Select Committee on Public Administration Written Evidence

Letter from the Cabinet Office to the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 21 December asking a number of questions relating to the process for commenting on Sir Christopher Meyer's book. First, I must apologise for the delay in replying to your letter which had unfortunately, been overlooked owing to an administrative oversight. Taking the questions you raise in turn:

  1.  Heather Yasamee's letter to you of 21 March covers this point. I can confirm that the Cabinet Office has no other records.

  2.  No changes were sought by the Cabinet Office or the FCO—please see the Foreign Secretary's reply to a Parliamentary Question from Mr Gordon Prentice on 28 November 2005.

  3.  Sir Gus O'Donnell's letter of 4 November set out the views of both the Cabinet Office and the FCO. The dialogue between the Cabinet Office and the publisher's representative was very much at the level of keeping the publisher informed about how things were progressing in terms of collecting comments, and where necessary seeking an extension to the deadline for submitting comments.

  4.  No other letters or emails are held by the Cabinet Office. There may have been an email updating the publisher on progress with collecting responses, but we do not now have any record of such an email.

  5/6.  Howell James became involved in September on a personal basis to help elicit assurance from Sir Christopher Meyer that he would submit a text—this was in the context of advertisements trailing the book, and the fact that the FCO had not been able to secure a copy of the proposed book.

  7.  The book was sent to the FCO on the day it was received by the Cabinet Office (7 October). The FCO worked with us throughout the process and were fully consulted throughout.

  8.  The Cabinet Secretary informed Sir Christopher's publisher prior to publication on 4 November that it was disappointing that a former diplomat should disclose confidences gained as a result of his employment. The Cabinet Secretary went on to say that it was not his responsibility to check whether remarks attributed to individuals were accurate and complete. Therefore, the Government had no comment to make on the book, but this did not constitute any form of official or unofficial approval.

  9.  The Foreign Secretary's reply to Gordon Prentice of 28 November made clear that nothing was specifically identified that was considered so damaging as to require consideration of legal action. Therefore, consistent with the Cabinet Secretary's letter to the publisher, the Government had no comments on the proposed book, but it did not have any form of official or unofficial approval. Learning from this experience, future letters of this kind will make the position on clearance more explicit.

  10.  The Cabinet Office propose to amend the Civil Service Management Code to make it clearer and more explicit that former civil servants must seek the permission of the Head of their former Department, and the Head of the Home Civil Service, before entering into a contractual commitment with a publisher. The Code will also be amended to make it clearer and more explicit that former civil servants must submit in good time before any proposed publication, a copy of the proposed text which they intend to publish and which draws, or appears to draw, on official information or experience see the memorandum submitted by the Cabinet Office on 27 March. The Foreign Office has already clarified obligations and process in their amended Diplomatic Service Regulations and new Guidance (copies sent to PASC on 8 March. Jack Straw's Written Ministerial Statement of 8 March).

  11.  In addition, the Cabinet Office set out its proposals to introduce letters of undertaking for staff in sensitive posts in its memorandum to the Committee on 27 March. FCO letters of employment and letters issued on retirement or resignation now explicitly draw attention to the rules on publications and duties of confidentiality. All FCO senior staff have been asked (2 March) to sign an undertaking that they have read and understood the rules and agree to be bound by them.

  Once again, I am really sorry for the delay in getting this reply to you. Please pass on my apologies to the chairman and members of the Committee for this oversight.

28 March 2006

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