§ 2.15 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, this Bill is important not only from the point of view of historians and research workers but also from the point of view of good administration and economy. Your Lordships will remember that Sir James Grigg's Committee on Departmental Records, which reported in July, 1954, had been appointed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Master of the Rolls to review the arrangements for the preservation of the records of Government Departments in England and Wales. The constitution of the Public Record Office, the responsibility of the Master of the Rolls for records and the power to destroy unwanted records now depend on Acts dating from 1838 to 1898. Much has happened since the last century; the field of Government business has extended in many directions and, with the introduction of the typewriter and other modern office equipment, the quantity of records created has increased to an extent which was never contemplated by our predecessors.
When the Financial Secretary to the Treasury announced in another place in July, 1955, our intention to accept the main recommendations of the Grigg Committee he expressed the Government's warm thanks to Sir James Grigg and the other members of his Committee for the very useful Report which they had presented on this important subject. The present Bill gives effect to many of their recommendations, and I should like to say again how indebted we all are tin the Committee for their admirable work.
May I remind your Lordships that the Grigg Committee were concerned with departmental but not with legal records. From the points of view of the historian, as well as of the administrator, it would, as I believe is generally recognised, be highly unsatisfactory if we had different systems for the two classes of records. The arrangements for their custody and preservation, for giving the public access and for the destruction of unwanted records should, so far as possible, be the same; this Bill deals equally with departmental and legal records.
1148 It is, I believe, worth illustrating the magnitude of our modern problem of handling records by mentioning a few figures. I am told that the Public Record Office has, in Chancery Lane and in the repository at Ashridge, about 46½ miles of shelves full of records; and there are, so it is estimated, a further 120 miles which are still retained by Government Departments, but which may ultimately be transferred to the Public Record Office for permanent preservation. This will present a considerable accommodation problem in the future. I learnt with surprise that the quantity of paper destroyed by Government Departments last year amounted to no less than 3.600 tons. I am sure your Lordships will agree that these striking figures show the need. if only on grounds of economy, for a less elaborate procedure than the present one. That is described in paragraph 55 of the Report, in these words—I quote:It makes the selection of records for preservations about as complicated as it can be".It also prohibits the destruction of any public record unless it belongs to a class listed in a destruction schedule, which, although it has to be laid before Parliament, can neither be amended nor rejected.
The Grigg Committee recommended that the responsibility for public records and the headship of the Public Record Office should be transferred from the Master of the Rolls to a Minister of the Crown. Their reasons are to be found in paragraphs 124 to 129 of their Report. They observed that the Master of the Rolls whose original appointment in 1838 as head of the Public Record Office was said by the Royal Commission of 1910 to be "an anomaly and the fruit of accident", is a very busy Judge, who ought not to be asked to carry out these heavy and increasing executive responsibilities. They also thought that the Public Record Office has been at a disadvantage in not having a Minister at its head and, therefore, being less able to influence other Departments regarding the destruction of worthless records and the transfer to the Public Record Office of those which should be preserved.
I think it is worth while reminding your Lordships of what the Grigg Committee said. I will make the excerpts as short as possible, but I should like your Lordships to have in mind what is said. 1149 first of all, at the end of paragraph 124 on page 48:When the work of one Department touches on that of another (and this is a daily occurrence) any difference between Departments is settled firstly by consultation at official level, secondly, and more rarely, by discussion between the Ministers concerned, and thirdly, and much more rarely still, by reference to the Cabinet itself. It is on consultations of this nature, with ultimate resort to the Cabinet, that the whole framework of Government depends. We believe it to have been a serious source of weakness to the Public Record Department in the past that it has not been able to make use of this machinery because it has not had a Minister at its head.Then, at the beginning of paragraph 128, the Committee say:The fact that the head of the Public Record Department is not a Minister has had a further consequence in making necessary special arrangements for representing the Department in Parliament. Under the Public Record office Act, 1838, the responsibility for authorising the Public Record Department's publications is vested in the Home Secretary. Over the course of the years the practice has arisen whereby the Chancellor of the Exchequer is answerable to Parliament for the conduct of the Public Record Department, though apart from authorising staff and buildings he is not responsible for it, and neither he nor the Government as a whole control the appointment of the Deputy Keeper.There is no doubt—and certainly not in my mind—that the great accumulation of public, records in recent decades fully justifies the Committee's proposal to transfer the responsibility to a Minister of the Crown. In addition, there is the constitutional consideration, which I hardly need stress to your Lordships, of the principle of answerability to Parliament, which is the keynote of responsible Parliamentary Government under an unwritten Constitution.
Your Lordships will note that, apart from general co-operation with the Public Record Office at the stage of the first review, where it is desired that the Departments themselves should approach the problem of records in the way suggested by the Grigg Committee there will be close consultation between the Departments and the Public Record Office at the time of the Second Review twenty-five years after the creation of the records. This review will be under the surveillance of officials of the Public Record Office. I am sure that noble Lords who have been Ministers will remember that sad fact of ministerial office, that in the last 100 years of our history 1150 there has been no occasion when any one Party has supplied the Government for a period longer than ten years. Therefore, in twenty-five years, in the ordinary "rub of the green", there will have been at least two changes of Government.
In addition, as your Lordships will hear, the Bill sets up an Advisory Council which will be able to give the Lord Chancellor advice and to make representations on policy with regard to public records generally. Further, under Clause 1 (3), the Lord Chancellor is required to make an annual report to Parliament, and to include in that report communications from the Council. And fifthly, as I have said, there is the principle of answerability to Parliament, which is essential to Parliamentary government under an unwritten Constitution. These are the recommendations of the Committee which I wanted to bring to your Lordships' attention The Government consider that the Lord Chancellor should be the Minister in charge. One reason for this choice is that he is clearly the most appropriate Minister to be responsible for legal records. Clause 1 gives effect to that decision.
Having said that, I should like your Lordships to know that, in what I am about to say, I speak with great sincerity and gratitude. For about 120 years successive Masters of the Rolls have rendered inestimable service as head of the Public Record Office. As many noble Lords know from experience, they have given a great deal of their time, and the country owes much to the wisdom with which they have directed the affairs of the Department. No Master of the Rolls has done more for the Public Record Office than my noble and learned friend, Lord Evershed, who I am glad to say has told me that he approves of the main provisions of the Bill. I welcome the suggestion of the Grigg Committee that the ancient link between the Master of the Rolls and public records should not be severed. This Bill fulfils that object by providing in Clause 1 (2), that the Master of the Rolls should be ex officio chairman of the Advisory Council, which will advise the Lord Chancellor on matters concerning public records. Clause 7 will leave him with his ancient responsibility for the records of the Chancellory of England. He is, of course, ex officio chairman of the Historical Manuscripts Commission 1151 and is concerned with a number of other organisations which are interested in records of one kind or another. In addition he will retain certain other statutory duties. Therefore he will have a very important position in the world of records. It is my earnest wish that this will be a living reality. We shall thus preserve the objective and scholarly spirit in which our records have been cared for. I shall find my noble and learned friend's guidance, especially during the transitional period, of inestimable value.
I now refer your Lordships to some of the main provisions of the Bill. Clause 2 provides for the appointment of the Keeper of Public Records. It mentions certain of his more important functions and makes the usual provision for the appointment of the other officers of the Public Record Office. I should like to take this opportunity of stating how proud I shall be to be the Minister responsible for this Department, whose officers have justly earned a reputation for scholarship and service to the public.
I think that it may be convenient first to call attention to the definition of public records which is contained in Clause 10 and in the First Schedule. The definition in the existing Acts is, in modern conditions, uncertain and unsatisfactory. Clause 10 (1) defines public records by reference to the. First Schedule, and the term "records" is to include not only records of conventional types but also modern devices, such as tape recordings. Paragraph 2 (1) of the First Schedule states thatadministrative and departmental records belonging to Her Majesty…shall be public records.This definition does not include records lawfully in private ownership, nor local government records. Sub-paragraph (2) of paragraph 2 excepts from the definition Scottish records and those of certain other classes which there is particular reason to except. I know how difficult it is to pick up the full meaning of a Schedule to a Bill, and perhaps your Lordships will excuse me for reminding you that paragraph 3 (1) of the First Schedule, on page 9, is limited to the Table at the end of paragraph 3 and, therefore, does not widen the definition, because the Table mentions only those bodies about whose records there might be doubt if they were not expressly mentioned. Paragraph 4 1152 defines those legal records which are to be public records and gives the Lord Chancellor a power to extend the list by statutory instrument.
Returning to the responsibility before transfer and destruction, Clause 3 imposes on Departments the duty of selecting records which ought to be permanently preserved and handing them over to the Public Record Office not later than thirty years after their creation, though it necessarily gives a power to delay the transfer when it is appropriate to do so. Among the most important provisions of this clause is that in subsection (6) which permits the destruction of public records not required for permanent preservation. We shall introduce, as recommended by the Grigg Committee, a system of reviewing public records in Departments. The First Review is to take place not later than five years after records have passed out of active service. Those of your Lordships who are interested in this point will find that matter dealt with in paragraphs 78 and 79 of the Report. The test whether they can then be destroyed will not be a historical one but will depend simply on whether or not it is judged that the records will be required for administrative purposes. The Second Review will take place after about twenty'-five years, when the retention of records will be decided on administrative and also on historical grounds. I need only refer briefly to Clause 4. Certain classes of records which have a strong local interest are best preserved locally, and this clause will enable such records to be placed, after consultation with the local interests, in local repositories.
Clause 5 contains the important provisions for giving the public access to records. The Government accept the Grigg Committee's recommendation that, as a general rule, the public should have access to public records fifty years after their creation. This clause so provides, but in some cases it may be desirable to give access sooner or to withhold access for a somewhat longer period. Moreover, certain Departments, notably the Board of Trade and Ministry of Supply, obtain a considerable amount of information, from individual members of the public and from private organisations, on the clear understanding that the information will not be divulged. It is important that the confidence of the public should 1153 not be shaken, and the purpose of subsection (2) is to enable a Department whose records contain information which has been given confidentially to ensure that confidences are respected. Subsection (3) ensures that, where there are statutory prohibitions against the disclosure of information obtained from the public, those prohibitions will be preserved. Clause 8 imposes on the Lord Chancellor a responsibility for records of courts similar to the responsibilities of other Ministers for their departmental records.
The only other provision which I need mention is that contained in paragraph 7 (1) of the First Schedule, which enables an Order in Council to be made directing that any records of any description which do not fall within the Bill's definition of public records shall nevertheless be treated as such. It is designed to take account of organisations established in the future. Your Lordships will be glad to know that an Order in Council made under this provision will, as a proper safeguard, be subject to Affirmative Resolution. My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ 2.37 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will be grateful to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack for the manner in which he has presented this highly technical Bill to the House. It is not easily to be understood without a complete study of the Grigg Report, which in itself is a lengthy document. I agree fully with the Lord Chancellor that the Grigg Committee did an exceedingly good job of work. It is not an easy subject to delve into, and they certainly did a great deal of delving. I had to sort myself out a little to make sure in some cases that the large number of recommendations were not in themselves repetitive; but, in fact, I found that none were, although they often apply the same principle to different sets of circumstances. I found myself full of admiration for the work that they had done.
The manner in which the noble and learned Viscount has explained the Bill to your Lordships reduces, to a considerable extent, some possible criticisms that 1154 I might have offered on this Second Reading debate, because since the publication of the Report of the Grigg Committee and of this Bill there have been discussions among us about this matter, both here and in another place. In the minds of those in the country who are politically inclined there is always the wonder whether any change which takes away from a Judge of the High Court the charge of a matter which may have political significance, and places those functions with one who, whatever his other qualifications and attributes may be, is a Minister with (as he is bound to have) strong political views, is altogether advisable. It has been suggested that in the numerous revisions and examinations of departmental records in the Public Record Office which later take place questions might arise about the destruction of a matter which might be exceedingly useful to a political Party succeeding to office.
In these days there are right and strict injunctions upon serving Cabinet and Departmental Ministers that they should not take away with them, when they retire from their public appointment, the private and top secret documents of Cabinet work. Very often, if there is not a complete record of what has taken place in certain political directions, it is more difficult for the incoming Minister to deal with the situation. Moreover, there are from time to time questions which arise and which are of concern not only to leaders of Parties and ex-Ministers and incoming-Ministers, but also to the general public. I do not suppose that anybody has really seen anything of the true inner record, as it were, of the whole story of the Zinoviev letter of 1924, or whether the actual document still exists in the Public Records. But such a matter becomes of exceedingly wide interest to the whole of the thinking part, at any rate, of the population, including political leaders and Ministers and ex-Ministers.
We have heard the careful and adequate explanation which the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has made of the Bill, and I do not feel inclined, as I might otherwise have done, to press the criticism regarding the proposal in the Bill that the general responsibility shall be handed over to the Lord Chancellor's Department. It is in this case clear that we should get the advantage, because in 1155 either House there would be political opportunity for questions or debates upon important matters which might arise. The Lord Chancellor is not only the juridical head, as it were, of our general system of the administration of justice, and in control of our legal procedures, but is also a Minister, and he, or those detailed by him in another place to answer for the Department, would be capable of being examined and criticised, and there would be opportunity for a debate to arise and for answers to be given. That, I think, is all to the good.
As to the methods which are to be adopted, I think there is little in the Grigg Report which is controversial. I was disappointed with the answer in paragraphs 170 to 180 with regard to the possibility in future of the development of microphotography in such a matter as this. That seems to have been the process which has been widely followed in the United States of America. There can be no doubt from the Report that a detailed examination was given to the question of whether the use of micro-photography might have been a saving and also have afforded the certain advantage of keeping for a considerable number of years—certainly for as long as ordinarily well-made paper records could be kept—of records on films. But the devastating fact is, as the Report points out, that the capital cost of securing these micro-photographic records would actually be more than the capital cost of keeping the whole of the original documents concerned. That is a difficult problem for anybody who is keen upon the development of the modern method.
I do not propose to delve more deeply into the Bill. I shall be interested to hear what the Lord Chancellor may have to say further with regard to the issue as between the legal and the political control of such a Department. On the whole, however, he has already led me to modify the views which I might have expressed upon those matters. I think it better to leave any further comment we have to make to a later stage of the Bill, if such comments should then be found necessary.
§ 2.46 p.m.
§ LORD EVERSHED
My Lords, the Lord Chancellor has already said in his speech that, as Master of the Rolls, I 1156 approve the main provisions of this Bill. Though I do not suppose for a moment that your Lordships will in the least degree doubt the entire accuracy of every statement which falls from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, I thought that, since the subject matter of this Bill so closely touches the ancient office of Master of the Rolls, your Lordships would feel at least that it would be appropriate for me personally to tell you that I do approve the main provisions of the Bill, and also, very briefly, to state my reasons for so doing. I feel the more disposed to think that that would be your Lordships' view after listening to the speech of 'the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough.
First of all, as the Lord Chancellor has observed, the distinguished and learned Committee, presided over by Sir James Grigg, was appointed jointly by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer and myself, so that the Report was made jointly to us both. Your Lordships would therefore no doubt think it at least ungracious, as well as foolish, if I were to reject such wise advice—and I do not, of course, do so. Indeed, I should like, if your Lordships would allow me, to pay my tribute to the wisdom, the patience and the care which that Committee devoted to a subject which, as the noble Viscount. Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, pointed out, is both difficult and complex, and, if I understood him aright, not always entirely appetising. In addition, may I particularly acknowledge the consideration which Sir James Grigg showed to me personally in telling me exactly what was in his mind and the minds of his colleagues, both before and after he had presented his Report.
As I have followed it, the two main steps or premises upon which the concluding recommendations of the Committee depended are really too plain for argument. In the first place, the bulk and proliferation of the written documents of Departments of Government is a modern phenomenon which, although it may have been in the minds of legislators in 1838, was certainly not dreamt of in their philosophy. Your Lordships have already had from the Lord Chancellor some rather striking figures, and perhaps I might be allowed to add 1157 another illustration. In the year 1396, it is recorded that King Richard desired that all the rolls and records of the Chancery in their entirety should be handed over to John de Scarle lately appointed as my predecessor. For that purpose he commanded that "one strong horse, not aged", be sent to the Chancellery. Times have, of course, greatly changed.
It is to be noted, however, that no acute problem of record administration appears to have presented itself before the outbreak of what we now call World War I. Before that date, the recorded output of Government Departments, at any rate from the Record Office point of view, had not reached unmanageable proportions. But to-day the problem is entirely otherwise. As the Committee pointed out, the problem now is undoubtedly acute in the extreme—and growing. It may well be one reflection of the change that has occurred in our way of life since the year 1914. Not only is the problem itself acute, but, as the Committee make good in paragraphs 27 and 28, the most urgent aspect of it is that of selection.
And so I reach the second step or premise. Whatever was in the minds of the legislators in 1838, whatever was in the mind of my predecessor, Lord Langdale, in 1845, when he made with the then Home Secretary, Lord John Russell, the somewhat casual and typically English arrangement upon which the management of departmental records has since depended, that arrangement did not provide—and, indeed, as I understand it, was quite incapable of providing—any real solution in modern circumstances to the problem of selection. Indeed, I think it may even be said that the arrangement negatived the possibility of such a solution. On the one hand, it provided, according to Lord Langdale's letters, that the Public Record Office should be but the agent; of the Government Departments in preserving the records and receiving them from the Departments. On the other hand, in the light especially of slightly later legislation, it absolutely prevented the Departments from acting as their own destroyers or selectors of documents. Therefore, inevitably, the Grigg Committee concluded that the solution must lie within the Departments themselves; and that the selection must be made according to the formula to which the noble and learned Viscount 1158 the Lord Chancellor has referred—that of foreseeable departmental needs within the Department. And it is, I think, plain enough that that essential requirement is one which no Judge could possibly supervise effectively, still less enforce.
So, my Lords, the two steps I take to be these. First, the acceptance of the present extent of departmental records as something novel, urgent, important. Second, that the problem is manageable only within the Departments themselves. If those two steps have to be accepted, as it seems to me that they must, then, as I submit to your Lordships, all else in the main follows inescapably; and I include, of course, the obvious administrative desirability of having a single system and a single organisation for records of all types.
May I at this stage say that it is to me, both personally and in my capacity as Master of the Rolls, a matter of great satisfaction that the Government have decided that the Minister of the Crown to be in charge of the Department should be the Lord Chancellor. If I may say so, I believe that decision is right. May I give your Lordships two reasons, at any rate, for that view? In the first place, I think the choice solves automatically, if it does not altogether avoid, difficult problems which might otherwise have been presented by the desire to preserve the ancient link between the holder of my office and records, as the Grigg Committee recommended—a link which I hope your Lordships would think it very wrong to destroy. It is possible, I think, in a real sense to say to-day of the 85th (for such I think I am) Master of the Rolls, as it was to say of the first, that in this respect he is a kind of deputy to the Lord Chancellor. My second reason depends upon the special qualifications, the special qualities, of the civil servants of the Lord Chancellor's Department, to whom I should like now to pay a tribute for the skill and consideration which they have shown to me in the stages preliminary to the presentation of this Bill. They, I think, are best equipped to appreciate the equally special qualifications of the civil servants in the Public Record Office, of whom, with your Lordships' permission, I will say something more a little later.
I think it best that I should leave to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack such comments as he thinks it 1159 would be right to make in answer to certain of the points made by the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough. I would, however, just observe this: if the noble Viscount is afraid that there might be. under the present system, some kind of unauthorised destruction, I confess to him that, whatever my powers in theory may be, I have no sort of effective control of what goes on in any particular Department and the papers which eventually emerge from any Department and arrive at the Public Record Office are far older than I think was in the mind of the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, may I ask a question? Does the noble and learned Lord know whether, before destruction of a class of records takes place, there is any consultation between the Department, the Minister, and the Minister who has been in occupancy of the particular departmental office when the paper was produced?
§ LORD EVERSHED
What happens under the present system is that, pursuant to certain Acts of Parliament at the end of the last century, certain broad instructions emanating from the Public Record Office are followed in the Department in preparing schedules of documents for destruction. They can, of course, be only in very broad groups. When a schedule is prepared, it is eventually signed by the Minister in question and myself and is laid before Parliament. No possibility exists of examination of the individual documents, of course, and the sort of dates to which the average schedule relates are somewhat more ancient than would be effective in the case of one Government trying to conceal from its immediate successor what had been going on in a particular Department. But of course the test for selection, which is notionally, I suppose, utility to the historian, is one which is, as the Grigg Committee point out, when documents of this volume are concerned, really impracticable. I hope that I have sufficiently answered the noble Viscount's question.
My Lords, there is one matter which I should just like to put into your Lordships' minds. During my eight years as 1160 holder of the office of Master of the Rolls. I have on more than one occasion found myself attempting to resist, as best I have been able, what I have thought at the time to have been a somewhat undue pressure of economy upon the staff of the Office. Your Lordships will not, I hope, think I am about to indulge in what is almost a popular pastime of complaining of Treasury parsimony. I can well see the other point of view, particularly with a somewhat anomalous Department like the Public Record Office for which in the last resort, the head of the Treasury himself has been responsible to Parliament; and indeed the difficulty that the Master of the Rolls has been placed in may be another reason for the proposed change and for putting the Department directly under some Minister of the Crown. But, looking ahead, I would urge that there should be means for fulfilling what the Grigg Committee called the inescapable duty of the Government of a civilised country in regard to the preservation of records.
May I give two examples which, among many, come into my mind? The limitation or restriction upon the staff of the Record Office, and the extreme pressure of ordinary day-to-day administration, has in some degree affected adversely the work of publishing the calendaring which has always been regarded as an important part of the duties of the Public Record Office. You may have 100 miles of most beautifully boxed records upon the best steel racking that the Ministry of Works can provide, but it is not of much use to students of history if there are no means of informing the students, even roughly, what they are likely to find among the documents.
The second point is a very difficult one of procedure—the question of what is best to be done in regard to public records which may have strayed from the public possession. That is, as I say, a highly difficult matter, and it is my hope that perhaps the Lord Chancellor will think it appropriate to commit it at an early stage to the consideration of the Advisory Council. Your Lordships have in recent debates had many proverbs quoted, and perhaps you will allow me to-day to recall the one which says: "A stitch in time saves nine"—or, 1161 putting it another way, that present parsimony, if carried too far, is apt to cost rather dear hereafter.
My Lords, may I return to the ancient link which exists between my Office and public records? Your Lordships will, know, allow me on this occasion some pangs of sentiment, perhaps of regret, perhaps even of conscience, over things that may have been better done—certainly the feeling that my successors in office will look quite critically upon what we do to-day. Upon one matter I do net, I think, entirely agree with the Grigg Committee, though it was not a matter important to their conclusions: they seemed to be surprised that the Master of the Rolls had been chosen, in 1838, as the appropriate person in whose charge and superintendence to put the public records. After all, the Master of the Rolls is the one official of the Crown who has come down continuously from mediaval times and who has, all those centuries, been connected in some way or another with the preservation of public records.
In 1838, as Keeper of the Rolls and records of the Chancellory of England, he was keeper in truth of a substantial bulk of records. Nor can I entirely put out of my mind the fact that it was in the year 1377 that the present site of the Public Record Office was granted to my predecessor in title. Of course, it was not granted for the purpose of a Record Office, but for a quite different purpose. As your Lordships know, it became later the site of the old Rolls Court, of the old Rolls Chapel and also of the official residence of the Master of the Rolls, the privilege of which, in fact, he has been deprived since the erection of the Public Record Office. But these being the links, there is surely some virtue in the close historical connection. For my part, I greatly appreciate what was said by the Grigg Committee, in paragraph 127 of their Report, of the function of Masters of the Rolls in recent years, and that they had not been mere figureheads.
Your Lordships will, I think, allow me, from personal knowledge, to pay a tribute to the immense work for the Office done by my immediate predecessor, Lord Greene. Not only was his work extremely valuable, but it was to him a matter of absorbing interest, and perhaps only those closely connected with the Office fully 1162 realise how immense is the debt owed to Lord Greene in the way of administration and preservation of our national records. We owe an equal debt to the long service of Deputy Keepers and their Assistant Keepers. They are all scholarly men, chosen now by a special board as archivists. Your Lordships may remember that Sir Keith Hancock, a year ago, in referring to the partnership between the historian and the archivist, called the historian a selfish person and the archivist a selfless one—he said that the historian takes all the glory, though he would have been altogether hopeless without the work already done for him by the archivist. Or perhaps, as Shakespeare put it in the mouth of Orlando:…how well in thee appearsThe constant service of the antique world,When service sweat for duty, not for meed!My Lords, I am conscious of a considerable responsibility to those loyal and skilful servants of the Record Office, and I should feel that I had failed in my duty if their claims in the new organisation were liable in any way to be discounted or displaced.
I am afraid that I have detained your Lordships for rather a long time, but in all the circumstances I hope your Lordships will have heard with gratification what fell from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, when he spoke of his intention that this ancient historic link should be kept real and vivid. I hope, too, that your Lordships will feel that it would not be inappropriate if, in winding up the debate, the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack were to repeat his assurance that, at least in the form of the Advisory Council, that link would be preserved; and that those who hereafter hold the office of Master of the Rolls may continue to render to our country that kind of special service in connection with records which the title of the office, and its history, has associated with their predecessors.
§ 3.10 p.m.
THE EARL OF HARROWBY
My Lords, I feel that if there is any justification for the continuance of this House it is that those who have personal experience in a particular field under consideration should use that opportunity to put forward various points of view. To-day we are dealing with the broad principles 1163 involved. Those broad principles are clear-cut, and I am exceedingly glad that once in a while—though far too rarely, in my view—we have an opportunity of dealing with some of the minor trappings of the public service. There are a great many more bodies of this kind of which we know nothing, of which we never hear and whose affairs need close watching. The Public Record Office certainly does not need close watching, in that sense t and, speaking from my own personal experience, I should like to reinforce what has been said about that Office by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack and by my noble friend Lord Evershed. There is no question of a "watchdog" being needed, or of that necessity being the cause of the Bill. In my view, and I believe in the view of most people, it is a question of the vital need of some top-level factor in the interests of the Office itself. So far as I have come into contact with the fine line of past Masters of the Rolls and past Deputy Keepers of the Office, that is the long and short of it; and there is no question of searching to see whether everything is going on all right.
I very much regret that there has been such a very short time between the publication of this Bill and the Second Reading. It means that a long time elapses before it reaches any particular person, for one does not stand at the door of the publisher and snatch a copy. As with contentious measures, it is always valuable to have the reactions of the parties concerned—a very limited circle on this occasion—and to find out their feelings before the Second Reading occurs. It is perfectly true that there is a Committee stage but, inevitably, that stage (and quite democratically) has an atmosphere of aggression which is bound to lend colour to the attitude of those who think differently—that is, the sponsors of the Bill—and who may therefore "dig in" and oppose the Amendments. In a Second Reading one has the advantage, in that broader issues are put forward. and if they are considered worthy of consideration—and to my mind some of them should be—that fact can be met by the sponsors themselves drafting their own Amendments and dealing with the various points in a far better way. The general picture is not adequate consideration for the many people who, quite rightly, have 1164 been kept "in the picture" on what was involved. There is a great deal of difference between having an idea of what the broad principles are to be and the actual clause, line by line. No one who has been concerned with the long process of legislation can be unaware of that very salutary and important factor.
I am speaking very personally, and only for myself, in saying that I feel that in all small bodies, however important a matter may be—and this is definitely to be considered important—there is great danger of a top hamper compared to the number of people who are working at the bottom. When the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has made up his mind as to those who he considers are the fit and proper people, both in their personality and the interests they represent, I should very much like him to put those people on the Historical Manuscripts Commission, making them a statutory committee of the Historical Manuscripts Commission, with statutory powers to advise him, and if necessary amending the warrant to enable him to do so. Though he will get the same people that he can get now, it would limit the top hamper of fresh organisations. I do not want anybody to read into this any idea that I consider the Historical Manuscripts Commission would be suitable. I do not because, for one thing, they are too large. I should like to see them as part of the wider body.
There is an important point involved in Clause 2 (4) (g). I accept what I expect is the general intention of the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, but I believe that an alteration is needed so that it reads:(g) acquire records and accept gifts and loans of State records.I do not consider that the Public Record Office, as a body, should have any more private collections than they have at present. Owing solely and exclusively to the lack of funds which have been given centrally, they are absolutely unfitted even to maintain what they already have. I speak as a user, for I have handled the documents. They are in a state of very considerable damage and disorder, and it is utterly impossible for them to be otherwise. It is not possible to avoid that by any system of organization; it is purely a question of user and of the condition of masses of papers, very often on flimsy paper, which cannot be turned over and 1165 used by the mass of people who use them, without serious damage.
There is only one way to avoid such damage, and that is by binding. Yet the lack of financial provision by the State makes that impossible. To my mind, it is nothing but folly to have any scheme which organises retention and which does not at the same time organise maintenance. This is not a veiled attack on the organisation, for nothing in the way of organisation—not even a whole host of Archangel Gabriels—could induce a system to overcome that difficulty; and in fact, Archangel Gabriels are already in full supply there. There is there the maximum degree of efficiency and helpfulness, but the organisation is quite unable to cope with private collections; and hence I feel that this authority should be entirely limited to State records. Probably it is not realised that, whereas the importance to the State of the Public Record Office is largely a matter of old State documents, in fact the rush of people who go there in the mass—professors, students, and amateurs, including myself—and who all add their mead to reducing these boxes to chaos, want the more modern private collections, those of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. So that we get .0001 per cent. of importance and quantity being used by perhaps 90 per cent. of the researchers. That is the whole cause of the trouble. In addition to the need for binding, there is the need for foliating and indexing, because if a student, professor or amateur, who wants a particular item can go straight to it, that avoids the extensive handling of these papers which would result in still more damage. Binding, foliating and indexing are all part of the one problem of the preservation of manuscripts.
I agree with the general principles of, the Bill, and I couple with that the hope that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor will be the vehicle who has this responsibility, for it is a responsibility; and I am sure he will exercise it with the same degree of affection and interest as all children are entitled to expect from their parents—and model children at that. They have not had that sort of a deal in the past, and I think this is definitely one of the things with which the Bill can and will provide.
There is a further possibly dangerous point to my mind with regard to Clause 2 1166 (5), about levying charges, I am all for that provision, but I think the words "in special cases only" should be introduced, so as to prevent it becoming a place where one automatically pays in order to be able to conduct research. To my mind, that would be wrong. With regard to subsection (6) of the same clause, I am against fees being paid into the Exchequer. The fees probably would be quite trivial; it would be like farthings to a millionaire. But to the Office it would be very important. It could deal with some of the minor points to which I have referred. There are precedents for that. It does not seem to me right (to take an imaginary case) that instead of, say, £10,000 of a Vote. the exact figure of, say, £9,711 14s. 4d. should be put down, because the difference represented the amount of takings under some specific head, and therefore the State had to get its pound of flesh. The particular amount in question would probably be wasted by reason of the complication.
Clause 3 (1) and (2) as to outsides bodies are, I think the best provisions in the Bill. They are quite admirable. So much of this problem goes far outside the Public Record Office. I am sorry that it is called the Public Records Bill. Under subsection (3) of Clause 3, I believe that the date is a matter of contention in some quarters, but no doubt if representations are made, that point will be considered. I think that Cabinet papers—bar purely formal ones or those reproduced elsewhere—ought automatically to be kept, irrespective of the date. Under Clause 3 (6) the question of destruction is dealt with. I accept everything that has been said by the Lord Chancellor and by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Evershed, because this is clearly a matter of practicability and there is an overwhelming case for it. It has got to be done, and done on a substantial scale.
What I feel to be important is that certain learned bodies, which the Lord Chancellor himself should define, should have the right to have discarded documents, at their own administrative cost, hence not putting the State to any expense. They might even occasionally want duplicates. There are many reasons why they might want them. I am not at all convinced by the fact that under the 1167 Bill the Lord Chancellor is given the power to do all these things. That is nowhere near the same thing as giving the right to those concerned, particularly when all I am suggesting is that that right should be given only to those people to whom he thinks it should be given. I hope very much that that point may be considered between now and the Committee stage. Who knows who the Lord Chancellor or the Master of the Rolls may be at some long distant time ahead? I do not think it is any answer as to destruction issues, to be told: "You can take my assurance that things will not be worked that way." That is the sort of thing we have all heard in the past. I suggest that in this connection nothing is of any value unless it is actually laid down in the Bill. I think there should be a year's grace before destruction, so as to enable people to have plenty of time to consider the matter. This is a view which is shared in certain quarters which I imagine the Lord Chancellor would regard as relevant.
I can give a personal illustration of this. I was anxious some years ago to carry out certain research into some particular case, but I could not find it in the Records. I searched through the indices referring to volumes and folios and files and so on. All I was able to find was what the indices chose to record, which did take me some way. When I went into it further I discovered that these particular folios had been destroyed by the Department because they were not at all a matter of congratulation to that Department. This lends some colour to the story, which has often been told, though it may not be known to all of your Lordships. During the First World War, in one of the raids on London, a Department in Whitehall was set on fire and a civil servant was seen rushing into the flames—let me say that I do not suppose that the story is true. Someone said to him, "I suppose you are going to save the papers". The civil servant replied, "No, I am going to see that the right ones get burnt". I am not saying that it is possible to make provision against that, but I think we need to go as far as we can in that direction, to enable suitable bodies to know what is earmarked for destruction so that they can take hold of anything they want. I think that that is 1168 as far as it is possible to go in the way of making that provision.
I am delighted with Clause 4, which contains provision for the transfer of existingly held documents, and the Lord Chancellor's entry into the provincial field. I should feel that just as strongly if the storage aspect of the Public Record Office was covered for many generations to come. I think the idea is basically sound. I hope that the Lord Chancellor may find it possible to introduce the universities—and I am thinking particularly of the modern universities—into this clause or in some other place, either in relation to public repositories or in some other way. It is true that I can see the sort of answer which I am entitled to get. It will probably be, "The Lord Chancellor already has those powers, and the point is covered." That is a fair answer, so far as it goes, but I do not believe that it is sufficient. Parliamentary draftsmen do not—as they always like to let us think—lay themselves out to exclude any form of redundancy. For instance, in Clause 5 (1) they say—and quite rightly in my view:Public records … other than those to which members of the public had access before their transfer to the Public Record Office shall not be available for public inspection until they have been in existence for fifty years or such other period, either longer or shorter, as the Lord Chancellor may, with the approval, or at the request of the Minister or other person … prescribe as respects any particular class of public records.Clearly, as the Lord Chancellor has powers both ways, the "fifty years" limit is redundant. But I think it is right to put it in. By the same line of reasoning it may be suggested that even if it is redundant to bring in provincial universities it should be done in order to emphasise the point that they are going to be in the picture. And it would do a world of good in a far wider field than the somewhat narrow one which we have been considering to-day.
As regards the Schedule, I feel bound to trust the Lord Chancellor, and I do so readily. But I must confess that, when I know that the side-line ramifications of Government and State-supported bodies run into four figures, and I see only two, it makes we wonder what has become of the others which are concerned, such as territorial army associations which are almost entirely State-supported. Ordnance Survey, Geological Survey, and 1169 what-not. There is another matter which is specifically excluded from the Bill, and that is the question of nationalised industries, the post-nationalised Coal Board. In the terms in which we are considering the Public Record Office as such, that is, in my view, a correct provision. Obviously, the proper people to keep these records are the electricity, transport and other corporations, but it should not be left to them to decide how they do that. To my mind they should come under the same umbrella as those bodies who come under, perhaps, Clause 3 (1) and (2), and fall under general supervision, with the Advisory Committee deciding how and what records should be kept, and with the right of scrutiny. I think that is important because in future years, perhaps fifty years hence, students may want to write theses on subjects of this sort, and it is to the advantage of the State that they should be able to do so. Why is it more important to have theses written on the National Coal Board and the other institutions listed in the Schedule, rather than on the bodies which have been deliberately excluded? I think that it is vital that they should be brought in, not in a Record Office sense but in the sense of being under the Lord Chancellor's direction.
I am anxious to make clear, as I did over the point about the Second Reading of this Bill as against the Committee stage, that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor should not consider any of my remarks as in any way obstructive. The whole Bill is not only sound and in every way desirable but long overdue, I do not think that I am asking for anything which might be considered undesirable and for which the broad case is riot unanswerable, but I should not like to be regarded as "sniping" and still less as being petty. These are points which I have seen for myself. I have not read about them or picked them up, but have discovered them through being involved in so many instances, both at the provincial and the headquarters ends.
I am not asking that the noble and learned Viscount should say to-day that he will agree and that something will be done. I am not asking for an answer on those lines, but I hope that these points will be considered on their merits. I am not pleading for them because I think that mine should be specially considered, but because there are many 1170 others effectively concerned with this. I do not think that there is anything in them which will damage the prestige or lessen the importance of the Public Record Office because they would there be under the Lord Chancellor's more direct supervision.
I hope that in future, when Bills are introduced which cover only a small section of the community, there will be a much longer interval between their introduction and the date of Second Reading, so that people can turn the details over in their minds and discuss them before the Second Reading. As that has not happened here, I hope that the noble and learned Viscount will himself meet these points on Committee stage. There is no object in either myself or anyone else putting down Amendments for the sake of having a word on them and then having them turned down. In so far as my suggestions are constructive, I hope they may appeal to the noble and learned Viscount and that he will make his own propositions. I cannot believe that he will consider any of them as obstructive, either to his own ideas or to any of the principles of the Bill. They are minor modifications which I believe are important, and I hope that, when the time comes, they may receive due consideration.
§ 3.35 p.m.
My Lords, when I came down to your Lordships' House this afternoon, I did not think that I was going to have the honour and the singular pleasure of congratulating my noble friend Lord Harrowby on a maiden speech on a serious and important matter, on which he has made a notable contribution. I am sure that all your Lordships will agree with me in what I have said and would wish me to express the hope that we shall hear him on many occasions in future. It was my pleasure to sit beside the noble Earl's father on the last occasion, eleven years ago, when he addressed your Lordships. If my memory serves me rightly, he had led your Lordships' House many years before, but he had been so long away from the House that when he rose to speak I saw the heads on the Front Opposition Bench going together as noble Lords asked who he was. It is not long since I mourned deeply for his noble parents, to whom I 1171 owed so much pleasure and happiness in my younger days.
All who have read the Schedules of this Bill must realise that there are masses of public records and documents which ought to be destroyed, and must be destroyed, if the whole machinery of record keeping is not to be cluttered up—for example, polling records and many other personal records. When I looked at Clause 3 (6), two points occurred to me. One is that I am not aware of what proportion of the public records consist of deeds. When I succeeded, I thought that in my family papers there were a large number of wadsets—the Scottish term for mortgages—which were of no value and should be consigned to the waste-paper basket. But these wadsets were of value, I thought, in one particular, as every one of them had the names and addresses of the two parties and the names of two or four witnesses, and these old names and addresses are of importance, especially in country districts. As I did not have half as many as I thought, I made a register of the names and addresses of the witnesses and parties, for this reason: that there are a great number of people scattered all over the world who have an interest in tracing their own family trees. It is not only Members of your Lordships' House who take the trouble to record their family trees, and such records are of value in establishing pedigrees. Though this point applies more to family records than to public records, I think it deserves attention.
The other point I should like to mention is that certain classes of public records might be listed before being destroyed. Somebody might be interested in a public document which is due for destruction, which may have no longer any public importance but which might have personal importance. That would cover only a certain class of record, but I think it might be of service to the public.
When I come to Clause 5, I see that the term suggested is fifty years. Fifty years after his death was the time fixed by Bismarck for the publication of the last volume of his Memoirs. Your Lordships may remember that he did not know where to deposit these memoirs for safe keeping. He could not deposit them anywhere in his own country. His mind turned to Pierrepoint Morgan, but he 1172 discarded that idea in favour of the Bank of England. Perhaps it would more tactful not to follow up what occurred to the volume after that. Noble Lords opposite may be interested to know that by passing the Bank of England Act, though not much difference was made to anything else, it was made certain that such a decision would never be made in future, because nobody would trust a record to another Government.
Let me turn to Clause 5, coupled with Clause 3 (6). Without referring in the least to anything that at the moment may be sub judice, I can say that there have been occasions in Parliament when private people have thought that, under cover of privilege, they have been grievously injured and slandered; and I can give cases under the Government of each Party in the past. They may comfort themselves with the thought that in the end the records will be public, and they will be righted. There was a case which received considerable attention in your Lordships' House some little time ago when a great man, whose name I will not mention, because I do not know if the story is true, was stated to have said: "This is a matter that history will decide, and I write the history." That is not true. So long as our country retains its spirit, it is the historian who writes the history and who scrutinises carefully every document that comes to his attention.
So I think there is something to be said for not having the final charge of public records under the direct control of Parliament, and I sympathise with the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition in what he said about that matter. Politicians are notoriously tender to their own kind, and I believe there is a case to be made for having the supervision of public records completely independent of Parliament. I am glad to have uttered that discordant note. I expect I shall be completely answered, but, at the same time, it is a point that ought to be considered; that is, the effect of Clause 3 (6) and Clause 5 taken in conjunction therewith.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, looking at the attendance in your Lordships' House this afternoon, nobody would imagine that we were discussing a most important matter in the life of this country. The maintenance of public records is, to my mind, of the first importance. We are 1173 grateful to the Grigg Committee for their excellent Report, and to the Government for having, relatively promptly, introduced this Bill. We have little criticism of it: indeed, my noble friend was convinced by the speech of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack that there was no criticism whatever to be made. But since this is one of the few Bills which has riot one iota of politics in it, I feel free to introduce a somewhat different emphasis from that of my noble friend, and I hope he will forgive me
It is right that the maintenance of public records should be in the charge of a Minister. In saying that, I mean no disrespect, of course, to the noble and learned Lord, the Master of the Rolls, and his illustrious predecessors who have taken charge of the public records. But the fact remains, as the Grigg Committee says, and as the noble Earl who made such an excellent maiden speech told us, that a person who is not a Minister obviously cannot exercise that influence over Departments to ensure that the records are properly preserved and that the right ones are destroyed and not the wrong ones. It will be a real task to ensure that in future we get some order put into what I gather from the Master of the Rolls has not been entirely an orderly process. Therefore I have no quarrel that the Public Record Department should now be in charge of a Minister.
I must confess, however, that I have some doubts whether the right Minister has been chosen. I am sure the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will not for a moment believe that I am casting any aspersions on his capacity to do the job indeed, there is nobody in this House with broader shoulders than the Lord Chancellor, or who is more assiduous in his duties or more devoted to whatever task he undertakes. I listened to him justifying the transfer to a Minister and, as I have already indicated, I think he made his case. But I noticed that he made no attempt to justify its going to the Department over which he presides with such distinction: whether it was due to modesty or not, I cannot say. That is a question which the Grigg Committee considered, and they not only recommended that it should go to a Minister, but suggested a choice of 'Ministers. They suggested three: the 1174 Home Secretary, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Lord President of the Council. They, in effect, said: "Take your choice". However, they did not suggest the Lord Chancellor.
It was left to the noble and learned Lord, the Master of the Rolls, to suggest why the Lord Chancellor is the most suitable person, and he gave two reasons. The first was a historical reason, and the question of the custody of legal documents. I agree that in the beginning the custody of legal documents was a most important aspect of the work of the Public Record Department; but to-day that is not so. Indeed, when one looks at the definition in the 1836 Act, one finds there is some doubt whether we are dealing with legal documents alone or whether the documents of the various Departments are actually included. In practice, of course, they were. But whatever may have been the position then, there is no doubt to-day that the business of the Minister who is going to be in charge of the records will be to preserve the records worth preserving of all the Departments, including, of course, the legal documents.
As the Report points out, not necessarily in terms of importance but in terms of length the legal documents comprise about 250 linear feet per annum, and the departmental documents about 14,000 linear feet per annum. So the House will appreciate that the task of preserving the departmental documents far overshadows the task of preserving the legal documents. To-day it is no longer a question of the legal side predominating. For that reason, I do not feel that this duty should be transferred to the Lord Chancellor.
I agree that there is something to be said on the question of continuity and the relationship with the Master of the Rolls. Obviously, it would be a much happier relationship to have the Lord Chancellor as the Minister in charge, and with the Master of the Rolls presiding over the advisory committee. On the other hand, I am bound to say that I find sonic difficulty in accepting the Lord Chancellor as being a person concerned, with matters outside the legal sphere, as this will be. All the Lord Chancellor's functions at the present time, apart, of course, from his political functions and his duties in this House, are strictly legal. I have taken the trouble to make a list 1175 of them, and I shall be glad to hand the noble and learned Viscount the list that I have made. But they are definitely strictly legal. I thought some weeks ago that he was in danger of going over the edge, when the Government decided that the Lord Chancellor should approve the appointment of inspectors for the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. But since they have some sort of a legal function, I would regard that as a borderline case.
I believe that the charge of records goes right over the side and is quite outside the function of a Lord Chancellor, although, as I have said, I have no doubt that he could handle the matter. He would be undertaking responsibility for a Department which is in no sense a legal Department; for a considerable staff; for the structure of buildings, and for securing other buildings where necessary—and they will be necessary. I understand that one of the places in which documents are stored at the present time consists of one-storey hospital buildings which were erected during the war, are of a temporary nature and are held under lease which is expiring in the not too distant future. It will be the task of the Lord Chancellor to find other premises and to concern himself with all that kind of thing. If the Lord Chancellor is going to devote himself to this task, and to the task of getting proper referencing done—which, as the noble and learned Lord, the Master of the Rolls, pointed out, is vital—then he is going to do all that as well as continue with his existing duties, and I fail to see how he can do it adequately in the time. Knowing the Lord Chancellor as I do, I am sure that anything he undertakes he will try to do with the utmost diligence. He will not be satisfied to do it in a perfunctory manner. I wonder whether he will find that he is able to do the thing in the manner in which it should be done.
I would therefore ask that the Government consider this matter again—and I know that the noble and learned Viscount is not looking for more work to do, and if he is undertaking it, it is because he feels it is a public duty—and give it either to one of the three Ministers who were recommended by the Committee or, possibly, even to an outsider. I do not know whether the noble and learned 1176 Viscount was chosen because of the difficulty of deciding between the three, but I should have thought that the Minister of Education was a possibility. He is handling similar functions, and could do this job. Either that, or there should be a provision in the Bill which would enable the duties to be transferred to another Minister by Order in Council, if it should be necessary.
I should like to assure the noble and learned Viscount that what I have said is not in the slightest degree personal. In introducing the Bill, he justified it on the ground that it was in the interests of good administration and economy. I should be interested to know in what sense it will be more economical. My impression is that so far the functions are being carried out too economically, and that the first effect of its being taken under the control of the noble and learned Viscount will be a greater, and not a less, expenditure of money. But in the long run possibly money can be saved.
There are two small points that I should like to make. One is that in contemplation of this discussion—and I am glad that we have had it—I remedied one defect in my education. I had never been to the Public Record Office and I paid a visit last Monday. Fortunately, it is open between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. It occurred to me that these are very odd hours. It is not open in the mornings at all, and it may be that people wishing to pay a visit may assume that it is open all day. They would get to Chancery Lane and, if they went in the morning, they would find the Office closed. I thought it was open during those restricted hours only in the interests of economy. There is an interesting museum, which I would recommend noble Lords who have not seen it to visit one day. But I thought that much more could have been displayed if there were room for it. The amount of display space was very restricted indeed, and it might be possible for the noble and learned Viscount to see to it that the facilities for visits by the public are enlarged. I understand that schoolchildren go in the mornings, but not the general public.
The other point about which I should be glad to have further information is the question of films. The noble and learned Viscount will remember that in the 1177 Report there is provision for the British Film Institute to keep films in the National Film Library. That is dealt with in paragraph 228. I see no reference to that in the Bill itself. It is possible that under the Bill it can be done without specific reference. But if it is not intended to carry out that particular recommendation, I should be glad to hear from the noble and learned Viscount and possibly I shall put down an Amendment in due course so that the matter can be discussed.
May I conclude by expressing my great pleasure that the Master of the Rolls will continue to be associated, in what I think is a very proper respect, with the work which I know every Master of the Rolls must have had very much at heart. I think it was a good idea to make the Master of the Rolls the Chairman of the Advisory Committee and, in that way, to continue this long association with the work of the Public Record Office.
§ LORD EVERSHED
Would your Lordships allow me to say, in case the noble Lord, Lord Silkin wants to do any searching, that the search rooms are open from 9.30 in the morning till five o'clock in the afternoon. It is only the museum, which is, of course, a mere by-product of the Office, which is open to the public in the limited hours of one o'clock to four o'clock.
§ 4.1 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, may I first of all thank all your Lordships for the tone of the speeches in what has been to me a very interesting debate, and secondly add my own congratulations to my noble friend Lord Harrowby for the most fascinating maiden speech with which he favoured the House. I will come back in a moment to some of his points, but I should like to tell him, if he will forgive a personal angle on the matter, that he has put himself in grave danger. Shortly after I emerged from the Army head injuries hospital, some seventeen years ago, I rashly undertook to write a life of Spencer Perceval, Prime Minister of this country. I got as far as finding out that he spent the night before he was shot in the House of Commons at the house (I think I am right) of Lord Harrowby's great-grandfather; so, now that Lord Harrowby has shown his own interest in records, the time will come when I shall be pursuing him for the records of his great-grandfather's house.
1178 I should like to say, in answer to the very helpful speech of the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition, that, of course, I shall secure that there will be the Attorney General ready to answer in another place for any of these questions, and my Department will see that he is fully seized of the position. Broadly, as my noble and learned friend, the Master of the Rolls, made clear, one of the changes which will occur as a result of this Bill will, in my view as in his, be a greater amount of Parliamentary control and. therefore the ability on the part of Parliament to see that both the preservation and destruction are properly carded out. I was very glad to hear from my noble and learned friend what he said about his general views on the change and also those compliments to my own staff, to whom I personally owe so much.
There are two points on which he will not expect me to say much. One was his suggestion with regard to the Treasury, that they should be more forthcoming in the way of finance—I think he had cataloguing especially in mind. I will convey what he has said to my right honourable friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I do not think he will expect any further guarantee on my part at this stage. There are two points I wanted to mention. I am glad he talked about the straying documents, because l am inclined at once to agree with him that that is a matter on which the Advisory Council could be of the greatest use to me and, indeed, to the country. The other point is on the preservation of the link. I mentioned that in my opening remarks, and I should like to endorse it again. The service which he and his predecessors have given to the country in this direction is one which will not soon be forgotten, and I should like to give him my own assurance—and I am quite certain it will apply to my successors in office—that that link will continue to be used.
My noble friend, Lord Harrowby, raised a number of points to which I am sure he would like me to give careful consideration in the print of Hansard, before I make up my mind. There are some on which I think it might be helpful if, between now and the Committee stage, he and I had a discussion; and while I am on that point I would say that there is no question, of course, of taking the Committee stage until after 1179 the Recess. If the noble Earl would like further time, perhaps he would let me know; we will do our best to adjust the Business of the House, as far as we can, to help him on that point. As for the payment of fees to the Exchequer, that is a method of accounting which is commonly used in Government circles and does not prejudice how much or how little any particular Department can get out of the Treasury; but again I shall consider that point.
He raised a very interesting point with regard to the nationalised industries. It was essential when the nationalisation Bills were carried through that there should be interposed these boards of nationalised industries, which it was the desire of both sides of the House should have as much independence as possible. This puts the nationalised industries in a special position. I think the noble Earl, Lord Harrowby, mentioned Clause 2, subsection (4), paragraph (g), on another point. He was not sure whether it was entirely appropriate; but that provision will enable the Public Record Office to accept, for example, the records of the Duchy of Lancaster, if they were offered, and the records of other public bodies whose records are not to be public records within the Bill. At the moment the Public Record Office have relatively few private records, and those they have are often of an official nature—for example, the records of a Commander-in-Chief or the like. Therefore I would ask him to consider that point, and perhaps we can return to it at a later stage in the Bill. But, because I have mentioned some of his points, I hope that there will be no misunderstanding; all his points will be considered before we come to the Committee stage.
My noble friend Lord Saltoun raised at least two interesting points: one with regard to deeds. I appreciate the importance of this matter. It is remarkable how it can be verified who somebody is, or indeed whether somebody existed, by the witnesses' signatures as well as the signatures of the parties to the deeds. I should like to consider how much that comes into the picture. On the general point of Parliamentary control—as so often happens, Lord Saltoun has put his finger on one of the great problems of modern government—there are two divergent 1180 tendencies: one is for Governments to get rid of responsibility by introducing an independent body, and the other is to make everything answerable for in Parliament in order to make Parliamentary responsibility real. I should have thought—I ask my noble friend to consider this point—that, on balance, and especially when he remembers the doubts which the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition had in regard to this subject from the point of view of destruction, this is a matter which comes down on the side of Parliamentary answerability. That is my immediate reaction to his point; but again, if he will allow me, I shall spend some part of the Christmas Recess considering what he said to-day.
The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, raised a point which it is slightly difficult for me to answer. He said that although he has a completely reassuring case that the person in charge ought to be a Minister, why should it be the Lord Chancellor? Of course, I acquit him—we know each other very well—of any personal aspect in what he said. I think that these points have emerged from the debate. There is, first of all, the existence of the legal records, and also the secondary point that legal records should not be treated differently from the departmental records. Secondly, there is the point which my noble and learned friend the Master of the Rolls was good enough to emphasise, that for many centuries now the holders of his Office have been deputies to the holders of mine. From those points of view, and indeed, thirdly, from the point of view of the great value of the assistance of the Master of the Rolls to the Minister who will be in charge, I think there is a strong argument in favour of the selection of the occupant of the Woolsack.
A fourth point was also made by my noble and learned friend, the Master of the Rolls—I have already thanked him for making it—and that was the special qualities and qualifications of the staff of my office. I do not want to say anything that could be construed as derogatory to the staff of any other office—that is not my intention at all—but I think it is fair to say that the office of Lord Chancellor, which, after all, goes back without a break to Maurice at the time of the Norman Conquest, and Roes back with few breaks to Augmundus, the monk of 1181 St. Augustine, is an office which, of necessity, is particularly concerned with the history, tradition and records of this land. I do not want to put it in the least too high, but I think that must be so. It is the only mediæval office which has survived, although the Master of the Rolls' office has survived in the traditional function which has caused him to speak to-day. But I think that that aspect produces, not only in the holder of the office but in those who co-operate with him among his staff, a particular interest in the sweep of history and its present value and interest, which at any rate gives great joy to me in being able to work with these people.
On the question of the hours that the Office is open, my noble and learned friend, the Master of the Rolls, mentioned that of course the Museum is only a part of it, and the places available for searches are open at the other hours which he stated. I think I am right—my noble and learned friend will correct me if I am wrong—that in the last year there were over 100,000 searches. Again, I think that an office which has always had its own concern, as mine has had, with the records and the working of the Constitution in so many particulars, is one that will have a full understanding of the historical desire expressed in those 100,000 searches.
I do not know whether I have said anything to convince the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, but I would ask him to consider these aspects. Of course, I will consider what he has said; but these were the considerations which made us take that view. I am not going to say anything about the other offices which he mentioned, because I should like to consult my right honourable friends after they have had a chance of seeing Lord Silkin's speech. But these were the sort of ideas in our minds, and (whether they are a good answer or not), I think that Lord Silkin will realise that that is the spirit in which my staff and I are taking it on. I hope at any rate that he will be able to approve of that. My Lords, I again thank everyone for contributing to a most interesting debate, and I ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to the Bill.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.