|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Williams of Mostyn: During an adjournment debate in another place on 25 February, (Official Report, cols. 341-348) my right honourable friend the Home Secretary undertook to make an announcement, before the summer recess, on the subject of the Security Service's file holdings and on the Service's file destruction programme. He now fulfils that commitment. He does so having consulted the Director General of the Security Service, and having been advised by him that the information which he will be revealing for the first time today may be disclosed without detriment to the requirements of national security or to the operational effectiveness of the Service.
The Security Service currently holds in total about 440,000 files which have been opened at some time since its establishment in 1909. Of these, approximately 35,000 files relate to Service administration, policy and staff. A further 40,000 concern subjects and organisations studied by the Service. About 75,000 files relate to people or groups of people who have never been investigated by the Service, such as those who have received protective security advice. This leaves about 290,000 files relating to individuals who, at some time during the last 90 years, may have been the subject of Security Service enquiry or investigation. Of this 290,000, some 40,000 have been reduced to microfilm and placed in a restricted category to which Security Service staff have access only for specific research purposes. A further 230,000 files are closed so that Security Service officers may use them where necessary in the course of their current work, but may not make enquiries about the subjects of the files.
It will be apparent that only a small proportion of the Security Service's file holdings relate to individuals who may be under current investigation by the Service. The number of files which fall within that category is around 20,000. Of that number, about one third relate to foreign nationals--typically, members or associates of foreign intelligence services or terrorist groups. This leaves in the order of 13,000 active files on United Kingdom citizens. To place it in context, this compares with about 5.7 million records on individuals on the Police National Computer. It represents about 3/100ths of one per cent. of the current adult population, and only a tiny
Of those 13,000 files, more than half are for individuals who have come to the Service's attention in a terrorist related context, while the remainder relate to the Service's other fields of investigation, such as espionage, proliferation and serious crime. A proportion of these files is for individuals who are co-operating with the Service against these threats to national security. Following the collapse of Soviet Communism and the decline in the threat from subversive groups, the Service scaled down its counter-subversion work over a number of years to the point where it is no longer running any investigations in the field of subversion.
Detailed criteria govern the opening of files on individuals and organisations. These criteria specify the circumstances in which opening a file and initiating enquiries are justified within the terms of the Service's statutory functions. They are kept under continual review and are formally checked on an annual basis for currency, relevance and propriety.
It has long been the policy of the Security Service to review its file holdings and to destroy those files which it no longer requires for operational purposes and which do not merit retention on grounds of historical interest. In the period between its formation in 1909 and the early 1970s, the Service destroyed well over 175,000 files. The destruction programme was then halted in response to concern that it had impeded investigations into espionage cases. In the early 1990s, following the collapse of Soviet Communism and the associated decline in the threat from subversion, the review and destruction programme was reinstated. Since then, more than 110,000 files have been destroyed or have been earmarked for destruction.
In reviewing files for destruction, the Service takes account of their operational value, their historical significance, and the Service's obligation to retain certain categories of records against the possibility of a complaint to the Security Service Tribunal. With these criteria in mind, the Security Service continues to review its holdings of closed files for destruction and will continue to destroy files which no longer need to be retained on those grounds. The rate of review and destruction is dependent upon the resources which the Service can afford to spare for the task.
We have said that the Service takes account of the likely historical significance of each file before sending it for destruction. It is a matter of interest to professional historians, writers and journalists that records which might be of real historical value should be kept for posterity. It might, therefore, be helpful if I explain how that process is governed.
The Security Service, as with Government departments, is subject to the Public Records Act 1958. This Act, among other things, regulates policy on the selection of files for preservation. In common with many other departments, the Service has drawn up guidance to govern this process and this has been approved by the Public Record Office. My right honourable friend published the criteria applied by the
The operations of the Public Record Office are, in turn, scrutinised by the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Council on Public Records, chaired by the Master of the Rolls. There are three eminent historians on the Advisory Council and others with an academic or professional interest in 20th century records, including a Professor of Politics and Mr. Andreas Whittam Smith, former founding editor of the Independent newspaper. Panel of Historians
Earlier this year, in response to a question from the House of Commons Select Committee on Public Administration, my right honourable friend said that he was looking at whether there was a need for a panel of historians to advise the Security Service on the retention of its files for historical reasons. With the agreement of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and the Director General, he has asked the Advisory Council specially to review the criteria which the Service currently applies in determining whether files which it would otherwise destroy should be kept on grounds of historical interest. The Council has agreed to carry out such a review, and my right honourable friend is grateful to the Chairman for accepting the invitation. The Council will welcome submissions from those with an interest in the subject. Representation should be submitted, in writing, to the Advisory Council at the following address:
Secretary, Advisory Council on Public Records
Public Record Office
Telephone: 0181 876 3444 ext. 2351
Fax: 0181 392 5295
The Security Service is fully committed to a policy of releasing as much material of historical significance as it can. But in determining which files may safely be released, there are important considerations which the Service will always have to take into account. These include: the need to protect sensitive investigative techniques; to protect information supplied in confidence by agents and liaison services; and to bear in mind the potential impact of release on those individuals concerned and their families. The Service's current programme of reviewing its early records of historical interest has already resulted in the release of almost all the surviving material covering the years 1909-19. The Service is now actively reviewing its more extensive stock of records from World War Two, but, as with the
My right honourable friend is aware, however, that the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee has, itself, been reviewing these issues and may have more to say about the subject in its Annual Report. He looks forward with great interest to seeing what it has to say. Booklet
Finally, I am pleased to announce that the Security Service is, today, publishing the third edition of the booklet which describes the Service and its work. The booklet is even more informative than its predecessors. This reflects our policy of making available as much information about the Service as we sensibly can, without undermining the effectiveness of its operations or risking the safety of its staff or its agents.
Mr. Bynoe has most recently been engaged in research work commissioned by the Institute for Public Policy Research. He was previously Legal Director of MIND (The National Association for Mental Health). He will take up his post on 3 August.
Their appointments, which are initially for three years, bring to thirteen the number of members of the Authority, including the Chairman and Deputy Chairman.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page