MPs criticise new rules on political memoirs

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New rules to prevent former civil servants and diplomats speaking out about their experience of government have been condemned as an attack on free speech by a committee of MPs.

Ministers drew up the rules after outspoken memoirs were published by mandarins including Sir Christopher Meyer, former ambassador to Washington.

Not only will Whitehall control more tightly what information can be published in political memoirs but it will also own the copyright of any such book. The crackdown would apply equally to interviews with the media.

The move is “unduly restrictive” and “may be restricting free speech”, according to the report published on Tuesday by the Commons public administration committee.

In effect, it means that former diplomats could not appear on the radio to explain news events in, for example, Zimbabwe, Kenya or Pakistan.

Tony Wright, the Labour chairman of the committee, said that under freedom of information laws it was not up to the government to decide what became public or not. Instead, it should be up to the independently appointed information commissioner to rule on what authors could write.

Until now there have been only intermittent examples of the authorities preventing publication of a memoir, for example the account by Sir Jeremy Greenstock, former UK ambassador to the UN of the run-up to the Iraq conflict.

The changes have been widely criticised within Whitehall, not least because no such rules would apply to former MPs such as Tony Blair, who is writing his memoirs.

High-profile recent political autobiographies have come from John Prescott, former deputy prime minister, David Blunkett, previously home secretary and Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair’s spokesman.

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