HL Deb 05 February 1987 vol 484 cc332-3

3.28 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what criteria were used to determine which 1956 official papers should not be made publicly available under the 30-year rule and which impartial authority was asked for advice.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Hailsham of St. Marylebone)

My Lords, the criteria were those set out in Cmnd. Paper 8531, paragraphs 26 to 28 inclusive. In answer to the second part of the noble Lord's Question, the Lord Chancellor adopted the procedure described in paragraph 40 of the same paper.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that the matter of national security cannot apply to those papers that were not published on 1st January? As the papers published have revealed that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary of the time both lied to Parliament and that the British Government colluded with Israel and France, national security cannot be used as an excuse for not publishing the large number of papers which I understand were suppressed on 1st January. As regards the second part of the Question, the noble and learned Lord told me on 14th January that where papers concerned him personally consultation was taken with an impartial third authority. Can he tell the House who was the impartial third authority?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, as regards the second part of the noble Lord's supplementary question, certainly: but I recommend that he reads paragraph 40 of the paper. As regards the first part, I think the noble Lord has strayed a little far from his original Question on what were the criteria adopted in relation to those papers. He will know that security is only one of at least three groups of criteria.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, my noble and learned friend will be aware that I was on his advisory council for nine years and that even before he makes a decision he is advised by many erudite people, much more erudite than myself. There are three main criteria. Only very selective documents are considered for further closure. Will my noble and learned friend agree that the present system, which has been working for a very long time, is extremely satisfactory?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend and I should like to thank him for the work he is doing on the advisory council. It is a very important public service. I am grateful to him for his question and the answer is, yes.

Lord Denning

My Lords, as I was chairman of that advisory council for about 20 years, may I suggest that we did our work, applied the right criteria and were independent of any government influence whatever? We had valuable assistance on all sides.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I am sure the whole House will acknowledge that my noble and learned friend on the Cross-Benches is wholly independent of government.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, while thanking the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for his somewhat Delphic initial answer, on the assumption that we are very familiar with the details that are implicit in the documents referred to, can he say whether the minutes of Cabinet meetings in 1956 were disclosed to the public in the recent releases?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, my recollection is that they were all set out at great length in Robert Rhodes James's biography of Anthony Eden.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord agree with me that the reduction from 50 years to 30 years for the closure of documents was made in the interests of historians? There is no discontent in that profession. It was never thought that the reduction was to enable people to make party policital points in either House of Parliament.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, it would certainly have saved me a certain amount of embarrassment today and a week ago.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, does not the noble and learned Lord agree that in view of the disclosures that were made by those papers published on 1st January, and the additional fact that it is well known that a large number of papers were not published, there is a danger that suspicion will grow, and is growing, among the public in this country that the truth is not being told, at least not until too late? When one relates the disclosures made about the events of 1956 to occasions like the conduct of the Falkland war, the Westland affair and now Zircon, there is a great danger that the public will lose, and is losing, confidence in the veracity of government spokesmen in both Houses.

The Lord Chancellor

No, my Lords, and I do not think that the noble Lord should encourage any apprehension of that kind.

3.34 p.m.

Lord Denham

My Lords, at a convenient moment after four o'clock this afternon, my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale will, with the leave of the house, repeat a Statement that is to be made in another place on private rented housing.