercial complacency. We should be thinking about the British poor, not the American rich!
Humphrey said, ‘Minister, if that is your express wish the Depart­ment will back you. Up to the hilt. ’ This was very loyal. One must give credit where it’s due.
I said that indeed it was my express wish. Bernard then said he would circulate the speech, as soon as it was written, for clearance.
This is new to me. I’ve never heard of ‘clearance’. More bureauc­racy and pointless paperwork. This matter has nothing to do with any other department. And if another department disagrees, they can say so publicly. That’s what Open Government is all about.
Humphrey pleaded with me to circulate the speech, if only for information. At first I opposed this, but he argued – quite convinc­ingly, I thought – that Open Government demands that we should inform our colleagues in government as well as our friends in Fleet Street.
My final word to Humphrey, as the meeting concluded, was to see that the speech went straight to the press.
‘Minister, ’ he said, ‘we shall obviously serve your best interests. ’
A notable victory by Frank and me, in the cause of Open Govern­ment.
[A typescript of Hacker’s speech has been found in the files of the DAA. It is annotated with suggestions by Frank Weisel and Bernard Woolley, with comments from Hacker – Ed. ]

 

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