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Royal Family (Visits)

Andrew Mackinlay: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the answer of 31 October 2005, Official Report, column 754W, on Prince of Wales (United States visit), what was the cost of the private jet used to convey HRH the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall between Washington DC and New York during their recent visit to the United States; and whether this sum was included in the £330,000 referred to. [31870]

Dr. Howells: It is not possible to break down the cost for flying between Washington and New York. The aircraft for the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall's visit to the USA was put out to tender on the basis of a set itinerary which included flying London-New York-Washington-New Orleans-San Francisco-London. I can confirm that the cost of the journey between New York and Washington was included in the
 
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£330,000 referred to in the answer my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary gave my hon. Friend on 31 October 2005, Official Report, column 754W.

Andrew Mackinlay: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what unofficial visits abroad by the royal family over the past 12 months have involved (a) overnight stays at UK ambassadors' residences and (b) receptions (i) hosted and (ii) attended by his Department's staff; and if he will make a statement. [32734]

Mr. Douglas Alexander: The information is as follows.

Working visit by the Earl of Wessex to the Czech Republic 18–19 July 2005: Reception at the residence for Duke of Edinburgh's Award in the Czech Republic.

Working visit by the Duke of Kent to Washington on behalf of Imperial War Museum 10–12 May 2005: Overnight stay and reception at the residence.

Working visit on behalf of the International Olympic Committee by the Princess Royal to Singapore 3–9 July 2005: Her Royal Highness attended a reception at the residence.

Private visit by Princess Alexandra to Austria 18–22 November 2005: Her Royal Highness stayed at the residence and attended charity reception at the residence in aid of children in Ethiopia (Bohm Trust).

Andrew Mackinlay: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what official visits abroad are planned for members of the royal family in each of the next six months; and if he will make a statement. [32735]

Dr. Howells: An announcement has already been made on the Royal website concerning the Duke of York's forthcoming official visit to Egypt from 28–30 November 2005. Proposals and dates for other official visits overseas by members of the royal family are kept under constant review. It is not the practice to announce such visits until they are firm and all parties concerned have agreed that they can proceed.

Saddam Hussein Trial

Sir Menzies Campbell: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whose responsibility it is to ensure the protection of (a) prosecution and (b) defence lawyers involved in the trial of Saddam Hussein; and if he will make a statement. [29045]

Dr. Howells [holding answer 23 November 2005]: The prosecution of Saddam Hussein is being conducted under the Iraqi domestic legal process and therefore the Iraqi Government is responsible for the security of its citizens, including the prosecution and defence lawyers at the trial.

Sir Christopher Meyer

Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether SirChristopher Meyer submitted the manuscript of his recent book to his Department for (a) comment and (b) clearance; and if he will make a statement. [26840]


 
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Mr. Straw: Under the diplomatic service regulations, which are based on home civil service codes of conduct, all former ambassadors remain bound by a continuing duty of confidentiality after they have left Crown employment. The regulations require that former members of the diplomatic service should consult their Department before writing memoirs based on their experience and should submit any part of them which draws on official information or experience for clearance by their Department before publication. Departments are required to assess texts for any harm to national security or defence; international relations; and confidential relationships within Government. The first two categories are based on the Official Secrets Act. The third category broadly reflects the common law of confidence. These categories were established in 1976 following the Report of the Committee of Privy Counsellors on Ministerial Memoirs chaired by Lord Radcliffe, which also set a period of 15 years for maintaining confidences within Government. In practice there is a high threshold to establish a breach of the regulations, which are based as much upon well established conventions and standards of conduct expected of all civil servants as on actual legal obligation.

In the case of Sir Christopher Meyer's memoirs, there was no prior consultation by the author with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) before he entered into a commitment with a publisher and began writing. Following the appearance of a trailer for the book on the Amazon website in May, Sir Christopher Meyer was contacted by the FCO, reminded of the publication rules and repeatedly asked to submit his text to the Department when completed. In the event his book was only submitted to the Cabinet Secretary for comment by his publisher on 7 October, some four weeks before planned publication on 10 November.

The Cabinet Office sent a copy of the book to the FCO and both Departments reviewed it against the standard criteria for clearing publications under the rules. The judgment, with which I agreed, was made on the particular facts of this case that no changes should be sought primarily because the book posed no national security risk; it contained nothing substantially new which we judged would harm relations with the US; and nothing was specifically identified that was considered so damaging as to require consideration of legal action.

However, in his letter of 4 November to the publisher, the Cabinet Secretary made it clear that, while the Government had no comments to make on the book, it was disappointing that a former diplomat should disclose confidences gained as a result of his employment. The Cabinet Secretary stated that it was not the Government's responsibility to check the accuracy of remarks attributed to individuals in the book and emphasised that his response should not be taken to indicate any form of official or unofficial approval of the book. A copy of the Cabinet Secretary's letter has been placed in the Library of the House.

By deciding to write and publish this book, SirChristopher Meyer has broken the trust placed in him as a former servant of the Crown. As I have already said publicly, it is completely unacceptable for former senior civil servants or diplomats to break such trust in this way. It undermines the key relationship between
 
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civil servants and Ministers. It is greatly to be regretted that Sir Christopher Meyer has chosen to reveal the substance of conversations with individuals at the centre of sensitive issues, especially as those individuals would not have expected that information to be revealed so soon after the event or in such terms. His disclosures fall well below the standard of discretion expected of former Officials and the conventions set out in the Radcliffe report.

I note from the comment on this book to date that this view is shared across a very wide political and public spectrum. It has also led to very great concern among the whole of the diplomatic service. The General Secretary of the PDA—the senior civil and public servants' union—has described the book as utterly wrong and a fundamental breach of trust and confidentiality. The Chairman of the Diplomatic Service Association has called Sir Christopher Meyer's action in publishing

As many have said, including their noble Lords on 17 November 2005, Official Report, columns 1187–89, this case calls into question the effectiveness of current publication rules, which depend for much of their effect on norms of conduct and behaviour rather than laws. I am currently examining the relevant diplomatic service regulations with a view to making changes so as to ensure that they more accurately reflect the overall purpose of the regulations and conventions in this field. I hope to make an announcement soon. There is also a wider Government review under way as well as one by the Public Administration Select Committee.

Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether his call for Sir Christopher Meyer to resign as head of the Press Complaints Commission (a) was made in his ministerial capacity and (b) represents Government policy. [31620]

Mr. Straw [holding answer 24 November 2005]: I set out the Government's position on the book in the answer I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) today (UIN 26840). My view is that the publication of Sir Christopher Meyer's memoirs also raises questions about his role as Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, as I said in the course of the Today programme on Radio 4 on 11 November.


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