Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 500 - 505)



  Q500  David Heyes: I just want to ask one question, which is, are you planning to write memoirs of your own? When you eventually retire from office, will you publish your memoirs or diary?

  Mr Straw: Probably, and I shall ensure that I follow the rules. Andrew Turnbull made the point that political memoirs serve a very important purpose, and they do, but they need to be balanced in their writing against the rules.

  Q501  Mr Liddell-Grainger: This is all fine, it is brilliant, but let us look at Wright. Wright went out to New Zealand, he wrote a very damaging book which did an enormous amount of damage. Nothing could be done. We had the embarrassment of the Secretary to the Cabinet beating people over the head with beakers. It was an appalling episode. You can be forthright, you can write as many pieces as you want, and letters, paragraph 10 in the letter we have just had. If they do that, you are stuck?

  Mr Straw: There can always be hard cases, Mr Liddell-Grainger, but hard cases do make bad law. That is not an argument for not having these provisions, even though some people, of course, can get around them.

  Q502  Mr Liddell-Grainger: The second part of that is that Simon Jenkins was in here and he said, "Look, if we sensationalise this in the press, it is big money. It is great for us." So if somebody publishes in, say, New Zealand and then it is picked up here, it is a massive amount of money for the papers and they do very well out of it. Grant said that about Meyer. This is fine, but you are never going to stop it. The genie has gone, it has flown, it has disappeared.

  Mr Straw: I do not accept that and I think that overwhelmingly both civil servants and ministers want to see the conventions and the rules followed because it is a way of achieving good governance.

  Q503  Mr Prentice: The Honours system is in the news very much. Given that Christopher Meyer behaved dishonourably, should he be stripped of his Knighthood?

  Mr Straw: I have got no proposals to do so.

  Q504  Chairman: Let me just ask you, as we end, why are we having all this trouble with diplomats? The only civil servants we are having trouble with are these three ex-diplomats. What is it about the Diplomatic Service which is causing this problem?

  Mr Straw: Let me offer you an answer on that. It is because diplomats are closer as a breed to politicians than are the normal run of domestic civil servants and when they are representing the government abroad they are Her Majesty's Ambassadors or High Commissioners representing the government as a whole, having to speak publicly and with a public profile that no equivalent domestic civil servant has. In most cases, they are able to cope with that. Sometimes, I think they get rather attracted to the idea.

  Q505  Chairman: It turns out that this slippery cad Meyer has performed a great public service by administering a shock to the system, reminding people of the standards and, as Gordon says, "It's a funny old world"?

  Mr Straw: And an even greater public service by prompting this Committee to hold this inquiry!

  Chairman: And we are very grateful to you for coming along and helping us. Thank you very much indeed.

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