Select Committee on Public Administration Written Evidence

Memorandum by Rt Hon Tony Benn

  I understand that this issue is now before your Committee and would like to submit a few points for your consideration:

    (1)  Information about what Governments do is essential in democracy, which depends on voters being informed.

    (2)  Very few real secrets exist, relating mainly to Security, the Budget, before it is opened and personal information held.

    (3)  It is malice, not information, which damages the conduct of public business, malice which flourishes in gossip and the media.

    (4)  Ministers and political advisers publish diaries and memoirs and I do not see why retired civil servants should not do the same, subject to the laws of libel and within security limits.

  I would be glad to meet your Committee to present this case in person but understand that this will not be possible.

  I am therefore enclosing just one example which I hope will make my point, relating to the Cabinet held on 18 March 1975 when a decision was made to recommend a YES vote in the Referendum on British membership of the EEC.

  The Cabinet minutes for that meeting have now been released under the Thirty Year rule and I enclose a photocopy of them (Annex A).

  Also enclosed is my full, uncut and unedited diary of that Cabinet which I wrote that day from notes I made at that meeting (Annex B).

  Your Committee may like to compare the two and consider whether the diary, (an edited version of which was published in 1989), in any way damaged the public interest or whether it provided a different but interesting perspective of a key government decision and how it came to be taken.

  Other accounts written by ministers or civil servants attending that same meeting would, I believe, also be of interest, as would accounts of most meetings that take place.

  The truth will make us free and truth has many sides to it.

January 2006

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