HC Deb 27 March 1975 vol 889 cc690-1
4. Mr. Gow

asked the Prime Minister whether he will reduce the present 30 years' ban on the publication of Cabinet papers.

The Prime Minister

Following the initiative which I took in March 1966, the Public Records Act 1967 reduced the period of protection for public records, including Cabinet documents, from 50 to 30 years. I have no evidence at present that a further change is required.

Mr. Gow

Will the Prime Minister please reconsider that answer, in the light of the circumstances of the referendum—circumstances which he has described as unique? Does he not think that it would help the country to debate the matter without rancour if the spirit of comradely love and brotherly unity in the Cabinet could be displayed for all the British people to see when they are discussing the subject?

The Prime Minister

It is not only in the Cabinet that that spirit is to be found. The meeting with the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party yesterday was full of such manifestations. I hope that the Opposition will be able to follow us in these matters, because it is a unique occasion. It is a question that cuts across parties. But I do not think that the Public Records Act is involved. I wanted to cut the ban from 50 to 25 years, but I could not get the agreement of the Conservative Party to any cut until I said that I would put the proposal in our 1966 election manifesto. There was then a speedy change of heart, and we got the period down to 30 years.

The hon. Gentleman will no doubt know that a committee of Privy Councillors is being set up. I announced it last Friday, and I hope to make a statement in the House after Easter. The hon. Gentleman will be able to give evidence if he wishes, and no doubt the Committee will consider his weighty arguments.

Mr. Lawson

Does the Prime Minister agree that the 30-year rule has already been side-stepped to a certain extent by the Grossman Diaries? In the light of those diaries, for the sake of posterity and historical accuracy, will the right hon. Gentleman incorporate in the next edition of his own work, "The Labour Government 1964–70; A Personal Record", the various corrections needed to make good the many errors pointed out by Mr. Crossman, particularly in the events relating to the 1967 devaluation?

The Prime Minister

If I were to deal in any subsequent edition of my book with some of the points raised in the recent publication in The Sunday Times, the book, already very long, would be even longer. Those who are in a position to know about these things know that many of the attributed statements took place on occasions when they could not have taken place, in places where the relevant people were not present at the time. I am sorry to say that a high proportion of the attributed quotations were either made by Mr. Crossman himself or were not made at all.

My memoirs were submitted to the Cabinet Office in the usual way, and all the corrections that it asked me to make, which were very few, I made. [An HON. MEMBER: "Advertising."] The advertising was started by the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson). I could not want a better sales promoter of the book—which is now in paperback, and therefore cheaper, I hasten to inform the hon. Gentleman. The rules were followed in that case.

There have been difficulties. This is one of a number of reasons why the committee of Privy Councilors has been set up. The right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition has been asked to suggest Privy Councillors from her side of the political divide, whether Members of the House or not.