Book Review: Secrecy in Britain

Published date01 September 1990
Date01 September 1990
DOI10.1177/014473949001000208
Book
Reviews
Secrecy
in
Britain
CLIVE PONTING
(Basil
Blackwell,
Oxford,
1990,
pp.87,
£3.75.)
The
story
of
the
development,
workings
and
effects
of
governments
secrecy
in
Britain
is
by
now
pretty
familiar.
Students
mugging
up
the
subject
to
write
essays
for
their
tutors
(or
indeed
the
interested
general
reader!)
can
these
days
consult
quite
a
few
books
on
the
subject,
most
written
from
an
explicitly
critical
and
'reformist'
point
of
view.
Clive
Ponting's
latest
book
is
no
exception,
as
might
be
expected
from
someone
who
was
famously
on
the
receiving
end
of
the
Official
Secrets
Act
in
the
mid-1980s
and
who
has
already
made
his
views
known
in
his
earlier
works.
Ponting's
approach
is
an
historical
one.
His
book
is
in
fact
published
as
one
of
the
Historical
Association
Studies,
a
series
aimed
specifically
at
a
student
audience.
It
will
probably
be
popular
with
such
readers
for
it
is
short,
racy
and
clearly
written.
The
author
manages
to
pack
a
lot
into
his
80-odd
pages
of
text:
the
history
of
official
secrets
legislation
from
the
19th
century
right
up
to
the
1989
Official
Secrets
Act;
the
growth
of
the
'secret
state';
secrecy
and
the
media;
famous/notorious
secrets
cases;
pressure
for
reform.
There
is
a
useful
chronology
and
a
short
guide
to
further
reading.
It
is
fair
to
say
that
Ponting
does
not
really
grapple
with
some
of
the
difficult
constitutional,
political
and
administrative
questions
involved
in
the
secrecy
and
freedom
of
information
debate
or
in
any
moves
towards
a
more
open
style
of
government
in
Britain
(though
it
is
only
right
to
acknowledge
the
constraints
of
space
he
inevitably
faced).
But
students
who
read
only
Ponting
and
not
(say)
K G
Robertson's
Public
Secrets
(1982)
and
the
collection
of
essays,
Open
Government,
edited
by
Richard
Chapman
and
Michael
Hunt
(1987)
should
be
marked
down!
That
said,
Clive
Ponting's
book
is
to
be
welcomed.
It
is
up-to-date,
a
good
read
and
cheap
-
all
considerable
recommendations!
Department
of
Politics
University
of
Leeds
KEVIN
THEAKSTON
Reshaping
Housing
Policy,
Subsidies,
Rents
and
Residualisation
PETER MALPASS
(Routledge,
1990,
pp.196,
£30.00
h/b,
£9.95
p/bl
This
is
a
timely
book.
As
Peter
Malpass
points
out,
since
Roy
Parker's
work
was
published
in
1967,
there
has
been
no
extended
study
in
the
field
of
housing
policy
which
takes
as
its
central
focus
the
issues
of
public
sector
rents
and
subsidies.
Perhaps
this
omission
reflects
the
view
that
housing
finance
is
a
dull,
dry
and
immensely
complex
subject,
full
of
endless
details
of
how
this
or
that
subsidy
is
calculated.
If
this
the
case,
then
Peter
Malpass
has
performed
a
most
useful
service.
His
book
provides
a
fresh
and
readable
analysis
of
post-war
policies
towards
public
sector
rents
and
subsidies,
which
shows
that
there
has
been
much
underlying
continuity
of
approach
in
successive
legislative
59

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