HL Deb 18 November 1996 vol 575 cc123-4WA
Lord Denning

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Answer of the Earl Howe on 31st October (col. WA 27), whether the Public Record Office in Chancery Lane was built, executed and used by the authority of a public statute—namely the Public Records Act of 1838—and was for the purpose of keeping safe the public records including the records of the Chancery of England in the custody of the Master of the Rolls and whether those documents should have been retained in that building and not removed from it except by a new Act of Parliament.

The Lord Chancellor

The Public Record Office Act 1838 (1 & 2 Vic c 94) placed the records of the Chancery of England in the custody of the Master of the Rolls, and empowered him also to take into his custody other records belonging to Her Majesty. These records were at the time located in many different buildings, and the Act permitted the Master of the Rolls to move them from one place to another. The Act additionally said that a Public Record Office should be created as soon as possible and directed the Treasury to provide (Section 7)such suitable and proper or additional Building or Buildings as may be required for the Reception and safe Custody of all the Public Records".

The Rolls Estate Act 1837 (1 Vic c 46) vested the Rolls Estate in Chancery Lane (which had previously been granted to successive Masters of the Rolls) in Her Majesty. It also authorised the Commissioners of HM Woods, Forests, Land Revenues, Works and Buildings to appropriate (Section 4):

"any Part or Parts which they may think proper of the … Rolls Estate to or for the Purposes of any of the Courts … or for a Depository of the records of the Court of Chancery … or other Public Records, or for any other public Purpose connected with the Administration of Justice or the Custody or Preservation of Records or Documents".

In neither of these Acts was there any requirement that the records of the Chancery of England be preserved in the Chancery Lane building, which did not exist until some years later. Instead, they were both permissive: the Rolls Estate Act provided a site in case it should be required and the Public Record Office Act gave the Master of the Rolls and the Treasury authority to select a suitable site and build a record office. In the event they did choose the Chancery Lane site and that part of the Rolls Estate now occupied by the Public Record Office was appropriated, work commencing on the construction of the new building in 1851.

The Public Record Office Act was repealed in its entirety by the Public Records Act 1958 (1958 c 51), which similarly contains no requirements about the location of the Office or the records. The Rolls Estate Act was repealed by the Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1975 (1975 c 10), with the exception of Section 4, which contains the provisions for appropriation quoted above.

Since there is no statutory requirement about the location of the office or the records, there is no need for a new Act of Parliament for the removal of the records from the Public Record Office in Chancery Lane.