CORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 689-ii

House of COMMONS

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE

PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION SELECT COMMITTEE

 

 

PUBLICATION OF POLITICAL MEMOIRS

 

 

Thursday 15 December 2005

LORD TURNBULL, KCB, CVO

SIR CHRISTOPHER MEYER KCMG

MR LANCE PRICE

Evidence heard in Public Questions 72 - 282

 

 

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

1.

This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.

 

2.

The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.

 

 


Oral Evidence

Taken before the Public Administration Select Committee

on Thursday 15 December 2005

Members present

Tony Wright, in the Chair

Mr David Burrowes

Paul Flynn

Julia Goldsworthy

Kelvin Hopkins

Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger

Julie Morgan

Mr Gordon Prentice

Grant Shapps

Jenny Willott

________________

 

Witness: Lord Turnbull KCB CVO, a Member of the House of Lords, gave evidence.

Q72 Chairman: Could I welcome our first witness this morning, Sir Andrew Turnbull. It is very good to see you back. We used to see you regularly when you were in post. I thought we would have more fun with you when you were retired and I suspect this is probably going to be the case. It is very kind of you to come along and help us with our inquiry into the whole business of memoir writing. You have had some experience of this and I think you have some views about it, would you like to kick off with an opening statement?

Lord Turnbull: Yes. I am going to start like the Vicar of St Anthony's: my text is the Civil Service Code verses 9 and 13: "Civil servants should conduct themselves in such a way as to deserve and retain the confidence of ministers" and "Civil servants should continue to observe their duties of confidentiality after they have left Crown employment." You should keep those two sentences in mind all the way through. Let us start with memoirs. Inherently they are a good thing: a rich source of history. Many is the time I refer to Nigel Lawson's memoirs - it is almost a text book. Our job is to facilitate them, I believe, while protecting what needs to be protected. The Radcliffe report, which is a beautifully crafted report, correctly identified what needs protecting; that is, national security; international relations; confidence between ministers; and confidential advice from officials. Next: is his system working? To a large degree, yes, but some flaws are becoming apparent. I think his 15-year time limit now looks dated and inflexible. Times have changed and I think the truth is we are less squeamish than we were - and I would give less weight to time and more to whether the relevant players have left the scene. There is a loophole, so-called proxy memoirs, what I would call footballers' memoirs: "David Beckham" - or "Blunkett" - "as told to ...." is an obvious loophole. I think we need restraint on material given directly to an author with the expectation of publication. Next: the guidance is not robust enough about the point in the process at which the memoirs should be submitted. It is no good simply submitting a book proof days before publication. The Radcliffe report makes a distinction between the memoirs of a minister, who is publicly accountable and therefore entitled to provide an account of his stewardship (but not to knock someone else's stewardship), on the one hand and officials and diplomats who serve on permanent terms, provide advice in confidence, taking neither blame nor credit. The Radcliffe report reproduces an answer given by Herbert Morrison in 1946 which makes exactly this distinction. But over time the enforcement process has really become the same for both, though in my view the official/diplomat has a less compelling case to publish his memoirs and that needs to be built into the system. Is the system being observed? I agree largely with Richard Wilson: yes, for the most part it is, although with some notorious exceptions. Clare Short submitted her manuscript and agreed changes. So too did Robin Cook. So too, after some argy-bargy, did Derek Scott. In talking later to Sir Christopher Meyer, you in my view should have no truck with the argument that he could go it alone because ministers were not observing the system. It was not true and in any case two wrongs do not make a right. Remedies: I think the law is too clumsy; the Freedom of Information Act is faulty. The Freedom of Information Act builds in the concept of protection of confidentiality but by judging it almost sentence by sentence: "Will this remark cause damage?" makes it virtually useless as a piece of protection. The courts have over history been more or less unusable. Contracts are difficult to enforce, particularly for people who are, in effect, out of contract. Copyright is worth looking at, especially for a defined area like intelligence, but it is not a panacea. If I write an article in a professional journal on public service reform, am I exploiting HMG's copyright or providing a public service by making my experience available? There are some technical remedies around loopholes, early submission and copyright, but, as Radcliffe concluded and Richard Wilson drew attention to, the strongest safeguard is a sense of professional pride, and Radcliffe was right that the real sanction is that those who flout the guidelines will suffer reputational damage. Your calling witnesses is helpful in signalling that breaking confidences is not without cost. Finally, some specific points you may want to raise with the next two witnesses. I hope you will ask Sir Christopher what thought he gave to the longer-term consequences of breaking the confidence of conversations to which he may have been party, meetings he was at, particularly while receiving them as visitors, as guests, in the UK residence; and, secondly, the effect of patronising and derogatory comments in relation to elected politicians whom an ambassador has been paid, and paid handsomely, to serve. You may say it is all kind of airy-fairy old "good chap" stuff but I will give you some concrete examples of where damage has been done. When a minister goes abroad he has two choices: to stay in the residence or to stay in a hotel. I and my colleagues have always urged a minister to stay in the residence, where they can make full use of the ambassador's experience: it is better for them and it is better for the ambassador. What chance, you might ask, do we have of succeeding when ministers feel they are going to have their confidences betrayed or even be sneered at? Secondly, when looking at the manuscripts I always pay particular attention to ministers who write derogatory things about officials who have no right of reply. It will be much more difficult for my successors to enforce that if ministers feel that they will be disparaged by officials or diplomats. Thirdly, sparing use has been made in this country of political appointments to ambassadorial posts. I am afraid Sir Christopher Meyer's book has done no service to his successors in the diplomatic service - a service of which he claims to be "intensely proud". Next, you could ask Sir Christopher to explain the logic of paying the proceeds of serialisation but not the proceeds of the book to charity, including one personally promoted by his wife. How can that offset the offence caused by abusing of confidence and sneering at ministers? Thirdly, I think you have now received a copy of the correspondence between Sir Christopher and the FCO. I assume you will want to ask him why he refused to submit the text to the FCO: Sir Michael Jay is the relevant head of his service. As the guardian himself of a largely voluntary code, what example does Sir Christopher set in refusing to adhere to the codes to which he is subject? I think you should have no truck with the argument that the book was cleared by the Cabinet Office. First, it should have gone to the FCO, and, secondly, it was clear that the Cabinet Office were dealing with a fait accompli[1] - which is something that has sent both Sir Michael Quinlan and Sir Nicholas Henderson off the trail. I would commend, incidentally, the Quinlan article in the Tablet (which is not normally my bedtime reading). Next: I assume you will explore his continuing role as Chair of the Press Complaints Commission. This is not "medieval theology" (to use another Christopher Meyer phrase). What confidence could a minister or officials have in him as chair, when presenting a complaint which is written up in a serialisation, when he has been engaged in this trade himself. If we are dissatisfied with his handling, who can we turn to but his employers, the Press Standards Board of Finance, who include the editors who have bought the serialisation in the first place? I think you need to ask: Does this piece of governance still have credibility? Turning to the Lance Price book, there are some issues which are the same and some which are different. It has the same issue about confidences betrayed and the same disparagement of ministers. The first question is simply asking whether it is consistent with the professionalism of a civil servant to be paid to do a job, go home at night, and write up other people's conversations and then publish them for money. When we come to the question of process, the issues are different. Lance Price did submit manuscripts and did proffer some excisions. But the Cabinet Office was then double-crossed because some of the excisions made their way into the press. This raises two questions: Did you or your publisher have any part in passing over information about those excisions? Did you - as many people have said to me - receive a higher serialisation fee as a result? There is also a question about reputational damage. I am mystified as to why it would help someone, in seeking a job, to have established a reputation as someone who would work for an employer, write down his intimate thoughts and subsequently publish them. To conclude, much of what is in Radcliffe stands the test of time: most ministers and civil servants accept its logic and abide by its provisions. But it remains the case that those who flout the system can still do so. There are a number of what I call technical ways in which that could be discouraged or the penalties increased, but eventually it comes down to professional pride on the one hand and reputational costs on the other. Finally, we come to the big C, the Alastair Campbell diaries. Rightly, he has said he will not publish these until after the Prime Minister has left office, but by that time you may have published your report, the Government hopefully will have responded and the bar may have been raised - the general standard, the test one has to pass, may have been raised. One has to remember that the great Sir John Colville diaries were published 40 years after the end of the war, 30 years after the last Prime Minister he served and 20 years after the death of Churchill. I will just finish with this one irony: if you go to Waterstone's the book that stands on the stand next door to Sir Christopher Meyer's book is Alan Bennett's Untold Stories and maybe they should have swapped dustcovers.

Q73 Chairman: Thank you very much for that. I am sorry I described you as still "Sir Andrew". You are of course Lord Turnbull now. What is interesting about that - and there was much that was interesting - is that when it came to what do we do about it, we got a bit flaky, did we not, because we then started talking about reputational damage?

Lord Turnbull: Yes.

Q74 Chairman: Is it not the truth in all this that, whatever we might want to be the case, the dam has simply burst? Reputational damage, set against financial advantage, has now simply gone, and getting disapproving looks in the club does not count for much these days. As you have said, we cannot go to the courts, we cannot enforce any of this, this is the world in which we now live.

Lord Turnbull: It is not just the world in which we now live, it is the world that Radcliffe was writing about 30 years ago. I think he distinguished between those issues of national security and international relations where you were pretty much obliged to take the advice, and those issues of confidence where you could seek the advice of the Cabinet Secretary and it was up to you what you did with it. As he said, reputation was an important sanction. And it still is, I think. People do care about their reputations. However, I am not saying there is nothing that can be done but I am thinking, and I think all previous witnesses have thought, there is no simple technical solution. I think we can make the processes better understood and bring them more to people's attention - although it is in fact their duty to establish their proper terms of service - and one or two other things. We can make the language more robust. But I do not think there is a body that you can turn this to, a kind of national censor - you know, you could reinvent the Lord Chamberlain and send all the memoirs to him, but I do not think that is appropriate.

Q75 Chairman: As your own experience testifies, the rules are quite clear. What people should do is quite clear.

Lord Turnbull: Yes.

Q76 Chairman: People have decided they are not going to play by the rules - in fact, there are great advantages in not playing by the rules - and so we have all this to-ing and fro-ing : "Will you submit the stuff?" "No, I won't. I'm going to publish anyway." That is why I say to you that we have just moved on, have we not? It is finding some way of handling it. The fact that someone is doing it, the fact that someone you worked with is doing it and making a large amount of money out of it, means that you are more likely to do it, and the whole thing sets in train this vicious circle.

Lord Turnbull: I understood the purpose of this PASC project, which I strongly support, is to try to say, "Come on, let's try to get back -----

Q77 Chairman: Yes, but I am testing you on the what-to-do bit. We can talk about implementation but I am testing you on the what-to-do bit. We have to make the guidance more clearly, more strongly written. We have to modernise it. Fifteen years is no longer right in the modern world, we have to update it, and it is basically a collective endeavour that you, the Government, the Civil Service and the Diplomatic Service then have to try to build a consensus that standards have slipped a bit and we have to bring this back. I think some of the furore around the most recent memoirs is the point at which - kind of like Granny's footsteps - people turn round and say, "Yes, this has really gone too far." We want to make it a lot more difficult for people coming later to go down the same road.
Chairman: The private sector does not seem to have these problems. We do not have books called ICI Confidential, do we? I agree that it may not be the biggest Christmas seller, but ... They seem to be able to enforce contracts of confidentiality more easily. Why does the public sector have so much trouble with it?

Lord Turnbull: It is partly, if you are looking at this question of copyright: Can you only define it ex post? Is that satisfactory? Or to make the system work do we have to define it in advance? I do not know all the answers to this because I am not now running the project, but we do need to look at it. The security service I think is trying to make a system of copyright work which would not stop someone publishing but would mean that you could pursue the profits of what they have had published. You have to build a consensus. The basic consensus is that we need to get back to these fundamental principles and give them greater weight. We are at a point where people think, "Yes, we can generate a better, a stronger consensus."

Chairman: Okay. I am going to ask some colleagues to come in now.

Q78 Paul Flynn: It is a great life being an ex-ambassador: you have a fat salary, you are on a glide path to a sinecure of a job in the PCC or somewhere else and you have your gong and you complain, as Christopher Meyer has, that he is at a disadvantage, as a civil servant, because obstacles are put in his way to publishing and venting his spleen against his ex colleagues in a way that government ministers and special advisors are allowed to do this. Do you think there should be special rules for civil servants as opposed to special advisors?

Lord Turnbull: I think the principles are the same. I think a minister, in effect, has a right to publish memoirs: they are directly accountable and are entitled to give an account of their stewardship. I do not think an official has the same right. There is not the same need. They have enjoyed, in some sense, the privilege of permanency. They are always on the winning side and they give their advice in confidence; they do not take the credit and they do not take the blame. Then to come along afterwards and say, "Of course, my view was always this and I was right" and so on is attempting to get the ha'p'orth and the bun. In saying, "What is the justification for this? Should this be allowed?" I think an official/diplomat has to make a tougher case than a Minister has.

Q79 Paul Flynn: The damage, as you have rightly said, is profound, so the whole relationship in the future between diplomats and politicians - and it is not just staying in the embassy but it is everything else, the whole relationship, the whole way they negotiate, the confidence they have in one another - has been destroyed to a large extent. There must be deep suspicion there in the future. What can we do about it? Is it practical to declare these memoirs are Crown copyright, so they do not make profits out of them? Can we give some period where they do not get their gongs or their sinecures afterwards? What action do we need to take? Do we need to make confidentiality agreements, as they have in the private sector? What can we do?

Lord Turnbull: That is the project that is going on in the Cabinet Office as we speak. I know that when they took legal advice around the most recent memoirs, the legal advice was pretty discouraging really for what could be done. It can be reaffirmed as a duty - it is in the Civil Service Code already. The issue then is not whether we make it part of the contract but how easy it is to enforce it and where you go to enforce it. You go to the courts ultimately. Right back to The Crossman Diaries the courts have not been terribly supportive.

Q80 Paul Flynn: One of the truly shocking bits of this book is the open confession by Christopher Meyer that he behaved in a manner that he described as being as "ethical as a £7 note". He claims that he was approached by Robin Cook to do a deal. The deal that he alleges took place was that Robin Cook would get assistance with a constituency case in return for Robin Cook using the might of the Foreign Office and the Government to help him on a personal matter (involving the custody of the children) with his wife. There are a number of other references to similar situations in the book. Does this strike you as correct, for the whole of the apparatus, the 400 staff paid for by taxpayers in the embassy at Washington, to have their work concentrated on dealing with the personal problems of the ambassador himself?

Lord Turnbull: I share your concern. You are going to have your opportunity to pursue that yourself directly.

Paul Flynn: Thank you very much.

Q81 Mr Prentice: Alastair Campbell. We will come on to Christopher Meyer in a minute, but did you know that Alastair Campbell was keeping a diary at Number 10? Did he speak to you about it?

Lord Turnbull: No. I had suspected it and then of course in the ... I am not sure whether it was Hutton or Butler ----

Q82 Mr Prentice: When did you find out?

Lord Turnbull: It was absolutely confirmed when in the -----

Q83 Mr Prentice: The Hutton business?

Lord Turnbull: The Hutton inquiry. I mean, someone keeping a diary can be of many forms, but the nature of it, that it is very kind of .....

Q84 Mr Prentice: So you had no discussions with Geoff Mulgan, who said that all this diary keeping at the centre of government is corrosive to good decision making?

Lord Turnbull: No. I knew that that was Geoff's view and there were other people in Government who expressed that view.

Q85 Mr Prentice: Do you think it is right that Alastair Campbell should be allowed to publish his diary on the day after the Prime Minister quits?

Lord Turnbull: No. No, because the Prime Minister may have left the stage but many of the people he would have been talking about will still be there.

Q86 Mr Prentice: So there should be another period of quarantine, another few years, five years or something?

Lord Turnbull: Yes, I think there should be.

Q87 Mr Prentice: Sir Christopher Meyer. We have the exchange of correspondence before us between the Foreign Office and Sir Christopher Meyer, and the Gus O'Donnell letter. It starts on 30 June, a letter from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office asking for details after the trailer on the Amazon website had been spotted.

Lord Turnbull: Yes.

Q88 Mr Prentice: Christopher Meyer writes back on 12 July and says, "At no point in the last two years until your letter has the Foreign and Commonwealth Office seen fit to remind me of the Official Secrets Act, the Diplomatic Service Code of Ethics or Diplomatic Service Regulations." The next letter comes from the Permanent Secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to Christopher Meyer and that is dated 26 July. He says Meyer is lying, basically. Sir Michael Jay says to Christopher Meyer, "I should perhaps remind you, I called you on 4 June last year [2004] to relay concerns expressed by ministers, including the Prime Minister, that some of your public comments appear to be straying towards the revelation of confidences in conversations in which you had taken part. So it is not correct to say, as you do, that at no point in the last two years ..." and so on and so forth.

Lord Turnbull: I think his claim that no one told me I could not do this is laughable.

Q89 Mr Prentice: You were Cabinet Secretary at the time .... Did Michael Jay have a conversation with you?

Lord Turnbull: Yes.

Q90 Mr Prentice: He did.

Lord Turnbull: There is a set of rules which talk all about "The Civil Service". I looked after the Home Civil Service and he, by analogy, ran an exactly parallel system for the Diplomatic Service, so the Diplomatic Service Code exactly mirrors it - the words may be slightly different but the principles are exactly the same. He did express his concern to me, because I am running across very, very similar cases.

Q91 Mr Prentice: What did you conclude?

Lord Turnbull: I concluded that he was right to take the action that he did and I was amazed, when it says in black and white in the Foreign Office handbook "You should submit this to your head of department," that Sir Christopher said, "No, I am not submitting it to my head of department. Anyway, you did not tell me." And in the end it was never submitted to his head of department, it was submitted to the head of an allied but different service. It was submitted to the head of the Home Civil Service, who then sent it across, of course, to the Foreign Office, but he never, ever performed exactly what the thing says, which is to submit it to the head of department of his service.

Q92 Mr Prentice: And that is disgraceful, is it not?

Lord Turnbull: I think it is disgraceful.

Q93 Mr Prentice: In Christopher Meyer's subsequent letter of 7 August to Michael Jay, he is very dismissive, is he not? You used the word "sneering" earlier. It is a sneering kind of letter, is it not?

Lord Turnbull: Is there not something in there about, "I am a -----

Q94 Mr Prentice: "I am a better judge ..."

Lord Turnbull: "In my present job I judge the public interest, so why -----

Q95 Mr Prentice: Yes, he is a better judge of public interest than the Permanent Secretary in the Foreign Office.

Lord Turnbull: Yes.

Q96 Mr Prentice: Yes. And he goes on to say, about the June 2004 conversation: "We have sharply different recollections". Is it really credible that the Permanent Secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office could have got it wrong?

Lord Turnbull: Not in my view, but, even if they had different recollections of the conversation, it is simply not credible that he - particularly as someone who had served as Press Secretary at Number 10 - did not know the basic processes around the clearance of memoirs. Everyone in the Civil Service -----

Q97 Mr Prentice: You clearly believe this has been a terrible breach of trust. Do you think he should stand down as Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission?

Lord Turnbull: I have no faith in him whatsoever in that role but it is not my call. It is the buyers of the serialisation who have that call, as I made clear.

Q98 Mr Prentice: But I am just asking you to express your personal view. Do you think Christopher Meyer, after everything that he has done - his sneering, his patronising, derogatory comments that you have told us about - is a man fit to be in charge of the Press Complaints Commission?

Lord Turnbull: I do not think he is, but it is not my call ------

Q99 Mr Prentice: No, I understand.

Lord Turnbull: -- as to whether he resigns or someone asks him to stand down.

Mr Prentice: Thank you.

Q100 Mr Burrowes: Could you remind us of the diaries and memoirs in which you were involved for clearing purposes?

Lord Turnbull: I cannot quite remember whether Mo Mowlam was in my time or Richard Wilson's. Certainly the ones I remember are Robin Cook, Clare Short, Derek Scott, and, amongst officials, Richard Packer - writing not so much memoirs as an account of the BSE history - Liam Donaldson - who has written a history of CMOs through the ages - and, interestingly enough, David Blunkett wrote memoirs about 2001, called On a Clear Day, and he updated it and reissued it and he sent me the manuscript of the new version. I think those are the main ones I have dealt with.

Q101 Mr Burrowes: In those memoirs we were involved intimately in terms of looking at changes.

Lord Turnbull: Yes. There are four components, really. One is national security: you should point out that anything would be damaging; that has not been contested. Relations with other countries. Confidences between ministers: that is quite difficult because people will say, "If I am disparaging about so-and-so, they can write their memoirs and be disparaging about me". It is quite difficult to enforce that. The fourth one, to which I paid a lot of attention, is where an official with no right of reply is unfairly treated. If you are simply describing an official's action, "Andrew Turnbull burst into the room with the news that ..." fine, but, if it is around the advice given or "I thought the advice given was hopeless" but, equally, on another occasion when it turned out that they gave good advice, you ignored it, and all went wrong, and you never give them the credit." The answer is that you should be revealing neither of these things. Relations with officials I have always sought to enforce. Then there is, I suppose, another category, which is that lots of people communicate with us, work with us, and their confidence needs respecting.

Q102 Mr Burrowes: Then there was a form of negotiation, looking at something ----

Lord Turnbull: Yes, I would probably skim read it. My staff would go through it, they would come back and they would list the number of things which were questionable and we would go through them and say, "That's probably all right," and then we would either write a letter back or invite them to come in to talk to someone in the Cabinet Office, to go through it, and we would explain why we thought such and such a reference was inappropriate. You end up with a sort of negotiation and then an agreement.

Q103 Mr Burrowes: With those memoirs, diaries that you have listed, presumably you felt that the premise of those books was acceptable.

Lord Turnbull: "The premise ... was acceptable." I used the phrase "The premise ... was unacceptable" in relation to Lance Price's book because it is entirely based upon the chit-chat that goes on in the office, so, almost by definition, these are confidences.

Q104 Mr Burrowes: Half of it was concerning his time with the Labour Party.

Lord Turnbull: The bit where he is working on a campaign in 2001. Yes. That is fine, but what the Prime Minister said about Cardinal Winning, for example, should never be in there.

Q105 Mr Burrowes: You distinguish the premise, but is there not also distinction in terms of your approach to the Lance Price book. I mean, he would say that he contacted the Cabinet Office on 12 May 2005 and he visited Cabinet Office on 23 June 2005 and he went through following the Civil Service guidance - in a way, probably more than Sir Christopher Meyer.

Lord Turnbull: I distinguished ----

Q106 Mr Burrowes: But he says there was no negotiation; that it was simply unacceptable.

Lord Turnbull: -- those things that were common to both books and those things that were different. The Price book was submitted. The biggest concern is that someone ratted on the deal and that the number of the excisions then appeared in the write-up of the serialisation.

Q107 Mr Burrowes: Can the other distinction not be the way that Cabinet Secretaries deal with these particular issues? Is there not some substance to Lance Price perhaps saying that when the new Cabinet Secretary came along there was then belatedly some negotiation and some give and take in terms of the editing, but, as far as you are concerned, you simply threw it up in the air and said it was unacceptable?

Lord Turnbull: I thought the basic book was unacceptable. Faced with an offer of some excisions, Gus O'Donnell decided that he would look at those. But there is still quite a lot in there that really should not be there.

Q108 Mr Burrowes: Is there not some substance to the charge that it is up to the Cabinet Secretary to be much more robust in terms of proper negotiating rather than simply saying the whole premise is ----

Lord Turnbull: Where the Cabinet Secretary is asking for changes, it is quite helpful if there is a background of support for this. If, on the other hand, the Cabinet Secretary asks for certain excisions and then - as happened to me - is branded as "the man who did not want us to know the truth" it is quite difficult. The purpose of this whole inquiry is to change the terms of trade and embolden Cabinet Secretaries, saying "You've got to be tougher". It looks as though we have passed some line that we should not have passed.

Q109 Mr Burrowes: The issue of being tougher is that you would say it is not so much the personality of the holder but the support and the enforceability of the rules behind you.

Lord Turnbull: The fact that you are taking evidence from two recent memoirs shows that the Cabinet Secretary has been fighting a lone battle here. You are actually signalling your support for that process and that is very valuable.

Chairman: We have a few brief final questions.

Q110 Jenny Willott: Given that you have said Lance Price's book was completely unacceptable - the whole book - do you think it is ever going to be possible to do anything other than just edit? Is it not inevitable that if somebody has written a book based on their diary or their memoirs it is going to get published? Do you think there is anything that government can do to prevent publication? I am thinking of Spycatcher which in the 1980s was banned from UK sale. Now that we have the internet, it is completely impossible to do that - and, anyway, people would buy it in America. Is there anything that you think could be done to prevent books in their entirety being published?

Lord Turnbull: When you get to that point and the book has got to the publishers and the contract has been signed and it has all been printed, you are probably past the point of no return really. That is the difficulty. It has been advertised on Amazon and so on. One of the lessons I have learned from all this is that the intervention needs to start earlier around the intention to publish. Ideally, someone who wants to do it should come in for a conversation and say what kind of book it is. Maybe it is a serious piece of history, not that different from the official history programme, where someone really wants to write up something that they have worked on in a sort of historian style. Fine. Or is it the office gossip? At that stage, you can give guidance, but the die is cast if then the Cabinet Secretary is always presented as the censor, trying to take things out, rather than getting in earlier and saying, "This really is not a book that should be published at all," trying to persuade someone that they should either not do it, do it in a different way, or let more time pass before they do it.

Q111 Jenny Willott: Have you been able to persuade anybody not to publish?

Lord Turnbull: I remember a Foreign Office case but I am not sure I am going to say .... There was a Foreign Office case where someone was persuaded that he should not go ahead with a book. I think Jeremy Greenstock has realised that he needs to be quite careful, particularly as the director of Ditchley, he depends upon the cooperation of all sorts of people in the political world. So he has taken advice and delayed the project.

Q112 Jenny Willott: Could I ask one final question: if there were to be time delays which some way were enforceable, so that people were not able to publish either until after a certain period of time or after the main people that are involved or depicted in the book were out of the roles that they were in, which of those do you think would make it more acceptable to what was then published? Also, would it make Alastair Campbell's book more acceptable than Lance Price's.

Lord Turnbull: I think you have to bring into play all these considerations: the time, the people, the damage, et cetera. That is ultimately the judgment which the Cabinet Secretary or the head of the diplomatic services has to make. Simply saying "Five years" - some books, even after five years, would not be appropriate - or "When x has left" but all the people x was dealing with are still around. You have to bring it all in together. But you need to bring upfront what these criteria are. I think it would end up with something less than 15 years, but it would be something that was more robust and more defensible.

Q113 Jenny Willott: Do you think that Alastair Campbell's book will be more acceptable than Lance Price's as a result of the delay or not?

Lord Turnbull: I do not know what the book is going to be like, but it seems clear that it will come out after the results of this exercise, which is an attempt to build a coalition about a more robust set of principles and a more robust enforcement process.

Q114 Chairman: I think we should draw this section to a conclusion. Do you think Meyer should be de-gonged?

Lord Turnbull: People are de-gonged only for crimes of a certain severity. He has committed no crime.

Q115 Chairman: Is a gong not an honour? Is the man not dishonourable?

Lord Turnbull: There are established ground rules as to when someone forfeits an honour and I think you have to commit an offence with a custodial sentence.

Chairman: Give him time! Okay. Thank you very much indeed for that. That was very useful indeed.


Witness: Sir Christopher Meyer KCMG, gave evidence.

Q116 Chairman: Let us continue our session by welcoming Sir Christopher Meyer to tell us about his book-writing experience. This is like a stop on your book tour, is it not? We are grateful to have you along. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction?

Sir Christopher Meyer: Chairman, thank you very much for allowing me to take part in these proceedings. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to your review of political memoirs. I do not want to test your patience or that of the Committee too much, but I have about a minute's worth of comments I would like to say before you interrogate me, if I may do so.

Q117 Chairman: Yes, of course.

Sir Christopher Meyer: First of all, I do very much hope that by the time you have dealt with me I will have had the opportunity to respond reasonably fully to the Foreign Secretary's written answer to Mr Prentice of 28 November with particular reference, first, to what I consider to be the false inference that I delayed submitting my manuscript to the Cabinet Office until the last minute and, second, to the accusations which I reject of breach of trust and confidence. These latter, I believe, place a number of question marks over the process of clearance through which my book had just passed. Secondly, I would also like to say something straight away, if I may, in my capacity as Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission. After my publishers' correspondence with the Cabinet Office, it is fair to say that I did not expect the strength of reaction which the book has aroused, including criticism directed at my role as Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission. I have been gratified and sustained by the many expressions of support which I have received from a variety of quarters, but I accept that the situation has given rise to concerns and to embarrassment to some of my friends and colleagues, including at the PCC. I have already expressed my sincere regret to this and I am happy to do so again today. Members of the Press Complaints Commission have met to discuss this criticism and they have agreed to work with me to strengthen further public confidence in our work. As an immediate step, the PCC has decided to review the rules and procedures relating to potential conflicts of interest incurred either by the Chairman, commissioners or the secretariat, so as to ensure that they are robust and transparent. The outcome of this review, although I cannot tell you when it will be, will of course be made public and the Commission will of course consider any recommendations which this Committee chooses to make in this respect. I would lastly like to say that I remain deeply committed to the importance of successful self-regulation of the press and to the independence of the Press Complaints Commission. As Chairman I will spare no effort in ensuring the continued achievement of these goals. Thank you.

Q118 Chairman: Thank you for that. Could I start by asking you how all this started. In the preface to your book, you say that you were sitting down one evening in the South of France, you had had a drink and you were talking about all the great stories that you were engaged in and so on, and then your wife said, "Why don't you write all this down." I was then expecting to read a bit which said, "I'm sorry, dear, I can't do that because I am a public servant. We don't do that kind of thing. The regulations that I live under forbid it anyway." There is no mention in your book at all of any considerations about the act of publication. You do not wrestle with it, you do not do the balancing. You just ignore it, as though there is no issue at all about it. You must have realised since you published it that that was a conversation that you never had that you perhaps ought to have had.

Sir Christopher Meyer: Chairman, if I may respond to that. It is chapter 5 of the Diplomatic Service Regulations that deal with the issues of publication. They deal also with interviews, speeches, lectures, press appearances and books and articles. DSR5 (which is what we call it in short) covers all of those. Those rules, either for people in service or for people who have retired, do not forbid the publication of books. They permit the publication of books under certain circumstances, the most important of which is that the manuscript should be submitted to the authorities for them to clear or not as the case may be. You have some of the details slightly wrong about the banal beginning to this book, but the fact of the matter is when I started down this path I realised that somewhere at the end of it it would have to go to the Cabinet Office or to the Foreign Office as the rules provide.

Q119 Chairman: I have not got it wrong about the book. I do not want to advertise it too much but I enjoyed the preface greatly, where your wife encouraged you to do this and then you got the novelist to help you with making it more racy, but what there was a complete absence of was any consideration of whether this was the proper thing to do or not. And you cite all these regulations. I have read them. They could not be clearer. "You should not enter into any commitment with publishers before authority to publish is obtained for any book or article for which authority is required under paragraph 7 above." You did not do that.

Sir Christopher Meyer: Let me take that point head on, Chairman. The fact of the matter is that the Foreign Office applies those rules in one way for the service and in another way for those who have retired. It is a matter of custom and practice. That is what they do. If I can just set some context here: for example, when I returned from Washington at the beginning of March 2003, I went and paid my farewell call on the Permanent Under-Secretary Sir Michael Jay, and I said to him, "I have been offered a contract to comment on the Iraq war on Channel 4 television and on ABC Television." Those appearances are captured by the same set of rules in DSR5 as are books. His only reaction was to say, "If you need any help with briefing, give me a call." Now - as I say, I am setting context here - two and a half years later, whatever it is, two years and ten months later, I have given speeches, given lectures, I have done goodness knows how many interviews, so on and so forth, and at no stage in this period has the Foreign Office said to me - and I have talked to people in the Foreign Office, in fact, to get briefing - at no stage in this period has anybody said to me, "Before you do Channel 4" or "Before you lecture the Ministry of Defence" - "Before you do this or before you do that" - "you must consult us first." This has not happened. Of course, the Foreign Office I think in this is very sensible: it makes a pragmatic distinction between people in service and people who have retired. I would hope, for example, that one recommendation that will emerge from this Committee - and I do not know whether this should apply to the Civil Service as a whole but it certainly should apply to the Diplomatic Service - is that the rules should be revised to make a practical distinction, where sensible, between those in service and those outside it.

Q120 Chairman: They all seem to me to be entirely straightforward. To go round claiming that somehow this book has been approved by somebody ... I have looked at all the correspondence, closing with this letter from the Cabinet Secretary expressing his disappointment that a former diplomat should disclose confidence gained as a result of his employment. The idea that this can be sold as some kind of approval for the process is ludicrous, is it not?

Sir Christopher Meyer: I think there is something wrong with the process. I think there is something very wrong with the process, and let me explain why: I finished this book and handed in the last chapters on September 13 of this year. On October 7 the manuscript was given to the Cabinet Office as requested and as expected under the rules. It emerged from the Cabinet Office two weeks later, on October 21, with a phone call from the Cabinet Office to my publishers saying the Government has no comment to make on this book. I interpreted that, as did everybody else, that this was a green light to publish. You may laugh, Chairman.

Q121 Chairman: That is a laughable statement. That is why I laugh.

Sir Christopher Meyer: I do not think it is a laughable statement. If we go on further beyond 21 October and look at the Cabinet Secretary's letter to my publisher, it embellishes what was said in the telephone conversation.

Q122 Chairman: People thought this was a wholly disreputable enterprise that you should not go anywhere near. You were going to publish this book anyway, were you not?

Sir Christopher Meyer: No, Chairman, I was not going to publish this book anyway and you have no basis on which to say that.

Q123 Chairman: If the Cabinet Secretary had said to you, "Look, this is not something that you should do," you would have said, "Oh, sorry, I didn't realise that. I'm not going to do it any more."

Sir Christopher Meyer: I would have expected what Lord Wilson said to you, I think last month, in giving evidence, that in circumstances like that the Cabinet Secretary would invite the putative writer to come in and discuss the issues, the chapters, the words, whatever, in the book with which he disagreed. That is what I would have expected.

Q124 Chairman: Lord Wilson thought you would suffer reputational damage for what you have done.

Sir Christopher Meyer: Lord Wilson is entitled to his opinion, Chairman. I take a different opinion here.

Q125 Chairman: You cannot cite him in one breath and then damn him in the next.

Sir Christopher Meyer: You can actually.

Chairman: I see.

Sir Christopher Meyer: And I do.

Chairman: I see. I see.

Sir Christopher Meyer: It depends what he says. There is a point I would like to make - or am I talking too much?

Chairman: No, do carry on.

Sir Christopher Meyer: Thank you, Chairman. Looking at the Foreign Secretary's written answer to Mr Prentice, what has interested me in that is that he cites the three Radcliffe criteria: harm to national security; harm to international relations; harm to confidential relationships. He appears to say in this written answer - and he used the word "cleared" because he talks about standard criteria for clearance - he appears to say in this written answer that the book was cleared against the first two criteria: harm to national security; harm to relations - with United States, he actually says a bit later on; but on the third criterion, against which one would have expected a judgment to be made, namely harm to confidential relationships, there is silence. Instead, he launches an attack on me for breach of confidence and breach of trust. The question I asked myself was: What did this process of clearance mean? If there had been breaches of confidence and breaches of trust, why did the process not pick them up? Why was the book not stopped? Why was I not asked to change things? I think there are very big question marks that hang over procedure.

Q126 Chairman: Let us assume that we have had the conversation about the process and you say it could be better and we can have the discussion about the regulations and so on - and colleagues, I am sure, will ask you questions about this - but all those things are only a way of stating what should be the blindingly obvious to public servants, are they not? This is what Radcliffe told us 30 years ago, but it all comes back, basically, to how people behave. One of your predecessors, Ambassador in Washington Lord Renwick, writing about your book said, "Sir Christopher has published the book we all would have loved to write about bumbling ministers, feckless royals and mistakes which, in retrospect, clearly should have been avoided. The difficulty in actually doing so is that it is liable to worsen the tendency he deplores of prime ministers relying increasingly on their personal staffs and political appointees, rather than the mandarins who are supposed to advise them behind closed doors." Is that not really why this was so idiotic? It may make you some money, but it brings a whole tradition of public service down with it and simply closes ever tighter the circle around those people at the centre who can no longer trust people on whom traditionally they have relied for impartial advice.

Sir Christopher Meyer: I disagree with you, Chairman. I am sorry to have to say this.

Chairman: Well, you are disagreeing with Lord Renwick, not me.

Sir Christopher Meyer: Well, I disagree with Lord Renwick. I take it from your remarks that you endorse what Lord Renwick has just said, so probably I disagree with both of you.

Chairman: It seems to me to be a shrewd analysis.

Sir Christopher Meyer: I am saying here that, looking over the last few years - and this is why I say there ought to be consistent rules for politicians, special advisors and civil servants - I have not noticed a great restraint on the part of special advisors in writing their memoirs also. The notion that, if you like, it is safer or more secure to employ a political appointee or a special adviser seems to me to be at the least dubious. But, to come back again to the central point, we have a procedure for clearing these texts, these books. It exists; it is there. It is now presided over by Sir Gus O'Donnell; it used to be presided over by Sir Andrew Turnbull. This procedure is supposed to tackle precisely these issues. In this case, if these allegations are true, it failed in its purpose.

Chairman: We have all read these regulations. They all seem to us to be conspicuously clear. I think what puzzles us is not only that you find them unclear but that you do not understand the purpose behind them, which is to preserve a tradition of disinterested public service from which we all benefit. You may have gained a private benefit from this but there has been a public disbenefit as a result from which we will all suffer. But let me bring Grant Shapps in.

Q127 Grant Shapps: You write that the Foreign Secretary is a pygmy; the Deputy Prime Minister thinks the Falklands are the Balklands; and you write that "Cook was having difficulty with a constituent who had a child abduction problem with the United States. If we could help on that, Cook would raise Catherine's case with the German Foreign Minister ... This was, Catherine and I thought, as ethical as a £7 note. But needs must when the devil drives." Do you think your reputation has been damaged by this publication?

Sir Christopher Meyer: I do not think my reputation has been damaged by this publication at all. There are some people obviously who do not like it, who disagree with it. I have to say on the basis of emails and postbags and doing book tours around the country, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. On the pygmy point, if I may, I do not think a single politician is identified in the book as a pygmy, or, indeed, as a Masai warrior.

Q128 Grant Shapps: You do feel a tinge of embarrassment about this book now, as you revealed in your opening comments, I think.

Sir Christopher Meyer: The sort of "red-sock fop thing", I mean, you know ....

Q129 Grant Shapps: Did it surprise you?

Sir Christopher Meyer: That? Yes, I think so.

Q130 Grant Shapps: The amount of pressure that you have come under from this publication. You are surprised by that.

Sir Christopher Meyer: Well, the amount of pressure that has come from certain quarters has caught me by surprise, because, in spite of what the Chairman says, I believe I played this by the rules, put it into the system and got clearance.

Q131 Grant Shapps: By "certain quarters" do you mean the Cabinet Secretary? When you say "by certain quarters" who are you talking about?

Sir Christopher Meyer: Well, all kinds of stuff has appeared in the press. There has been the red-socked fop business. This is the most salient, if you like.

Q132 Grant Shapps: So you are surprised by the press reaction, even though ----

Sir Christopher Meyer: I am surprised by the political reaction, I am surprised by some of the press reaction. But, I mean, for God's sake, this is a democracy.

Q133 Grant Shapps: You are the Chairman of the PCC. You are surprised by the reaction of the press? As if you do not know the way the press might react.

Sir Christopher Meyer: My job is not to represent the press. That is not my business.

Q134 Grant Shapps: No, but you know them inside out, do you not?

Sir Christopher Meyer: Yes, I suppose so. I would not claim knowledge quite as deep as that.

Q135 Grant Shapps: In publishing -----

Sir Christopher Meyer: But there have been things that have surprised me, let me put it that way, obviously.

Q136 Grant Shapps: This Committee has spent a lot of time looking at the Radcliffe Rules, which, we have said before, for the time seemed to be very well written, brilliantly crafted and, in fact, have stood the test of time and essentially these rules work because people go along with them. You have pressed, though, I think the "good chaps theory" to the limit, to breaking point, have you not?

Sir Christopher Meyer: There are two things to be said here. Radcliffe and his three criteria are still relevant. The Foreign Secretary refers to them in his written answer to Mr Prentice. My point is that my book appears to have been judged on only two out of the three Radcliffe criteria, because if there are the objections that there are to the book, then I should have heard from the Cabinet Office who should have said to me, "Oi", but they did not.

Q137 Grant Shapps: Your defence, if you do not mind me saying, seems to be something along the lines of saying, "I was slightly ignorant of the rules", or, "They did not put the rules into place sufficiently robustly in the Cabinet Office." That is your defence: "It is not, my fault, guv, I did not know"?

Sir Christopher Meyer: My deduction from this is that the system is not working or was not working in my case, because - I keep on having to come back to this - if there is an objection about breach of confidence then under the Radcliffe Rules, which I take it are still pertinent, I should have been contacted by the Cabinet Office and told, "We think you breach those rules", and then there would have been a discussion.

Q138 Grant Shapps: Do you know what this is like? This is like going to a restaurant. You go out for dinner; you have a lovely meal; they forget to charge you for the main course. Do you walk out or do you tell them?" You walked out of the restaurant.

Sir Christopher Meyer: I do not quite get the culinary analogy.

Q139 Grant Shapps: It is not to do with food, it is to do with the principle, and it is as simple as this. You wrote a book which you thought was going to be challenged. It was not challenged. Somehow it slipped through the Cabinet Office with less challenge than you thought it was going to achieve. When they did not pick anything up. Rather than, perhaps as you might have done, going to them and saying, "I think perhaps we ought to have a meeting. I know there are some things in here which must cause concern", you said, "Oh, that is all right, guv, they have left if off the bill. I will just walk out and publish this now"?

Sir Christopher Meyer: It is an imaginative analogy, but I do not think I will buy it: because if we are going to have rules they have got to be clear.

Q140 Grant Shapps: The Radcliffe Rules have been around a very long time?

Sir Christopher Meyer: The Radcliffe Rules are extremely clear.

Q141 Grant Shapps: You have named the three criteria.

Sir Christopher Meyer: Yes.

Q142 Grant Shapps: Do you accept you broke them?

Sir Christopher Meyer: No, I do not.

Q143 Grant Shapps: You do not?

Sir Christopher Meyer: No, because it appears now that the book, having been cleared, is now being uncleared after the process.

Q144 Grant Shapps: You think they broke the rules really. That is your accusation.

Sir Christopher Meyer: Do not put words into my mouth, but the system did not work. If this is the case, the system did not work.

Q145 Grant Shapps: You present somebody like me with a huge problem. I do not want us to make laws to make this more complicated. I am not really even that keen on tightening up the rules that much. I want it to be a fairly liberal system where "the good chap theory" still works, but you stretch that to the limit. You make it difficult for people like me, who have read this massive documentation. I read your memoirs and looked for a reason that I could defend you, but you are making it almost impossible for somebody like me who thinks this way to defend your memoirs.

Sir Christopher Meyer: I am very sorry to hear that. Believe it or not, I am in your camp on the matter of regulation, because I think actually the answer is fairly simple. You basically stick with the present rules, I think you do have to make some practical distinctions between people who are in the service and people who have retired - that may be a matter only for the diplomatic service, I do not know - and my answer to you is it is not that we need the new laws or draconian rules or statute or anything like that, it is just make the blinking system that we have work - it did not work - if these accusations have a basis.

Q146 Grant Shapps: So you sort of accept that you have suffered reputational damage, not through your own fault but through the system's fault?

Sir Christopher Meyer: Travelling around the country talking to people about this book, book shops and literary festivals and all kinds of funny places, one of the things you discover is how many different ways people read a book. That is one of the things that surprised me, going back to your earlier question, the extraordinarily diverse way in which books are read, and some people will think I am a charlatan.

Mr Prentice: Hear, hear.

Sir Christopher Meyer: There you go. I could go on. Some people might think I am a "red-socked fop", and all that, but what I am saying is in the country at large I have had an astonishing amount of support. In some areas my reputation has diminished, in others it is enhanced.

Q147 Mr Prentice: We have just been listening to the Cabinet Secretary who talks of you sneering at people. He spoke about your patronising and derogatory comments. Press reports talk of you reeking conceit?

Sir Christopher Meyer: Reeking conceit!

Q148 Mr Prentice: Are you comfortable with yourself following the publication of this book?

Sir Christopher Meyer: Mr Prentice, I am very comfortable with myself.

Q149 Mr Prentice: Okay, if you are comfortable, let us just take the Committee through the correspondence, because you say if the process is flawed it is not your fault it is someone else's fault. When the Foreign and Commonwealth Office wrote to you on 30 June after your book DC Confidential, "all the revelations from Her Majesty's Ambassador in Washington", when that was posted on the Amazon website it elicited this letter on 30 June from the Foreign Office, and they said to you, "When can I expect to receive the draft manuscript for approval?" "When." You never answered that. The Foreign Office went on, "Until then, it is clearly premature for you or your publishers to publicise the proposed book. I look forward to receiving an early reply." There were then subsequent letters. On 12 July you said, in response to that earlier letter, "At no point in the last two years until your letter has the Foreign and Commonwealth Office seen fit to remind me of the Official Secrets Act, the Diplomatic Service code of ethics or the Diplomatic Service regulations." That is just a lie, because we have the letter from the Permanent Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Sir Michael Jay, who talks about a conversation he had with you on 4 June 2004 to express the concerns that he had and the Prime Minister had and other ministers had that some of your public comments, and I am quoting, "appeared to be straying towards the revelation of confidences gained in conversations in which you had taken part." So it was just a complete lie to say that the Foreign Office had never been in touch with you for two years.

Sir Christopher Meyer: I am afraid, Mr Prentice, that it is not a lie, and if you read the reply that I sent to Sir Michael Jay on 7 August, you will see that I sharply challenged his version of that conversation.

Q150 Mr Prentice: So it is your recollections against his recollections, and you are inviting the Committee to form a judgment about whose recollections they believe. Is that what you are saying?

Sir Christopher Meyer: Mr Prentice, I can only say what I think happened. You will have to form a judgment. When Michael Jay said in his letter to me that he had, indeed, invoked the DSR5, no such thing was said at the time.

Q151 Mr Prentice: You keep banging on about process, and yet, on 15 August, yet another letter from the Foreign Office. It says this: "We would like to be in touch in early September." They would like you to get in touch with them?

Sir Christopher Meyer: Yes.

Q152 Mr Prentice: "To ensure that we can agree on a mechanism and timing for satisfying our concerns while avoiding and minimising any disruption to your plans for publication." They were bending over backwards. Then they go on to say, "It is essential that we find a way to do this." No reply.

Sir Christopher Meyer: Oh, yes, there was a reply.

Q153 Mr Prentice: There was a reply from your publishers to Gus O'Donnell?

Sir Christopher Meyer: May I answer these multiple questions?

Chairman: I think you had better.

Sir Christopher Meyer: Thank you, Chairman. That series of correspondence, which started on 30 June and ended on 15 August, as far as I was concerned, came to a very satisfactory conclusion, because the letter from Dickie Stagg, Richard Stagg, Director of Corporate Finance----

Q154 Mr Prentice: That is 15 August that I have just quoted?

Sir Christopher Meyer: ----of 15 August - he had telephoned me before he wrote that letter and I had thought that what he was proposing made absolutely eminent good sense, and we said, "Right, we will talk again in September", and that was the conclusion of our conversation.

Q155 Mr Prentice: And did you talk?

Sir Christopher Meyer: No, we did not, because the Cabinet Office called me in early September when I returned from some leave, and they said to me, "We will take this over. Send the manuscript to us" (and it was Howell James, Permanent Secretary for Government Communications, who made the call to me) "and we will ensure that your manuscript is distributed to the Foreign Office and to anybody else in Whitehall that is relevant", and that is precisely what happened. You see, these letters keep on saying, "You must hand your manuscript in", and, "When are we going to see it?" The reason I could not give them the manuscript or tell them when the manuscript would be available was because I had not finished the book.

Q156 Mr Prentice: You told us earlier you had finished it on 18 September.

Sir Christopher Meyer: No, I said 13 September. At the time, and I do not know how much of this detail you want.

Q157 Mr Prentice: As much as is necessary?

Sir Christopher Meyer: You be the judge.

Mr Prentice: I will.

Sir Christopher Meyer: There was a time in the summer when I thought I was not going to finish the book at all because it was too difficult. I had no idea when this was going to finish, and I kept on telling them that. I kept on saying, "This book is not yet finished. I do not know when it will be finished. I am aiming for the autumn." I think in one of the letters I refer to October.

Q158 Mr Prentice: You do?

Sir Christopher Meyer: Which proved not to be correct, because in the end it was more like November, and, I come back again to the basic point, the book is finished on 13 September. I am sorry, I hand in the final chapters on 13 September. It then goes through a period of editing, it then goes to the printers to produce page proofs and within three weeks it is with the Cabinet Office. Maybe I am not reading this right, but the notion which I see emerging from the Foreign Secretary's written answer to your question that I somehow withheld all this back until the last moment is false.

Q159 Mr Prentice: Maybe the Cabinet Office stepped in because the Foreign Office was getting absolutely nowhere. I have just quoted the correspondence asking you to submit manuscripts, giving them an indication when it is likely to be ready, and you just ignored that.

Sir Christopher Meyer: There was no manuscript to give them and, had I not had a phone call from Howell James, then I would have picked up the phone either to Jay or to Stagg and said, "The thing is finished and it will be with you, I hope, in about", whatever it was, "two weeks, three weeks."

Q160 Chairman: Where does it say anywhere from anybody that this has been cleared?

Sir Christopher Meyer: My reading----

Q161 Chairman: No, not your reading. It is on record, you have said it many times, that this book was cleared. Show us the point where it was cleared?

Sir Christopher Meyer: Let me quote you an e-mail, which the publishers received on the day before we got the message from the Cabinet Office, saying that the Government would have no comment to make on the book. I quote, and this is from the publishers to me, just to give you a sense of what we thought we were going through, i.e. a process of clearance: "At the close of play yesterday the Cabinet Office told us that there is still one official in the Cabinet Office whose comments are awaited and that the Palace must be consulted over the references to Prince Andrew and Prince Charles. I am expecting to hear from the Cabinet Office again this morning, but their best guess is that we are unlikely to have any problems from the Palace or from those officials who have already read the book." If that does not describe a process of clearance I would like to know what does.

Q162 Chairman: When Gus O'Donnell writes to you at the end of all this messy process and says that he is disappointed that a former diplomat should betray confidences like this, and then at the end of this letter, after saying that it is not his job to check the remarks that you attribute to people, "You should therefore not imply from this response that the book has any form of official or unofficial approval", you thought that meant clearance, did you?

Sir Christopher Meyer: I think that is weasel words, and I do not actually know what it means. Does it mean approval, because the context for that, Chairman, is a discussion of facts and accuracy in the first half of the sentence. What is extremely surprising in all of this, and I lay this before you, is we get the verbal message on 21 October and it takes until 8 November for a very brief letter to arrive from the Cabinet Secretary which actually embellishes that verbal message. The verbal message simply said, "The Government has no comment to make on the text." I took that as clearance in the light of what was going on before hand - you may think I am naive, but there you are - and then, three weeks later, we get a letter from the Cabinet Secretary which says, "The Government has no comment to make on your book", and it immediately makes a comment expressing his disappointment at the breach of confidence.

Q163 Chairman: The word that was in my mind was not "naive". What the system was trying to tell you was that this was a thoroughly disreputable enterprise and you should not do it?

Sir Christopher Meyer: Then why did it not say so?

Q164 Paul Flynn: You are not claiming, are you, that in fact what you were trying to do was to test a rotten system and prove that it is rotten, it does not work, it does not protect people's confidences? Can we look at some of the things you say in the book, this alleged conversation you had with Robin Cook where you say that he tried to do a deal with you. He was trying to help, quite legitimately, I would have thought, a constituent of his who had a personal problem with a matter involving a child, and you described the deal that he tried to do with you as "ethical as a seven pound note". I am not sure why it was unethical for Robin Cook to act as a good constituency MP, but I understand why it was unethical for you behave in the way that you did. Did you normally behave in that way to use the might of the Embassy and try to use the whole of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to solve a problem that was a private one involving a member of your family?

Sir Christopher Meyer: I do not think I quite get the thrust of the question.

Q165 Paul Flynn: You described the deal as "ethical as a seven pound note"?

Sir Christopher Meyer: Yes.

Q166 Paul Flynn: Why was it unethical then? If it was unethical why did you take it up?

Sir Christopher Meyer: I thought that the question of Catherine's case went beyond doing deals in this sense.

Q167 Paul Flynn: Where was the deal? Robin Cook was behaving on behalf of a constituent?

Sir Christopher Meyer: It was put to me, "If you do this, I will do that." I would have done this in any event, which was helping him with his constituent.

Q168 Paul Flynn: Is there not a degree of lack of credibility in this story? Of course you should have done it and of course any minister can approach you about a constituency matter. That is entirely right. What was the problem with the ethics of it?

Sir Christopher Meyer: The problem with the ethics of it was that in the end he did not discharge his side of the bargain.

Q169 Paul Flynn: Because Lady Scotland objected to it, quite rightly, that she should not be using the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to solve a personal problem that your family had?

Sir Christopher Meyer: But I am afraid that the Government had already accepted this because there was a unit in the Foreign Office dealing with international child abduction, as there was in the Lord Chancellor's Department, as it was then called, and it was accepted in government that this issue, like all issues of international child abduction, went beyond personal matters and had become a factor in interstate relations, so is this not right, Mr Flynn, to say that this was a personal matter.

Q170 Paul Flynn: In one of the letters you wrote you state that you believe strongly in the enduring relevance of the diplomatic service at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Have you not damaged this in a more serious way than probably any of your predecessors? Would any Prime Minister in the future want to take an ambassador into his confidence, to invite him to dinners and that seemed to upset you very much when you were not invited to dinners. Have you not put a gulf now between politicians and diplomats in a very serious way that no-one can be trusted in future?

Sir Christopher Meyer: No, is the short answer to that question, and if there is any doubt about it, then I go back again, the Radcliffe criteria are there, the third criterion which deals with confidential relationships. If what you say is true, the book appears not to have been judged against that criterion and it should have been.

Q171 Paul Flynn: Let us not go on; we have spent a great deal of time on this?

Sir Christopher Meyer: And I am going to keep on coming back to it.

Q172 Paul Flynn: You seem to want to concentrate on this to blame other people for this very unpleasant book which, in the view of most people, most serious observers, including people in the diplomatic service, has done a great deal of damage to the future relationship between diplomats and politicians.

Sir Christopher Meyer: I disagree with that and would like to enter a contrary argument, if I may.

Q173 Paul Flynn: You take it up with Lord Turnbull and the other very distinguished people who have said this. Why should we have any confidence that we will not have a PCC confidential one day? Can you be trusted in your present job not to be collecting tittle-tattle to betray confidences that other people have? Are you really a fit person to be doing this important job?

Sir Christopher Meyer: Entirely fit, and let me go back to your earlier point, if I may. There are a lot of people out there, as far as I can tell the majority, who do not think this book is just a matter of tittle-tattle, because one of the things it seeks to do, more or less successfully, is to explain at the beginning of the twenty-first century what exactly an ambassador does, what exactly an embassy is for and why, in an age of instant communication and at times when prime ministers and presidents can video conference with each other, it is relevant to have people on the spot. If that does not reinforce the diplomatic service I do not know what does.

Q174 Paul Flynn: It does not, it damages the diplomatic service, and we have a great deal of evidence on this from many of your distinguished colleagues who have not sought to reveal confidential conversations in the way that you did. You said to Mr Jay that he made a rather unpleasant insinuation that money might warp "my view of the public interest", that is your view of the public interest. Can you tell me how much money you have made from this so we can make a judgment?

Sir Christopher Meyer: I have no idea. I have no idea how much money I will make from this.

Q175 Paul Flynn: How do we do something to stop people behaving like you in the future? Do we defer the gongs that they get? Do we take the gongs away from them? Do we make their pensions conditional on their respecting confidentiality? How do we do it?

Sir Christopher Meyer: I would come from a different starting point from you, Mr Flynn. You and I are never going to agree on this. I would say that in an age of the Freedom of Information Act, the ideology of open government, all that sort of thing, that people should write and then they should expect to have what they have written considered by a fair and consistent process, that does not exist at the moment. As for displeasing many of my colleagues, maybe I have displeased many of my former colleagues, but I have been surprised at the number of e-mails that I have received from people in the service all over the world who absolutely support this book; so I just do not agree with you.

Q176 Paul Flynn: There is popularity in gossip and gossip-mongers are very popular people if you reveal confidences, but I think you have been judged by your peers and their judgment is that you are guilty?

Sir Christopher Meyer: Well, I disagree with you, and I say no more.

Q177 Julie Morgan: Do you feel any pangs of conscience at all about this book?

Sir Christopher Meyer: I do not feel any pangs of conscience about this book. I stand by this book. I did say at the start of this session when I was allowed to make a brief opening statement that I had certain regrets at the turbulence that had been caused for friends and colleagues as a kind of backwash from the book, but if you are asking me whether I regret publication, no.

Q178 Julie Morgan: I am asking you whether you feel any pangs of doubt that you did the right thing in writing this book?

Sir Christopher Meyer: I have asked myself the question have I done the right thing by writing this book, but I have been so sustained, so reinforced, by people who think the book does a valuable service, people both on this side of the Atlantic and on the other side, that those doubts have been quashed.

Q179 Julie Morgan: I cannot say that we have heard any of those supportive voices. Everything that has hit the public domain has been criticism of what you have done. You were entertaining people in your home. Many ministers stayed with you in the diplomatic residence. Do you not feel you had their sort of trust, that they put their trust in you and that you broke their confidences? They were staying with you as guests.

Sir Christopher Meyer: What I did in this book, among other things, was to give a series of pen-portraits of people who came to Washington. In almost every single case these portraits, as far as ministers are concerned, relate to ministers in the public discharge of their office, not in private living but in public, with plenty of other people being present as well, so these are not disclosures of boudoir secrets in the embassy, but they are comments on the way in which ministers did their jobs. If under the rules this is considered unacceptable today in a book, then let the rules say so.

Q180 Julie Morgan: Why did you say that you briefed John Major in his underpants?

Sir Christopher Meyer: I have never used the word "underpants", boxer shorts, thongs, Speedos or whatever in relation to John Major. It was not I but Lord Armstrong who introduced underpants into the discussion, and, indeed, that very episode, trying to describe what it is like working in Downing Street, where the pressure is so great that you have to start before breakfast, the first description of going to the Majors' bedroom to consult with the Prime Minister is, of course, to be found in the book co-authored by the Prime Minister's wife The Goldfish Bowl, and who provides the description for the Prime Minister's wife in The Goldfish Bowl? None other than Howell James, currently Permanent Secretary for Government Communications; so this whole thing about underpants and John Major is a complete canard because the Majors gave their approval for this to be in The Goldfish Bowl, so this is a complete red herring.

Chairman: I think we have heard enough. I think it would be very nice to get away, if we could, from John Major's underpants.

Sir Christopher Meyer: Which do not feature. His shirt-tails are mentioned!

Q181 Julie Morgan: Why did you involve Barbara Taylor Bradford in trying to make a transition from the quid pros of the Civil Service to something which you think is more entertaining to the reader? Could you explain that process?

Sir Christopher Meyer: Yes, I will. I did detect earlier on in a remark to the Committee a bit of an elitist reaction to this, but, yes, I wanted a book that was accessible. I was not writing for international relations experts, I was not writing for universities or academics, I did not want to produce a treatise, if you like, I wanted something that people would understand and relate to, and so when I started writing, after 36 years in the Government service I was pretty conditioned by that, and we are very good friends of Barbara Taylor Bradford and her husband, Bob Bradford, and, how can I put it, she helped me achieve a less uptight style, I think is what I am saying, no more than that, but on content she had nothing to do with it at all.

Q182 Julie Morgan: So you think she made the book more readable?

Sir Christopher Meyer: My wife also played an important role in this, because she read this and she said, "This is fine. This is dry as toast. Put more of yourself into it." In fact, one of the big decisions I had to take when writing, nothing to do with Radcliffe and all that, was how much of my own personal life to put into the book, and in the end I decided that because, certainly as far as my time in Washington was concerned, everything done was done in partnership with my wife, that we had to bring ourselves personally into the narrative, and I suppose Barbara Taylor Bradford helped with that.

Q183 Mr Liddell-Grainger: Can I ask you, Sir Christopher, about your view? I am now looking at the book. We have got it here. Politicians per se you think are a pretty bad bunch.

Sir Christopher Meyer: No, I do not actually. If I could start my life again knowing what I know now----

Q184 Mr Liddell-Grainger: You would not be an MP?

Sir Christopher Meyer: I would go into politics. I really would.

Q185 Mr Liddell-Grainger: Would you?

Sir Christopher Meyer: I really would. I think it is a fantastic game, I really do, and I regret that I am now too elderly to be able to do this.

Q186 Mr Liddell-Grainger: Oh, I do not know, there have been some in the Liberal Democrats at times! Sir Christopher (and I will not go for the Pygmies, but I am glad to see you are wearing red socks. I think that is a very reassuring British tradition), if you look at your comments about the Prime Minister, your comments about the way that our leaders grip briefs, et cetera - you went through this war, you have seen it from the other side, on both sides, from the Americans and from ours - were you profoundly disturbed with the way this was handled, are you worried about what is going on and, lastly, were we as a nation led down the wrong path?

Sir Christopher Meyer: One of the things I tried to do in this book, to be rigorous, was to separate what I thought and experienced at the time I was in Washington from hindsight. I did not want that to be polluted by hindsight, which is why there is a chapter in the book called War and then there is a chapter in the book called Hindsight. I started from the position, which I still hold to, of being a supporter of the war and of supporting getting rid of Saddam Hussein one way or other, and I do not resile from that at all. It was apparent at the time that much more thought was being put into preparing for the war and the politics of preparing for the war, most of which was at the United Nations but not entirely, and it was clear that this was the greater preoccupation when compared with what do you do when Saddam Hussein is removed. I left Washington at the end of February 2003. It is only now, with the benefit of hindsight, that one can see that that greater priority given to the war itself, as opposed to after the war, is at the route of the difficulties that we have experienced since the fall of Saddam Hussein. It was not obvious at the time; it is very, very obvious now; and you can understand why. I am not in the camp of believing that the whole thing has been a terrible waste of time and we should get out as soon as possible. I believe that this has not been fully played out yet. We have the Iraqi elections today. It is possible, within a year, a couple of years, that we will have the kind of stability and democracy in Iraq that we have always hoped we would have. So it is not the end of the game yet.

Chairman: Can I say to Iain, I do not want to get into Sir Christopher's views on the war or anything else for that matter.

Q187 Mr Liddell-Grainger: I thought I would just take a pop. I come back to the premise that you have been dealing at the very highest level between two nations. You have had to deal with a lot of things that Bush and others have done. In your book you have glossed over a lot of stuff which you could have perhaps put in about the real relationship. You have talked about the tittle-tattle, but Bush and Blair, did it work? Does it work?

Sir Christopher Meyer: There is a lot of stuff which I could have put in the book and which is not in the book. If I had been as frank in the book as, say, Bob Woodward was, and other Americans, in writing about the preparation for the war as did Woodward's book Plan of Attack, which benefits from briefings attributable and unattributable from the President downwards, if I had written something similar over here I would be talking to you now by video conference from the Tower of London, I should think.

Q188 Mr Liddell-Grainger: You did not have strap lines on your dust jacket, though, saying, "This book could have been franker", did you?

Sir Christopher Meyer: Why on earth would I have done that?

Mr Liddell-Grainger: Because it would have been honest.

Sir Christopher Meyer: That is precisely my question.

Q189 Mr Liddell-Grainger: Is there going to be DC Confidential 2?

Sir Christopher Meyer: No, there is certainly not going to be DC confidential, the out-takes or anything like, there is certainly not going to be PCC Confidential. Maybe when all this has washed through my system, and I am not quite sure when that will be, I will write a novel.

Q190 Julia Goldsworthy: Which brings me on to the point I wanted to ask, which is: what was your motivation for writing the book? When Lord Wilson of Dinton came to give us evidence, and you have heard his evidence, he said that there are basically three main motives for writing political memoirs: one of them is wanting to set the record straight, the second is to make money and the third he categorised as vanity or pride. I wonder which category you see your memoirs falling into.

Sir Christopher Meyer: God only knows. I have to go back to this very banal beginning for the whole enterprise. I did not leave the diplomatic service with a burning desire to write a memoir - I never intended to write a memoir, I did not want to write a memoir - but we did have this family dinner in the summer of last year where this came up. It was actually more my children than my wife who said, "For God's sake write this stuff down before your mind goes, because each time you tell the story it is slightly different from the time before." That was the genesis, and then, whatever it was, a month, two months later, I go and buy an exercise book in a French supermarket and a six-pack of Bic biros and I sit on the balcony of our little flat up in the French alps and I think to myself, "What shall I write?" The rough chronology is to begin with John Major and end with retirement, and off you go, and I did not have a structure, I had very unclear ideas where it would lead, so I cannot tell you. What I thought as I was going through it was: "At the most this will have some kind of niche success." I never expected what happened.

Q191 Julia Goldsworthy: Is there not a difference between maybe writing those things down for your own personal record and making the decision to publish? You have talked about how there should be a difference between civil servants who are in office and those who have retired, but is there not a difference about publishing this recollection at a time when many of the key players are still in office themselves? Surely, if you want that distinction between whether you are in office or whether you have retired, should there not be a similar principle applied to whether you should publish when all of these key players are still in office themselves?

Sir Christopher Meyer: There is a real debate to be had here, and I recognise that, and I think the real debate is, and there are many aspects of it, but one of them, I was very interested in the Hennessey/Wilson exchanges when those two came before you last month. One of the big things is actually to decide whether it is more appropriate to write about people in power while they are in power, or do you let time go by and wait until they leave power? My personal belief, as is obvious from the book, is that it is right to write about people in power, because anything you write or comment on, and God knows this book is full of all kinds of favourable comments on British politicians, it is not just negatives, to put it mildly, but there is a debate to be had: because I can write anything I like, so can newspapers, but the reputation of politicians does not depend really on what people like me write, it depends on the view of them by the people with whom they interact.

Q192 Julia Goldsworthy: Which is the public?

Sir Christopher Meyer: In the case of the United States, for example, it is a question of who you deal with when you come over. I can say what I like.

Q193 Julia Goldsworthy: Ultimately they are publicly accountable and you are putting information into the public domain?

Sir Christopher Meyer: Yes.

Q194 Julia Goldsworthy: So you are directly influencing the view in which they are held and they are publicly accountable, whereas you are not, which is why very many ministers and special advisors take out all references to civil servants because they do not have the right to respond. A lot of what you said earlier is saying that there should be a universal code which should by applicable to ministers and civil servants and special advisors, but surely there is a difference in that ministers, at the very least, are directly accountable?

Sir Christopher Meyer: I think that you are describing a classic relationship, and I do not think the classic relationship exists any more, at least it has moved on a very great deal. I think politicians on leaving office tend to write their memoirs extremely quickly. In fact one authorised a biography of himself while he was still in the Cabinet. Almost by definition these will deal with formulation of policy, and if it deals with formulation of policy, by definition it deals with a policy that is submitted to the minister by civil servants. So, the field has changed, and I think the rules should recognise that, and that is why I talk about a level playing field.

Q195 Mr Burrowes: So you are essentially saying if ministers can do it, if they can kiss and tell, then civil servants can do it likewise? How do you respond to Lord Turnbull's charge that two wrongs do not make a right?

Sir Christopher Meyer: The question you have to ask yourself here is are we talking about two wrongs? We are not necessarily talking about two wrongs. The political memoir has a very interesting, illuminating and honourable tradition in British literature, and I think by and large political memoirs inform and illuminate and this is a very good thing, but we need rules.

Q196 Chairman: We know that, but we are talking about a book like yours, written by someone like you at a point in time when you have recently been in office. Let us take Andrew Turnbull, who was here just now. If he was to now sit down and produce a book on life inside the Government, your kind of book, what people said, what he thought of them, do you think the tradition of public service in Britain would be well served by that?

Sir Christopher Meyer: It depends what he wrote.

Q197 Chairman: A book like yours?

Sir Christopher Meyer: Well, I mean, why not?

Q198 Chairman: You think it would be well served?

Sir Christopher Meyer: So long as it goes through the system.

Q199 Chairman: I just want to know?

Sir Christopher Meyer: You keep on coming back to this.

Q200 Chairman: With respect, this is the fundamental point. We are concerned with what this means for the conduct of government in this country. I am asking you whether you think that the conduct of government would be improved if a recently retired cabinet secretary wrote a book like yours?

Sir Christopher Meyer: The answer is, depending on what he wrote, it could be.

Q201 Mr Prentice: On this point, on page 77 of your book you say: "There was a minority of capable ministers" - that is ministers who went to Washington - "who stood out like Masai warriors in a crowd of Pygmies". If Andrew Turnbull wrote his memoirs and said the same thing, that would be okay. That is just par for the course. Things have moved on?

Sir Christopher Meyer: I can think of few things less likely than Andrew Turnbull writing a book like that.

Q202 Mr Prentice: He is a different person from you, is he not?

Sir Christopher Meyer: Yes. One has to say, he presided over precisely the system of Cabinet Office clearance----

Mr Prentice: I have gone through all that.

Sir Christopher Meyer: I want to go back to it, because for me it is primordial.

Q203 Mr Prentice: I asked you questions about the process and you responded and it is on the record. The fundamental thing is that there are lots of people out there who think this was a fundamental breach of trust, a breach of confidence, and you told the Independent on Sunday on the thirteenth of last month, and I quote, "Give me a break." That is what you said: "Give me a break about breach of trust. It is all about double standards." That is the point, is it not, that because politicians publish memoirs you think civil servants, diplomats, drawing huge pensions for their time in public service, should publish kiss and tell memoirs. You think it is okay?

Sir Christopher Meyer: I do not recall that my huge pension is on such as favourable terms as those of MPs.

Q204 Mr Prentice: Sixty thousand, is it, that you get?

Sir Christopher Meyer: That is my business. I have now lost track of the question.

Chairman: Confidential impact.

Q205 Mr Prentice: I was talking about breach of trust and double standards, just to remind you?

Sir Christopher Meyer: Yes. Okay. The purpose of that remark in that interview - it goes back to the point that you were just discussing - I believe that at the beginning of the twenty-first century in an age of the Freedom of Information Act, open government and memoirs spewing out of politicians, most of which are quite interesting, there has to be a level playing field, there has to be a consistent and clear set of rules. At the moment, based on my experience with the Radcliffe criteria and the rules, all I can say is it all seems to be confusion and inconsistency.

Q206 Julia Goldsworthy: So you think there is a public interest in the material that you published?

Sir Christopher Meyer: I do.

Q207 Julia Goldsworthy: So you think there is a public interest in us knowing that Tony Blair was wearing "ball-crushingly tight trousers"? Who is the judge of what public interest is? I notice in your letter to Michael Jay on 7 August you say, "I've spent much of my time at the Press Complaints Commission making judgments about the public interest. A powerful consideration in this process is the public's right to know. There is no intrinsic reason why a group of civil servants should be a better judge of it than one individual." Surely there is no intrinsic reason why one person should be a better judge than a group of civil servants in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?

Sir Christopher Meyer: You have to remember the background to that debate, but let me take your first point, and I must not forget my second point. The first point in all of this - "ball-crushingly tight trousers" - is it really not possible, is it really considered unethical, is it really considered intolerable that a piece of clothing on public display noticed by God knows how many journalists at the time and I am forbidden from commenting on it. When we are talking public interest, it has got nothing to do with ball-crushingly tight trousers really; it has got something to do with this, and you may disagree with what I am about to say, but, if you are talking about Tony Blair, there are four conclusions that can be drawn from my book.

Q208 Julia Goldsworthy: When you were a diplomat there is no way you would have publicly commented on Tony Blair's dress?

Sir Christopher Meyer: Wouldn't I?

Julia Goldsworthy: You would not have made that comment.

Sir Christopher Meyer: Who would I have been talking to? I mean, certainly to the Downing Street retinue I said, "Cor, blimey, look at those trousers." I did. I remember doing that.

Mr Prentice: It gets worse.

Sir Christopher Meyer: Public interest. If you talk about Tony Blair and the Iraq war, and it goes back to your question, Mr Liddell-Grainger, Tony Blair did not lie in 2002, Tony Blair was not Bush's poodle, Tony Blair came to the war with a high moral purpose and Tony Blair in his actions in Sierra Leone and Kosovo probably saved thousands of lives. I think it is of public interest for someone like me to be able to say that. You want people to read the book, so that is where you throw in pieces of colour.

Q209 Chairman: Tony Blair particularly wanted you as our man in Washington, did he not?

Sir Christopher Meyer: He appointed me.

Q210 Chairman: No, he put in hand arrangements to ensure that it happened. He plucked you out of Bonn, did he not?

Sir Christopher Meyer: I was pulled out of Bonn, yes, after seven months.

Q211 Chairman: I have read your book; I know what went on. You tell us that he wanted you. You were his man. Do you think you have repaid that trust?

Sir Christopher Meyer: I think I have done something which, above all, needed to be said on behalf of the Prime Minister. The single most damaging criticism, in my view, levelled at him in the run up to the Iraq war was that he had deliberately misled the British people, that he had lied. You hear that accusation expressed even more sharply on the other side of the Atlantic, particularly in the light of leaks that have appeared in the Sunday Telegraph and the Sunday Times over the last two years. The most important thing I have done vis-à-vis the Prime Minister is to say that from my vantage point, from what I saw, he did not lie, and I think that is important.

Q212 Chairman: We have got to end there. Can I take you back to where we started. You are having that conversation in the South of France and I am still struck by the fact that you did not even raise a question about whether it might be proper to write a book of this kind. The fact that people like us clearly have doubts about whether it was proper, those of us, indeed, who were most vociferous in wanting freedom of information legislation have doubts about the propriety of what you did, the fact that you did not even weigh these considerations in the balance, so that when people tell you afterwards, people who I imagine you would respect, that this was not a thing that you should have done, that its consequences will be bad for the business of government----

Sir Christopher Meyer: I think we can have an honest difference of view about this, and I do not agree with you. The conversation, which actually took place in South Kensington rather than the South of France, which was the launch of the book, almost immediately, when I started to think about it, the judgment I had to make was what should I put in and what should I take out? From the autumn of 2004 onwards I was talking to colleagues in the Foreign Office. I did not conceal my intentions. Some of them helped me with points of detail where my memory failed. This was all done in an entirely open way. When you write a book you get so close to the text, after a while it is very, very hard to judge whether it is sensational, boring or whatever, so you show it to other people, and you show it to the Cabinet Office, and the Cabinet Office has the Radcliffe criteria, and in this case I was led to believe that the book had been cleared. Now I have no idea whether the government considered the book was cleared and what is certainly true is that, if you read the written answer to your question, Mr Prentice, from the Foreign Secretary----

Q213 Mr Prentice: I have many times?

Sir Christopher Meyer: There you are, it is a lucid as mud.

Q214 Chairman: It is funny that it does not seem obscure to us. It seems absolutely straightforward what you were required to do if you contemplated writing about your time in office, and you did not do it.

Sir Christopher Meyer: What did I not do?

Q215 Chairman: You did not go and say, "I am planning to do this. What do you think about it? This is my publishing proposition." You did none of this, and to wriggle around suggesting that somehow all this fuss is because of the obscurity of the regulations just will not wash.

Sir Christopher Meyer: Chairman, you have to get into the real world here. There are plenty of people in the Foreign Office who knew I was writing a book. If you are in the service, you are actually working inside the Foreign Office, almost by definition, because it means you are going to have to go on a sabbatical or something, you will formally go to your head of department or the PUS, or whatever, and say, "I am writing a book", or "I want to write a book", and you will get authority or you will not get authority. When you are outside and you are planning to write a memoir, and I think you will get a very similar answer from Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who I believe you are calling next year, all you can say to people is, "I am going to write a memoir", and they will say to you, "Make damn sure you let us see the manuscript before publication", obviously.

Q216 Chairman: If someone had said to Lord Radcliffe 30 years ago, looking at all this in the wake of Crossman, that he might be dealing with a situation where a former ambassador, within a couple of years of leaving office, would write this kind of book about the people that he was dealing with, the politicians that came his way, the events that they were engaged in, in this kind of intimate personal way, he would have thought it unthinkable that a public servant would have behaved in that way, and therefore it would not be necessary to craft intricate regulations to stop them behaving in a way that would just be, as I say, unthinkable. Is that not the measure of what has happened?

Sir Christopher Meyer: No, it is not the measure of what has happened, Chairman, and I rather resent what you say. I think that Lord Radcliffe, God knows, I am no more able to get inside his head than you are, I think, but I think he will certainly recognise that things move on over a period of time which is more than a generation and I think that he would be disturbed that the very criteria which he himself established were not being used to judge publications that were being put into the system.

Q217 Chairman: What Radcliffe says is, "We asked ourselves very seriously the question whether, with all the pressure of the day in favour of openness of government and public participation in the formation of public policies, the principle itself which enjoins confidentiality in all that goes to the internal formulation of government policy ought to be regarded as an outmoded and undesirable restriction. We always came round to the same answer. It is necessary and it ought to be observed?".

Sir Christopher Meyer: I agree.

Q218 Chairman: It ought to be observed because of the conduct of the Government itself. That is why he would have thought this behaviour unthinkable?

Sir Christopher Meyer: I do not know whether he would have thought his behaviour was unthinkable, but I do not dispute that you need confidentiality and that you need a duty of confidentiality. The problem, Chairman, lies in its definition and in its application. That is the problem.

Q219 Mr Prentice: Very briefly on the Press Complaints Commission, you told us that you are hanging on in there, that you have had thousands of expressions of support, that you are not going to be writing PCC confidential and that the PCC is reviewing the rules following the publication of your book. If there were a vacancy now as Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, do you think you would be a credible candidate?

Sir Christopher Meyer: What an extraordinary question. I think, yes.

Q220 Mr Prentice: It is plain English?

Sir Christopher Meyer: Okay, I will give you a plain answer. Yes.

Q221 Chairman: Do you think that is an extraordinary answer to match an extraordinary question?

Sir Christopher Meyer: I think it is a very good answer to a very good question.

Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. Thank you for all your evidence this morning.


 

Witnesses: Mr Lance Price, gave evidence.

Q222 Chairman: Let us move on to the last section of our morning. Welcome, Lance Price, another diarist of recent events that has caused some controversy. Do you, like Sir Christopher, want to say something by way of introduction?

Mr Price: If you do not mind.

Chairman: Thank you for your memorandum by the way.

Mr Price: I submitted in advance of this session essentially a chronology of the events and discussions leading up to the publication of The Spin Doctor's Diary. To summarise that process very briefly, I submitted my manuscript to the Cabinet Office expecting a process of discussion and negotiation leading, with luck, to an agreed text for publication. I knew from the outset there were a number of principles in which I believe, which were likely to conflict, for example the legitimate interests of official confidentiality and the public's right to know how government is conducted in its name. I, for my part, was prepared to try to resolve those issues as part of a sensible discussion. What I did not anticipate at the outset was being told that my book was completely unacceptable and that there was therefore no room for negotiation. That seemed unreasonable to me at the time, given the nature of previous books by special advisors, officials, ministers, prime ministers, given the fact that it was more than five years since I had worked at Downing Street, two general elections had passed, the Prime Minister had said he was not going to contest the next one as leader of the Labour Party, and given that much of what my book contained was already in the public domain. Hodder and Stoughton, my publishers, sought legal advice at that stage because they agreed with me that the judgment of the Cabinet Secretary did not appear reasonable. That advice supported the view that what I had been told, was unreasonable and, furthermore, was neither legally nor contractually sustainable. In the absence of the Cabinet Secretary's guidance, which I had sought, but mindful of the legal advice, I then took out a significant amount of material from the text, and when I submitted the revised manuscript the Cabinet Office expressed their gratitude for the cuts I had made and, in a new spirit of cooperation, suggested a relatively modest number of additional changes, some but not all of which I accepted. It was far from an ideal way to go about things, and I have to say that, as a result, material survived from the original draft that I may not originally have expected to see in the final version. I say this not to try to shift responsibility for my book onto anybody else - that responsibility is entirely mine - but it is nonetheless true that the published Spin Doctor's Diary was not the book that I had expected. Although I remain of the view that workable rules are desirable and necessary, those that now exist did not appear to work in my case. It was not simply a matter of defiance; I did not set out to the break the rules, but I found myself forced into testing their legitimacy. If they are to work better in future, which I take to be the principal purpose of your investigations, people must not be put in that position again. The rules, once agreed, need to be much clearer and must be applied to all parties reasonably and responsibly. People will, in my judgment, continue to keep diaries and to want to publish books after working in government. Whether or not those books have literary merit, most will have some academic or historical value. It was a well respected, I think, contemporary historian, Anthony Seldon, who urged me to publish mine. If we really are to say that what may be of value to future generations is to be denied to those now living, then it must be on the basis of a very good and demonstrable argument. Despite what has been said on occasions, I did not rush into print, and nor did I abandon all sense of responsibility. I believed there was a public interest in what I published, and I have yet to see evidence that it has done any harm to the processes of government. This particular government has made big strides in the direction of freedom of information and, indeed, has put that freedom into statute. As a journalist, which is what I was before I went into government as a temporary civil servant and is what I am again, I have always believed in demystifying the process by which we are all governed. I think that is good for democracy. The Spin Doctor's Diary, whatever its faults, may have, I hope, furthered those principles a little, but there are undoubtedly lessons to be learnt from what happened and, if I can assist in the process of learning those lessons, I am delighted to do so.

Q223 Chairman: I thought in your earlier remarks you were advancing the Meyer defence, which was the rules are all very complicated, they are unsatisfactory, that somehow it is the fault of the rules that this happens, but the latter part of what you said was more of a clarion call for openness, that these things should be out anyway so the rules fall away. Which of those defences do you want to put forward?

Mr Price: I think both arguments have merit. When I started the process I was unclear about what the rules were. Even having worked in Downing Street and been aware of books that were published during my time in Downing Street, I was not clear as to what the rules were. I do think, given that people are going to want to do again what I have done, publish diaries or memoirs or write books after they leave an advisory capacity within government, they do deserve to know the criterion by which they will be judged if they submit something so that there is at least some clarity about what the process will be and how the Cabinet Secretary, or somebody working on his behalf, will form a judgment about the contents of a book, and I do not think that is at all clear at the moment. I do feel that the system as it currently stands let me down in that I was not given the opportunity to engage in any discussions or negotiations about the kind of book that I might want to put forward, having submitted it to the Cabinet Office before there was any commitment on behalf of my publishers to publish it, and before any newspapers had seen it or anything like that. I felt at the outset of the process I was abiding by the rules as I understood them and sought clarification as to what those rules were, and then a rather substantial roadblock was put in our way. Had that not happened we would not have gone to the expense and bother of seeking legal advice to find out exactly what the legal situation was. That was quite an illuminating process. That resulted in the book appearing in the form that it did, I suppose, although there was subsequently negotiation with the Cabinet Office. They had the opportunity to request changes, they did request some changes, and we made some of those. At the same time, I think it is fair to make the more general point, because I suppose I was anticipating some of the questions you might want to ask, about whether or not books of this kind do damage, particularly given that a period of time had elapsed after my leaving working for the Government, and whether or not there is this balance to be struck between legitimate confidentiality and an equally legitimate process of seeking to let the public know how that is conducted on their behalf and give people an insight into government and demystify it a bit.

Q224 Chairman: People get suspicious, do they not, when public interest coincides with private advantage so perfectly? You tell us in your book, which I have read with great interest, that you learned how not to tell the truth. That was part of your trade, was it not?

Mr Price: I think that is a bit of an exaggeration.

Q225 Chairman: I do not want to embarrass you by reading the bits.

Mr Price: No.

Q226 Chairman: This was what you learned.

Mr Price: In the book, which was very much what I wrote at the time and I made a decision early on that I felt it was better to publish a strict narrative as I wrote it rather than trying to colour it with hindsight and change the narrative according to any agenda that I might wish to impose on it - this book does not have an agenda - a lot of attention has been focused on the fact of what I consider to be a relatively small number of cases when I was part of a process of putting information into the public domain that was not strictly true.

Q227 Chairman: When you were doing the job, did you know that you were going to publish this?

Mr Price: No, I did not. I was keeping a diary because it was a fascinating period in my life. I certainly had in the back of my mind the thought that I might publish some sort of book, and I do not resile from that in any way at all. As I said in my opening remarks, I was a journalist before I went into government as a temporary civil servant and journalists tend to make their living by words. I know this strays into other areas that the Committee is interested in, but I think when special advisers leave they tend to go back into the professions they had when they started.

Q228 Chairman: I was trying to work this out reading the book because at the beginning you say that you kept the diary with no intention that it should be published and a bit later on you say you had a vague intention and then you quote Alastair Campbell in the context of someone else who may be disclosing information, saying that Alastair said as a result, "life is on the record, so I guess it will now be okay for me to publish my full and frank account of life at Number 10 - exclamation mark". This was in 1999. You clearly had a view that you were going to publish.

Mr Price: I hope I made that clear in my last answer. I kept a diary because it was a record of what was going on in government and in my life at the time but, yes, I always had in the back of my mind the thought that I might publish a book of some sort. I certainly did not expect it to be the book that is now in your hands, which is the actual diary I wrote when I went home. If I had done, I think I might have crafted my words a bit more carefully and I might have thought how they might appear in print and I might have used fewer exclamation marks.

Q229 Chairman: You heard Andrew Turnbull say this morning it was kind of office gossip and he thought that was something that was completely off-limits in terms of the kind of role that you were doing. I was struck by the bit where it says that people are getting very twitchy about Geoffrey Robinson producing his book: "Prescott fired a warning shot in his end of conference speech on Thursday saying, 'Everybody from top to bottom', which he repeated twice, 'should not fuel the froth in books and the media'" and you say, "Quite right too".

Mr Price: I think the principal point that I would come back to on that is the one of the passage of time. Had I left Downing Street and immediately published a book of this kind people would have had very legitimate criticisms about that. I think there comes a time, as previous witnesses to this Committee have acknowledged, when what is day-to-day gossip, or tittle-tattle if you like, the day-to-day events of politics become part of contemporary history. The question is at what point do you accept that it becomes acceptable to publish. My overall view on that is that within the initial period after leaving government, although I speak in this case as a special adviser, I am not sure whether you can apply the same rules to ministers or to career civil servants, during which there is a presumption that things should remain private and confidential unless there is a very good reason why they should be made public. That does not apply to everything and it certainly does not apply to material that was already in the public domain. I think there does come a point at which the argument almost flips over at which point it is fair to say that there is a presumption that there is no reason why stuff should not be published unless it can be demonstrated that it will do harm. I do not believe, as I said earlier, that anyone has yet been able to demonstrate that the book that I have published has done harm.

Q230 Chairman: But you were working in Number 10 for the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister is still in office, and obviously people will say that is a betrayal of trust. You were sharing in office confidences all the time and you have written them down and you have published them. Is it not the truth that in order to reap any reward from this you had to publish them before Alastair Campbell published his?

Mr Price: I would not deny that was a consideration that I bore in mind. People have repeatedly said it will be impossible for meetings to be conducted in Downing Street, or anywhere else for that matter, if people are aware that somebody around the table is keeping a diary. Throughout my time in Number 10 people were aware that Alastair Campbell - my boss - was keeping a diary; the Prime Minister was aware of that. At many of the meetings that I have recounted and events that I have described in the book, Alastair was present at the same meetings. It would not have been possible for me to have included them in my book if people had been intimidated from behaving and expressing themselves because of Alastair's presence; they were not. I think it is a fact of life in government these days that everyone is aware of, that people may wish to write something after they leave government at some point, and it has gone on for a very, very long time. There has been a good and fine tradition of political memoirs and diaries. Anthony Seldon said to me: "The best of those books are the ones written by advisers because those are the most illuminating, they are not written by politicians who have an agenda or who wish to restore their credibility or set the record straight or enhance their own role in things". I do not think my book tries to do that on my part at all. I was also conscious, in the absence of advice from the Cabinet Secretary, of the precedent, if you like, of books that had previously been published. There were books published by special advisers, there was one published by Jonathan Hill and Sarah Hogg, who worked for John Major, which was published while John Major was still Prime Minister. That book was broadly supportive of John Major and what had been going on in government, but it did reveal what was going on behind closed doors. I was aware of that precedent and I was aware of other books that had been written. I was aware of Bernard Ingham and I was aware, as your question implies, that my boss, Alastair Campbell, might be writing a book as well.

Q231 Chairman: Your job was about managing news and managing events, including events like this. Just give us a flavour of what it would be like in Downing Street when your book was published?

Mr Price: What I think it was like when my book was published?

Q232 Chairman: Yes. There were incidents all the way along and your business was to manage the incidents. How would Number 10 have been managing the appearance of your book?

Mr Price: I think they managed the appearance of my book with the utmost skill. They did exactly what I would have done in the circumstances, which was they said virtually nothing and they were not spoiling for a fight. They were conscious of the fact that the more they reacted against it, the more publicity there would be for it, and I am sure my publishers would have been delighted if I had been condemned from on high for doing so. They did not do that. I hope that wiser heads in Downing Street would have recognised, although I am sure they regretted the publication of the book and did not think that books like this were always appropriate, that what it contained did not do any harm. There was not any big new scandal, no politicians were chased down the road by the television cameras demanding their resignation, and nobody had to make statements in the House explaining anything. It is a very frank and very honest book about how life in Number 10 goes on. It shows politicians not just as politicians but also as human beings capable of making mistakes and capable of learning from those mistakes. I think that the British people are adult enough to be able to see their politicians in that light without it doing any harm to their reputations.

Q233 Chairman: You do not think any damage is being done to the conduct of government at all if it is known that people working at the centre, sharing confidences, five minutes later will be publishing these to make some money out of it?

Mr Price: I have to take issue with five minutes later. Had I walked out of Number 10 every night and given my diary under a false name and published it in the Evening Standard or something, of course that would be outrageous, that would be five minutes later. Had I published the book a year later or 18 months later when a lot of the issues that were being discussed in my book, or issues that were going on when the actual diary entries were written, were still live and had not been resolved - devolution, the London Mayor, whatever it might have been - there would have been serious questions to be asked. As I said in one of my earlier answers, I think there comes a point at which it shifts from a sense that absolutely everything must remain confidential, to "show me what harm this would do if it was put into the public domain and we can talk about it". The problem that I had in the process was that nobody was willing to engage in that process and show me what harm was likely to be done, so I had to make the judgment myself.

Q234 Chairman: Because they thought the project itself was unacceptable?

Mr Price: They did, and I disagreed with them, and I think I had the support of the legal advice that we then sought. If they thought it was unacceptable, we should have had a mature and sensible discussion about it, there should have been some explanation as to why, and we should have had some mechanism by which we could explore whether it would be possible to produce a book, whether now or at a time in the future, that was acceptable.

Q235 Kelvin Hopkins: Do you know who leaked the outtakes that appeared?

Mr Price: I have my views on that. One of my jobs when I worked at Number 10 - not my favourite job - every Saturday was to ring round all the Sunday papers and ask them what was going to be on their front pages the following day, the critical stories they were covering. It astonished me that any respectable journalist ever told me an answer to that question, but most of them did. The one paper that never would was the Mail on Sunday. The Saturday before the first serialisation of my book, I smiled to myself and thought "For the first time in my life I am going to ring the Mail on Sunday and ask them what is in their paper tomorrow and they are going to tell me the truth", and they did not. They obfuscated and hummed and hawed and the right people to talk to were not there, someone was on holiday or playing golf. The first I knew that what you describe as the "outtakes" from the book, which is to say the parts I had agreed with the Cabinet Office to remove or to change, were to appear in print was when the Mail on Sunday sent by dispatch rider photocopied proofs of the newspaper on that Saturday evening.

Q236 Kelvin Hopkins: There is a suggestion in our papers that the outtakes were circulating in 10 Downing Street. Is it possible that somebody from Downing Street leaked them?

Mr Price: There are two possibilities in my view. The newspapers were invited to read the text that was being submitted to the Cabinet Office before that process of negotiation was complete, but they were invited to do so under a strict confidentiality agreement which made it clear that in the event of them becoming the serialising newspaper, the only material to which they had rights was the final agreed text. At the same time as this process was going on, the revised text that I had submitted to Downing Street, that is to say after the changes I had made on legal advice, was circulated very widely. It is not for me to say what rights the Cabinet Office have to circulate material. They sent it to people who were mentioned in the book but I had calls from people who were outside of government, and had been outside of government for some time, who clearly had been shown parts of the book. I was aware of the fact that a lot of people in Downing Street were reading it. There was a very short paragraph, which I think I mentioned in the memorandum that I sent to you before appearing, in the Mail on Sunday's coverage which sort of implied that there were lots of copies around and they might have got it that way. I cannot prove one way or the other how the Mail on Sunday got that material. All I can tell you is they did not get it from us. When Lord Turnbull said this morning that the Cabinet Office had been double-crossed, I hope that was not a reference either to me or to my publishers because it would be a very unfair reference.

Q237 Kelvin Hopkins: It suggests the whole thing is rather porous and, in fact, one might say poisonous, the fact that there are clearly people up to mischief at the highest level using these things for their own purposes.

Mr Price: The highest level of what?

Q238 Kelvin Hopkins: Is that not symptomatic of the kind of politics we live with nowadays?

Mr Price: I would take a judgment that what appeared in the Mail on Sunday on that first day of serialisation tells you more about the media and their ethics than it does about what you describe as people in high places.

Q239 Kelvin Hopkins: If people do not speak to the media they do not know.

Mr Price: I have given you two examples of how the Mail on Sunday might have got hold of that material. I am not persuaded that it was given to them by anybody who would have been shown the text from government. I cannot see what their motivation would have been.

Q240 Kelvin Hopkins: A much more important question in my view is this distinction, which I am certainly concerned about, between civil servants - technically you were a civil servant although I see you as a politician - and the political world. Politicians and the Civil Service have been fairly distinct and the image created by Sir Humphrey in the television series was of a Civil Service which was almost hermetic, the politicians could not really get into the world of the Civil Service, they were guarded by permanent secretaries or whatever, and, equally, civil servants knew their place and they did not venture into the political world. With the alleged politicisation of the Civil Service - people like you have caused the problem because you were a civil servant but you became part of that overlap between politics and the Civil Service and confused the issue to an extent - the old Sir Humphrey image has gone. Isn't that a bad thing?

Mr Price: The whole role of special advisers within government is something I know you, Chairman, and your Committee have taken a keen interest in and will continue to investigate in the future, I am sure. I do think that special advisers are in a hybrid position. They are largely political and some special advisers, certainly in my case, play a very political role but they are also brought within the Civil Service for a short period of time, and our careers are as fickle as those of the ministers that we work for so we do not have all the benefits of guaranteed employment, pensions and so on that others perhaps do. Certainly special advisers in the past have published books that have explained their role. I do not think it is any bad thing that people understand the role of special advisers better than they do at the moment because there are an awful lot of myths around about them. There are two ways in which a special adviser can get his or her view across about how government is conducted and what is going on. We all know that throughout the time since Tony Blair has been Prime Minister there has been an avalanche of books published, largely by journalists, sometimes by contemporary historians, purporting to know what goes on inside Downing Street and often giving quite colourful descriptions of rows between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor or whatever else may have been going on. Insofar as they were based on fact at all, we know where those facts came from. Those facts came from people working inside Whitehall, working for government, either as special advisers, perhaps the protagonists themselves, perhaps even, God forefend, civil servants. It is one thing, in my view, to give information to others to write, whether they are ghost biographies, actual biographies or contemporary histories, under the cloak of anonymity, but what I did was write my recollections with my name on the cover. I took responsibility for it. I was not going round behind closed doors giving information to journalists. I think journalists found me a pretty lousy source when I was at Number 10 because I did not do what the Chairman was describing as going out and finding them straight after a conversation and revealing what was going on. I think there is an argument to be made that it is far more responsible to publish a book like this, with my name on the cover, than to participate in some of the processes that I have just been describing.

Q241 Kelvin Hopkins: Would it not be healthier to have a much deeper separation between the Civil Service, with their codes and their rules, and the political field, with people like yourself strictly in the political field and not in the Civil Service? You are fair game, you have to rely on politics, you would not have rules like the Civil Service. And it is not a career, you are either elected or appointed temporarily to advise politicians who are elected. It is a much different world from that of the Civil Service. If we had strict rules for the Civil Service and a high Code of Ethics for them, we expect politicians to behave badly, because that is what they are like, you ----

Mr Price: You are lumping me in the latter category?

Q242 Kelvin Hopkins: Yes, indeed. We should separate the two very clearly.

Mr Price: There is this ambiguity about the role of special advisers and I do have my views on that. It falls slightly outside the remit of a discussion about memoirs but I suppose it could be brought within it. Personally, I am a supporter of the public funding of political parties and if you want a good democracy you have to be prepared to pay for it and if you were prepared to pay for it you might have a situation in which political appointments within ministries could be paid for by the public still but through the funding of political parties rather than through the funding of government.

Kelvin Hopkins: I would like to pursue this further but I fear I have had more than my fair share of time. Thank you for that.

Q243 Grant Shapps: I am interested in your statement and also your written statement where you describe this process by which authorisation or changes in the book are made. I wonder whether you agree it was perhaps the case that the changeover in Cabinet Secretary caused this very odd, uneven process as your book was essentially approved for publication after changes?

Mr Price: It was not helpful, I admit. I would have been much more comfortable working with one Cabinet Secretary all the way through although, to be fair, I think a lot of the initial decisions and advice given and so on is given in the Cabinet Secretary's name but actually by officials who are working for him.

Q244 Grant Shapps: This is a classic organisational cock-up, is it not? Sir Andrew Turnbull told you back in July it was completely unacceptable, it looked like a closed door, you were amazed and ran for cover, got legal advice and the rest of it. You then put in a pretty much unchanged manuscript and were told it needed a few changes by the then Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell.

Mr Price: Sir Andrew, now Lord Turnbull, made his decision, said what he said, and he must stand over that. I think he was wrong to do that and I think some of the problems that people have about the book flowed from that. What I must take you up on is the suggestion that we barely made any changes. There were very substantial changes made to the original text that was submitted to the Cabinet Office, which I had done my best not to self-censor because I did not see it as my job to do the Cabinet Office's work of telling me what was and was not acceptable, although even at that stage I had taken out everything I considered to be at risk of damaging national security or being anything to do with Official Secrets. I had also taken out any reference to the advice of named civil servants because I recognised that was something that was wrong to do because they cannot speak for themselves. Then, as a result of the legal advice that we took, which was mainly about libel and confidentiality and other matters like that, copyright and so on and so forth, we took out quite a substantial amount more. The Cabinet Office expressed their gratitude for the amount of changes that we made and then we discussed what was left. They had the opportunity to ask for changes to the resubmitted text, they asked for a relatively small number and we made some further changes.

Q245 Grant Shapps: What I am trying to drive at here is that if you had submitted that then amended text to Sir Andrew in the first place he would not have used words like "completely unacceptable". In other words, you think the process was more or less working here?

Mr Price: I am not sure.

Q246 Grant Shapps: I am confused because in your written statement, and your opening evidence, you suggest that the process is not working but what you are trying to tell me now is that it was sort of working.

Mr Price: It did not work because a complete barrier was put in our way. I regard the system, if it is to work effectively, should be one that allows for some give and take and applies fairly to all. If you choose to have a system in which it is possible for the Cabinet Secretary to say, "Absolutely not, no", then that is going to invite challenge, and it is going to invite legal challenge if necessary. I think we can all agree that these things are best not resolved in the court. That is why I say the system as currently set up did not work in my case. I am not saying it could not have worked, it could have worked, because I did not set out to defy it and I would have been happy to have worked within it. Even if it had worked in my case I think there are improvements.

Q247 Grant Shapps: I would love to pursue the extent to which it did or did not work a lot further but, in the interests of time, what happened was there were then the outtakes that were taken out of the final version and you were paid £150,000 purportedly for the serialisation in the Mail on Sunday. You must have been pretty annoyed about this because the outtakes could have got you a great deal more presumably and rather than taking legal action against them you could have been paid for the juicy stuff that was taken out.

Mr Price: I am not quite sure I follow your argument. I should have kept it in so I could have earned more from the book?

Q248 Grant Shapps: If you come to a deal with a newspaper, which you had done, and they are going to publish the book and pay £150,000, presumably you could have negotiated £175,000 or £200,000 if you had given them the really juicy bits which, according to this version of events, they took from somewhere, we do not know where - perhaps you have some suspicions - and published. You must feel hard done by. You could have had that extra cash surely.

Mr Price: I do not feel hard done by in the way that you are describing but I was very surprised, very disappointed and not a little bit angry to see in public print material that I had come to the conclusion should not appear in public print. It made a mockery of the process that we had been through.

Q249 Grant Shapps: Just to get to your motivation for the diary. I remember Newsnight covering this and then apologising because they had enabled you to plug the book rather more than editorially they meant you to do. Is this whole thing not really just about book sales? In your particular case there is no great desire to establish a public record. It is all very grand but actually £150,000 from the Mail on Sunday, goodness knows what for selling the book, Newsnight with plenty of coverage, this Committee indeed, the whole thing is just money driven, is it not?

Mr Price: I have not made any grand statements about wanting to play some sort of role in setting the record straight or having an historical record. I would disagree with you that it is just about the money. Your figures are not strictly accurate, the amount of money paid ----

Q250 Grant Shapps: Do you want to correct them?

Mr Price: I will if you want me to. The amount of money paid was more than I ever expected it to be. When I first put this forward as a proposal at the suggestion of Anthony Seldon - this may just reflect my naivety - I thought people would say, "We have heard all this before. So much of this is in the public domain, you are telling us stories we have already read about in the newspapers, whether it is about Peter Mandelson resigning from the government or BSE, foot and mouth, the General Election that was so long ago now, people's memories are very short". I was surprised at both the commercial value the book attracted and the general interest that it attracted. I would have gone ahead with the book had those figures been far, far, far lower than they were because I find political memoirs, and in particular political diaries, fascinating. I found that when I read about previous administrations they had been the most illuminating and interesting way of getting underneath what goes on in politics and in government. I felt that I had a text which would contribute to that and I wanted to see it published because I thought it would be a good book.

Q251 Mr Prentice: Are there any areas, things that you witnessed, that you did not put into your diary because it was maybe just too personal, a no-go area?

Mr Price: Yes.

Q252 Mr Prentice: Would you like to tell us what they were?

Mr Price: Tell you what they were. Do you want me to tell you what they were?

Q253 Mr Prentice: Yes, please.

Mr Price: I will tell you what areas they covered. The things that I excluded from the book, apart from what I have already described which was, if you like, national security and the advice of named career civil servants, the principal stuff was about the Prime Minister and his family. If it was legitimately private about the Prime Minister, his family, his religious beliefs, that sort of thing, and some of the views that he might have expressed on those matters, I think they were absolutely legitimately private and they were never in any text that was submitted to anybody.

Q254 Mr Prentice: So you kind of self-censored then?

Mr Price: At the beginning of the process I took out things for broadly those three reasons, yes, but it certainly included matters that I considered personal to the Prime Minister and his family.

Q255 Mr Prentice: You are gay, are you not?

Mr Price: Yes.

Q256 Mr Prentice: What about your reference when the Prime Minister famously asked you, "Lance, does the sight of a beautiful woman ever do anything for you?". You put that in because you thought people would find that interesting, did you?

Mr Price: I am astonished that people have made so much of that remark.

Q257 Mr Prentice: Are you?

Mr Price: I just found that amusing. I did not think it said anything about his views on homosexuality or anything else. It made me smile.

Q258 Mr Prentice: Did you have conversations with your publisher where the publishers would want to extract the maximum value from the text? You say you left stuff out but was there any pressure to include stuff when you were just talking about the text in order to increase its value?

Mr Price: Obviously in the process of getting a book ready for publication there are discussions between the publisher and the author and the publisher's general view is always in favour of keeping as much in as possible, that is a statement of the blindingly obvious I would have thought. At no point did I come under what I regarded as unreasonable pressure from my publisher to include something that I was not prepared to stand by, no.

Q259 Mr Prentice: Why did you go to the Mail? You spent your whole professional life taking on the Daily Mail which is vitriolic, deeply hostile to the Labour Party and everything that Labour stands for. Why did you take your book to the Mail?

Mr Price: I think you ask a very valid question, not least because of my political friends who are less than pleased with what happened. The fact that it was published in the Mail probably caused more offence than the book itself actually. I took the view that I should stand back and allow the publishers to do what they always do, which was to conduct effectively an auction and to allow that to go on through its normal process. I am not sure whether I would have had a right to say, "We will have an auction but no newspaper with the word 'Mail' in its title need apply". If I did have that right I did not exercise it. In the back of my mind was the thought that journalists are journalists and if there are stories in this book almost any newspaper is going to take up the same stories. With hindsight, perhaps I was wrong.

Q260 Mr Prentice: Would it be okay for a man who has spent his adult life in the Labour Party presumably for the Mail to offer a huge sum of money to someone in Downing Street who has been keeping a diary but is about to leave the government and then publish all this stuff at the most damaging time in the run-up to a General Election to destabilise the Labour Government? Would that be okay?

Mr Price: No, it would not be okay. If I can make the point that ----

Q261 Mr Prentice: You made the point about the time lapse.

Mr Price: No, not that point at all. I still have enough concern, and it is not a concern for this Committee but it might be a concern of yours and it might be a concern of mine, for the political wellbeing of this Government to believe that publishing the book, as I did, immediately after a General Election, when any fallout that there might have been, and I did not anticipate much, would have been well forgotten by the time Labour went to the polls again, was more responsible than publishing it, which I suppose I could have done, in the run-up to the General Election or at a time when Tony Blair was on the ropes or, even, arguably closer to the next election when it could have done damage not necessarily to Mr Blair but to his successor.

Q262 Mr Prentice: One final question, if I may. Are there any areas in the public realm, loosely defined, which are off-limits? I am thinking about the Royal Household, and I think the Royal Household now insists on confidentiality clauses. Do you think it would be in the public interest for people working for the Queen to keep diaries and publish and be damned?

Mr Price: I think that if we are living in a modern democracy then the people we seek to work for, and in your case seek to represent, have a right to know how that democracy functions. They have a right to know more than just the views of the great and the good who then move on, Prime Ministers, ministers and so on. I think you do have to ask yourself the question who writes history. Is history only written by former Prime Ministers and former ministers who wish to no doubt remind us all how talented and clever they were, and how successful they were in promoting their particular causes, or is history to be written by a range of people who had the privilege to see how government works? Provided that contribution to history does not do any harm, and I do not believe my book has done any harm, then I think it is legitimate.

Q263 Mr Prentice: I say this generously, but I am sure you will get a footnote.

Mr Price: I ask for no more.

Q264 Chairman: Do you not accept even for a second that an effective democracy requires some private space at the centre of government where confidential discussions can be had and confidences are kept and, far from that being damaging to democracy, it is essential for democracy? If we want to bring the system down - you objected to five minutes - we have the instant kiss and tells which means, as Geoff Mulgan has pointed out, there is a corrosion of trust across the system which makes effective government impossible. Democracy is not well-served by that, is it?

Mr Price: A book published five years after an adviser left Downing Street, after two General Elections have passed, and after the date at which the Prime Minister has announced that he does not intend to run another election, is not another kiss and tell.

Q265 Chairman: While the person you served is still in office.

Mr Price: The Prime Minister is still in office; just as when the book was written by Sarah Hogg and Jonathan Hill, John Major was still in office. It is very hard to set down hard and fast rules. If I had written a book which was called "The Winning Ways of New Labour" and was a long list of all the achievements of New Labour during the time that I was in government I would not be sitting here. It is not just about timing, it is not just about content. This is why I think if we are to find a system that works, we have to find a great deal more clarity about what is acceptable and when it is acceptable.

Q266 Chairman: What I was asking you was will you accept that government does require a private space in which ----

Mr Price: Yes, I do.

Q267 Chairman: ---- confidential discussions can be had and that serves the purpose of good government.

Mr Price: Yes.

Q268 Chairman: That will be eroded if people rush into print while those people are still in place, governments are still in office, and it will be corrosive of the kind of good government that we would all like to see.

Mr Price: Yes, I do, but I waited five years. It may be that it was to my disadvantage that I happened to work for a government that is so successful it keeps on winning elections and I have not had the opportunity to wait for them to leave office, and I hope I do not have to face that situation quite frankly. It comes back to one of the points I made earlier. You talk about kiss and tell and going out and telling secrets within five minutes or whatever it might be, but people do that all the time and they do it anonymously. I waited five years and I put my name on the dust jacket. I think there is a difference.

Q269 Mr Liddell-Grainger: I am intrigued because at the start of the book you make the point about the Cabinet Secretary saying that publishing the book is "completely unacceptable" and at the end of the book under "Acknowledgements" you say ---- I am sorry, I was reading a bit, I hope you will bear with me, this fascinating thing about William Hague going to Jordan and nearly falling over the coffin.

Mr Price: I am glad you find something to recommend it.

Q270 Mr Liddell-Grainger: Sorry, I cannot find it. Basically, in it you make the point that you were pushed to write this book. The mandarins, the guardians of the system, did not want you to do it. Is that not the argument where we come down to where you cannot trust the people within the system? Basically it is that the system itself is draconian, it has got no direction. We have talked about copyright today, permissions with Radcliffe, we have gone right across the spectrum. We cannot stop it anymore, can we? Are the brakes not off? You are the new breed of exposé.

Mr Price: Let us just stick to my book. I do not believe that the system has been destroyed by my book. I made an effort to work within the system. I think if the system were reformed to a certain extent then, as I say, I was happy to work with the rules as they are at the moment but I would certainly be happy to work with and recommend a system of voluntary discussion and consideration of books that could work perfectly acceptably, provided it is seen to be fair, so that people can see the criterion against which their writing is likely to be judged, they know that if they go into the system they will be treated equally and with equal responsibility as other people who go into the system. At the moment, I think probably the system is kept deliberately opaque. It is clear that you have to submit your text to the Cabinet Secretary but it is not explicit that he has to give his consent, that is the presumption that is made. The way in which the guidance that I was given was phrased I did find confusing. All the way through I was feeling my way. I think you have to give people a bit more guidance than that if we are to reach a conclusion in which books are published by people - and I put myself within that category - who do not wish to undermine the good and effective governance of this country but may at the same time believe that there is a public right to know how they are governed.

Q271 Mr Liddell-Grainger: You obviously admire the Prime Minister and all that he has achieved and all the rest of it, and that comes out in the book, but do you think you undermined him by publishing a book like this when you did?

Mr Price: No, I do not. Nobody has yet demonstrated to me how this book has damaged either the Prime Minister or the conduct of government.

Q272 Chairman: In one of your answers just a few moments ago you talked about named civil servants who cannot speak for themselves. Of course, you were a civil servant, albeit a temporary civil servant, and you have clearly spoken for yourself. You would have heard Christopher Meyer this morning saying that the terms of trade have changed and essentially that civil servants now can and should speak for themselves. What do you think about that?

Mr Price: As I understood what Sir Christopher was saying, he was seeking to draw a distinction between career civil servants still in service and those who have retired from service or left service for whatever reason. I certainly have no objection to civil servants publishing books after they have left office, and they have done that.

Q273 Chairman: Do you think the Meyer book is acceptable?

Mr Price: I am not sure it is for me to judge whether the Meyer book is acceptable. I am not going to start criticising Christopher Meyer's book. The only distinction I would draw between Christopher Meyer's book and mine, apart from the fact that he was in a far more senior and far more interesting position, and I am sure there is much more interesting material in his than there is in mine, is that I waited longer than he did before I published. It is for others to judge whether that is a relevant distinction or not.

Q274 Chairman: I am interested that you will not pass comment on a book produced by a former senior diplomat soon after retiring from office. You would not have been coy about this before you wrote your book, would you?

Mr Price: I hesitate slightly simply because although I have read parts of Christopher Meyer's book, as we all have, I have not read it all.

Q275 Chairman: Knowing the kind of issue we are talking about, you do not have a feeling as to whether, in principle, this is the right thing to do or not?

Mr Price: I certainly think it is right for former ambassadors, for senior civil servants, former Cabinet Secretaries, to write books and to write memoirs, the question is at what point does it become acceptable for them to do it and at what point does that shift that I was describing earlier between a presumption that things should remain confidential unless a clear case for publication can be demonstrated, to the other position where there should be a presumption in favour of publication unless real harm can be demonstrated has been reached.

Q276 Mr Prentice: But it is okay for Christopher Meyer to refer to Jack Straw as someone to be "liked rather than admired" and Geoff Hoon to be a "frigid panda"?

Mr Price: You had the opportunity to ask Sir Christopher about his own book. I am not a literary critic.

Mr Prentice: But Jack Straw was then, and is now, Foreign Secretary. I am just astonished that you do not have a view on it.

Q277 Chairman: I asked Christopher Meyer, if Andrew Turnbull produced a book now of your kind, about life at the centre, what went on in the office, would that be right.

Mr Price: I think there would come a point, and I don't know whether Lord Turnbull has been out of office long enough for that point to have been reached, at which it would be acceptable for him to write a book about his experience as Secretary to the Cabinet.

Q278 Chairman: No, not a general book about being a Cabinet Secretary, but your kind of book about who said what to whom in the office.

Mr Price: I hope there would then be a process that he would go through as a former Cabinet Secretary, just as there could and should have been a process that I would go through, in which there would be a discussion and perhaps even some form of appeal procedure if there could not be agreement on what should and should not be included.

Q279 Chairman: But the current Cabinet Secretary would say to him, "Sorry, Andrew, this is completely unacceptable. The whole project is something that you cannot do".

Mr Price: If a future Cabinet Secretary were to turn round to Lord Turnbull and say, "Your book is completely unacceptable", I think he would have the same grounds for objection to that that I had, which is that it cannot be completely unacceptable because those bits that are already in the public domain have to be acceptable.

Q280 Chairman: The argument would be that it is the kind of book. This is not a reflective account about the life of a Cabinet Secretary, this is gossip in the office. That is the fundamental difference. That was what was said to be completely unacceptable, the kind of book that it was. Around that there could be no negotiation, either you believe it is an acceptable project or you do not, it is not something where you can say, "This little bit of gossip is all right, but that little bit of gossip is not all right", the project was deemed to be unacceptable.

Mr Price: Yes, and I disagreed. I exclude the premise of your question that there is nothing in the book apart from office tittle-tattle, but maybe that strays into literary criticism as well. There have been political diaries in the past written by advisers as well as by ministers and Prime Ministers and I think they have contributed to our understanding of government and how it is conducted. I do not believe that a blanket ban on my kind of book would be legitimate in any form at all.

Q281 Kelvin Hopkins: Does this not all reinforce the point I am trying to make, that there should be a Civil Service separate from politics which has very strict rules and a Code of Ethics, on the other hand, you are an ex-journalist, a political activist, going to work for a political party. You are as dodgy as I am. You are a politician.

Mr Price: On that spirit of comradeship ----

Q282 Chairman: I was struck as you were speaking just now that you also used the word "naïve", which was the word Christopher Meyer used. You were both expressing your naivety in thinking that these books would excite any interest at all. Maybe that gives you a curious bond because, whatever else it was, it was a very lucrative kind of naivety, was it not?

Mr Price: It turned out to be a more lucrative kind of naivety than I had anticipated.

Chairman: Thank you very much for coming and telling us about it.



[1] Ev 1, supplementary memorandum submitted by Lord Turnbull