Questions about the Cabinet Secretaries´ Notebooks

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Cabinet Secretaries' Notebooks - Q & A

Q. What are the Cabinet Secretaries' Notebooks?

A. The Cabinet Secretaries' Notebooks are the hand written notes which the Cabinet Secretary makes when he attends Cabinet Meetings as the Senior Secretary.  The Notebooks which are being released are those of Sir Norman Brook who was in fact Deputy Cabinet Secretary until 1947 and thereafter became Cabinet Secretary.

Q. Are the Notebooks public records?

A. Yes.

Q. Why have the Notebooks not been released earlier in accordance with the 30 year rule?

A. The question of whether the Notebooks should be released has been considered for over 20 years.  It was discussed at some length by a Committee on Modern Public Records chaired by Sir Duncan Wilson in 1981.  The Wilson Committee concluded that extended closure of the Notebooks was proper, partly because they revealed the contribution of individual ministers to Cabinet debate and so might undermine the collective responsibility of the Cabinet, and because they contained items the release of which could harm national security.  The Government in its response to the Wilson report accepted its recommendation that consideration should be given to allowing access to the earliest Notebooks when they were 50 years old.  Following the publication of the Open Government White Paper, the policy was reviewed in 1993 when it was decided to withhold publication of the Notebooks for at least another ten years.  The review began in 2003 and resulted in the release of the first tranche of Notebooks in January 2006.

Q. How many Notebooks are being released?

A. Four have already been released. This is the fifth. 

Q. Why are we releasing the Cabinet Secretaries' Notebooks now?

A. It was agreed between the then Cabinet Secretary (Sir Andrew Turnbull) and the then Master of the Rolls (Lord Phillips) in 2004 that we would transcribe the Notebooks and release them in tranches beginning in January 2006.

Q. What years do the Notebooks cover?

A. The first Notebook (CAB 195/1) (released January 2006) covers the period 13.4.1942 - 19.11.1942.
    The second Notebook (CAB 195/2) (released January 2006) covers the period 26.11.1942 - 14.7.1943.
    The third Notebook (CAB 195/3) (first half released January 2006 and the second half in March 2006) covers the period 6.3.1945 - 7.2.1946.
    The fourth Notebook (CAB 195/4) (released March 2006) covers the period 7.2.1946 - 31.12.1946.
    The fifth Notebook (CAB 195/5) (released May 2006) covers the period 2.1.1947 - 18.12.1947.

Q. What has happened to the earlier Notebooks?

A. The first Cabinet Secretary, Lord Hankey, kept a diary which he began in 1915 and whilst it does cover the proceedings of Cabinet Meetings it also goes much wider and so is not an official Notebook in the same way as those which are currently being released.  The diary has been deposited at the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge and is open to researchers.  Also deposited at the Churchill Archives Centre are the Notebooks of Lawrence Burgis who was an Assistant Secretary to the War Cabinet between 1940-1945; these Notebooks are also open to researchers.  The Notebooks of the second Cabinet Secretary, Lord Bridges, were destroyed by him. 

Q. Why are there gaps in the Notebooks?

A. There are two possible reasons for the gaps in the Notebooks.  Firstly, Sir Norman Brook did not attend Cabinet Meetings, indeed, during 1947, Sir Norman was absent due to illness from the end of May to the beginning of August.  Secondly, he attended but did not make any notes. 

Q. What is the value of the Notebooks?

A. The Notebooks give more of a flavour of the discussions and therefore of the relationship and views of individual ministers.  They also give a more in-depth flavour to incidents which happened at the time.

Q. How do the notebooks differ from the official Cabinet Minutes?

A. The main difference is that the official minutes do not attribute views to individual ministers as the Notebooks do.  Nor do the items necessarily correspond: the Cabinet Secretary did not note every item, but sometimes included incidental discussion not reflected in the official minutes.   

Q. Is there anything new in the Notebooks?

A. There is little new information in the Notebooks.  However, they do give a real flavour of the views and personalities of those people who attended Cabinet or who were being discussed at Cabinet.  They also give an indication of the dynamics in Cabinet, for example, on the occasions where the views of ministers differed.  They also show that where the Cabinet failed to agree or a decision was deferred for further discussion.  Finally they give a real feel for the domestic and international scene during 1947.

Q. Why have the transcripts been done?

A. Transcripts have been made so that the Notebooks could be reviewed by the Cabinet Office in advance of release to the National Archives.  As a by-product of that process the Cabinet Office feels that they may also be useful to Researchers.

Q. Are the transcriptions accurate?

A. The Notebooks have been transcribed as accurately as possible.  This means that any errors in spelling etc that occur when writing rapidly to keep up with the flow of speech have not been corrected.  Sir Norman Brook used his own abbreviations and these have also been left as they are in the Notebooks.  Where the writing was unclear either a "best guess" has been made or question marks have been inserted.  Where Sir Norman has used abbreviations for people mentioned in the Notebooks we have left them as they are in the text but have provided the attached list of the most commonly used ones and a list of Ministers who were in the Cabinet at the time.

Q. Why are we not releasing all the Notebooks up to the 30 year piont at the same time?

A. The Notebooks need to be reviewed before they are released to ensure that there is no sensitive information in them.  Therefore the Cabinet Office is having the Notebooks transcribed to facilitate the review process.  This is a lengthy process which is why the Cabinet Office has agreed to release a few a year up to the 30 year point.

Q. In releasing the Notebooks in tranches - when do we get to the 30 year point?

A. 2014.