HC Deb 30 November 1984 vol 68 cc593-4W
Sir Raymond Gower

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he has yet received the report of the board of inquiry into the loss of the control room log of HMS Conqueror; and whether he will make a statement.

Mr. Heseltine

In my answer to the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) on 13 November, I undertook to consider making a statement to the House when the report of the board of inquiry, convened by the Commander-in-Chief Fleet on 25 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.

I have already made it clear that it is not our normal practice to publish reports of boards of inquiry which are not courts of law. Nevertheless, I believe that the House would wish to have as much information on this matter as is possible.

I regret to announce 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 5 November 1982 to prepare for a refit, which started on 17 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 dispatch 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 or 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.

I have referred the matter 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 to the House when the investigations have been concluded.

Mr. Foulkes

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will list the occasions since April 1982 on which disciplinary action was taken against an officer or crew member of HMS Conqueror; and for what reason.

Mr. Stanley

On the information readily available, since April 1982 no offences have occurred which warranted detention or other serious punishment. A number of minor offences attracted lesser disciplinary action.

Mr. Foulkes

asked the Secretary of State for Defence why he has referred the diary of an officer of HMS Conqueror to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Mr. Heseltine

A copy of a diary which apparently was kept by a member of the crew of HMS Conqueror is in the possession of my Department. The diary contains classified information and it appears that its contents have been communicated to persons not authorised to receive such information. This constitutes a prima facie breach of the Official Secrets Acts. In the circumstances of this case my Department considered that it was a matter for reference to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

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