Examination of Witnesses (Questions 440
WEDNESDAY 29 MARCH 2006
Q440 Paul Flynn: The name of the
Greenstock book is The Cost of War and would you not agree
that the cost of war in Britain was born by the 102 families who
lost their loved ones as a result of that decision to go to war
in support of Bush, and is it not more plausible that the reason
you wanted to stop the book was to prevent the full truth of the
war and its aftermath being published?
Mr Straw: No, not remotely the
case, Mr Flynn. You are right to say that those individuals and
their families have born the very high cost of war. As it happens,
from the extracts I read I do not think the book by Jeremy Greenstock
is remotely disobliging about me at all and on the whole from
what I saw it was actually supportive of the Government's case
rather than not supportive. But I come back to this key issue,
which seems to me fundamental for the Committee and to be behind
the whole of these rules, which is that if either Jeremy Greenstock
or Meyer had said to us when they were in meetings with us, "Look,
you need to know that I'm writing all this down and I'm going
to publish a nearly contemporaneous record of confidential discussions
in which I am participating," we would have had to have said,
"Well, thank you very much, but you cannot do your job."
They could not have done their job, is the answer. So there is
an issue here not just about the publication of memoirs, there
is an issue here about how you obtain and maintain good governance
in the interests of the country.
Q441 Paul Flynn: Craig Murray's bookand
you would agree, I believe, that Craig Murray worked in a country
with an odious regime which he alleges routinely murders and rapes
its own citizens using the agents of the state, and in fact he
alleges that they boil prisoners alive. He was distressed by what
he saw in his period as our Ambassador in Uzbekistan and he wants
to get that information in the public domain. He claims that he
was strung along by the officials. At the official level he had
no trouble, it was the exchange of emails, messages and letters,
and he withdrew many parts of the book to accommodate the Government's
objections, but when he got to your level, the political level,
he was stopped and he lays the charge that he was stopped entirely
by you, personally by you. Is that right?
Mr Straw: First of all, let me
make this clear in respect of Craig Murray: we supported Craig
Murray in the position which he took in respect of the abuse of
human rights by the Uzbekistan Government. That is not just in
private, it is true in public as well. If you look through the
human rights reports which we have published over the years, they
clearly supported what he was saying, not least based on his own
reporting. As for the decisions which are currently being taken
in respect of Craig Murray, how it works in government is that
submissions come up to ministers and where a permanent secretary
may, by the rules, have technically the final decision, it is
rare for a permanent secretary to act without seeking the opinion
of the Secretary of State. In the case of Craig Murray, he has
been a deep embarrassment to the whole of the Foreign Office at
an official level as well as of concern to ministers. I made the
final decisions and I can provide the Committee with a note of
the sequence of those decisions, but I am responsible for those
Q442 Paul Flynn: Craig Murray claims
to have under the Data Protection Act and Freedom of Information
Act detailed documents which consist of minutes about the handling
of the disciplinary procedure against him, and in particular he
says they give irrefutable evidence of the detailed personal involvement
of the Secretary of State, Jack Straw, both in holding minutes
and in writing minutes in the setting up and detailed conduct
of the disciplinary charges against him. This evidence is included
in the text of his book and he says that you have repeatedly denied
that you have any connection with the action taken against him.
Is that true?
Mr Straw: I would have to see
the details. Of course the Permanent Secretary kept me informed
about the disciplinary processes which were to be begun against
Craig Murray, but were subsequently withdrawn, a decision with
which I had nothing whatever to do, neither with setting up the
disciplinary process nor its withdrawal, let me say. It is also
quite important to bear in mind that Craig Murray in the end left
the service on medical early retirement, he was not sacked.
Q443 Paul Flynn: He argues that the
laws of defamation, libel, the Official Secrets Act, Data Protection
Act, Freedom of Information Act, the lot, give enough protection
to make sure that he does not overstep the mark so far as the
publication of his book is concerned. His legal advisers approved
the publication of the book.
Mr Straw: His legal advisers?
Q444 Paul Flynn: Yes. The only reason
it has not been publishedand we do not know what is in
itis that your Department and you personally threatened
to use Crown copyright against him, which would involve his publishers
in an expensive legal action and effectively gag Mr Murray. Is
Mr Straw: We have made our position
clear to Mr Murray and that has been laid out in correspondence.
I do not have a copy directly here, but I can get one in a second.
That has been made clear to him. Of course, if you come into a
serviceand I do not believe that even you, Mr Flynn, are
suggesting otherwiseyou sign up to a contract in that service,
accept all the privileges which go with being members of the Diplomatic
Service, but obligations too
Q445 Paul Flynn: What are the obligations
which apply to Christopher Meyer?
Mr Straw: Allow me to finish,
please. If you then break those obligations, or appear to break
those obligations, then of course you must bear the consequences.
Q446 Paul Flynn: But why do they
not apply to Christopher Meyer? Christopher Meyer almost certainly
broke those obligations and you did not act against him because
what he was writing was tittle-tattle, but when someone is writing
something which has serious consequences about our relationship
with America you ban the book?
Mr Straw: No. As I say, there
is this fine but rather important distinction to be made between,
as you describe it, tittle-tattleand much of Meyer's book
was tittle-tattle of the salacious kindwhere the advice
was (and it was pretty clear) that there was no point pursuing
Christopher Meyer through the courts and other circumstances where
the potential damage to the national and the public interest appears
to be more substantial. You have a particular view of our relationship
with the United States, but I think there is a general principle
here which does not only apply to our relationship with the United
States but with Germany, the Russian Federation, the People's
Republic of China and any other country with whom we have diplomatic
relations, which is that those relations cannot be properly conducted
unless the core part of them can be conducted in confidence. I
may say that that was agreed by Parliament when we were taking
through the Freedom of Information Act. So what we are seeking
to do in this is not very different from policies agreed by Parliament
not very long ago after very extensive debates on the Freedom
of Information Act.
Q447 Paul Flynn: How can we be certain
that you are acting in the national interest, or by seeking to
ban these two books acting in your own personal interest to avoid
embarrassment to yourself?
Mr Straw: No, I am not acting
in my own personal interest.
Q448 Paul Flynn: Would that be a
legitimate thing to do, would you say?
Mr Straw: In any event, if I were
to, that would come out in any court action which may take place.
In the case of the book by Sir Jeremy Greenstock, as I say, I
have no criticism of the way he has conducted himself. He was
a very fine diplomat who provided excellent advice to the Government.
I regard him as a friend as well and, as it happensand
I have already said thisso far as I know, the book was
not remotely disobliging about me in any event and on balance
supported the Government's position. In respect of the Craig Murray
book, let me say that Mr Murray has already published an awful
lot of his position on websites, and that has been very well known,
and were there to be legal action I am sure that one of the points
Mr Murray would take would be that there was some kind of personal
interest by me, but there is not and the record books show that.
Q449 Mr Prentice: Is the Foreign
Office going to take legal action against Craig Murray's publishers
if they go ahead and publish the book?
Mr Straw: We have written to Craig
Murray setting out the legal position. I am afraid I am not, Mr
Prentice, going to anticipate decisions we make. We do not know
precisely what the book will contain and where there is any consideration
of legal action it is not wise to air one's options in public,
and I am not going to.
Q450 Mr Prentice: Apparently, there
is going to be a film made with Alan Partridge, Our Man
Mr Straw: Yes, so I see.
Q451 Mr Prentice: What are we going
to do about the film?
Mr Straw: Let us cross that bridge
when we get to it, is the answer.
Q452 Mr Prentice: Craig Murray says
that because you have an interest in all these matters, you should
not be the person who has the final say, it should be an independent
disinterested body of people. There is some force in that, is
there not? If books are being published and they mention Jack
Straw, Foreign Secretary, doing this, that or the next thing,
it would be better if someone other than Jack Straw decided whether
the book should be published?
Mr Straw: First of all, I am toldand
I have not read the Murray bookthat it does not contain
much detail about me. There is no suggestion in the book that
I was personally concerned or involved in his dismissal, and I
was not personally concerned or involved in the disciplinary proceedings,
which in the end were aborted; nor was I involved in the decision
to agree early medical retirement for him, I want to make that
clear. He did, as you know, decide to stand against me in Blackburn.
That was his democratic right. I am sitting here because I won
the election and he is not sitting here because he did not, so
I do not feel any personal animus towards him and we both conducted
ourselves in the way in which people conduct themselves in elections,
and it is his democratic right. The position is that we have not
approved the book, we are not going to pursue legal remedies to
prevent publication, but we have reserved our rights and we will
actively consider our legal options if he publishes. I think that
is entirely reasonable.
Q453 Mr Prentice: Can I go back to
Jeremy Greenstock, whose book is in the fridge at the moment!
He was our man in Baghdad in 2003 and 2004 and he cannot tell
the world about his experiences, but Paul Bremer, who was the
head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, has just published
a book. Have you read Paul Bremer's book?
Mr Straw: I have not read Paul
Q454 Mr Prentice: I do not want to
sound impertinent, but you are the Foreign Secretary. Why have
you not read the book, or had someone in the Foreign Office do
a little précis of it and boil it down?
Mr Straw: I do not want to sound
presumptuous here, but I guess I know a good deal of what is in
it anyway and, frankly, he is not on my reading list.
Q455 Mr Prentice: Does it shock you
that you are not in the index, not one reference?
Mr Straw: No, not at all.
Q456 Mr Prentice: This was in 2003
and 2004, and yet there are lots of references to Jeremy Greenstock.
Mr Straw: Good. He was working
Q457 Mr Prentice: And Bremer is describing
events which Greenstock presumably would describe if his book
was available for publication! It is a funny old world, is it
Mr Straw: Let me just say this:
first of all, of course there will be loads of references to Jeremy
Greenstock in the book because they were working alongside each
other in Baghdad, so it would be astonishing if he wrote a book
about his experiences in Baghdad without mentioning Jeremy Greenstock.
As far as I recall, I only went to Baghdad once during the period
when Bremer was there. The other point, and it is a very important
point, is that you are suggesting that the rules or lack of rules
which apply in the American system should apply to the British
system. Okay, but the two are not cognate and in the American
system, as we all know, the whole of the senior staff of the administration
are politically appointed. So the conventions and rules which
apply in respect of those staff are completely different from
those which have to apply if you are to have a permanent civil
service which serves successive governments. Mr Prentice, you
know that to be the case, and it is absolutely fundamental. If
we were to have a system in this country where everybody at a
senior level in the Foreign Office, all 460 members of the senior
management service of the British Foreign Office, bar a few, or
even the majority, were political appointees who went through
the same kind of system including agreement in Parliament (as
happened in the States), then the conventions and rules which
should apply in respect of both simply would be different. But
our system is not that system and our conventions and rules have
to be established to take account of ensuring that our system
can operate properly. Since you are the Public Administration
Committee, I just say to you that public administration would
collapse if we had a permanent civil service which simply could
not be trusted by ministers. It would not work.
Q458 Chairman: We are testing both
sides of this argument, and it is a real argument.
Mr Straw: I know you are, and
it is a serious argument and if I may say so, without being impertinent,
it is a really important question which he raises.
Q459 Chairman: But the point is,
we tend to think here the sky is going to fall in if things happen,
and then we find the sky does not fall in. Paul Bremer publishes
his book and the sky does not fall in. The Americans do not say,
"We can no longer conduct our foreign policy because these
people write books like this," and you get Greenstock, as
you say, a very responsible figure, who thinks he has got something
to contribute to public debate, no tittle-tattle, very responsible,
and yet you say he cannot do it, despite the fact that he has
been through all the clearing process?
Mr Straw: He has not gone through
all the clearance process because he did not get clearance, and
he did not get clearance for a very good reason.