Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340 - 349)



  Q340  Chairman: Did that consideration weigh with you?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: A little bit in writing a book. Obviously, I wanted to remain within the rules. I wanted the book cleared by the Foreign Office. I did not want controversy over the publication of my book for the form of it. I wanted discussion of the substance of it.

  Q341  Kelvin Hopkins: I suspect your book is much more interesting in historical terms than Christopher Meyer's book and therefore much more intriguing. One hopes it will be kept and published at some point. You describe yourself as "just one civil servant". Is that not over-modest? Were you not at the eye of the storm? You were crucially part of the discussions leading up to war at the United Nations. If one extrapolates from your modesty about your role, and you are implying your book is cautious and almost innocuous at times, the book could really be much more exciting than you are suggesting. Is that not the case?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: I regarded the people in Number 10 as being at the centre, at the eye of the storm, as far as the British involvement in Iraq was concerned. I was writing about the United Nations where I was at the centre of Security Council action on Iraq and Baghdad, where I was trying to match Paul Bremer in his handling of Iraqi affairs. I did not in this text stray into commenting on or trying to imply that I had influence on the real centre of decision making in the British process.

  Q342  Kelvin Hopkins: Is it possible that you were aware of some of those most crucial talks and events which flipped us into war, when it could easily have gone the other way? Public opinion was very sensitive at that time. There was massive rebellion inside the Labour Party, including from myself and several Members here. You may be able to illuminate what happened and people may look back, having read your book, and say, "I made the wrong decision. I should have voted against war because of what Sir Jeremy revealed." That is the kind of thing that might upset the Government.

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: No. I knew and saw a lot of things that went on but you never know, when you are in a satellite position of responsibility to the government, what you do not know. I never knew about the so-called leaked minute from David Manning to the Prime Minister of March 2002. I had no idea that those discussions were happening at the time. There were all sorts of things that were confidential to the Prime Minister's team, the Foreign Secretary's team in particular, that I did not know so I wrote the book fully aware that I could only tell part of the story and aware that I should not pretend to interpret events of which I had no direct experience.

  Q343  Kelvin Hopkins: Do you have any sense that if you had acted differently and commented differently privately, or even publicly, we might not in the end have gone to war? I am sure you are very honest in these matters but could someone interpret your book as saying mea culpa, suggesting that it would change our view of events in the Middle East? Could you look back to what you did yourself and think: "If I had acted differently, all of this might not have happened". Do you have that sense, and might that come across in your book, or am I pushing its significance too far?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: I do not think there was ever a point at which, if I had acted differently, it would have changed the course of events. I do not think that I was ever in a leverage position of that kind.

  Q344  Kelvin Hopkins: When politicians react to something, it is usually one core bit, one central element. Christopher Meyer's tittle-tattle was a lot of personal stuff but if there is one big problem about your book, in the middle of it if someone said, "Whatever you write, you cannot write that". Is there something of that nature in your book of which you are aware, and that the Foreign Secretary is aware of, that is really the problem?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: No, I do not think there is.

  Q345  Kelvin Hopkins: Is it just a general sense that this would be embarrassing, inconvenient, could provoke the anti-war people in Parliament, people like myself, and cause more damaging press comment, that kind of thing?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: Probably. Again, you would have to ask Mr Straw. The sense of raking over the great controversy about going to war in Iraq is clearly something that will be uncomfortable for the Government.

  Q346  Kelvin Hopkins: I am perhaps in the minority but I am uncomfortable about this blurring of the distinction between politicians and civil servants and that different codes should apply. I made this point to Lance Price when he came to see us. I described him as a dodgy politician like us. We are elected; we can make comment; we can be got rid of but civil servants have a standing and a code which is above all that and they ought to remain separate, discrete and have different rules applied to them. You suggested that we ought to have the same rules applied to us. Do you not think that politicians really are fair game for the media but that civil servants ought to stand back in a more traditional, less conspicuous role?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: Gradually but increasingly senior civil servants can come into the public arena. It is very difficult to make a clear cut distinction between the two when public comment is so voluminous, when the press get their fingers into everything, where information is coming out. I do not know whether you are bringing this into your considerations, but where public inquiries like the Scott Report and the Butler Report bring things that civil servants have done very much into the public domain, which have an effect on the way people act, people keep their records, in public affairs. There is a huge difference between somebody who has been elected and somebody who is an unelected servant but in the business of publishing memoirs I do not see that there needs to be such great distinction in the principles that are laid down in either case. I think that the Radcliffe area appropriately applies to both categories of people.

  Q347  Kelvin Hopkins: If politicians are increasingly aware that their civil servants are going to publish revelatory memoirs at a later stage, does that not change crucially the relationship between them, and possibly what is said and even decided by politicians because they are nervous about their civil servants so they cannot rely on them perhaps in the way they could in the past? That relationship is going to change the nature of our whole politics in Britain, I would say for the worse, although others might say differently.

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: It does. That is a consideration. But I am not sure that you can put what had already happened before Meyer or Greenstock put pen to paper, back in the box. It is much more of a pointer to these things as to whether somebody like Alastair Campbell is going to write a book or not than what a civil servant may say. The ripples that we can cause are too slight to be such an enormous consideration. This is now a public era. Everything becomes public very easily. I do not think that in practice it stops life going on. People have their advisers; they have their discussions; they get on with it. Knuckles will be rapped if people produce memoirs that stray beyond the lines. It does not stop the business of government.

  Q348  Chairman: We have had some fascinating evidence from you. A phrase that you have used on one or two occasions is "on the whole". That is probably a bit of a give away because when you were asked, "Would this embarrass the Government?" you said, "No, on the whole." "Would it embarrass our relationship with the United States?" "No, on the whole." I suspect in that phrase "on the whole" we get a clue to some of what is going on here. Having listened to you for an hour or so I still cannot understand why you did not publish this book. You have given us a very compelling case for why such books should be written. You have said our system is strong enough to take the little flurries that come out of books like this. The only thing that happened was that you went to see the Foreign Secretary who said he did not want you to. That seems to count for little in the scale of argument that you have given compellingly today. Why did you just keel over?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: You put it pejoratively but what happened was that, by the time a decision had to be made on publication, I had not received the comments that had been promised from the Foreign Office. Was I to go ahead against the rules and publish without receiving clearance or was I to delay? Since I had started from the beginning with the intention of seeking complete clearance of the text, since I knew that there would be political controversy which I was not seeking if I went ahead without clearance, I was left with no choice but to delay publication.

  Q349  Chairman: The Foreign Office never refused clearance.

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: They said they were going to offer comments. They delayed the submission of those comments. For what reason, I do not know. You will have to ask the Foreign Office.

  Chairman: We are genuinely grateful for the evidence, not just because of the particular case that you describe but because of the general case that you have made for a flexible and transparent approach to this whole area. Thank you very much indeed.

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