Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
THURSDAY 15 DECEMBER 2005
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
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
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
Lord Turnbull: Yes, I think there
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  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
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 itthe 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
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
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 heparticularly as someone
who had served as Press Secretary at Number 10did 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 donehis sneering, his patronising,
derogatory comments that you have told us aboutis 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.