Letter to Sir Robin Butler KCB CVO, Secretary
to the Cabinet and Head of the Home Civil Service, from Rt Hon
Dr David Owen MP
Thank you very much for your letter of 24 May
and the speed with which you have responded. My apologies to those
officials concerned for putting them to all this effort at such
As to the chapter "MI6-GCHQ and the Falklands".
I have reconsidered carefully your request on SIS and Cabinet
Committees but my judgement is that the text should remain unchanged.
I have made the deletions you suggested in full on page 2 and
on page 9. On page 3 I have phrased it so that it is my opinion
that revelations have been made about GCHQ and for what it is
worth I think the advice on this is badly wrong. I have deleted
any reference to revelations stemming from the ABC Trial. I phrased
this badly meaning to imply that we avoided revelations by abandoning
the case. I was unaware that one of the unions subsequently rejected
a no-strike agreement and I have amended that accordingly.
The real reason for writing so quickly back
however relates to how I interpret Radcliffe's guidelines. I agree
that I should not criticise in any way any identifiable civil
servant. I have erred from the path of righteousness from time
to time and I will be very favourably disposed to any corrections
on that score. By and large too I accept that I should not identify
advice though sometimes when it is particularly sensible I think
that civil service morale should be boosted. I am unlikely however
to remove all references to an official view. For example I will
retain all references to officials in the chapter on Rhodesia
on pages 2, 4 and 8. Some of the actions were actually unlawful
and that needs to be stated. I have removed in that chapter the
reference to Sir Michael Palliser on page 5 and in the chapter
on Iran on page 12 to Sir Anthony Parsons and on page 13 to CS
Gas and on page 19 to the Queen. Incidentally for the record the
Palace is wrong. The Queen did talk to me about her wish not to
act too quickly and while the formal advice was against cancellation,
this was because, helped by knowing her view, I persuaded Jim
Callaghan who wanted to cancel weeks before we did.
As to Cabinet Ministers they are well able to
look after themselves and in fact I think Radcliffe's guidelines
have been made obsolete by so many books, radio and television
interviews that I doubt you can even justify a ten year guideline
certainly not a fifteen year guideline. The thirty year rule is
also hopelessly out-of-date and the sooner it is changed the better.
I hope this indication of my likely reaction
will help you and your officials.
24 May 1991