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The Struggle for Civil LibertiesPolitical Freedom and the Rule of Law in Britain, 1914-1945$

Keith Ewing and Conor Anthony Gearty

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780198762515

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198762515.001.0001

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(p.419) Appendix

(p.419) Appendix

Public Record Office Files

Source:
The Struggle for Civil Liberties
Publisher:
Oxford University Press

In the course of this study it was discovered that a large amount of potentially relevant material is held at the Public Record Office (PRO). Under the Public Records Act 1958 (as amended by the Public Records Act 1967), public records are not made available for public inspection until thirty years after they were created. The Act provides, however, that the thirty-year period may be extended (s 5(1)), though no grounds for withholding access are set out in the Act. The Act also provides that some records may be retained by departments rather than transferred to the PRO where there is an again unspecified ‘special reason’ for doing so (s 3(4)). The procedures are explained at some length in the White Paper on Open Government (Cm 2290, 1993), ch 9.

In addition to the foregoing, there was issued in 1993 a Code of Practice on Access to Government Information, with a revised second edition being published in 1997. This is said to be designed to support the then government's policy of ‘extending access to official information, and responding to reasonable requests for information’ (Part I, para 1). According to the Code of Practice, the ‘approach to the release of information should in all cases be based on the assumption that information should be released except where disclosure would not be in the public interest, as specified in Part II of the Code’ (ibid). The Code is not legally enforceable, and is not intended to override statutory provisions on access to public records, whether over or under thirty years old (Part I, para 9).

On 16 October 1997 we wrote to the Home Office requesting that 101 pieces be opened. All but one are closed for 100 years,1 and all relate to the period from 1908 to 1945. We were advised that although the Home Office is willing to consider applications to open individual files, the procedure requires a review of the material contained in them, in order to prevent the disclosure of information ‘which ought not to be released: for example because it might cause substantial distress to a living individual or their close relatives, or because it still has a bearing on national security or intelligence’. We were also informed that a review of over 100 files was beyond the resources of the appropriate Home Office department, and our request was refused under the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information, 2nd edn (1997), Part II, para 9.

Part II contains categories of information which are exempt from the commitment to provide information set out in the Code, and para 9 applies to:

Requests for information which are vexatious or manifestly unreasonable or are formulated in too general a manner, or which (because of the amount of information to be (p.420) processed or the need to retrieve information from files not in current use) would require unreasonable diversion of resources.

It was not suggested that there was anything vexatious about our request for access, but that it was more than the Home Office could ‘cope with in a reasonable time’. Although the department was willing to ‘consider reviewing a selected sample of files to assist [our] research’, it was pointed out that ‘a review of the closure period of a single piece could take several months as it is likely that other government departments would need to be consulted’. We were nevertheless encouraged to ‘identify one or two key pieces’.

It proved impossible to do so: the files to which we sought access were all identified because we thought they would be of value. Quite how much value they would be is impossible to say until we had examined them. So they remain closed (though it appears that one—relating to the activities of George Lansbury MP—has since been opened). We remain baffled why it is thought necessary to close for 100 years Home Office (not Security Service) files relating to matters such as: (a) disturbances at public meetings 1925–1936, (b) the activities and publications of the Industrial Workers of the World 1917–1925, and (c) the Law Officers’ Opinion under the Emergency Regulations 1921 ‘as to recovery of expenses incurred by the Government in working Public Utility undertakings in default of the normal contractor’. We take this opportunity to list the pieces to which access was denied: the title of each is often in itself very revealing. The pieces in question are all held in the Home Office class HO 144 at the Public Record Office. They are as follows:

HO 144

Date

Title

1

7044

1908–1927

Hyde Park: disturbance and annoying or insulting behaviour.

2

1650

1909–1921

Suppression of disturbances in the Metropolitan Area during war.

3

20069

1925–1936

Disturbances at public meetings.

4

22936

1911–1947

Military Aid to Civil Power: Law Officers’ opinion.

5

8795

1917–1925

Industrial Workers of the World: activities and publications.

6

21188

1920–1939

Cyphers for emergency use in a period of industrial unrest.

7

4549

1919–1925

Government emergency arrangements in the event of a General Strike.

8

5992

1920–1926

Activities of Mr George Lansbury, MP.

9

7480

1921–1927

Emergency Powers Bill and Act 1920: Regulations 1921; Law Officers’ Opinion as to recovery of expenses incurred by the Government in working Public Utility undertakings in default of the normal authority.

10

4663

1921–1925

Question of withholding passport facilities to notorious Communist (William Gallacher).

11

1746–1747

1921–1922

The Miners’ Strike, 1921.

12

1703

1921

Persons attempting to cause disaffection among HM Forces. HO Circular to Police.

13

1705

1921

Offences connected with coal dispute. Cases dealt with at Swansea Assizes, July, 1921.

14

4684

1921–1925

Activities of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The relative responsibility of Attorney General and Home Secretary in instituting political prosecutions.

15

20097

1927–1936

Use of tear gas by police.

16

20618

1922–1933

Walter Hannington: subversive activities.

17

13544

1920–1931

Restrictions on the issue of passports to British subjects liable to cause disturbance abroad.

18

21356

1922–1939

Occurrences known or believed to have been caused by members of the IRA.

19

21357

1939

Ditto

20

21358

1939–1940

Ditto

21

6099

1923–1926

Political activities and subsequent imprisonment of Shapurji Saklatvala, MP.

22

6103

1923–1926

Subversive literature, etc.: policy as to prosecution.

23

6116

1923–1926

General Strike, 1926: emergency arrangements.

24

4775

1923–1925

British Fascists Movement.

25

5318

1925

Dangerous alien Communists and activities of the Communist Party of Great Britain.

26

21370

1924–1940

Communist activity: exchange of information with foreign powers.

27

6682

1925–1926

Communist Party: activities.

28

6707

1925–1926

Emergency Organisation: appointment of police liaison officers.

29

6751

1925–1926

General Strike, 1926: protection of convoys, vulnerable points, etc., by police with naval and military assistance.

30

22372

1925–1929

Communist propaganda to incite His Majesty's Forces to mutiny. Sedition charge against John Gollan.

31

22373

1930–1934

Communist propaganda to incite His Majesty's Forces to mutiny. Sedition charge against John Gollan.

32

6891

1926

Miners’ Strike, May 1926: Russian money, telegrams and letters from abroad.

33

7983

1926–1927

Prohibition of meetings or processions: Orders under Regulation 22 of the Emergency Regulations 1926.

34

6894

1926

General Strike, 1926: local communist newspaper: police proceedings under Emergency Regulations.

35

9237

1926–1928

General Strike, May 1926: publications likely to cause mutiny, sedition, disaffection, etc.; Order under Emergency Regulations, 1926, dated 4 May 1926.

36

6896

1926

General Strike, 1926: conduct of certain Justices of the Peace.

37

6898

1926

Convictions arising out of the General Strike in Birmingham.

38

6900

1926

General Strike, 1926, formation of the Civil Constabulary Reserve.

39

7985

1926–1927

Payments from Russia in aid of the General Strike.

40

22377

1926

General Strike, 1926: Leniency of sentences passed by Ipswich Bench: complaint by Chief Constable; question of appointing temporary Stipendiary.

41

6902

1926

General Strike, 1926: situation reports.

42

6903

1926

General Strike, 1926: police baton charge at Poplar.

43

6904

1926

General Strike, 1926: proceedings under the Emergency Regulations, Yorkshire (West Riding).

44

12050

1926–1930

General Strike, May 1926: records of emergency proceedings and convictions and Home Office circulars; conduct of magistrates; amnesty for persons in prison for offences under Emergency Regulations; deputation to Lord Birkenhead.

45

9240

1926–1928

General Strike, May 1926: Emergency Services Vote, 1926–27.

46

7994

1926–1927

Proceedings under the Emergency Regulations 1926: Northumberland.

47

9486

1927–1928

Communist propaganda: question of expediency in instituting prosecutions.

48

12143

1927–1930

Unemployed miners’ march to London in 1927. March of the unemployed to London in 1929. Hunger march to London in 1930.

49

22404

1927–1930

Communist activities in India. Merrut conspiracy trial: evidence as to intercepted mail, telegraphs, etc under Home Office Warrants.

50

17832

1929 Nov. 12–1931 Oct. 30

Interception of communist propaganda literature transmitted by post from abroad.

51

17833

1931 Nov. 14–1932 Apr. 25

Ditto

52

17834

1932 June 20–1933 Jan. 27

Ditto

53

22581

1930–1931

Communist Party and National Unemployed Workers’ Movement: demonstrations and speeches.

54

22582

1932–1933

Ditto

55

12051

1926–1930

General Strike, May 1926: proceedings under Emergency Regulations at Durham.

56

10670

1926–1929

General Strike, May 1926: Councils of Action and Strike Committees.

57

8014

1926–1927

Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Bill, 1927.

58

10671

1926–1929

General Strike, May 1926: the Cramlington Miners convicted of derailing the ‘Flying Scotsman’.

59

6939

1926

General Strike, 1926: conviction of city councillor who was also member of Hull Watch Committee.

60

17711

1925–1933

Aliens engaging in communist activities.

61

22381

1926–1927

Communist Party activities: consideration of proceedings against leaders; National Minority Movement.

62

8208

1926–1927

Tylorstown Riots: sentences passed at Glamorgan Assizes.

63

8226

1926–1927

Members of Monmouth County Council convicted of rioting at Pontypool.

64

22388

1927–1932

Communist activities amongst the population.

65

13821

1928 Mar.–May

Russian Banks and Communist Funds: investigations and inquiries.

66

13822

1928 May–1931 Mar.

Ditto

67

22587

1932

Demonstrations by Bristol unemployed workers between 12 Apr. and 28 Oct. 1932.

68

22588

1931–1932

Communist propaganda: articles contravening the law.

69

16355

1931–1932

Demonstrations by unemployed in London.

70

21037

1931–1938

Police arrangements to prevent disorder at public meetings in Liverpool.

71

16379

1932 Sept. 20–Oct. 31

Unlawful assembly at Mardy: conviction of Arthur Horner and others.

72

18186

1932 Sept. 20–Oct. 31

National Unemployed Workers’ Union: march to London in protest against means test.

73

18187

1932 Nov. 1–1933 Jan. 2

Ditto

74

18294

1932–1933

Powers and duties of the police at meetings, processions and demonstrations.

75

21511

1932–1941

Allegations of the teaching of Communist doctrines at Dartington Hall Co-educational School.

76

21957

1938–1944

Communist publications.

77

19835

1932 Dec. 20–1933 Jan. 8

Two organisers (Tom Mann and another) of a proposed mass demonstration of unemployed, imprisoned for refusing to enter into recognisance to keep the peace and to be of good behaviour. Correspondence between the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary; approval of the court proceedings invoking an Act of 1360.

78

19836

1933 Jan. 12–May 17

Ditto

79

19284

1932–1934

Kath Sinclair Duncan, communist: obstruction of police and breach of the peace.

80

19838

1933/1935

‘Daily Worker’: scurrilous articles and cartoons.

81

20132

1933–1936

Industrial unrest and communist activities in South Wales.

82

19843

1933 Nov. 1–1934 Feb. 6

National Hunger Marches to London: Communist influence.

83

19844

1934 Feb. 6–13

Ditto

84

19845

1934 Feb. 15–22

Ditto

85

19846

1934 Feb. 26–1935 Jan. 29

Ditto

86

19701

1934 Apr. 17–June 21

Incitement to Disaffection Bill 1934.

87

19702

1934 June 25–Nov. 4

Ditto

88

2153

1932 Mar. 28–1936 Sept. 14

Spanish Civil War: Communist demonstrations.

89

21524

1936 Sept. 18–1941 Jan. 13

Ditto

90

20696

1936 July 29–Oct. 23

Hunger March, 1936.

91

20697

1936 Oct. 27–1937 Jan. 19

Ditto

92

23049

1937

Poster exhibiting hammer and sickle superimposed upon a crucifix: public indignation and demand for legal action.

93

21529

1936–1941

Reports on the activities of the ‘Left Book Club’.

94

20058

1926–1935

Memoranda on problems of internal security prepared by the Home Office for the Committee of Imperial Defence.

95

21316

1939

Prevention of Violence (Temporary Provisions) Bill 1939.

96

22459

1939–1945

Stephen Lally: revocation of Expulsion Order made under the Prevention of Violence (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1939.

97

22462

1939–1944

Orders made under Regulation 39E of Defence (General) Regulations, 1939 prohibiting holding of public processions.

98

22474

1940

Subversive activities of Peace Pledge Union.

99

21991

1940–1944

Suppression of ‘The Daily Worker’.

100

21635

1940–1942

Albert Harry Campbell: detained under Defence Regulations 18B; writ served upon Sir John Anderson and others.

101

8144

1926–1927

Question of the right to be registered as an elector whilst in prison.

(p.421) (p.422) (p.423) (p.424) (p.425) (p.426)

Notes:

(1) The exception is closed for 75 years.