24 July 2006
Whitehall Confidential? PASC calls for new system for handling political memoirs
In a report published today, ‘Whitehall Confidential? The publication of political memoirs’ (HC 689) PASC-Public Administration Select Committee-calls for a new approach to the publication of political memoirs.
It reviews some of the controversial recent cases (including Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Sir Christopher Meyer and Lance Price) and recommends new guidelines and procedures on publication.
This is the first review of this issue for thirty years, following the Crossman Diaries, and the first public review ever.
The report concludes that:
there should be a presumption in favour of publication, but with clear and agreed restrictions;
the public interest in openness and transparency has to be balanced against a public interest in the protection of a space within government for frank discussion and advice;
there have to be clear guidelines, with common principles but different applications to ministers, civil servants and special advisers;
ministers and officials should sign up to these guidelines, through provisions in the Ministerial Code or through employment contracts;
new machinery is required to resolve disputes and broker disagreements, in the form of an Advisory Committee on Memoirs;
although there could still be resort to the courts, by authors or by government, to test confidentiality agreements and crown copyright (to pursue profits), the new system should provide strong incentives to reach agreement.
Committee chairman Tony Wright said:
“Nothing in this report will prevent memoirs being published. They have a real value and should be encouraged. But it needs to be clear what the rules are in order to protect those matters that genuinely need protection, and a fair process to deal with disagreements. We believe that our proposals will help to avoid the kind of difficulties we have seen recently, and give more certainty both to memoir-writers and to governments.”
Copies of the Report can be obtained from TSO outlets and from the Parliamentary Bookshop, 12 Bridge Street, Parliament Square, London SW1A 2JX (020 7219 3890) by quoting the appropriate HC number. The text of the Report will also be available via the Committee’s internet website:
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmselect/cmpubadm/689/689i.pdf at 00.01 a.m. on the day of publication.
The Committee homepage:
The Committee was nominated on 13 July 2005. Its terms of reference are to examine the reports of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsmen, and to consider matters relating to the quality and standards of administration provided by Civil Service departments, and other matters relating to the Civil Service. The
Membership of the Committee is as follows: Tony Wright (Chairman) (Lab) (Cannock Chase), Mr David Burrowes (Con) (Enfield, Southgate), Paul Flynn (Lab) (Newport West), David Heyes (Lab) (Ashton under Lyne), Kelvin Hopkins (Lab) (Luton North), Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Con) (Bridgewater), Julie Morgan (Lab) (Cardiff North), Mr Gordon Prentice (Lab) (Pendle), Paul Rowen (Lib Dem) (Rochdale), Grant Shapps (Con) (Welwyn Hatfield), Jenny Willott (Lib Dem) (Cardiff Central)
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