British Union of Fascists (Public Records)

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

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Photo of Mr Arthur Newens Mr Arthur Newens , Harlow 12:00 am, 14th March 1983

asked the Attorney-General if the Lord Chancellor will reconsider the decision to withhold certain public records relating to the British Union of Fascists for a period of 100 years.

Photo of Mr Michael Havers Mr Michael Havers , Wimbledon

I wrote to the hon. Member on 4 March explaining that at the request of the Lord Chancellor the Home Office is to review the closure period.

Photo of Mr Arthur Newens Mr Arthur Newens , Harlow

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that reply. Does he not think that it is a disgrace that administrative means should be used to retain papers that relate to the interrogation of Sir Oswald Mosley and are eligible for release, and thereby prevent facts coming to light that could clarify the position of the establishment in the light of assertions by hon. Members on both sides of the House? Does he agree that it would be unjustifiable to prevent these records being released merely because a section of the establishment and of the Conservative party which was opposed to Sir Winston Churchill, the Labour party and others who took an anti-Nazi stand wished to conceal their support for a separate peace in 1940?

Photo of Mr Michael Havers Mr Michael Havers , Wimbledon

It is necessary to distinguish between the two types of control. There is the type of control that means that documents are retained by the Department which originally held them. That power comes under section 3 of the Public Records Act 1958. The other type of power takes effect when the records have been transferred to the Public Records Office and there is approval by the Lord Chancellor of the day that they should be retained in secrecy—in this instance they relate to the British Union of Fascists—for an extended period such as 100 years. It is interesting that the first order was made in 1959, shortly after the 1958 Act was passed, by Lord Chancellor Kilmuir, and was considered and confirmed for the 100-year period by Lord Chancellor Elwyn Jones in 1976.

Photo of Mr John Stokes Mr John Stokes , Halesowen and Stourbridge

As there is no evidence of which we are aware that Sir Oswald Mosley was a traitor, unlike Blunt, Maclean, Philby and Burgess, why do we have this incredibly long period before the truth can come out?

Photo of Mr Michael Havers Mr Michael Havers , Wimbledon

Those who are responsible have to satisfy the Lord Chancellor that retention is justifiable. Over the past 20 years they have satisfied a Conservative Lord Chancellor and a Labour Lord Chancellor.

Photo of Mr Arthur Davidson Mr Arthur Davidson , Accrington

I accept that successive Lord Chancellors have confirmed the period, but is it not clear from what hon. Members on both sides of the House have said that there is a belief that these facts should be revealed as soon as possible? To reveal the truth would clearly be in the public interest and would stop some of the accusations and counter-accusations that are now flying about.

Photo of Mr Michael Havers Mr Michael Havers , Wimbledon

This issue was reviewed by Sir Duncan Wilson's committee. A White Paper was published last year in which all the issues that should be considered were set out in paragraphs 26 and 27. The Government accepted the committee's recommendation. Public interest concerns questions involving the general public and individuals. Sir Duncan Wilson's committee set out three grounds for retention and these were accepted. It recommended that retention should continue if exceptionally sensitive papers were involved, whose disclosure would be contrary to the public interest, whether on security or on other grounds. Secondly, it recommended that retention should be continued if a case involved documents containing information and supplied in confidence which, if disclosed, would or might constitute a breach of good faith. I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman will be the first to recognise the importance of that.

Thirdly, documents containing information about individuals, the disclosure of which might distress or endanger living persons or the immediate descendants of those involved, are subject to the principles upon which the disclosure of documents operate. They were set out in the White Paper last year.

Photo of Mr John Hunt Mr John Hunt , Bromley Ravensbourne

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As we did not start this section of Question Time until 3.21 pm, would you exercise your discretion and allow me my question?

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. The thought was in my mind, but I thought that I might get away with it. I shall call the hon. Member because we did not start until 3.21 pm.