Oral Answers to Questions — Civil Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th March 1960.
asked the Prime Minister to what extent access to the official documents referred to in Sir Anthony Eden's book was restricted to Sir Anthony Eden; to what extent permission was given for such documents to be seen by persons acting for him; and what revision of procedure is necessary in order to avoid discrimination between ex-Ministers who may seek access to Cabinet documents.
A former Minister may refresh his memory by looking again at official papers which he saw when he was in office. The general rule is that he should look at them within the Department concerned. But exceptions from this rule have occasionally been made in special circumstances; on some occasions papers have been sent on loan to the former Minister's house or responsible research assistants working on his behalf have been allowed to see them in the Department. Such an exception was made in favour of Sir Anthony Eden. It seems to me to be justifiable that this sort of discrimination should, very occasionally, be made in favour of former Ministers who, like Sir Anthony Eden, are in poor health and working at some considerable distance from London. These special arrangements do not, of course, affect in any way the control exercised over what is published.
Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that it was not my purpose to suggest anything derogatory of Sir Anthony Eden's conduct in seeking access to papers through some other person in view of the state of his health? Do I understand from what the right hon. Gentleman said that, in future, there will be no discrimination whatever regarding the desire of ex-Ministers to obtain access to Cabinet documents in which they were interested?
There will be no discrimination. I have tried to exercise during my period of responsibility exactly the same system as was exercised by my predecessors. There, are of course, special circumstances with particular people which may be taken into account, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the general rule laid down by Lord Morrison of Lambeth will be exercised without discrimination.
Is the Prime Minister aware that Lord Morrison in his statement specifically referred to being reasonably flexible in administering this rule as regards the war period? Lord Morrison specifically illustrated it by a reference to the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill). Is the right hon. Gentleman aware also that, while it is obviously essential that there should be no discrimination in granting access to documents relating to a particular period, many of us feel that the procedure now adopted is administered rather too laxly and that from a certain point onward it might be desirable to have a stricter administration?
Yes, I think that that point was raised by the right hon. Gentleman before and I said that, of course, one's natural tendency was to follow the precedents laid down by one's predecessors. I think that there is something in the idea that war is a special period and might be treated separately and some new functions, perhaps a little stricter, decided upon. It is not an easy matter. I am devoting some thought to it and before making any change I would certainly consult with the right hon. Gentleman.
I think that we should be clear about what the Prime Minister means. Does he mean that where public security is involved there would be rather stricter administration, but that apart from public security there would be no restriction whatever?
I would have thought not. I should have thought that it was a question of security.