Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
THURSDAY 15 DECEMBER 2005
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 13 September of this
year. On 7 October 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
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
Q125 Chairman: You cannot cite him
in one breath and then damn him in the next.
Sir Christopher Meyer: You can
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 makeor 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 answerand he used the word "cleared"
because he talks about standard criteria for clearancehe
appears to say in this written answer that the book was cleared
against the first two criteria: harm to national security; harm
to relationswith 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 onand colleagues, I am sure, will ask you questions
about thisbut 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
Sir Christopher Meyer: I am saying
here that, looking over the last few yearsand this is why
I say there ought to be consistent rules for politicians, special
advisors and civil servantsI 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
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
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, becauseI keep on having to come back to thisif
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
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.