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Politics & press news in brief – Embassy 10 – Jul/Aug 2008

Lift gag on ex-envoys, say MPs

An “oppressive” gag on retired diplomats giving media interviews without approval must be scrapped, a Commons committee has said.

Tougher restrictions were written into diplomatic service contracts in 2006, sparking complaints from ex-mandarins that their free speech was being eroded.

The Public Administration Select Committee said rules were would “substantially diminish” informed discussion of major world events.

MPs concluded that the new rules were unworkable. Applied literally, they would prevent any live TV or radio commentary from former diplomats for the rest of their lives.

Instead, the MPs recommended that the FCO continue to rely on the “good sense” of its former staff.

The Government was also accused of “restricting free speech” by refusing to allow former civil servants to appeal against any decision to block publication of their memoirs.

“The FCO was clearly disturbed that former ambassadors like Christopher Meyer and Craig Murray were able to publish highly critical memoirs,” the committee said.

The committee added that welcome moves to toughen the vetting process, in the wake of several highly-controversial books, had been undermined by the lack of an independent arbiter.

“In trying to stop that happening again, they have changed the rules in a way that has – at least on paper – serious unintended consequences.”

Labour MP Tony Wright MP, chair of the Select Committee, said the Government needed to go “back to the drawing board.

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