HC Deb 06 December 1973 vol 865 cc1449-51
Q3. Mr. Grimond

asked the Prime Minister if recording machines are used to record any of his or other Ministers' meetings or conversations ; and on what conditions.

Mr. Barber

I have been asked to reply.

As is generally known, important international telephone conversations by the Prime Minister have been, and continue to be, recorded so as to minimise the risk of mishearing or misunderstanding. Recording machines are openly used to record some conferences, meetings or interviews which would otherwise be recorded by verbatim writers. Neither I nor other Ministers use recording machines to record meetings or interviews without the knowledge of those present.

Mr. Grimond

Will the acting Prime Minister consider letting the House know the rules and conditions under which these machines are used and what is done with the recordings? Obviously, this is a matter which can be most dangerous. On the other hand, posterity may well wish to hear what the Chancellor of the Exchequer sounded like in his heyday.

Mr. Russell Kerr

They will not believe their ears.

Mr. Grimond

If we had recordings of Pitt, Gladstone and Disraeli, and of Cabinet proceedings, they might be extremely interesting. I appreciate the possible dangers, but will the right hon. Gentleman consider laying before this House the conditions under which recordings are made and how they are kept?

Mr. Barber

I think that I answered that question when I said in my main answer that neither I nor other Ministers used recording machines to record meetings or interviews without the knowledge of those present.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Nevertheless, will my right hon. Friend consider making available to the Shadow Cabinet machines of the type referred to in the original Question? Surely it is unsatisfactory that some Opposition Members should apparently be unable to recognise accounts of meetings, at which they have been present, given to the Press by the office of the Leader of the Opposition?

Mr. Barber

That is a very good point.

Mr. Stonehouse

I should like to ask the Chancellor two questions. First, are telephone callers to Ministers warned in advance that their conversations are due to be recorded? Secondly, is a Post Office licence applied for for this recording?

Mr. Barber

On the first point, I should think not, and, on the second, I do not know.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for the record of the Prime Minister's telephone call to Tokyo to be placed in the Library?

Mr. Benn

Will the Chancellor tell the House whether he and other Ministers have listened to recordings of what they said to the electorate in 1970? If not, why not?

Mr. Barber

One advantage of the way that we proceed in this House is that we can rely on the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to remind the country of what we said and we can remind the country of some of the things that they said—and are still saying.