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Public Records: Security Service Files

Volume 596: debated on Wednesday 3 February 1999

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

asked Her Majesty's Government:When they will publish the recommendations of the Advisory Council on Public Records' review of the criteria used by the Security Service in deciding whether to retain files on grounds of historical interest. [HL891]

In July last year my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced that, with the approval of the Lord Chancellor, he had invited the Advisory Council on Public Records to review the criteria which the Security Service employs to select files for permanent preservation on grounds of historical interest. The Chairman of the Council, the Master of the Rolls, accepted the invitation and submitted the Council's report to him on 21 December 1998.

The council's report concludes with the following recommendations:

1. The following criteria should be added to those which currently guide the selection of files of historical interest:

  • (i) Organisations and individuals on which security action was required but which were not of great significance nationally or internationally at the time when the action took place.
  • Selection should be carried out to show the geographical, national and social range of individuals and organisations with which the Service had dealings. Full details of this criterion to be developed within the operational selection policy as follows:
  • (ii) Events with which the Service had an active involvement but which were neither newsworthy at the time nor historically significant if considered in isolation.
  • Selection should be carried out in order to reflect both developments in the Service's own activities and policies and the social, economic and political context within which the Service operated. Full details of this criterion to be developed within the operational selection policy.
  • (iii) A sample taken from all files on individuals on whom, after initial investigation, no security action was taken and from the files on individuals not selected under other criteria.
  • At a minimum this should be a sample of 1/100 of such files. The details of the sampling method should be considered as part of the development of an operational selection policy. The taking of a sample is dependent on the preservation of all means of reference.
  • (iv) All policy and subject files, other than those of an ephemeral nature.
  • (v) All registers and other means of reference to policy files and to files on subjects, organisations and individuals.
  • 2. The Security Service should work with the Public Record Office to develop an operational selection policy based on the criteria as amended, for completion in 2000–01.

    Having consulted the Director General of the Security Service, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has decided to accept the council's recommendations in full. Additionally, and in response to an observation elsewhere in the report, officials of the Public Record Office with the necessary security clearance will, in future, be invited to examine files which have been earmarked for destruction following review by the Security Service. This will provide a useful measure of external scrutiny of the selection process.

    My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is most grateful to the Advisory Council for undertaking this valuable review, and for its helpful and constructive recommendations. A copy of the report has been placed in the Library.