Supplementary memorandum by Sir Christopher
The purpose of this memorandum is two-fold:
firstly, to address issues arising on 15 December
from Mr Prentice's questions and Lord Turnbull's evidence. Mr
Prentice's unfounded allegations of lying are sufficiently serious
to warrant a more comprehensive rebuttal than I was able to give
at the hearing; and I did not, of course, see Lord Turnbull's
evidence until after the session;
secondly, to underline the deficiencies and
contradictions in the clearance process to which I submitted my
bookand to suggest a remedy.
It needs to be repeated that Chapter 5 of Diplomatic
Service Regulations (DSR 5) requires permission to be obtained
before publishing books or articles; taking part in broadcast
programmes; doing interviews with the media; writing letters for
publication in the press; giving lectures or speeches; and taking
part in conferences or seminarsif any of these draw on
information or experience gained in the course of official duties.
In other words books are grouped with everything else.
These rules have been constructed primarily
for those still in service. But they are also supposed to apply
indefinitely to retired diplomats.
In practice the FCO appears to make a pragmatic
distinction between those still serving and those who have retired.
That at least has been my experience. On returning to London from
Washington on retirement in March 2003, I informed the Permanent
Under-Secretary, Sir Michael Jay, that I had been offered contracts
by Channel Four News and ABC News to comment on the Iraq war.
Sir Michael did not ask me to clear my lines in advance with the
FCO. His only comment was to offer help with background briefing
should I need it.
In the next two and a half years or so, I gave
many speeches, lectures and interviews; wrote a couple of articles;
and sent a letter to the press. Though from time to time I sought
briefing from Foreign Office contacts, at no stage did the FCO
invoke DSR 5 in relation to this activity and request me to seek
clearance in advance. This included an occasion on 4 June 2004
when Sir Michael called me to convey the displeasure of Ministers
at remarks on UK-US relations I was alleged to have made to the
media. Sir Michael disputes this and claims that he did, on that
occasion, invoke the rules.
It appears to be this difference of opinion
between Sir Michael and me that prompted Mr Prentice to make his
first allegation of lying. It is a false allegation. The essential
reference material is the correspondence
between the Foreign Office and me between 30 June and 15 August
2005, which the Committee has in its possession and which appears
to have been given to the press. The correspondence includes an
exchange of letters between Sir Michael (26 July) and me (7 August).
In my reply to Sir Michael I set out my version of our 4 June
2004 conversation, based on contemporaneous notes. I stand by
this version. Sir Michael did not reply to my letter.
Mr Prentice's second allegation of lying is
equally without foundation. He asserted that it was a "complete
lie" for me to have said that the FCO had never been in touch
for two years. I never said any such thing. This is obvious from
the very correspondence between the FCO and me that Mr Prentice
cited. The point at issue was not the fact of a contact between
me and the FCO in 2004; but what Sir Michael Jay and I said to
However, none of the above was reason for not
clearing the manuscript of my book in advance of publication;
and at no stage in these exchanges did I say that I would not
show it to the Government. But it did set a context. In the correspondence
referred to above, I pressed the FCO to explain the discrepancy
between their approach to books and that to other forms of public
expression by retired diplomats. It was also notable that, until
the end of June 2005, the Department had shown no interest in
the book despite my publishers' having announced very publicly
in April 2005 that they had signed me up; and despite my having
discussed the book with senior FCO officials from the autumn of
Following the exchanges with Sir Michael Jay
described above, Richard Stagg, the FCO's Director for Corporate
Affairs, telephoned me in the second week of August to ask, among
other things, where matters rested with my book. I explained yet
again that the manuscript was still not finished. Mr Stagg followed
up what had been a very reasonable conversation by writing to
me on 15 August, the last piece of correspondence between the
FCO and me and, again, in the Committee's possession. Mr Stagg's
letter offered a fair basis on which to proceed and to submit
my manuscript when finished. It said that he would be in touch
with me again in early September.
In the event it was not Richard Stagg, but Howell
James, Permanent Secretary for Government Communications at the
Cabinet Office, who called me in early September. He asked that
I submit my manuscript to the Cabinet Office. This I agreed to
do once it was finished. It was understood that the Cabinet Office
would show the manuscript to interested Departments, notably the
FCO. I finished the manuscript on 13 September. The page proofs
were sent by my publishers to the Cabinet Office on 7 October.
In his evidence to the Committee, Lord Turnbull
alleged that I had made contractual arrangements for the publication
of my book, which, in effect, presented the Government with a
fait accompli: that publication had gone beyond the point of no
return by the time I submitted the manuscript. There is a similar
inference to be drawn from the Foreign Secretary's written answer
to Mr Prentice of 28 November, where it is suggested that I withheld
submitting my manuscript until the last minute before publication.
These allegations are false. They are based
on a misunderstanding of how publishing works. I handed in the
last three chapters to my publishers on 13 September. As soon
as the manuscript had been edited and turned into page proofs,
it was, as stated above, submitted to the Cabinet Office on 7
October. Two weeks later, on 21 October, the Cabinet Office telephoned
my publishers to say that the government had no comment to make
on the book. Following this clearance, the publishers decided
on 24 October to make 10 November the date of publication.
My publishers were, of course, extremely keen
to publish before Christmas and were organised to do so. They
pressed the Cabinet Office to conduct the clearance process as
fast as possible. But, had the Cabinet Office raised objections,
or sought extensive changes, the publication of the book would
almost certainly have had to be delayed; the publishers could
not have pressed ahead against my wishes. There would have followed
the process of negotiation described to the Committee by Lords
Turnbull and Wilson, both of whom presided over the publication
of numerous memoirs by politicians and special advisers.
It has to be understoodand I would be
surprised if this were not the case in the Cabinet Officethat
entering into a contract with a publisher is an elastic transaction
(it has also to be said that it makes no sense for former civil
servants, as opposed to those still serving, to submit to the
Government anything other than a manuscript edited by a publishing
house for publication). My publishers were aware from the beginning
of the requirement to show my manuscript to the Government and
the question mark this could put over the publication date. I
myself completed the manuscript two months later than stipulated
in my contract. I thought it more than likely publication would
be put back to the spring. Sir Jeremy Greenstock has been reported
in the press as saying that he has put his manuscript in the "fridge",
despite his having signed a contract to publish his book in 2005.
There was, therefore, no question of the Cabinet Office being
confronted with a fait accompli: the button to publish
was pushed after the process of clearance was completed.
Finally, there is the question of what constitutes
"clearance". In my own case the Government have surrounded
the issue in a fog of confusion, which makes a mockery of the
system. This goes as far as Lord Bassam's saying in the House
of Lords that "it would be wrong to say that they [the memoirs]
were cleared", a notion echoed by the Chairman's apparent
incredulity that I should believe my book to have been cleared.
If the book was not cleared, then what exactly was the process
to which I submitted it at the invitation of the Cabinet Office?
It took more than two weeks before, on 8 November,
my publishers received a four-sentence letter from the Cabinet
Secretary confirming the 'phone message of 21 October that the
Government had no comment to make on the book. But in the very
next sentence Sir Gus O'Donnell made a comment: to the effect
that he was disappointed that a diplomat should disclose confidences
gained as a result of his employment. The nature of these alleged
confidences was not disclosed.
Mr Straw's written answer to Mr Prentice of
28 November takes a similarly contradictory approach, replete
with comment. He lists the criteria for assessing texts: harm
to national security or defence; harm to international relations;
and harm to confidential relationships within government. He says
that the book was judged against the "standard criteria for
clearing [my emphasis] publications under the rules".
He then goes on to say that no changes were sought to the book
because it did not offend the first two criteria: harm to national
security and harm to relations with the US.
As to judging the book against the third criterionharm
to confidential relationships within governmentMr Straw
takes a different tack. Without providing any detail, he levels
the charge that I breached trust and confidence, a most serious
accusation. If that is the case, a number of questions need to
be asked. What were the breaches? Why did the clearance process
not pick up them up and request that I make changes? If, as the
Foreign Secretary asserts, the book "undermines the key relationship
between civil servants and ministers", why was it allowed
to pass? Why is it that the government, having said that it would
make no comment, has commented extensively since?
To eradicate the inconsistencies and deficiencies
currently surrounding the publication of political memoirs does
not call for radical surgery such as new legislation or the placing
of material under Crown copyright. The Radcliffe criteria at the
heart of the present system remain perfectly serviceable. What
is missing is consistency and clarity in their application and
in the definition of the duty of confidentiality. There should
be, for example, a level playing field for civil servants, special
advisers and ministers on leaving Government.
But the machinery for reviewing political memoirs
may need strengthening: for example, by a small committee, chaired
by the Cabinet Secretary, comprising some permutation of publicly
appointed lay members, special advisers and civil servants, who
will read and rule on manuscripts. The Committee would decide
both on content and on where the public interest lies as to the
timing of publication. This case-by-case approach would seem preferable
to setting an arbitrary and universal timescale before memoirs
can be published.
As for enforceability, a requirement to submit
manuscripts to, and respect the judgement of, the committee should
be written into civil servants' and diplomats' contracts. The
work of the committee would be made easier if Civil and Diplomatic
Service rules made a distinction between those still working and
those in retirement, where this is sensible.
12 January 2006
1 1. Yasamee to Meyer 30 June
2. Meyer to Yasamee 12 July
3. Jay to Meyer 26 July
4. Meyer to Jay 7 August
5. Stagg to Meyer 15 August Back