Mr. John M. Taylor:
The Public Records Acts 1958 and 1967 provide for the transfer, under the guidance of the Keeper of Public Records, of those public records which are to be made available at the Public Record Office normally when they are 30 years old. The procedures and criteria are detailed in the "Manual of Records Administration".
May I ask a question of which I have given the Lord Chancellor's Secretary notice? As the right hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) certainly acted in good faith in March 1989 when he was Secretary of State for Transport, could his background papers relating to Lockerbie be expedited to the public view, along perhaps with those of Sir Charles Powell and the then Prime Minister? Could the Lord Chancellor have a word with his colleagues in the Crown Office, who are not answerable to the House, and tell them not to be so childish in respect of the ridiculous defamation of potential witnesses?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me advance notice that he wished to mention the Lockerbie bombing. However, all I can say in answer to his question is that it will be for the relevant Government Department, as advised by the Public Record Office, to decide at the appropriate time which records should be selected for permanent preservation.
Will my hon. Friend encourage Government Departments, through the Public Record Office, to make as many documents as possible available not only on paper but on CD-ROM, microfiche and microfilm so that researchers do not always have to travel the inconvenient distance to Kew to inspect these documents?