The tale of the galleygreen


by David Moss

December 2008


Once upon a time, there was a war between Iraq and Iran. The UK decided not to take sides ("it’s a shame they can’t both lose”, H. Kissinger, Esq.) and rather admirably banned arms sales to either country. Our man at the DTI, Alan Clark, let on to the Cluster Bomb Trade Association or some such that actually he didn’t mind who sold what to whom as long as they were paid and, in the fulness of time, Matrix Churchill were taken to court for supplying Iraq with metal tubes of the sort we probably don’t know how to make any more.

Three Matrix Churchill directors faced prison. Unfairly, as it transpired, thanks to leaks and/or the threat of leaks, not only about Alan Clark’s role but also the fact that these men had been doing sterling work for the security services. Alan Clark duly did an Alan Clark, got up in court and said of course he’d sanctioned these trades and the case was dropped before innocent commerce and patriotic espionage were rewarded with prison.

Leaks can be good things and just and essential, even when it comes to national security. In that case, we call them “galleygreens”.

But that isn’t the point. Not this time.

This time, what you may care to note is that the government stood to be embarrassed by the court case. They took steps to avoid that. They tried to suppress certain documents being discussed openly in court by issuing PIIs, public interest immunity certificates. PIIs have to be signed by the ministers concerned.

Now, suppose you’re a minister, and your Permanent Secretary sticks a PII in front of you and says “sign here”. Do you? Many did. With no questions. Rather like the Serjeant at Arms last week. With no questions from the Speaker. Shame on them.

One minister didn’t. He started asking awkward questions. And he insisted that the wording of the PII be changed to record that fact before he would sign it. Step forward Michael Heseltine.

WIBBI* there were more Heseltines and fewer Martins and Pays?


* WIBBI = wouldn't it be better if

David Moss has spent six years campaigning against the Home Office's ID card scheme.

2008 Business Consultancy Services Ltd
on behalf of Dematerialised ID Ltd