From New Scientist, 18th November 1989
Question: When is a document not a document?
Answer: When it is a leaked document.
Feedback was intrigued by the following comments, made last week at the inquiry into the Hinkley C nuclear power station. The hearing was awash with speculation, now confirmed, that an embarrassed British government was about to acknowledge more problems with its plan to privatise nuclear power. A hapless legal gent, one John Steel, turned up on behalf of the Department of Energy to forestall any attempt by antinuclear campaigners to use a leaked Cabinet memorandum as evidence. Steel said of the memorandum:
"Such a document is a confidential internal Governmental document which is privileged and which cannot be required to be disclosed by the inquiry . . . May I make it absolutely and abundantly clear that the Government will not voluntarily disclose any such document of this nature nor confirm or deny that the press reports which purport to be extracts from such a document are accurate or inaccurate. The document has not been published, that is, the 'leaked' Cabinet document. It is thus not in the public domain . . . The National Union of Mineworkers accept that they have extracts from the document, and that extracts were published in the press, if they be extracts, which again, I am neither confirming or denying. Therefore, it would be nonsensical to require the whole of a document, assuming it is a correct extract that has been pubished, to be disclosed by reason of the disclosure in the press of leaked parts of the document. That could lead to compounding the mystery which has already occurred, if it has occurred."
So now we know. Or do we?
This just proves that civil servants really *are* like Sir Humphrey at times!