Select Committee on Public Administration Written Evidence

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 short notice.

  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

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