Select Committee on Public Administration Written Evidence

Memorandum by Lance Price

  1.  I have been invited to appear before your committee on Thursday 15 December and am delighted to do so. The Committee Secretary has further invited me to submit a written memorandum in advance of my appearance and I hope the following observations will be of some assistance to the Committee.

  2.  I was a Special Adviser at 10 Downing Street from June 1998 to June 2000 when I left to become an employee of the Labour Party until the General Election held on 7 June 2001.

  3.  The Spin Doctor's Diary, which contained material that I recorded in my personal diary at the time, was published in September 2005. More than five years had passed since my employment as a temporary civil servant ended. Two General Elections had been held and the Prime Minister had indicated his intention not to contest the subsequent election as leader of the Labour Party.

  4.  During my time as a Special Adviser I subscribed to the view that rules governing the publication of memoirs and diaries by former ministers, civil servants and special advisers were both necessary and desirable. I have not altered my opinion.

  5.  I first contacted the Cabinet Office on 12 May 2005 to seek their advice on the rules as they now stand. I was sent two documents. The first was an extract from the Civil Service Management Code (Section 4.2). The second was an extract from the Directory of Civil Service Guidance referring to "Memoirs and Books: Publication by Civil Servants". As a former civil servant I took particular regard to two paragraphs, 4.2.5 of the Code which states that "The permission of the Head of their Department and the Head of the Home Civil Service must be sought before entering into commitments to publish such memoirs after leaving the service", and paragraph 3 from the Guidance which says that "Former members of the Home Civil Service . . . are also urged to seek the advice of the Head of their former Department before entering any commitment to publish or broadcast personal accounts of their experience in Crown Employment."

  6.  I visited the Cabinet Office in person on Thursday 23 June 2005 and handed in a copy of the manuscript. I was at that stage anticipating a process of discussion and negotiation over the contents. For that reason I had not made significant changes to the diary entries I wrote at the time of my employment other than to remove reference to the advice of named career civil servants and references to the Prime Minister's family and private affairs. At this stage there was no commitment on behalf of Hodder and Stoughton to publish the Diary and the text had not been shown to newspapers with a view to serialisation. So far as I could tell, I was acting in accordance with the advice I had been given.

  7. Only 1 July 2005 the then Cabinet Secretary, Sir Andrew Turnbull, wrote to me saying he could not agree to publication and that he found the whole premise of a book of this kind completely unacceptable.

  8.  It was only after receipt of this letter, which appeared to rule out any further discussions, that Hodder and Stoughton decided to seek clarification of the legal position with regard to publication.

  9.  On 26 August Hodder and Stoughton wrote to the new Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, explaining that changes had been made to the text on legal advice and expressing the hope that these changes would allay any concerns the government might previously have had. At this point 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 where necessary.

  10.  There then followed a period of negotiation, most of it by telephone, during which a relatively small number of changes were requested by the Cabinet Office. This was done in an entirely positive, constructive and indeed friendly fashion. Not all of the changes requested were accepted but a significant proportion were.

  11.  Given that more than three months had elapsed since contact was first made with the Cabinet Office, and confident of their position following the legal advice they had received, Hodder and Stoughton were now keen to press ahead with publication. Newspapers who had expressed an interest in serialisation were invited to read the text having first signed strict agreements not to divulge any of its contents either verbally or in writing. This was intended to ensure, inter alia, the confidentiality of any changes subsequently agreed with the Cabinet Office.

  12.  Discussions with the Cabinet Office were concluded on 7 September and the page proofs were sent to the printers shortly afterwards.

  13.  On 18 September the Mail on Sunday began the serialisation of The Spin Doctor's Diary. On their news pages they also carried extensive coverage of many but not all of the changes agreed with the Cabinet Office. I was aware of their intention to do so only late the night before when copies of the papers were sent to me by despatch rider. The paper gave no explanation of how it had come by the sections that had since been removed other than to say that "copies of the deleted sections of Price's manuscript have been circulated around No 10". The newspaper had also obtained two letters from the Cabinet Office to which it referred. One was addressed to government departments warning of the forthcoming publication and serialisation. The other was addressed to my editor at Hodder and Stoughton, Rupert Lancaster. At the time Mr. Lancaster had not himself received a hard copy of the letter and when it did arrive several days later it was in an unsealed envelope.

  14.  I have taken this opportunity not to justify or to defend my decision to publish The Spin Doctor's Diary, but merely to explain the sequence of events that led to its publication in its present form and to the publicity that surrounded its serialisation. The process clearly did not operate as it should have done and there are undoubtedly lessons to be learnt from my experience. I look forward to discussing those lessons with the Committee in due course.

5 December 2005

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