4. It is interesting that Clare Short and Robin Cook,
notable Cabinet dissidents, obeyed the established rules for clearing
their memoirs and their texts appear to have been published with
little difficulty. Recently
it has been the memoirs of those who were not politicians that
have caused the greatest controversy.
5. When Lance Price submitted the text of his diary
to the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Andrew, now Lord, Turnbull, the
initial response from Sir Andrew was that "he found the whole
premise of a book of this kind completely unacceptable".
At this point, Mr Price's publishers sought legal advice and he
made changes to his text on the basis of this advice.
Once the changes had been made "the Cabinet Office indicated
for the first time a willingness to discuss the contents of the
proposed book and to consult with a view to proposing changes
Further changes were negotiated. But then the Daily Mail,
which had bought the serialisation rights, published both the
edited and unedited text side by side. Mr Price told us that he
was unaware of the newspaper's intention to do this, and that
he had not given them a copy of the unedited text.
There is thus no evidence on the source of the leaked passages,
but they clearly considerably increased the saleability of the
serialisation. In 1991 The Sunday Times had similarly used
the differences between original proofs and the version approved
by the Cabinet Office as the basis for the story: 'Downing Street
censors Bernard Ingham memoirs'.
Derek Scott commented in Off Whitehall that the Cabinet
Office's attempts to censor him, and the Treasury's criticisms
of him, turned the book from "a work on the politics and
economics of Europe into a publicist's gift".
6. In 2004 Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who had been ambassador
to the United Nations during the run up to the Iraq War and who
had recently retired as Special Representative to Iraq, notified
the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) that he intended to
publish a book on his experiences. As he drafted the book, in
accordance with the rules, he submitted drafts to the FCO, and
officials suggested changes. However, in July 2005, Sir Jeremy
was called in to see the then Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, who
made it clear that, in his view, the basic premise for such a
book was objectionable, even though Sir Jeremy told us:
I was a bit puzzled he was saying it without
having looked at my text, partly I think because what I was writing
was, in my view, in net terms helpful to the Government's case
on Iraq rather than the opposite.
Sir Jeremy submitted further drafts for clearance,
until October 2005, but ultimately decided to postpone publication
7. While negotiations with Mr Price and Sir Jeremy
continued, the FCO became aware, from an advertisement on Amazon
in April 2005, that the recent former ambassador to Washington,
Sir Christopher Meyer, proposed to publish a memoir. The FCO tried,
with growing desperation, to persuade Sir Christopher to submit
his manuscript for vetting in the normal way. A series of increasingly
acerbic exchanges were unsuccessful in this, even though the Diplomatic
Service Regulations clearly state that clearance should be sought
before a manuscript is sent to a publisher.
Ultimately, Howell James, Permanent Secretary, Government Communications,
used his influence with Sir Christopher, whom he knew, to
get the book sent to the Cabinet Office. The manuscript was finally
submitted on 7 October; less than five weeks before the proposed
publication date of 10 November. Given the brush with Mr Price's
lawyers, and the embarrassment that the juxtaposition of edited
and unedited extracts had caused, and with publication pending,
it is perhaps unsurprising that no changes to the text were requested,
and no process of negotiation was entered into. The new Cabinet
Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, wrote to Sir Christopher's publisher
that "the Government has no comments to make on the proposed
book. However, I have to admit to being disappointed that a former
diplomat should disclose confidences gained as a result of his
Since the publication of DC Confidential the Government
has been vocal in its criticism of Sir Christopher's publication,
and has said that he betrayed trust.
Many distinguished former civil servants and diplomats have agreed
with this assessment. It is certainly true that Sir Christopher's
disobliging remarks about ministers contrast sharply with the
limited amount of comment ministers have traditionally been allowed
to make about civil servants.
8. Finally, even though the FCO refused clearance
for Mr Murray's memoir, the work has now been serialised in the
Daily Mail and published.
The Government did not take legal action to stop publication but
have informed us that they will be looking closely at the text
to see whether it does give any grounds for legal proceedings.
9. There have been widely differing assessments of
the significance of current developments. Some of our witnesses
reminded us that we had been here before, that both politicians
and civil servants had published memoirs in the past and, on occasion,
such memoirs had not been approved, or had aroused controversy.
For example, Lord Wilson of Dinton, a former Cabinet Secretary,
reminded us that Sir Bernard Ingham, former Chief Press Secretary
in Number 10, had published his memoirs almost immediately after
leaving the service of government.
On the other hand, Professor Peter Hennessy of Queen Mary, University
of London and Lord Owen, former Foreign Secretary, claimed that
as trust between politicians and civil servants had been eroded,
so those in the permanent service of the state have become readier
to publish their side of the story.
10. Whichever view is right, it is timely to look
at these issues again. The rules governing publication of memoirs
have been examined several times in the past, but the context
in which such books appear has greatly changed since the work
of Lord Radcliffe's committee in 1976 (following the publication
of the Crossman diaries) and Lord Wakeham's committee in 1993
(following the publication of the Lawson memoirs). The Freedom
of Information Act 2000 has given greater access to government
information. The Hutton and Butler inquiries, which reported in
January and July of 2004 respectively, published vast amounts
of information about the way the Government conducts its business.
The Prime Minister holds monthly press conferences. This greater
access to information has been matched by a new electronic information
age where live news is available 24 hours a day, vast quantities
of unregulated information is available on the internet, and anyone
can be their own publisher.
11. We decided therefore to extend our examination
of the current controversies into the first full review of the
rules and procedures governing the publication of political memoirs
for thirty years, and the only such review to be conducted in
12. Some of the issues raised in our evidence will
be discussed in the concurrent inquiries we have been conducting
into the relationship between politicians and civil servants and
the regulation of the ethical conduct of government. In this report,
- the balance between a public
interest in openness and a public interest in preserving free
and frank discussion within government;
- the processes in place to ensure that memoirs
and diaries, when published, are sensitive to this balance of
- the way in which such processes could be enforced.