The question of timing
79. A fundamental issue is when material is published,
in terms of the distance between publication and the events and
people described. As Lord Radcliffe put it "at some point
of time the secrets of one period must become the common learning
Mr Price advanced a contemporary formulation of this "I think
there does come a point at which the argument almost flips over
at which point it is fair to say that there is a presumption that
there is no reason why stuff should not be published unless it
can be demonstrated that it will do harm".
80. But at what point? Although it is easy to acknowledge
that sensitivity diminishes over time, deciding when it is appropriate
to publish (and in what detail) is less straightforward. Less
than two years elapsed between Sir Christopher Meyer's retirement
from the diplomatic service and the publication of his book. Sir
Jeremy Greenstock also encountered considerable opposition on
the grounds of enough time having passed when trying to publish
his memoir, having set the original publication date for only
eighteen months after retiring from the Diplomatic Service. Although
Sir Nicholas Henderson, another former ambassador to the United
States, published his diary, he waited 12 years between retirement
and going to print.
81. Professor Hennessy believed that there should
be a five year restraint on publishing by both ministers and civil
servants, less if there is a change of government during the five
year period. Others
argued, as Radcliffe also had acknowledged, that any time limit
would be arbitrary. Radcliffe had suggested that the rules and
procedures he recommended should apply to an author publishing
within 15 years of the events described in the memoir or diary.
Lord Wilson was against an absolute time limit "because I
can thing of some things which I would not want people to write
after five years and some things in less than five years which
I would not object to".
Instead, he felt that "
you ought to wait until the
main players are no longer active, as it were, until events have
moved on, until the world has moved on".
82. This seems to be widely agreed. Lord Lawson told
us that "One of the considerations I felt I should attach
and did attach some weight to was that 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".
Mr Alastair Campbell told the Committee that:
I do intend to publish a series of books about
my experiences in politics at some time, but I would consider
it wrong to publish in a manner, or at a time, detrimental to
the interests of the Government or the Party I served. With our
media and politics as they are, I am in little doubt that publication
would be used to try to damage the Government, the Labour Party,
the Prime Minister and others. For that reason alone, I have decided
against early publication.
83. However, Mr Price argued that:
Two general elections have been and gone since
I worked for Tony Blair and he has said that he will not be fighting
another. Most of the men and women who appear in these pages have
already moved on to other things or are about to do so. Some people
will say that it is still too soon to reveal anything that went
on away from the distrustful eyes of the media and the public.
84. Different time limits may be appropriate for
different types of work. Diaries, by their very nature, contain
raw information about events inside a government, and can both
enthral and embarrass. Lord Donoughue felt it necessary to wait
thirty years before he believed it appropriate to publish his
diary account of the Wilson administration. A minister resigning
from a government may want to publish his or her version of events
immediately, and feel entitled to, as with Robin Cook and Clare
Short. Similarly, it may be appropriate for more analytical or
contextual works to appear relatively quickly, while confidences
about those still in office, whether politicians or civil servants,
should be delayed longer.
85. As a general principle, the longer the memoir
writer waits, the more they may possibly reveal. The exact trade-off
will depend on the nature of the material, whether those who would
be affected by publication are still in office, and the author's
former position. A diary, as a more intimate account, is likely
to need a longer wait before publication in full. Although broad
guidelines may be helpful, a fixed time period before publication
is unlikely to be applicable to the variety of cases and circumstances.