HC Deb 28 November 1968 vol 774 cc721-2
Q5. Mr. Shinwell

asked the Prime Minister whether he will relax the rule relating to disclosure of events concerned with Government activities from 30 to 20 years.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. The Public Records Act, 1967, reduced from 50 to 30 years the period during which public records are, in general, not available for public inspection. No new factor has arisen since the passage of that Act to warrant a further reduction in the closed period.

Mr. Shinwell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some eminent political personalities, some deceased and others still alive, have in their publications overcome the restriction by not making direct reference to Cabinet papers but by talking about exposed Cabinet activities? Has not this restriction become a farce? Why should not anyone associated with Cabinet matters 20 years ago expose many of the events that occurred?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend has a point. There have been memoirs, autobiographies and similar works published. There was one last year, I think, which seriously broke all the conventions of collective responsibility and the usual rules and restrictions applied to such publications. I can tell my right hon. Friend that his first Ministerial work is already free from them, because that was in the Government more than 30 years ago. But I had enough difficulty securing agreement on the re- duction to 30 years against the recommendation of the Committee from 50 to 40. He would probably find it difficult to get the all-party agreement which I think is essential and right for a proposal of the kind that he puts forward.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Will the Prime Minister reveal not what has been going on in the last 20 years but what has been happening in the last seven days?

The Prime Minister

I thought that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his statement in the House on Monday, set out a full account of the Bonn Conference and of the Basle Conference which preceded it.

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