Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360
THURSDAY 19 JANUARY 2006
CH AND CLARE
Q360 Mr Prentice: Did people know
you were keeping a diary?
Clare Short: No, I do not think
so. I do not agree. I am perfectly happy for any of the officials
in my department to publish anything that is said in the Cabinet.
I think we should be sincere in what we do. The commentary might
be unfair but if you mean what you say I do not mind anyone commenting.
Q361 Mr Prentice: People may hold
back in expressing a controversial point of view because of a
fear that this is going to appear in someone's diary.
Clare Short: Maybe it is just
how one is temperamentally but I would not feel restrained in
any way by that. We all know that Alastair Campbell was keeping
a very detailed diary. I am not going to speak differently. I
do not expect it necessarily to be a fair account but if you start
doing that, what is the point of being there?
Q362 Mr Prentice: I wonder if I could
ask Lord Owen and Lord Lawson the same question. Do you think
this diary keeping, especially with the vast sums of money that
are paid to the authorsAlastair Campbell is on record as
saying his diary is his pensionhas got out of hand and
is affecting the quality of decision making?
Lord Owen: I personally do. I
think diaries are very interesting and eventually should be published.
You can look back at the war diaries of, say, Field Marshall Allenbrook,
for example, who gives an incredibly important perception of how
Churchill worked and how impossible he was in many respects. The
timing for when you produce these things and who produces them
is quite important. I believe Cabinet government broadly speaking
is better for people arguing their case, losing the argument,
and a period of time in which they do not reveal. What is that
period? We used to have a 30 year rule. That is clearly obsolete
and out of date. We should in my view go down to 10 but certainly
15. We have to modify and change. The Freedom of Information Act,
which I also support, also has an advantage. The chaos at the
moment could be quite short lived. A very important piece of information
has come out of what Christopher Meyer said. Throughout his whole
time, the only time he was on the secret telephone was to Number
10. It was never to the Foreign Office. That must be the first
American ambassador who would ever say that. That is a practical
demonstration of the extent to which we now have a wholly personalised,
Number 10 orientated, defence and whole security system.
Q363 Mr Prentice: The situation can
change because I see in the memorandum that you gave us that the
Cabinet was alive and kicking between 1990 and 1997, in John Major's
Lord Owen: I think John Major
did return power to the Foreign Secretary. Douglas Hurd was given
more autonomy than his predecessor, Geoffrey Howe. I think that
was good and beneficial. You cannot deny a Prime Minister's right
to have a different structure. It is a very different structure
in terms of the relationship with the Chancellor of the Exchequer
and the Prime Minister. I am not denying there will be times when
there are inner Cabinets or anything but on this question of diary
keeping nobody can object to somebody writing a diary. Barbara
Castle who did shorthand used to write a very accurate and interesting
diary. I am not against diaries; it is when and how they come
Q364 Mr Prentice: Lord Lawson, your
memoirs were published three years after you left office?
Lord Lawson of Blaby: That is
right, yes. One of the considerations I felt I should attach and
did attach some weight to was the fact that, by the time my memoirs
came out, the Prime Minister who was the principal player if you
like in the particular drama that I was writing about, was no
longer in office. My 10 years or so as a minister were during
the Thatcher period. I did not serve under John Major at all but,
by the time my memoirs came out, John Major was the Prime Minister.
Q365 Mr Prentice: You said some pretty
choice things about John Major.
Lord Lawson of Blaby: It was a
different administration. You do have to take into account the
passage of time and whether it is the same administration or a
different administration. Also, you do need to exercise a certain
amount of judgment as to what you say and what you do not say.
I think nearly every former minister does exercise judgment on
what he thinks is fair. Going back to Radcliffe, the Radcliffe
rules are very peculiar in a number of respects. One in particular
is that if you have had an argument with the Prime Minister over
a particular issue you are entitled to write what you said. You
are not entitled to write what was said back. This would make
the account of the conversation a rather peculiar, one sided one.
There may be some former ministers who were only interested in
what they said but I felt, since I wanted my memoirs to be of
some lasting value and in a sense an accurate, historical record,
that it was necessary to include both sides of the conversation.
Q366 Mr Prentice: Your memoir was
published when John Major was Prime Minister of course.
Lord Lawson of Blaby: That is
Q367 Mr Prentice: You said of him
he often came to you ashen faced. You thought you might have made
the wrong choice of Chief Secretary and then you went on to say
that John Major found the job as Chief Secretary far more difficult
than anything he had ever done before and had to work very hard
to try and master it.
Lord Lawson of Blaby: As I pointed
out, he did eventually master it.
Q368 Mr Burrowes: You were aware
of Alastair Campbell's diary. Professor Hennessy talked about
the notion of competitive memoiring and effectively you wanted
to get your defence in first. That was the prime motive rather
than necessarily letting the truth get out?
Clare Short: I do not know whether
you had joined the Committee when I made my initial remark. There
was this very harsh and deliberate attempt to completely silence
me. The Chief Whip tried to get me to agree to say nothing that
was in any way critical of the Prime Minister under threat of
the whip being withdrawn from me. Given what I needed to say and
what I think is enormously important for the historical record
and debate, I wrote the book because I thought I had to get out
what I had to say. I still think that.
Q369 Mr Burrowes: In terms of the
timing, if you had perhaps waited would there not be more inclination
to say you wanted to get the truth out but nevertheless you were
not following on perhaps in undermining the system you suggest
was breaking down? The genie is out of the bottle and you perpetuated
that rather than letting the truth come out.
Clare Short: I personally think
that the way in which we went to war in Iraq, the amount of deceit
that was involved in it and the disaster it is for the Middle
East is much more serious than Suez. People keep comparing it
to Suez. As a country, as politicians, as people who are concerned
for the governance of the UK and the role of the UK in the world,
this is an extremely urgent debate. It is not just something to
wait ten years for and then talk about. Parliament is doing very
badly at attending to it. Our political system is functioning
very badly. This is my one postscript to some of the earlier remarks:
if we had a much smaller majority again, Cabinet government would
probably come back. Of course, if we had a hung Parliament, that
is certainly so. It is not necessarily for ever but I do think
that once power has been accredited to Number 10 without a jolt
to the system, it will stay there. This broken system might well
go on malfunctioning, but my view is that we should have done
a correction much earlier. I did not do a reflective log; I wrote
this in four months, I did it deliberately and I still agree with
Q370 Mr Burrowes: When you were doing
the diary, did you always intend to publish?
Clare Short: No. I had no intention
of doing the book. I was living through enormous turbulence and
serious, historical events. It was a pretty scruffy diary and
they were very heated times with late nights and all the rest.
I was not writing a big, long diary. When I left the government
I was intending to make speeches in the Commons, to go round the
Labour Party to get this debate going, but then you cannot speak
in the Commons any more. It is seven minutes and everyone has
to go home at 10. It is very difficult to get the time to make
any substantial speeches, especially when you are on the government's
side with big majorities. It is a big change from when I was a
back bencher when we were in opposition. The Labour Party is a
very different creature.
Q371 Mr Burrowes: Away from the exceptional
situation of the story that needed to be told, if you had come
to the point of saying, "I want to put down a legacy of my
memoirs", would you have considered it appropriate away from
the exceptional circumstances of Iraq?
Clare Short: Yes, probably, but
I did not get to that consideration because I was under this enormous
pressure. We were approaching an election and the Chief Whip was
saying, "I am going to take the whip from you" which
would mean I could not stand as a Labour candidate. I have put
my adult life into serving the Labour Party as an instrument of
justice at home and internationally. This is a monumentally serious
thing for my life and she is trying to tell me to be silent about
things that I have already said in the House of Commons. I had
to write something and I said, "Look, I have already made
the speeches. They are on the record in the House of Commons.
You are now telling me I cannot say what I have already said."
That was the nature of the conversations that were taking place.
This was a rather urgent matter for me and my life but also I
think for the truth and the record of what took place.
Q372 Mr Burrowes: Away from those
exceptional events, you had come to the stage where you had left
office and you decided you wanted to do your memoirs. Would you
have considered an appropriate time to be not the one but the
three years or the five years?
Clare Short: If you wrote something
in three years or so it would be different. It would be less raw
and more reflective, especially if you had a change of administration.
There is a place for those books too but I do thoroughly believe
the truth should get out and we are living in a time when there
is so much spin. Journalism is so tied into the sources in Number
10. Truthfulness and accuracy are diminishing in the discourse
of public life so if books are a way for people to get their truths
out they should happen.
Q373 Mr Burrowes: Lord Owen and Lord
Lawson, were you expecting publications by your former colleagues?
Lord Owen: All the time I worked
for Barbara Castle, I expected that she was going to write a biography.
I had no objection to it. It was very accurate. The only slight
thing was that Barbara had a habit of wanting to toughen up any
recommendation you made or to change it. In order to handle her,
you would have to recognise that so you would pitch your representations
where you felt she would end up. She was very fair to civil servants.
She would not castigate them. She broadly followed the normal
rules. Her memoirs contributed to an understanding of politics.
Mine was much later. Also, I was a member of a happy Cabinet.
Whatever arguments about Jim Callaghan can be made, nobody denies
it was an extremely happy Cabinet. There were disagreements but
even Tony Benn never disputed the fact that it was a happy Cabinet.
There was no briefing against each other and, broadly speaking,
we lived harmoniously within the collective rules despite the
differences of opinion.
Q374 Mr Burrowes: Rather than the
characters of individuals in terms of publishing memoirs at certain
times, it is really a reflection on the system of government that
has led the way for people to want to react to it by publishing
their memoirs. The genie has come out of the bottle because of
the way government has been led and run.
Lord Owen: I really think we are
in a different situation. I honestly cannot think of any situation,
other than in most recent years, where a very senior ambassador
would make so many personal comments about ministers. You cannot
just isolate it and criticise his memoir and I am not going to
get into that. You have to look at the climate of the time and
why things have deteriorated so that this can happen; then, what
can you do to correct it. I do hope we do something to correct
it pretty soon because we are suffering. I supported the war on
Iraq and I still do but the incompetence with which that war was
conducted is very damaging. I am a supporter of the European Union
but the European Constitution was not well handled by that inner
Number 10 secretariat. Interestingly, on neither occasion, both
on Iraq and the European Constitution, was public opinion held.
I honestly think younger Members of Parliament forget that for
a very substantial period of time bipartisanship in foreign and
defence policy was the norm and it was quite valuable to this
country. It was very hard to be the Foreign Secretary with the
partisan political debate conducted on foreign policy. It is much
easier if there is a great measure of support and that means also
a good deal of trust. Things like intelligence information people
accept because they have not seen it. There is a sort of trust.
If you break that down and if you have a very real problem with
the armed servicesthe armed services are very unhappy about
the Iraq war at every levelwe have to address that problem.
It is up to you chaps to do this but this is Parliament's job
now. Things have gone very badly wrong. Irrespective of your view
on whether or not we should have gone into Iraq, things have gone
very badly wrong and I hope you do address it. In a strange way,
I think you are addressing it in a very fundamental way. By looking
at these memoirs, you have the opportunity to ask, "Why has
this situation occurred?". It does throw a very refreshing
insight into what is happening.
Lord Lawson of Blaby: On diaries,
I do not think there were any Cabinet colleagues writing diaries
when I was in government. The only minister who it was well known
was writing a diary was Alan Clark but he was writing purely for
the purposes of entertainment and very entertaining it was too.
He was never a member of the Cabinet anyway. He was a junior minister.
We knew that a lot of people were going to write their memoirs
in due time. I do not think that worried anybody at all and it
has certainly never worried me. It is bad practice to write a
diary because at times it does get in the way of your own effectiveness
as a minister. The diary tends to become more important than the
job you are meant to be doing. Even with diaries, and I think
diaries and memoirs come to much the same sort of thing, it is
a question of what you put in when you publish. As for the rather
more serious point, the breakdown which has been discussed, I
think it is a mistake to think of the problem as being a move
from Cabinet government to Prime Ministerial government and that
we need to go back to Cabinet government. This is an old chestnut.
For a very, very long time, we have had a mixture of Prime Ministerial
government and Cabinet government. It is not something new. Many
people think, quite rightly, that Margaret Thatcher was a strong
Prime Minister but there was a mixture of Prime Ministerial government
and Cabinet government during her time. The big question is not
whether it is Prime Ministerial government or Cabinet government
but how the Prime Minister of the day conducts his or her aspect
of the government and how he or she insists that Cabinet government
is going to be conducted. It is the ground rules which are laid
down by the Prime Minister of the day and these other ad hoc,
institutional matters which David Owen was mentioning, which of
course are far more acute in the field of foreign, defence and
security policy than they are in the field of economic policy
which I was chiefly concerned with, although as a member of the
Cabinet you are also concerned with a lot of other things. Even
in the area of economic policy there are a lot of important issues
which have to be discussed and it is better if they are discussed
in a reasonably orderly and rational way, a way that does not
lead to a loss of trust between ministers and officials. One of
the great joys of being a Cabinet minister is you have a back-up
team of people who, for the most partnot alwaysare
of exceptional calibre and who work very hard indeed and are,
again most of them, extremely loyal. That is a great national
asset and a great asset for the government. To allow that trust
to break down is very serious indeed.
Clare Short: It is not just the
breakdown of Cabinet discussion. It is serious not having an open
discussion when Cabinet responsibility has gone. When all the
decisions are made in Number 10, the expertise that is in the
Foreign Office and the Department of Education and its linked
practitioners in the field is not being brought to the table when
policy is thought through. When the authority breaks, the departments
are pushed outside and you get poor quality decision making because
the places in our government system where expertise lies are being
excluded and I think that is happening.
Q375 Paul Flynn: Lord Owen, one of
the minor revelations that you made in your original text which
was cut out was about a disagreement in the Jim Callaghan government
on a relatively minor matter about the timing of the cancellation
of a visit involving Iran. You say that Jim wanted to cancel the
visit at an early stage but you wanted to hold on. Your view of
that was influenced by the Queen. "The Queen did talk to
me about her wish not to act too quickly and while the formal
advice was against cancellation this was because, helped by knowing
her view, I persuaded Jim Callaghan who wanted to cancel."
That seems a fairly interesting and possibly very rare example
of the Queen appearing to influence what is a political decision.
Should that not have been kept in the book? Why did you decide
to take it out? You were adamant that you were accurate on this,
although the Palace, I gather, had a different view on it.
Lord Owen: Did I tell you that?
Q376 Paul Flynn: Page 19 is the reference
to the Queen.
Lord Owen: Maybe I did. The Queen
does not take political views but she has an extraordinary way
of making clear what she thinks. It is a great skill. I cannot
remember her ever making any political statement whatever to me
but I can recall many occasions when I was left very clear on
what her view was. I think that is her skill and why ministers
have valued talking to her, travelling with her and gaining from
her knowledge. She is extremely experienced about Africa. She
knows many of the leaders. She has known them since they were
very young presidents or prime ministers. On this particular issue
it was pretty obvious that the Shah was crumbling and the question
was do you let them make the cancellation themselves or do we
do it. It was my view that, with the pace at which it was happening,
it was going to come anyhow. It was my impression that she thought
that as well. I do not think that changed my mind necessarily
but it was a factor and I knew that Jim was pressing to do it
Q377 Paul Flynn: You say it was helped
by your view. You and Her Majesty were on the right side. Jim
appeared to be wrong and was proved to be wrong by subsequent
events. The point is that if, on a far more serious issue, the
future head of state decided to attempt to influence politicians,
should we not know about it? Is this a matter that could be kept
from us by the Radcliffe rules?
Lord Lawson of Blaby: The monarch
is in a very special position. The Queen's views are always the
product of a great deal of experience. She has been on the throne
ever since Winston Churchill was Prime Minister. She has more
experience than anybody else. It is wrong to say that she is seeking
to influence decisions. She expresses a view from time to time
but it is very important for the position of the monarchy that
that should never, ever be revealed in any memoirs or any published
document of any kind.
Q378 Paul Flynn: One of the things
that concerns us greatly on this is the fact that, unlike the
three of you, there are very good reasons for distinguished politicians
writing about their long careers. Some would say Lord Lawson and
Clare were writing after you had a very rough time, I believe,
with unfair criticism in the press and you wanted to put the record
straight. The financial factor of making money was very minor,
if it was a factor at all, in writing yours. We do know that making
money from memoirs is possibly the main impetus for many people
writing their memoirs and they know that, if they are going to
get a great deal of money from them, they have to spice them up.
They have to make sure they are interesting. Do you think there
is a case for sayingand it has been suggestedthat
political memoirs of this type from civil servants or politicians
even should be declared to be Crown copyright and that the money
from them should go to the Treasury, to get rid of this incentive
for people not only to spice up their memoirs but also possibly
to act in a different way while they are doing their jobs in order
to make sure that they have juicy, sexy memoirs to publish for
Clare Short: That is an interesting
suggestion. You could ask how long did Lance Price take to write
his book and what is a reasonable return and the rest he cannot
have. I think it is much more important to get the truth than
the spice and the money because that distorts the truth as well.
If we tighten up the code or make it more explicit, particularly
on the personalised abusive comment level, which I think we could
do, you could use a fine system. You could have rules and, if
they are breached, money is the penalty. That is worth thinking
about. If we want to get books out but stop abuse and if financial
incentives are distorting things, the obvious mechanism to deal
with it is financial.
Lord Owen: I know you are in favour
of boosting government revenue but on this basis Alan Clark's
sexual revelations would be the best way of boosting revenue,
so I do not think it is tittle tattle of government; I think it
is more sex in all memoirs from politicians in future.
Lord Lawson of Blaby: Writing
a decent memoir is extremely difficult. In my case, of all the
jobs I have ever done, I found writing my memoirs the most difficult,
partly because it is such a solitary business, whereas pretty
well everything else you do in life you do as part of a team.
It is reasonable that there should be some reward. There is an
interesting question there and I do not know the answer to it.
You have certain conventions as to what should and should not
be published. You have this dialogue between the Cabinet Secretary
and former ministers. The question is what happens if the ex-minister
is unreasonable in a serious way. In the old days you could threaten
them, though nothing ever was done about it because it was too
much of a sledge hammer, but you could invoke the Official Secrets
Act. People did not want to be in breach of the Official Secrets
Act, even if they were not going to be prosecuted. That went away
with the liberalisation of the Official Secrets Act. Now, it is
really only ostracism. You might be ostracised from the establishment.
Clare Short: With the withdrawal
of all patronage.
Lord Lawson of Blaby: Yes. The
great thing about life peerages is that we do not need to bother
about that. But the establishment will not look after you. Alastair
Campbell said that his memoir was his pension. Whether you should
say, "If you opt for that pension you do not get the other
pension. Your ministerial or Civil Service pension will be withheld"
Q379 Paul Flynn: I think we have
followed that final point. One of the criticisms of Christopher
Meyer's book is that it might permanently affect the kind of trust
that has been there for a long time between ambassadors and politicians.
Because of the revelations that he has made so soon after the
event, while the same people are still in power, that could be
permanently damaging. Do you think it is sensible to write into
the contracts of civil servants bars on their publishing memoirs
within a certain period after they retire or, as you suggest,
having influences on the contract themselves? There are limits
in their contract to restrict them from publishing matters that
could be damaging to the national interest.
Clare Short: I think it would
be wrong to muzzle civil servants when politicians are allowed
to write, especially when there has been this blurring of roles.
Jeremy Greenstock was a more central player than the non-foreign
policy people in the Cabinet. He knew more; he was fronting things
in the media, just to take one example. To have one set of rules
for politicians and another for civil servants would be wrong.
I think rules about revealing things about civil servants who
cannot answer back still have to be attended to. I think we could
tighten the rules on personalised, abusive comment. My view on
Christopher Meyer is that, one, the trust broke down and, two,
he submitted the book. It is astonishing they did not ask for