HC Deb 13 April 1978 vol 947 cc1658-9
Q2. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Prime Minister if, since he became Prime Minister, he has requested or received personal files concerning private citizens, copies of such files or personal information from such files from the Department of Health and Social Security other than for normal investigations that are being carried out into particular cases.

The Prime Minister


Mr. Tebbit

Is the Prime Minister aware that his answer does not surprise me, and that I welcome it? Does he not agree that the citizen should be assured by some form of code or convention that it is simply not possible for Ministers to have access to individuals' files which they might misuse for political purposes? Will he agree that no Minister should do that and no Prime Minister could regard it as anything other than totally abhorrent if at any stage that were done?

The Prime Minister

I am obliged to the hon. Member for writing to me about this matter. I entirely agree that it would be totally wrong if correspondence about private citizens were misused for political purposes. It would breed mistrust if it were thought that a Minister on either side of the House—present, future or past —was doing so. I can give an assurance that on my understanding this does not happen. It would be quite foreign and wrong if it were to happen.

I considered drawing up a form of code or convention as the hon. Member has suggested, but there are a number of circumstances in which Ministers may want to consult papers. Therefore, we must leave it to Ministers' good faith and there must be good faith between us that these papers will not be misused.

Mr. Fitt

Does the answer that the Prime Minister has just given cover that part of the United Kingdom known as Northern Ireland? In Northern Ireland there is a suspicion that many secret files relating to national health and insurance are vetted every day by members of the security forces. Will he give an assurance that this is not so and that it is a practice with which he would not be in accord?

The Prime Minister

Of course, this is not a practice which should be followed. It is totally foreign to what I have said. I will not give the assurance that my hon. Friend has asked for in the first part of his question because this is a serious charge and I should look into it. However, no one should deduce from my answer that this practice is happening.

Mr. Ralph Howell

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), the Prime Minister said that it is not happening. Will he say whether it did happen?

The Prime Minister

I cannot account for any Administrations earlier than my own—and in saying that I am referring to all Administrations previous to my own.