Examination of Witnesses (Questions 500
WEDNESDAY 29 MARCH 2006
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
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.