MPs put heat on Meyer to quit

By David Rose and Jon Slattery

Pressure on
Sir Christopher Meyer escalated this week when MPs launched a campaign
to force him to quit as chairman of the Press Complaints Commission.

They tabled a Commons motion claiming that his memoirs as the former
ambassador to Washington betrayed trust in his relationship with
ministers.

The motion went on to call on “Sir Christopher to
resign as chairman of the PCC, believing his actions make it
incompatible for him to hold this position”.

Meanwhile Meyer has hit back at the weekend attack by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, which called for him to quit.

In
a letter sent on Wednesday (see box), he said he intended to carry on
his duties “independently, impartially and effectively”.

The MPs
campaign to oust Meyer is being spearheaded by Alan Keen, a member of
the Media Select Committee, and has the backing of Liberal Democrat MP
Mike Hancock.

Four Labour MPs have signed so far: Chris Bryant,
Martin Cayton, Ken Purchase and Mary Creagh. The significance of the
move is that it is open to other MPs to add their names.

If many do so, it could cause Meyer to consider his current stance, which has been to reject demands for him to go.

The
MPs say they are “dismayed” at his “betrayal of trust” and claim “real
damage has been caused” to relationships between ministers and
officials.

Meyer will get the opportunity to defend himself when he gives evidence to the public administration committee on 15 December.

The committee is enquiring into the rules governing publication of such memoirs and whether they should be tightened up.

The
campaign has raised speculation that some MPs are seeking to exact
their revenge on the press for forcing the resignation of politicians
such as David Blunkett, who quit after persistent newspaper stories.

In
Prescott’s letter to the PCC chairman, released to the press at the
weekend, he claimed that when Meyer was ambassador to Washington he had
been viewed as a “red -socked fop” and he could no longer continue as
an “honest broker” in charge of regulating the press in Britain. He
also accused Meyer of publishing “tittle-tattle”

on John Major’s underwear, a reference to the former Prime Minister reading the papers before he was dressed.

Meyer’s
book, DC Confidential, serialised in The Guardian and the Daily Mail,
dismissed Prescott as someone who “never appeared to be sufficiently up
on these [foreign affairs] issues”.

In his letter, Prescott
asked: “How can I or others criticised in your book come to the PCC in
the future and expect impartiality when you have made it quite clear
you are anything but?

“How can you hope to be an ‘honest broker’
at the PCC if people suspect that they may feature iin any future
literary effort on your part?”

Dear Mr Prescott MEYER’S RESPONSE
“My book was submitted in the normal way to the Cabinet Office whose
response was that the Government had no comments to make.

It is
important to emphasise that the Commission consists of 17 members, 10
of whom – the clear majority – are members of the public. Its decisions
are made not by me alone, but by the PCC as a whole.

If the PCC
receives a complaint related to the book, or otherwise involving me
personally, I will follow the well-established practice applicable to
all Commission members of not taking part in the consideration of any
complaint where there is a real or perceived conflict of interest.

Complainants can therefore be assured that their cases will be handled fairly and impartially.

I
have already made it clear publicly that I have no intention of
engaging in ‘any future literary effort’ involving the PCC or
disclosing confidential matters relating to complaints.

Sir John
Major’s underwear does not feature anywhere in my book. What is more,
the scene concerned first appeared last year in the book The Goldfish
Bowl by Cherie Booth.

Neither I nor my agent was involved in the
negotiations about the serialisation rights. All such discussions were
conducted by the publishers, specifically in order to avoid any
conflict of interest arising on my part.

I made the decision to
take no money personally from the serialisation. The proceeds will be
given to three children’s charities.

I do not believe that the
contents of my book prevent me from acting as chairman of the PCC and
interpreting the Code of Practice.

I intend to continue to carry
out my duties as I have sought to discharge them in the last two and
three-quarter years: impartially, independently and effectively.”

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