HC Deb 28 February 1967 vol 742 cc279-80
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Niall MacDermot)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement.

In his Answer of 18th January to a Private Notice Question by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence referred to some official papers which had been discovered on Chislehurst Common.

Investigations have shown that these charred pieces of official papers came from a consignment of security waste which had been incinerated under the supervision of inspectors from Her Majesty's Stationery Office. They had fallen from a lorry carrying residue to a tip from the particular local authority incinerator used on this occasion.

I have been asked by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to say that some of the papers discovered on the common were, subsequent to the Answer referred to earlier, found to be of a later date than 1958; but that none of them was any longer of security significance.

Local authority incinerators have been used successfully for many years to destroy classified waste. Over the past five years, for example, some 1,700 tons have been satisfactorily burned. But on this occasion a few documents were not completely burnt. A thorough investigation by the Security Service, assisted by the Stationery Office, has now shown that complete destruction can only be wholly certain if the responsible Department takes full control of the process, including cleaning out the incinerators. This has not always been possible when using local authority incinerators which are also required for other work.

The inquiry into this incident has been extended to include a comprehensive review of disposal methods, and this has led to a number of recommendations which are being urgently studied. These include such possibilities as the pro- vision of suitable Government-owned incinerators; enabling Departments to destroy more of their own waste by providing them with suitable machines or apparatus; and the increased use of pulping.

In the meantime, the waste which has to be burnt will be kept to a minimum; and incinerators not on Government premises will be used only where complete control of the process of destruction can be secured.

Mr. Powell

Is it not fortunate that this occurrence was brought to public attention? Could not the hon. and learned Gentleman, in so long a statement, have spared a word or two of recognition to the newspaper and its employee who performed this service? Is he aware that the House will wish to know later of the steps on which the Government eventually decide and to be assured that both expense and efficiency have been given weight in deciding upon them?

Mr. MacDermot

I think that the answer to all the right hon. Gentleman's questions is, "Yes".

Mr. Lubbock

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that one of the possibilities which he should be exploring—it was not mentioned in his statement—is the classification of fewer documents and that most people will be amazed to hear of the vast quantities of classified papers which have been destroyed during the last five years?

Mr. MacDermot

This is a continuing and constant struggle in all Departments.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

How many previous Defence White Papers have been destroyed, and how long will it be before the Defence White Paper which we are discussing today finds its way to the incinerator?

Mr. Kershaw

Would the hon. and learned Gentleman give an assurance that the National Plan will be included in future documents to be incinerated since it has been so misleading to the public?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I dare not make any comment.

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