Select Committee on Public Administration Written Evidence

Letter to Rt Hon Dr David Owen MP from Sir Robin Butler KCB CVO, Secretary to the Cabinet and Head of the Home Civil Service

  Thank you for forwarding with your letter of 10 May sections of your forthcoming memoirs which have been read in accordance with the guidelines in the Radcliffe Report. I also received today your letter of 23 May with remaining chapters and I will ensure that any comments on these will reach you before the end of next week. The Radcliffe guidelines cover three main areas: national security; confidential relationships within Government on which our system of government is based; and relations with other nations. On this basis, I have a number of suggestions to make. Because of the tightness of your deadline, I have had to prepare these in some haste.

"MI6—GCHQ and the Falklands"

  I should prefer that, as a former Foreign Secretary, you should not acknowledge the existence of SIS or refer by name to Cabinet Committees. But I cannot claim that either of these are damaging to national security, and I must therefore leave the matter to your judgement.

  However, the requirement in Radcliffe that memoirs should not disclose information affecting national security would apply to the following instances, which are considered very sensitive and potentially damaging. [***]

    —  In relation to the strike at GCHQ, I am advised that the references on pages 3 and 4 to the release of sensitive information are not correct and that while the withdrawal of Trades Union rights at GCHQ brought considerable unwelcome publicity, it did not result in highly sensitive information being divulged. In addition, you might want to amend the reference to the "no strike agreement" in the lower part of the main paragraph on page 4 since the membership of at least one of the Unions subsequently rejected such an agreement.


  In this chapter, on pages 2, 4 and 8, there are a number of comments, mainly unfavourable, on officials. I think that these do contravene the requirement in Radcliffe that the ex-Minister "should not make public assessments or criticisms . . . of those who have served under him" especially since those concerned could be identified by the references to the positions they occupied. This could be avoided by:

    —  on page 2 omitting from "The Foreign Office officials concerned . . ." to "Edmund Dell, Denis Healey and Harold Laver . . .". This would also avoid personalised references to the views of political colleagues;

    —  on page 5, the direct reference to Michael Palliser could be amended as follows:

      —  omit "Michael Palliser, who . . ." to "at this time". Substitute "I was warned that George Thomson might be implicated in the Bingham investigation. It was also believed that, given the sensitive mood about sanctions in Carter's Administration, for an incoming British Ambassador to be in any way linked to possible sanction-busting would have been very embarrassing".


  On page 12 of the Iran chapter where you write ". . . the Shah made what our Ambassador, Sir Anthony Parsons, felt was a critical mistake." Sir A Parsons' account in his own book was milder. I suggest that you should delete the words "what our Ambassador, Sir Anthony Parsons, felt was".

  On page 13, I should be grateful if you would delete the second sentence of the second paragraph describing the views of Frank Judd and FCO officials on the supply of CS gas.

  There is one reference to the views of Her Majesty on pages 19-20. I normally ask that references to views of the Queen should be omitted. While I see no substantial difficulty about these views, Buckingham Palace, who have been consulted on this, do not believe that the reference is absolutely accurate, in that advice had been consistently given to the Palace that the visit should not be cancelled until it was actually cancelled by the Iranians. I have no difficulty with the quotation from Elizabeth Longford's book at the end of the chapter on Rhodesia, which is secondhand.

Foreign Secretary 1978

  While I do not need to ask for any amendments to the discussion of nuclear or other weapon matters on security grounds, on page 21 there is an account of the vies and motives of other Ministers. This falls within the fifteen year period proposed by Radcliffe for protection of the views of Ministerial colleagues and I should therefore be grateful if you would remove the personal attribution of views.

  I hope that these comments are helpful: I would of course be prepared to discuss these or any other points if that would be helpful.

24 May 1991

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