Select committees will demand Whitehall tape: Civil servants and clerks suspected of collusion over questioning

SELECT committee chairmen are to demand to be shown a Whitehall video for training top civil servants how to handle questioning by

committees.

The video suggests collusion takes place between select committee clerks and civil servants over the questions to be asked by committee members, which threatens to undermine the integrity of the system.

Last month, a decision by the Public Accounts Committee to recall Sir Thomas Legg, Permanent Secretary to the Lord Chancellor's office, after he 'forgot' to tell a hearing about a letter from the Master of the Rolls protesting at cuts in legal aid eligibility, raised doubts about the openness of civil servants and their evidence to committees. The question of the video is certain to renew such doubts.

Frank Field, the Labour chairman of the Select Committee on Social Security, said: 'We need to ask to see that the video is made available to see what advice is given.'

The video, of a civil service seminar, shows Sir Bryan Hayes, former permanent secretary to the Department of Trade and Industry, advising civil servants not to give short 'yes' answers. 'I don't think it's a good idea to answer yes, because then they go straight on to another question and you are foxed again.' The use of coaching videos is standard practice for politicians. But a committee clerk is also quoted as saying that civil servants will be allowed to see the questions before they have to give evidence. She urges them 'not to give the lie to the game' by telling the committee they have seen the questions.

Michael Clark, former Tory chairman of the energy select committee, said: 'I would be surprised and dismayed if there was collusion between the select committees and the civil service.' He said he had wondered whether witnesses knew the questions in advance because they seemed very carefully prepared.

'I questioned my clerk on a regular basis. He always assured me that the questions had not been sent to the witnesses, although there had been some indication of the broad areas of questioning.'

But in the BBC television programme Scrutiny shown last Saturday, John Sweetman, the Clerk of Committees, said that the clerk had 'over- stated the practice'. The programme was told by Mr Sweetman that: 'It is quite common for witnesses to be given in advance questions which require lengthy, technical answers. In my experience it would be most unusual for witnesses to be given any advance notice of the precise questions.'

Mr Sweetman said he would not take any action, unless he knew that was happening. 'I am not going to conduct a witch-hunt.'

Leading article, page 17

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With extensive experience and a...

Barnardo's: Corporate Audit and Inspection – Retail Intern (Leeds)

Unpaid - £4 lunch allowance plus travel to and from work: Barnardo's: Purpose ...

Recruitment Genius: Content Writer - Global Financial Services

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future