HC Deb 04 July 1983 vol 45 cc17-8
36. Sir Kenneth Lewis

asked the Minister for the Civil Service whether he is satisfied with the security of documentation inside the Civil Service with regard to confidential papers.

Mr. Hayhoe

Not completely, but considerable efforts are made to keep classified material secure and to identify those who break the rules; and security arrangements are kept under constant review. The unauthorised disclosure by any employee of information entrusted to him in confidence by his employer is a deplorable breach of professional trust which calls in question his right to continue in that employment.

Sir Kenneth Lewis

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, following the general election, there is now nothing left to leak in Whitehall? Will he try to stop discussion papers being leaked in the name of policy papers? Has not the time come to stop marking discussion papers "secret" or "confidential" in order to avoid this happening?

Mr. Hayhoe

I assure my hon. Friend that many secrets are kept soundly in Whitehall, and that should be so. Having had some connection with the Ministry of Defence, I am pleased that security measures for such documents are, in the main, fully maintained. I think that there would be concern throughout the House if the result of the leaking of confidential documents was that Ministers received less frank advice than that to which they are entitled. The Labour party's attempts during the election campaign to exploit some of the leaked and stolen documents brought great discredit upon the individuals concerned. I am glad that their attempt to make political capital was a dismal failure.

Mr. Maclennan

I recognise that there is a need for clarification, but does the Minister accept that Britain is more secretive in its processes of government than any other democracy in the Western world? Is it not time that we had a review of the freedom of information provisions of the law and became altogether more open about the processes of government so that Parliament could operate a more effective scrutiny of the Executive?

Mr. Hayhoe

I should not seek to make the value judgment that the hon. Gentleman has attempted to put before the House. Since 1979 the government of the United Kingdom has been more open. The Conservative Government have made more information available to hon. Members and to Select Committees than did the Labour Government, which the hon. Gentleman supported before 1979.

Mr. Williams

Were not the leaks during the election at least as much an indictment of the Government as of those who caused the leaks to take place? Was not the leaking the reaction of those who were utterly frustrated at the shameful fraud that they could see Ministers committing against voters? They knew that while those same Ministers were making announcements about unemployment benefit they were meeting behind closed Committee doors and considering options that refuted the cynical statements that they had been making on election platforms.

Mr. Hayhoe

If the right hon. Gentleman is attempting in any way to condone civil servants' breach of the trust that rests in them by leaking classified documents, I must repudiate everything that he has said.