HC Deb 07 March 1978 vol 945 cc1206-7
7. Mr. Onslow

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services, if he is satisfied with his Department's arrangements for the safe custody of files relating to individual members of the public.

13. Mr. Lawrence

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he is satisfied with the arrangements for the confidentiality of files held by his Department relating to individual citizens.

Mr. Ennals

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Onslow

Will the Secretary of State please now tell the House what inquiries he has made into the statement on pages 175–177 of the book "The Pencourt File" that certain files relating to Mr. Norman Scott were removed from his Department by a political aide, whom we now know to be Mr. Jack Straw, and taken to 10 Downing Street and seen there by the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), and that he in turn took copies of those files and has kept them?

Mr. Ennals

It is for Ministers to decide for themselves, bearing in mind the need to respect the confidentiality of personal information, what papers they need to consult and what advice they need in order to perform their ministerial functions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) evidently thought it necessary to inform himself about this case, as he has since made clear to the Press.

Mr. Lawrence

With reference to the Secretary of State's answer, and to the Written Answer which he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) on 27th February, will he say what exceptional circumstances there were to justify the disclosure of the files of Norman Scott to the then Prime Minister and his political secretary? Was it in order to meet statutory or welfare requirements, was it to stop duplication of payments out of public funds, or was it to assist the police with the prosecution? Was the consent of Mr. Norman Scott ever obtained?

Mr. Ennals

It is for the Prime Minister of the day to decide what information he needs to see, and what information he asks of a responsible Secretary of State, to enable him to decide whether there is any impropriety or anything else. It was on precisely that point that I made a statement yesterday. I assured the House that I had made a thorough investigation when I came into office. I also assured the House that there had in no sense been any impropriety on the part of my Department.

Mrs. Castle

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the book "The Pencourt File" has about as much validity as "Babies for Burning" turned out to have? Is he aware that no files relating to any person were taken out of the Department by Mr. Jack Straw to the Prime Minister of the day or to anyone else? Can we not stop the Tories trying to stir up mud as a result of the fevered imagination of a couple of journalists?

Mr. Ennals

I agree with my right hon. Friend in terms of her comment on the book. It certainly is a package of rumour, innuendo and tittle-tattle. But, since it was perfectly clear that some Conservative Members wished to pursue this, it was for that reason that I thought it quite proper to make a statement to the House and to reveal the fact that, when I knew that allegations were made, I carried out a very thorough investigation and assured myself, and now assure the House, that there was no impropriety.

Mr. Onslow

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.