Select Committee on Public Administration Fifth Report

3  Determining the public interest

The issues

26. The issue at the heart of the current debate about memoirs is fundamentally the same as that which concerned Baldwin, Bridges, Radcliffe and Wakeham: the balance between a public interest in confidentiality and a public interest in openness. Some of our witnesses claimed that given the legal framework provided by the European Convention on Human Rights as incorporated by the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Freedom of Information Act 2000, it would be difficult for governments to justify keeping any information from the public, other than that covered by the Official Secrets Act.[37] However, the right to freedom of expression provided under article 10(1) of the Convention is not absolute; it is accompanied by duties and responsibilities, and may be limited by legal restrictions to protect reputation, or prevent disclosure of information received in confidence. In the same way, there are exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act for various types of information including:

  • information which may do damage to national security;
  • information which may damage international relations; and
    • information which may prejudice the conduct of public affairs or relate to policy formulation.

The latter two exemptions are subject to a public interest test: that any harm which may come from releasing information covered by these exemptions must be balanced against the wider public interest in releasing the information. Special provision is made for national security by way of ministerial certificates and appeals therefrom.

27. It is striking that the exemptions used in the Freedom of Information Act repeat those used in the Radcliffe Report thirty years ago. National security, harm to the conduct of international relations and damage to the internal workings of government are to be protected in each case. There is also the common acceptance that requirements of privacy diminish over time. The question for our inquiry is how these principles should be applied now, and where the balance of public interest between confidentiality and openness in relation to memoirs of government is to be struck.

28. There is much less argument about the need to maintain confidentiality in the interest of national security and conduct of international relations. Not only is it generally agreed that information which would prejudice national security should not be published, but there are sanctions in the Official Secrets Act to prevent such publication. The notion of harm to international relationships and the potential consequence of any such damage are relatively easy to comprehend, even though assessing what is likely to cause such harm in particular cases may still be a matter of judgement, as the difficulties over Mr Murray's memoir may show.

29. It is much more difficult to define the category which the Radcliffe Report terms as "information the disclosure of which would be destructive to confidential relationships" which exist between ministers and ministers and ministers and civil servants. As the Radcliffe Report goes on to explain "its application to any given set of circumstances calls for what is essentially editorial judgement"; it "does not break down easily to any set of precise rules".[38] We need to consider whether this category still needs protection and, if so, what criteria should guide the judgements.

Confidential relations within government

30. Those who believe there is a public interest in favour of a protected sphere of private deliberation and debate in government argue that:

i.  free and frank discussion is valuable and can only take place within government if there is trust that confidences will be kept between ministers and civil servants and between minister and minister;

ii.  the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility requires all decisions to be those of the whole Cabinet, with the views of individual Cabinet ministers kept out of the public eye; and the principle of individual ministerial responsibility requires civil service advice to remain private;

iii.  there will be damaging consequences for government if there is no belief among participants that confidences will be kept, not least in confining government to an ever more closed circle.

31. However, there is also a public interest in openness, on the grounds that:

i.  knowing as much as possible about what governments are doing is necessary so that there can be proper democratic accountability;

ii.  there is a wider historical and educative value in such knowledge, increasing understanding of how government works, the background to events, and lessons for the future; and

iii.  those involved in events have a right to publish accounts of their actions and experiences.


32. There is therefore a strong public interest in favour of openness, and this includes ensuring that accounts of the workings of government are available. Indeed, successive governments have recognised this in their sponsorship of official histories. Distinguished academics have been given extremely wide access to official papers to help them provide an authoritative account of periods and events. Official histories perform a valuable function; we applaud the financial support and access to papers which successive governments have made available for them and recommend that this practice continues.

33. But there can be many perspectives on events. As Tony Benn said "[The] truth has many sides to it".[39]

34. The introduction to Lord Lawson's memoir, described as "almost a text book" by Lord Turnbull, explains that "Most books about how decisions are taken in government tend to be written by academics or journalists; …indeed as a journalist many years ago, I co-wrote one myself. This book gives the view from the inside".[40] This 'process of government' argument does not only apply to former politicians: Mr Price and Sir Christopher Meyer each felt that they were, as Mr Price put it "demystifying the process by which we are all governed".[41]

35. This argument is particularly strong when it comes to insider views of important events. Sir Jeremy Greenstock explained that he had wished to write The Cost of War because:

    I felt the subject itself, the whole saga of Iraq, was rapidly becoming, and indeed has become, the seminal foreign policy issue of the era, and I gradually moved into a state of wanting to explain as clearly as I could within the rules what happened, how things turned out as they did, in order to allow the public to have a more informed debate about it.[42]

He felt such a book would allow "the lessons to be learned from the true story rather than from assumed facts or distortions of facts…".[43] Clare Short and Robin Cook also gave their views about the conflict in their memoirs. Jack Straw agreed that:

    …above all, with issues of war it is crucial that there are records and that these records are in due course available for scrutiny by historians, by parliamentarians and the public. That has always been the case and that is absolutely fundamental because in war, more than anything else, ministers should be fully accountable, responsible and answerable for the decisions which they have advised Parliament of, and they have put men and women in harm's way and some of them will have been killed and injured, which has been the case in respect of Iraq.[44]

36. Clare Short argued that both officials and politicians should be free to publish, so that the public was properly informed about what she viewed as important constitutional changes:

    books are needed … so people can discuss and decide what is happening to our constitutional arrangements, how decisions are being made, where the flaws are and what we can do about it.[45]

37. There is value in contemporary diaries as well as more considered recollections. Tony Benn provided the Committee with a copy of his unedited diary and the Cabinet Minute released under the thirty year rule of the Cabinet Meeting of 18 March 1975, in which the Cabinet "agreed to differ" over positions on the EEC Referendum. Mr Benn's diary gives us a much fuller flavour of the intensity of discussion between Cabinet members than the official record, and attributes direct quotes to his Cabinet colleagues. He also reflects that, "… the effect of a referendum and the Common Market discussion is to produce some very deep discussion about the meaning of government. I really wonder whether many of my colleagues have thought about it".[46]

38. The memoir can also function as self-justification, or as a means to expose what is seen as wrong doing. The first is most familiar from the work of former ministers, while someone like Mr Murray seems to be driven, at least to some extent, by a desire to expose what he sees as wrong.

39. There is no doubt that there is a strong public interest in the publication of political memoirs and diaries. They provide insights into the processes of government and the nature of key events. The question is to what degree that public interest needs to be balanced against other public interest considerations, and how that balance is to be struck.


40. If there is a public interest in publication, is there a countervailing interest in restraint? We believe there is. The relationships between minister and minister, and minister and adviser (whether civil servant, diplomat, or special adviser) are critical in ensuring effective government. Even though it has been argued that these relationships have changed in recent years, there still remains a strong public interest in maintaining a protected space for the confidential discussions and frank advice that good government needs.

41. The difficulty is that what is regarded as acceptable will shift over time. This shift may itself be a symptom of wider and more significant changes. Memoirs have aroused concern because they revealed too much, too soon, about views expressed in the Cabinet, or spoke too freely about named civil servants.

42. Peter Riddell of The Times reminded us:

43. Both Lord Lawson and Lord Owen had lengthy negotiations about what they could and could not properly say. Lord Owen's correspondence with the Cabinet Secretary shows that he readily accepted that "I should not criticise in any way any identifiable civil servant", although he considered he would retain some general references to the official view—and "as to Cabinet ministers they are well able to look after themselves".[48]

44. The focus of anxiety most recently has been that memoir-writing public servants might refer to ministers inappropriately. Jack Straw told us "public administration would collapse if we had a permanent civil service which simply could not be trusted by ministers. It would not work".[49] Sir Michael Bichard, a former Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education, agreed:

    The relationship between secretaries of state, ministers and civil servants is based upon trust and confidence, particularly when policy advice is being given. It is absolutely wrong for a former civil servant or an official at any time to be writing memoirs of this sort; it damages the relationship which others are trying to develop and sustain with their ministers.[50]

45. In a leaked memorandum, the Head of the Diplomatic Service, Sir Michael Jay, also warned diplomats that:

    …we cannot service ministers effectively unless they trust and confide in us, which they will only do if we respect that confidence, not just when we are doing our jobs but afterwards too. If we don't have ministers' trust, they will not consult us, involve us, or take our advice - and we will all lose, ministers, the Diplomatic Service, and the conduct of foreign policy, under no matter what administration.[51]

46. Lord Turnbull told us that civil servants should be silent because:

    They have enjoyed, in some sense, the privilege of permanency. They are always on the winning side and they give their advice in confidence; they do not take the credit and they do not take the blame.[52]

47. Some of our witnesses felt that the relationship between ministers and civil servants had altered to such a degree that these conventions about the roles and responsibilities of the partners in what Professor Hennessy terms "the governing marriage" no longer held.[53] Sir Christopher Meyer told us that he did not damage the relationship between ministers and civil servants because that "classic relationship" does not exist any more.[54] Sir Christopher believed that "There should be the same rules for politicians and civil servants".[55] His views were shared by Clare Short.[56]

48. Lord Owen told us he believed the publication of memoirs and diaries by former civil servants was a symptom of a wider problem:

    It seems now, from the outside, that the undoubted mess we are in over political memoirs or diaries from politicians and civil servants is that the traditional separation between impartial administration and political decision making has become damagingly blurred. …I have never known a time in the last 40 years when there has been so much disillusionment, bordering on contempt, for politicians by civil servants and diplomats and vice-versa.[57]

49. We are looking at the state of the "governing marriage" in our inquiry into politics and administration. We do not attempt to judge in this report how ministerial and civil service accountability should be related. We are not convinced that the relationship has broken down as badly as Professor Hennessy and Lord Owen suggest. Not one of the former Home Civil Service permanent secretaries who appeared before us in this or other inquiries contemplated publishing memoirs.[58] All agreed it was entirely inappropriate. The two groups who have published have been former special advisers, who have no security of tenure, and former diplomats who have increasingly been expected to speak in public for government.[59] Jack Straw noted that:

    … 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. [60]

50. Sir Christopher Meyer's memoirs caused such consternation precisely because it was feared that their publication would serve to undermine traditional relationships of trust and mutual confidence. This view was graphically expressed by Lord Turnbull:

When a minister goes abroad he has two choices: to stay in the residence or to stay in a hotel. I and my colleagues have always urged a minister to stay in the residence, where they can make full use of the ambassador's experience; it is better for them and better for the ambassador. What chance, you might ask, do we have of succeeding when ministers feel they are going to have their confidences betrayed or even sneered at?[61]

51. Lord Renwick, a former ambassador to the United States, also explained that:

Sir Christopher has published the book we all would have loved to write about bumbling ministers, feckless royals and mistakes which, in retrospect, should have clearly been avoided. The difficulty in actually doing so is that it is liable to worsen the tendency he deplores of prime ministers' relying increasingly on their personal staff and political appointees, rather than the mandarins who are supposed to advise them behind closed doors. "Put not your trust in princes", says Meyer. You had better not put them in ambassadors either, will be the response of many politicians.[62]

52. Any change to the relationship between ministerial and official accountability will affect the degree to which restraint after retirement is appropriate or likely. If civil servants are expected to be more directly accountable, some of the arguments for restraint may be eroded. What is said in memoirs may not simply reflect change, but may itself bring it about. If it comes to be considered unexceptionable for recently retired public servants to publish memoirs which contain personal remarks about ministers and observations on their policies, or if politicians start to identify and criticise named civil servants in their memoirs, the terms of the "governing marriage" would have altered to such an extent that it is hard to see how traditional doctrines of ministerial and civil service accountability could continue.

53. Able people will not go into public service if it offers the prospect of regular denigration, without the opportunity to justify their actions. Ministers will not trust permanent officials if their confidences are likely to be broken, or if they are routinely denigrated. If that trust is lost, governments will increasingly look outside the Civil Service for advice and support. There will be more political appointments as with the appointment of former ministers as High Commissioners to South Africa and Australia in 2005. A single indiscreet memoir can be shrugged off as an aberration, but if it becomes usual for officials to publish said books within a year or two of their retirement, ministers will have strong incentives for preferring to bring their own supporters into key posts. Then the terms of the governing marriage really will have changed.


54. A major and inescapable factor is that the market is strongest for the most personal and immediate material. It can seem convenient that public interest arguments and prospects of private gain have a happy tendency to coincide. Lord Wilson thought there were three motivations at work when former ministers and civil servants published their diaries and memoirs: to set the record straight; to make money out of their experiences; and what he termed "vanity or pride".[63]

55. The question of motive is sharpened as more money is involved. It is in the financial interest of memoir writers to get their accounts published as soon as possible, and to ensure that they are titillating. Not only do authors have a publishing contract to consider, but newspaper fees as well. These do much to encourage the "instant" and "juicy" memoir. Sir Simon Jenkins told us that he could:

    remember very well a certain Chancellor of the Exchequer, who shall be nameless, inquiring as to what his memoirs might be worth and the answer was: 'A quarter of a million tomorrow, £100,000 next week, £10,000 two months from now. How fast can you write them?' It was as simple as that—because there were going to be no sales two months from then. It is show business.[64]

Mr Price is reported to have received £150,000 from his book's serialisation and Sir Christopher Meyer reportedly received £250,000, although this was donated to charities (including one employing his wife).[65] Mr Price conceded that there was a marketing imperative to get his book published before Alastair Campbell, the former Director of Communications at Number 10, published his own account.[66] This attention to marketability is also evident in the introduction to DC Confidential in which Sir Christopher Meyer thanks the novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford "who took much trouble to help me make the transition from the clipped prose of the Civil Service to something which is, I hope, more entertaining to the reader".[67] The pressure to amuse appears to have become harder to resist. Sir Simon Jenkins recounted that "We offered Whitelaw to help him with his memoirs on The Sunday Times and he said, 'Why?' They said, 'We think we can make them a bit more interesting' and he said, 'Good God, no'".[68]

56. Even Mr Benn, an enthusiast for memoir-writing by both former politicians and civil servants, concedes that "it is malice, not information, which damages the conduct of public business, malice which flourishes in gossip and the media".[69] But the system puts a premium on tale telling. John Lloyd, of the Financial Times, explained the market that now exists for such revelatory books:

Politicians and politics and public figures have become much more the feed-stuff of entertainment in satire shows, comedy shows, so that politics or news about politics has to some extent migrated from the hard to the soft part … and that has vastly increased the market for gossip, for revelation, above all, about character, and that is where Sir Christopher Meyer, with a clearly and finely tuned nose to the market, put his memoir … the market for character stories is now vastly increased, because the soft news, entertainment news, about politicians, especially, obviously, leading politicians, prime ministers, cabinet secretaries and so on, has expanded hugely in the last 20 or 30 years.[70]

57. There is a limited market for stories of statesmen and public servants doing their best in a complex world, but a lively market for revelatory, controversial, personal and salacious material.

58. The strength of the market for sensational or titillating material makes it even more important that there should be a clear understanding about the kind of discretion necessary to protect relationships inside government. We have no doubt that some discretion is necessary, on both sides. The dangers do not come from the single shocking memoir, but from the steady erosion of confidence and trust driven by the prospect of commercial gain.

Who and what needs to be protected?

59. Some witnesses proposed that there should be different rules for officials, ministers and special advisers, reflecting the fact that they had different roles and accountabilities. Lord Donoughue, who has been both a special adviser and a minister, told us that:


60. The latitude allowed to ministers in publishing their memoirs is explained by the doctrine of accountability. Ministers naturally wish to describe and defend their conduct in office and, on occasion, their reasons for leaving government. This was recognised by Sir Edward Bridges in the 1920s:

It was reiterated by Lord Turnbull:

    I think a minister, in effect, has a right to publish memoirs: they are directly accountable and are entitled to give an account of their stewardship.[73]

and by Lord Lawson:

    Ministers after they have retired from office should be able to say exactly what they were seeking to do, why they were seeking to do it, how it worked out and so on.[74]


61. However, there should nevertheless be some limitations on the freedom of former ministers to publish. The Ministerial Code states that "Collective responsibility requires that ministers should be able to express their views frankly in the expectation that they can argue freely in private while maintaining a united front when decisions have been reached. This in turn requires that the privacy of opinions expressed in Cabinet and Ministerial Committees should be maintained".[75] This obligation of confidentiality was confirmed by Lord Widgery in the 1975 Crossman case.[76]

62. Some commentators have questioned the extent to which the basis for collective responsibility still exists. The changing nature of the operation of Cabinet government has been described by Lord Butler in his Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction.[77] Clare Short has been extremely critical of collective decision making in government, claiming that the old constitutional system no longer functions, with too much authority held by Nunber 10. [78]

63. This alleged erosion of Cabinet government has been accompanied by off-the-record briefing of journalists by insiders, and the publication of 'unofficial' books about the Blair Government. Andrew Gamble has noted that through the briefing of journalists by ministers "personal and political conflicts within governments are exposed much earlier than they would otherwise be".[79] Biographies can also be informed by inside cooperation, such as Paul Routledge's 1998 biography of Gordon Brown or Stephen Pollard's 2005 biography of David Blunkett which famously included disobliging comments by Mr Blunkett on some of his then Cabinet colleagues.[80]

64. Yet there remains a world of difference between tactical leaks or indiscretions and instant exposure of all the debates and differences within government. It is notable that those who brief journalists do not generally leak Cabinet minutes. Mr Benn, a staunch defender of openness, told us that he could not have published his diaries when he was still in the Cabinet.[81] We believe there is an important difference between general ministerial briefing to journalists, or even careful steers to biographers, and memoirs or diaries which give detailed accounts of recent discussions which are expected to remain private.

65. There has to be a degree of confidentiality within government even in the relationship between politicians. Cabinet government would not be improved if those around the table were aware that any one or more of them was intending to publish their own account of Cabinet the moment the meeting had ended. On the other hand, it has long been accepted that politicians will legitimately wish to give an account of their actions, and that this will involve giving an account of the internal workings of government, including—after an appropriate time—of Cabinet.


66. If there has traditionally been latitude in the approach taken to published accounts of politicians' relationships with one another (for example, Robin Cook and Clare Short were able to publish frank accounts of the disagreements with their colleagues very soon after leaving government), a different view has been taken of accounts of the professional relationships between politicians and civil servants.

67. Much effort has been directed at ensuring that ministerial memoirs do not identify the advice given by named civil servants. This was one of the main concerns of both the Radcliffe Report and Lord Wakeham's Review of 1993, and it remains a key concern today. Lord Turnbull explained that when making suggestions to former ministers about the content of their publications he would give "a lot of attention" to cases where:

68. The concern to protect civil servants can be seen in the negotiations that Lord Lawson and Lord Owen described. We had first-hand experience of it when, during the preparation of the evidence volume of this report, we asked the Cabinet Office to indicate whether any material in the correspondence relating to Lord Owen's memoirs remained sensitive. As we had expected, some deletions were deemed necessary to maintain constitutional proprieties. We had not expected that we would be asked to remove names of officials who had long since left the Service. We agreed to remove names from one passage, since it was clear that Lord Owen was critical of the individual concerned, but feel that the Cabinet Office's approach was over-protective. Free and frank exchanges between politicians and civil servants depend on confidentiality and trust in government, and this implies a degree of subsequent reticence on both sides. As long as serving civil servants are not publicly accountable for their actions and do not publish accounts of their experiences, it would not be right for former ministers (or special advisers) to criticise named civil servants who have no right of reply.


69. If ministerial accountability means that ministers should refrain from criticising named civil servants, then the need to retain ministerial trust in an impartial civil service (Home or Diplomatic) means that civil servants who publish memoirs should be as reticent in their personal observations on ministers, although the degree of reticence that is appropriate may change if the relationship between ministers and civil servants changes, and as events become history.

70. Some works are obviously not contentious. The former ambassador to Cuba, Andrew Palmer, wrote a book about his birdwatching experiences over his career.[83] Others are amusing, but this may not remove their difficulties. One difficulty is that the innocuous book may set a precedent for a more problematic one. For example, it was clear from our evidence that Dame Stella Rimington's work had to be heavily altered, but that it was impossible to resist its publication because memoirs by another former head of MI5 had already been published.[84]

71. The constraints are tested most acutely in relation to books where there is a genuine public interest in their publication. Sir Jeremy Greenstock's book is likely to be a very valuable account of the diplomatic background to one of the most important events of the decade. Its publication could influence thinking on Iraq, which is still a live political issue. There is clearly a strong public interest case on the side of publication. Both Jack Straw and Sir Jeremy indicated that the work was likely to give a more sympathetic account of the Government's actions than many other discussions of these events.[85] Nonetheless, the then Foreign Secretary opposed its publication as a matter of principle (without, it seems, having read it).[86] Later in this report we suggest changes to the system which might allow ministers more confidence that publication of serious works of this nature would not undermine traditional relationships between ministers and officials, and which would allow the competing public interest considerations to be properly evaluated.

72. Civil service guidance and codes emphasise the confidential relationship between ministers and public servants. Public servants are only able to produce saleable reminiscences as a consequence of their position in a non-political public service. Former ministers have largely kept their side of the bargain; public servants should be expected to keep theirs.


73. Special advisers are categorised in the current administrative system as "temporary civil servants". They are appointed by ministers, and their appointing minister is responsible for regulating their conduct. Several special advisers have published memoirs over the last two decades, including Baroness Hogg, Derek Scott and Peter Hyman. Most recently, Lance Price published his diary. He explained the position he was in as a special adviser:

74. In the United States, where large numbers of public officials are appointed on a political basis, memoirs and diaries by these appointees are much more common. For example, Paul Bremer, Presidential Envoy to Iraq in 2003-04, has recently published his memoir My Year in Iraq, whereas Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who was working alongside him, has been prevented from publishing The Cost of War.[88] The former Foreign Secretary considered that the conventions and rules which apply to politically appointed staff such as Paul Bremer were completely different from those which applied to career diplomats, even though he also considered that "special advisers are not accountable for their actions. Although they are political appointees, in terms of their accountability they are in a more similar position to civil servants than they are to ministers".[89]

75. Special advisers occupy a special position, and this brings special obligations of trust. They are closer in kind to ministers than civil servants since they are politically appointed, for a short time only. Unlike ministers, they are not politically accountable in their own right. These considerations affect how they should be treated in the matter of memoirs. An adviser who publishes a juicy memoir may embarrass the minister who appointed him, and betray the trust that was placed in him, but does not necessarily undermine the relationship between politicians and officials. Like ministers, though, they should not identify named officials and their advice.


76. Some of our witnesses suggested that diaries were a particular problem, since the knowledge that someone within an administration is keeping a record of events for publication may itself have an effect on trust inside government. Dr Geoff Mulgan, former Head of the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, has declared that "there is nothing more corrosive to the quality of decision-making than a climate or culture in which every participant is secretly writing their diary under the table".[90] Dr Mulgan worked for the Prime Minister at a time when Alastair Campbell and his deputy Lance Price, were both keeping diaries.

77. The knowledge that diaries exist, and will be published at some point, may ultimately lead to more disclosure, through what Professor Hennessy calls "competitive memoiring" as others attempt to tell their side of the story. Professor Hennessy told us that the future publication of Alastair Campbell's diary would be:

    …the equivalent of an archduke being shot in Sarajevo in July 1914. It will be the opening salvo in the most ghastly mobilisation of the most wonderful exchanges in competitive memoiring. People will have touched the acid keyboard in anticipation of that. I have a slight suspicion… that in anticipation of that day, people have got defensive bits of paper of their own ready to put out.[91]

78. However, unlike Dr Mulgan, Mr Benn's colleagues appeared relatively relaxed about his diary keeping. Lord Wilson told us that when he was working in the Department of Energy in the 1970s, when Mr Benn was a minister, he made no secret of the fact that he was writing a diary, and Lord Wilson did not think it had any effect on those around him at all.[92] Lord Owen told us he remembered "a great moment in Cabinet when Denis Healey was talking. Tony Benn was writing away and Denis slowed down and said, 'Tony, am I going too fast for you?'".[93] The fact that politicians seem to have felt comfortable knowing that their colleagues were keeping diaries, whereas there is some unease at the prospect of diary keeping by officials, may reflect the different nature of political and official responsibility. The real issue is not that diaries are kept but when they are published, and what they can properly include. While current allocations of responsibility remain, it is appropriate that politicians should have greater freedom than officials in these respects.

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 of another".[94] 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".[95]

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.[96]

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.[97] 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".[98] 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".[99]

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".[100] 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.[101]

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.[102]

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.

37   Q 175 Back

38   Report of the Committee of Privy Counsellors on Ministerial Memoirs, January 1976, Cmnd. 6386, para 49. Back

39   Ev 92 Back

40   Q 72; Nigel Lawson, The View from Number 11: Memoirs of a Tory radical (London, Bantam) 1992, p xxix. Back

41   Q 222 Back

42   Q 284 Back

43   Q 318 Back

44   Q 434 Back

45   Q 356 [Short] Back

46   Ev 100 Back

47   Ev 104 Back

48   Ev 89-90 Back

49   Q 457 Back

50   Oral evidence taken on Governing the Future, 8 December 2005, HC (2005-06) 756-i, Q 2 [Bichard] Back

51   As quoted in The Guardian, 12 November 2005, p 39. Back

52   Q 78 Back

53   Q 1 Back

54   Q 194 Back

55   'A most diplomatic skewering of Blair', The Sunday Times, 13 November 2005. Back

56   Q 358 Back

57   Ev 87 Back

58   Oral evidence taken on Politics and Administration, 9 March 2006, HC (2005-06) 660-iii, Q 221 [Butler], and Q 289 [Montagu, Omand, Young and Quinlan] Back

59   Q 320 Back

60   Q 504 Back

61   Q 72 Back

62   Lord Renwick, 'We must be able to trust our diplomats', The Guardian, 14 November 2005, p 39. Back

63   Q 55 Back

64   Oral evidence taken on Ethics and Standards, 2 February 2006, HC (2005-06) 884-i, Q 55 Back

65   'Prescott blasts 'fop' envoy over book earnings', The Observer, 20 November 2005. Back

66   Q 230 Back

67   Sir Christopher Meyer, DC Confidential: The controversial memoirs of Britain's Ambassador to the UK at the time of 9/11 and the Iraq war (London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson), 2005, p x. Back

68   Oral evidence taken on Ethics and Standards, 2 February 2006, HC (2005-06) 884-i Q 54 Back

69   Ev 92 Back

70   Oral evidence taken on Ethics and Standards, 2 February 2006, HC (2005-06) 884-i, Q 3 [Lloyd] Back

71   Oral evidence taken on Governing the Future, 26 January 2006, HC (2005-06) 756-ii, Q 208 Back

72   Memorandum from Sir Edward Bridges' circulated to the Cabinet, May 1946, as quoted in Report of the Committee of Privy Counsellors on Ministerial Memoirs, January 1976, Cmnd. 6386, para 40. Back

73   Q 78 Back

74   Q 357 [Lawson] Back

75   The Ministerial Code, para 6.17. Back

76   Attorney General v Jonathan Cape [1976] Back

77   Lord Butler of Brockwell, Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction: Report of a Committee of Privy Counsellors, HC 898, 14 July 2004, paras 606-611. Back

78   Clare Short, An Honourable Deception? New Labour, Iraq, and the Misuse of Power (London, Free Press) 2004, p 71. See also Q 358, Q 376. Back

79   Andrew Gamble, 'Political Memoirs' in British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 4, No. 1, April 2002, pp 141-151. Back

80   Paul Routledge, Gordon Brown (London, Simon & Schuster), 1998; Stephen Pollard, David Blunkett (London, Hodder and Stoughton), 2005. Back

81   Q 386 Back

82   Q 101 Back

83   Andrew Palmer, A Diplomat and His Birds (Tiercel Publishing), 2005. Back

84   Qq 36-37 Back

85   Q 296 and Q 434 Back

86   Q 437 Back

87   Q 240 Back

88   Paul Bremer, My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope (London, Simon & Schuster Ltd), 2006. Back

89   Q 481 Back

90   BBC Radio 4, Look Back at Power, 5 September 2005. Back

91   Q 2 Back

92   Q 5 Back

93   Q 357 [Lord Owen] Back

94   Report of the Committee of Privy Counsellors on Ministerial Memoirs, January 1976, Cmnd. 6386, para 82. Back

95   Q 229 Back

96   Nicholas Henderson, Mandarin (London, Weidenfeld and Nicholson), 1994. Back

97   Q 3 Back

98   Q 22 Back

99   Q 14 Back

100   Q 364 Back

101   Ev 104 Back

102   Lance Price, The Spin Doctor's Diary: Inside Number 10 with New Labour (London, Hodder & Stoughton Ltd), 2005, p xiv. Back

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