HC Deb 10 February 1998 vol 306 cc137-8
12. Dr. Julian Lewis

If he informed his officials of his relationship with his nominee for the post of diary secretary when he proposed her for that post. [26442]

Mr. Robin Cook

Madam Speaker—[Interruption.] I think I know which question the hon. Gentleman is asking.

As I have already told the House on 29 January, no. I myself concluded that, in view of my relationship with Ms Regan, it would not be right to appoint her as my diary secretary. The nominee for the post was then chosen by officials from career civil servants through normal routine procedures. What has happened in this case is that a personal appointment under the previous Government has been replaced by a public appointment under this Government.

Dr. Lewis

I thank the Foreign Secretary for that answer. On reflection, does he realise that, if he had chosen to confide in his officials, it would not have taken him nine days to come to the blindingly obvious conclusion that what he was proposing was an unethical policy for someone in his position in the Foreign Office?

Mr. Cook

During those nine days, I attended the intergovernmental conference in Noordwijk, I attended the formation of the NATO-Russia Joint Permanent Council in Paris and I attended the Sintra meeting on Bosnia. I know that the hon. Member and some of his colleagues have spent the past 19 days doing nothing but think about my diary secretary, but I have to say that Foreign Secretaries often find other things to work on in nine days as well.

Mr. Gapes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the position of diary secretary in any organisation, especially in government, is an extremely important political position, the occupant of which must have the total confidence of the person for whom they are working? In those circumstances, does he agree that it would be very unusual, if not ridiculous, to have an active Conservative, appointed by a political appointee of a previous Government, continuing and working for a Labour Foreign Secretary of an incoming Government?

Mr. Cook

Miss Bullen was recruited by the previous Foreign Secretary, from a post where she was working as personal assistant to a Tory peer who had been formerly a Minister in a Tory Government. She was appointed by a totally exceptional method, by Order in Council. What is especially regrettable is that she was appointed in preference to three career civil servants who had applied for the job.

Mr. Howard

Was anything said to the right hon. Gentleman between 21 and 30 May that had any bearing on the decision not to appoint Gaynor Regan as his diary secretary?

Mr. Cook

Absolutely nothing. The right hon. and learned Gentleman persists under the fantasy that MI5, the permanent secretary or the Prime Minister were involved. Nothing was said to me that altered my own personal judgment. If I may say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, as he is notorious for having dismissed Derek Lewis, the Director General of the Prison Service, at a cost to the taxpayer of £300,000, in view of his expensive track record a period of silence from him would be welcome.

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