Committee of MPs to grill Meyer about Washington DC memoirs

By
David Rose Sir Christopher Meyer has been summoned to Parliament to
defend his role as chairman of the Press Complaints Commission.

A
cross-party committee of MPs served notice that it plans to
crossexamine him as the former ambassador to Washington refused to step
down in the row over his memoirs.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Lord Heseltine have both questioned whether he should continue.

While
the Public Administration Select Committee is to examine whether rules
governing the publication of such memoirs should be tightened, it is
expected Sir Christopher will be grilled over whether he thinks it
appropriate that he should remain as chairman of the PCC.

Cabinet
secretary Gus O’Donnell has told the MPs he is “strongly against” the
publication of such memoirs, which suggests the Government will respond
favourably if the committee recommends action.

Sir Christopher
himself called for new guidelines on the publication of memoirs by
ministers as well as officials, and accused politicians of double
standards for damning his book DC Confidential while writing their own
accounts.

He said he had complied with the rules by submitting
the book to the Cabinet Office, which had cleared it after consulting
the Foreign Office.

Sir Christopher, a former press secretary to
John Major when he was prime minister, is not the only person who will
face a grilling. Lance Price, former No. 10 press aide and a one-time
BBC reporter, will be cross-examined at the same hearing on 15 December.

Like Meyer, Price has also published memoirs that ministers found embarrassing.

Meyer’s
account, serialised in The Guardian and Daily Mail, claims Tony Blair
was too starstruck by President Bush to halt the war against Iraq.

Two
former cabinet secretaries, Lord Wilson (1998-2002) and Sir Andrew
Turnbull (2002-2005), have also been asked for their views.

Other
former civil servants, including Lord Butler, another former cabinet
secretary, have argued that it is up to officials to practise
self-censorship.

Defending himself this week, Sir Christopher
told the BBC: “The terms of trade have changed enormously over the past
six or seven years, in the lifetime of this Government.

“What we
have seen since 1997 is a succession of ministers who have left office
– or in one case while still in office – publishing really quite
extensive memoirs of what they did in government, which embraces
exchanges with civil servants.

“Against a background of a slew of books by former ministers and special advisers, civil servants are put at a disadvantage.

I would like to see a new dispensation with clarity, and above all consistency, across the board.”

The
Public Administration Select Committee, chaired by Labour MP Tony
Wright, said: “The recent spate of diaries published by former advisers
to the Prime Minister has reignited the debate about the trust owed by
those in positions of influence at a time of significant political
events.

“The committee will look at whether diary-keeping is
threatening the quality of decision-making and what rules should govern
publication of diaries and memoirs.”

Any changes in the rules
could affect Alastair Campbell, Blair’s former press secretary. He is
known to have kept a diary while working at No. 10, which he has
referred to as his “pension”.

Comments
No comments to display

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

two × 5 =

CLOSE
CLOSE