§ Sir Bernard Braine
asked the Secretary of State for Defence who ordered the destruction of the British files on Operation Keelhaul; when these were destroyed and by whom; what procedures existed at the time for deciding that such material was not worthy of permanent preservation; and whether the destruction in this instance was properly recorded; and what procedures exist now to protect documents of historic importance.
§ Mr. Mulley
While a number of relevant files are now in the Public Record Office the original of the three-part Allied Forces Headquarters file 383.7–14.1, relating to Operation Keelhaul, was destroyed in 1968 or 1969 in the course of the continuing review of Ministry of Defence records under the arrangements prescribed by the Public Record Office for implementing the provisions of the Public Records Act 1958. The destruction of the 639W file was authorised by the officers of the Ministry appointed at that time to carry out the review, and was duly recorded in the register.
The Public Records Act 1958, as amended in 1967, places upon Departments a duty to review their records, to select those which are considered worthy of permanent preservation for transfer to the Public Record Office, and to destroy those not so selected as soon as they cease to be of administrative use. In the Ministry of Defence, as in other Government Departments, the review and selection of records for permanent preservation is undertaken by officers of the Department under the general supervision of the Public Record Office. Officers of wide departmental experience who have achieved positions of responsibility are normally employed on this work.
The general arrangements for review of records and selection for preservation remain unchanged. I am satisfied that basically our detailed procedures for operating them are sound but I am conscious that improvement may always be possible. Following a comprehensive survey in 1977, inspection and review staffing is being strengthened, and a panel of historians from outside the Department is being set up to advise MOD on the exercise of its responsibilities under the Act.