HL Deb 04 December 1984 vol 457 cc1305-6WA
Lord Mottistone

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have yet received the report of the board of inquiry into the loss of the control room logs of HMS "Conqueror"; and whether they will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Lord Trefgarne)

In his Answer to the honourable Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley on 13th November in another place, my right honorable friend the Secretary of State for Defence undertook to consider making a Statement in another place when the report of the board of inquiry, convened by the Commander-in-Chief Fleet on 25th October, to inquire into the apparent disappearance of HMS "Conqueror's" control room logs for the period April to September 1982 was available and had been considered by the Commander-in-Chief and the Ministry of Defence.

It is not our normal practice to publish reports of boards of inquiry, which are not courts of law. Nevertheless, the House would wish to have as much information on this matter as is possible.

I regret that our inquiries so far have failed to locate the missing logs or to identify a proven explanation for their disappearance. It is clear that the logs were compiled and probably remained on board the submarine until October or November 1982. The submarine returned to Devonport on 5th November 1982 to prepare for a refit which started on 17th January 1983. It has not been possible to establish with certainty that the logs were not transferred to the submarine refit complex at Devonport when the submarine started her refit. However, this is considered unlikely.

There are several possible causes for the loss. Loss in transit between the submarine and the Ministry of Defence records office at Hayes, mishandling at Hayes and despatch to an incorrect address are all considered to be unlikely. Indeed, there is no proof that the logs ever left HMS "Conqueror". Before the ship's company moved out of the submarine for the refit, a considerable amount of material which was no longer required was placed in bags and incinerated in Devonport Dockyard. The possibility that the logs were inadvertently destroyed at this time cannot be ruled out. They could also have been mishandled and put in an unmarked incorrectly addressed envelope or left in a locker which has since been disposed of; deliberately and unlawfully destroyed, although there is no evidence to suggest this; or removed as souvenirs or for their assumed political or financial value.

The matter has been referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions and I understand that he has asked the Metropolitan Police to conduct an investigation.

A specially constituted team will be carrying out further searches for the logs; and in the future the records office at Hayes will maintain a record of all control room logs received. It is clear from the board of inquiry's report that the proper procedures for the custody and disposal of confidential control room logs had not been followed in HMS "Conqueror" for many months, including the period between March and October 1982 covered by the missing logs. Although the logs for the immediately preceding and following periods have been located, this failure no doubt contributed to the loss of the documents for the intervening six months, as well as to the failure to discover the loss earlier. Disciplinary action against those responsible for breaches of the regulations will be considered when the further investigations to which I have referred have been completed. Meanwhile, action is being taken to clarify the regulations.

In view of the investigations which are still proceeding I cannot give any more information at this stage. A further statement will be made when the investigations have been concluded.