Historic Documents

Oral Answers to Questions — Attorney-General – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th February 1983.

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Photo of Mr Chris Price Mr Chris Price , Lewisham West 12:00 am, 14th February 1983

asked the Attorney-General what is the Lord Chancellor's policy in considering applications by Ministers to withhold historical documents beyond the 30-year period.

Photo of Mr Michael Havers Mr Michael Havers , Wimbledon

The Lord Chancellor considers applications on their merits in the light of the provisions of section 3(4) of the Public Records Act 1958 and in the light of the policy laid down by section 5 regarding closure after transfer. In considering applications under section 5 of the Act the Lord Chancellor has regard to these provisions and the criteria set out in paragraph 26 of the White Paper "Modern Public Records".

Photo of Mr Chris Price Mr Chris Price , Lewisham West

May we know more about the criteria? What possible sense is there in relating all the Foreign Office intercepts that took place during the second world war while refusing to release those that took place between the first and second world wars, with the exception of those that Lloyd George took away and placed in the House of Lords Library? Is it not reasonable to assume that the years between 1919 and 1939 are now history?

Photo of Mr Michael Havers Mr Michael Havers , Wimbledon

I understand the hon. Gentleman's great interest in this matter. The matter has been considered with great care, especially with regard to second world war intercepts. The arguments for exempting security and intelligence-related records from public release have less weight in relation to records of interceptions of messages transmitted by the services of a country with which the United Kingdom was then at war.

Photo of Mr Arthur Newens Mr Arthur Newens , Harlow

Is there any truth in reports that public records dealing with the British Union of Fascists are likely to be witheld for the full 100 years? Bearing in mind that attempts were made a few years ago to withdraw certain Metropolitan police records relating to the hunger marches of 1933 and 1934, which were later countermanded, is there not a case for great vigilance in these matters to ensure that too many exceptions to the 30-year rule are not allowed?

Photo of Mr Michael Havers Mr Michael Havers , Wimbledon

This is very carefully supervised. The matter raised by the hon. Gentleman falls within the responsibilities of the Lord Chancellor, but I will certainly write to the hon. Gentleman about it.