HL Deb 22 January 1976 vol 367 cc722-4WA

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have yet received the Report of the Radcliffe Committee on Ministerial Memoirs; and whether they will make a Statement.


The Report of the Committee of Privy Councillors on Ministerial Memoirs, under the chairmanship of the noble Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, which was submitted to the Prime Minister at the end of December 1975, is being published today as Cmnd. 6386. I should like to express to Lord Radcliffe and his colleagues my appreciation of the careful and thorough study they have made and of the distinguished Report which has emerged from it.

The Report makes comprehensive recommendations as to the rules and procedures which should govern the publication by former Ministers of memoirs relating to their period of office. The recommendations are firmly based on the present conventions as they have developed over the years, which the Committee argue should properly be regarded as concessions made to the author rather than as restrictions imposed upon him.

The Committee recommend that an author should be free to use his Ministerial experience for the purpose of giving an account of his own work, subject to restrictions on three categories of information. The first two consist of information relating to national security and to this country's relations with other countries. In these areas, the Committee consider that information must be withheld from publication for however long may be necessary and that authors must be prepared to accept as final the judgment of the current Prime Minister as to what material it would be harmful to publish. The third category consists of information destructive of the confidential relation ships upon which our system of government is based. It includes information about the opinions or attitudes of colleagues regarding any Government business; advice tendered to Ministers in confidence by individual officials; and personnel matters. The Committee recommend that authors should regard themselves as precluded from publishing information in these categories for a period of 15 years after the relevant events, or, in the case of advice by individual officials or comments upon their capabilities, until the persons concerned have completed their official careers if that is the longer period. It would of course be open to former Ministers to publish memoirs at any time provided that they did not contain information falling within any of the three categories identified in the Report.

As regards enforcement of the proposed rules, the Committee do not consider that satisfactory machinery is provided by the law as it now stands. They do not recommend the enactment of legislation establishing a series of new offences, and instead recommended that compliance should be allowed to rest on the free acceptance by the individuals concerned of an obligation of honour. They propose, however, that a Minister, on taking and leaving office, should have his attention drawn explicitly to his obligations in relation to memoirs; and that, as now, a former Minister proposing to publish a work relating to his Ministerial experience should submit the manuscript to the Secretary of the Cabinet who, acting on behalf of the Prime Minister, should ascertain whether it conformed to the proposed rules.

The Committee also recommend that the principles they have enunciated concerning publications by ex-Ministers should be reflected in the rules governing the publication of memoirs and similar works by former members of the public services.

The Government, having considered the Report, have decided to accept the Committee's recommendations in full. They trust that they will also command general acceptance and observance. They agree that a voluntary code of conduct is preferable to new legislation on this matter, although, as the Committee noted, the sanctions of the Official Secrets Act or any legislation which may supersede it and, in an exceptional case, of the civil law will continue to be available. The Prime Minister will be arranging for all present Ministers to be informed of the new arrangements and, as recommended in the Report, will invite them to sign an appropriate declaration.

House adjourned at twelve minutes past seven o'clock.