Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



  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.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 25 July 2006