Yes Minister (1980–1984): Season 1, Episode 4 - Big Brother - full transcript

The Minister wants to give citizens access to their files on a new national database, but Sir Humphrey is at his obfuscating best. Accused by his political advisor and his wife of being a mouthpiece for the civil service, Hacker decides that he is going get his way on this one. Taking the advice of his predecessor, now an Opposition MP, he successfully anticipates all of Sir Humphrey's roadblocks but in the end, he uses the civil servants' own tactics to get his way.

Recording in one minute. Studio stand by.

We'll talk about cuts in government extravagance, aren'twe?

We'll get to that if we've got time

afterthe National Data Base.

I don't think people are really interested in the Data Base.

It's so trivial.


What's the matter? You look a bit too pink.

We can't have that, whatwould the Daily Telegraph say?

All those questions about "are we creating a police state?"

We can do without those. Jim, you knowme.

I don't give out my questions in advance.

Dead silence, please.

Ten seconds...

Five. Four. Three. Two...

Good evening.

Is Big Brotherwatching you? To be more precise,

the Government is building up a dossieron you.

It's called by the harmless name of

"National Integrated Data Base".

At the press of a button any civil servant

can inspect just about every detail of your life

yourtax, yourmedical record, periods of unemployment,

children's school records, and that civil servant

may happen to be yourneighbour.

There's been mounting concern overthis powerful,

even totalitarian weapon that the computer revolution

has put into the Government's hand.

And the man who wields the weapon is the Minister

forAdministrative Affairs, the Right Honourable James Hacker.

Now, Minister, are we laying the foundations of a police state?

You know, I'm glad you asked me that question.

Well, Minister, could we have the answer?

Well, yes of course, I'm about to give it to you, if I may.

As I said, I'm glad you asked me that question.


it's a question

a lot of people are asking.

And why?

Because a lot of people want to know the answerto it.

And let's be quite clearabout this without beating about the bush,

the plain fact of the matter is

that it's a very important question indeed

and people have a right to know.

But Minister, we haven't yet had the answer.

I'm sorry, whatwas the question?

Now look, supposing I annoy you in this interview,

how do I know you won't go back to youroffice,

press a button and call up my tax records,

my hospital records, my police record...

Oh no. No. No.

Bob, that's not the way we do things in this country.

What's the Data Base for if it's not to check up on people?

You know, that's a very interesting question.

It's forstoring information

so as to speed up government business

so thatwe need not take on an enormous influx of clerical staff.

Computers are big business and are good news.

But, Minister, if you put information into the machine,

you'll eventually take information out of the machine.

Not necessarily.

So, you're going to spend 25 million pounds

accumulating information and neveruse it?

No. Yes. No.

Well, there will be safeguards.

Such as?

Close in on him, Two. Bob's got him on the run.

One minute 45, studio.

We'll be looking at a whole range of possibilities.

And of course, it's a complex and highly technical matter.

Rome wasn't built in a day.

It's underreview.

And of course, these things take time.

Minister, am I talking to the formereditorof Reform

orto a Civil Service spokesman?

We haven't talked about the safeguards I've introduced.

And there's my newbureaucratic watchdog office, for instance.

It doeslook asif we'll needa whole pack of watchdogs before long.

But thank you very much.

Right, hold it there while we check the tape.

How did it go? Well, I thought... First class Very good indeed.

I thought I waffled a bit.

Oh no, you stonewalled superbly, Minister.

Time fora drink?

About the safeguards I've introduced.

My newbureaucratic watchdog office, for instance.

It sounds as if we'll need a pack of watchdogs before very long.

But thank you very much.

In next week's topic...

Howwas I? Splendid, Minister.

Very dignified. Very suitable.

Yes, Sir Humphrey, I congratulate you.

Jim is nowperfectly house trained.

He does exactly what you tell him.

Lf you'll excuse me, Mr. Weasel. Weisel.

You say everything the Civil Service programmes you to say.

What are you a man ora mouth?

Very amusing, Frank.

It might be hard fora Political Advisorto understand this,

but I am merely a Civil Servant,

I simply do as I am instructed by my master.

If the Minister's a woman what do you call her?

Yes, that's rather interesting.

We sought an answer

when I was Principal Private Secretary and

Dr. Edith Summerskill,

as she then was, was appointed Minister in 1947.

I didn't quite like to refer to heras my Mistress.

Whatwas the answer? We're still waiting for it.

It's underreview, is it? Rome wasn't built in a day.

These things take time. I must be going.

Me too. Before you go Minister may I remind you

we meet tomorrowmorning at Paddington at 8?

Where are we going? Swansea, Minister.

You're addressing the Conference of Municipal Treasurers.

Oh, yes.

You're due in Newcastle to address the by election meeting.

So I am. You can't do both.

I can't do both. That's a Civil Service junket.

The by election's important. It's important.

The Conference is in yourdiary. They expect you in Swansea.

They expects you in Newcastle.

How come he's double booked? How come I'm double booked?

Well, largely because nobody told me about Newcastle.

Why didn't you tell him? Why didn't you?

I can't remembereverything.

Frank, I think I'd bettergo to Swansea.

Is that a decision? Yes, that's final.

The P. M. Expects you to go to Newcastle.

The P. M?

I think I'd bettergo to Newcastle, Bernard.

Is that a decision, Jim? Yes, that's final.

Now I'm going home. Is that a decision?

No, quite seriously...

I think you've made the wrong decision.

Yourvisit to Swansea's been announced.

You can't get out of it. Oh, Lord!

Find a way of getting me from Swansea to Newcastle.

Car, train, helicopter, anything. I'll have to do both.

And now I'm going home, and that is final!

Finallyfinal? Absolutelyfinally.

If you could do all yourboxes tonight.

There's all the M&A Committee papers and all the letters.

And if you're a good boy, you'll get a sweetie.


Hello, darling.

Thanks, George. Goodnight. Goodnight, sir.

Hello, darling. Hello.

Leaving me at last?

It's ouranniversary tomorrow, have you forgotten?

No, of course I haven't forgotten.

We're going to Paris. Oh, my God!

You had forgotten. No, I hadn't.

No, it's just that I... I didn't... I'm double...

I'm going to Swansea tomorrow. Swansea?

And Newcastle.

I don'twant to go there formy anniversary.

No. Not you. Just me.

Cancel them! I can't.

What are you doing?

Cancel them! We booked this three months ago.

I can't. Then I'll go to Paris without you.

Hello, Bernard... Yes, it's me...

I'm going to have to cancel tomorrow.

Swansea and Newcastle.

It's my wife's wedding anniversary tomorrow...

It's yours too!

Yeah, and mine too actually. Yes, it is.

Coincidence? Don't be silly.

Anyway, I'm going to Paris tomorrow and that's final.

Yes, I said that before, but this time is final!

You'll just have to cope as best as you can.


Yes... definitely...


Is that clear?


We're going to Paris.

No, I'm going to Swansea and Newcastle.

See me on TV tonight? I saw somebody who looked like you.

What's that meant to mean? Nothing.

Frank says I've become a Civil Service mouthpiece.

Yes. What do you mean, yes?

Well... yes. You mean you agree?

Of course. What do you mean, of course?

You could have hired and actor to say it all foryou.

And why not just sign your letters with a rubberstamp?

Orget an Assistant Principal to sign them foryou.

They write them anyway.

Assistant Principals do notwrite my letters!

UnderSecretaries do that.

I rest my case, my lord.

You think I've become a puppet? Yes, I do.

Get Miss Piggy to do yourjob. She's prettier.

I don't knowwhat to do.

I'm just swamped by the work.

Oh, Annie, I'm so depressed.

As we're not going to Paris,

let's at least go out fora quiet little dinnertonight.

No, I can't.

Bernard's told me to get through three boxes.

What do you mean, Bernard's told you?

When you edited "Reform" you were quite different.

You went in, you told people what to do,

and you got what you wanted!

Eitheryou get them by the throat orthey get you by the throat!

Howmany articles did you tearup in those days?

Dozens. And howmany official papers?

I'm not allowed to! Not allowed to?

Darling, you're the Minister, you can do anything you like.

No, Humphrey, I've decided that Frank was right.

And Bob McKenzie too.

The National Data Base has got to be organised differently.

Yes, Minister.

We want all possible built in safeguards.

Yes, Minister. Right away.

What precisely do you mean, right away?

I mean right away.

I see, you mean right away?

Got it in one, Humphrey. Well, Minister...

We are still in the early months of this Government.

And there's an awful lot to get...

The Data Base rules have got to be changed. Now!

But you can't, Minister. Yes, I can, I'm the Minister.

Yes, indeed you are, Minister.

And quite an excellent Ministerat that.

Nevermind the soft soap, Humphrey.

I want all citizens to have a right to see theirown files

and I want legislation to make unauthorised access, illegal.

Very well. It shall be done. Good.

But the legislation necessary to give the public the right

to take legal action is extremely complicated

and would take considerable time to draft,

promulgate and enact.

Legislation isn't necessaryfora citizen to see his own files, is it?

No... Then, we'll startwith that.

I suppose we could manage that slightly quicker,

but there's an awful lot of administrative problems as well.

This must have been examined before.

The Data Base has been in preparation foryears.

There must have been discussions about it.

Yes, indeed. What conclusions were reached?

Humphrey, what conclusions were reached?

What did my predecessor want to do about it?

Humphrey, can you hearme?

My lips are sealed.

I beg yourpardon?

I am not at liberty to reveal previous plans, Minister.

Why not?

Would you like everything that you have said in this office

to be revealed subsequently to one of youropponents?

I see. No.

We cannot give youropponents political ammunition against you.

But Tom Sargent was my predecessor.

It isn't a party political mattersurely?

It's a matterof principle. It justwouldn't be...

I see and we don'twant to do anything thatwouldn't be...


Oh, excuse me, Minister. Yes, Bernard?

A slight problem, Minister.

Because of the adverse...

not entirelyfavourable press reaction to your interview,

the otherChannel wants you fortheirprogramme.

Say no. No?

Yes, no. Yes no?

Yes, say no! That's final. Lf that's what you want.

But they would go ahead with the item

and nobody would be there to state yourcase.

No? Okay, yes.

No, okay, yes...

Oh, I see what you mean. Yes.


Thank you, Bernard.

What am I going to tell them about safeguards. Humphrey?

Perhaps you could remind them, Minister,

that Rome wasn't built in a day?


Oh, my dearfellow. Mind if I join you?

No, of course not.

Well, how are you enjoying being in opposition?

How are you enjoying being in Government?

Well, not as much as I expected, actually. Well, not at the moment.

Humphrey got you undercontrol?

It's so hard to get things done.

Did you manage to get things done? Oh, almost nothing.

When I did cotton on to his technique, there was the election.

Technique? Stalling technique.

Stalling technique? It comes in five stages.

First, he'll tell you there's lots of things to be getting on with.

He told me that this morning. Quite.

Then, if you still persist, he'll say something like

"Ah, yes, Minister, I quite appreciate the intention,

certainly something ought to be done,

but are you sure this is the rightway to achieve it?".

I must make a note of this.

Now, if you are still undeterred, he will shift his ground.

He will shift from how to do it to when you should do it.

I mean, he'll say,

"Now, Minister, this is not the right time,

forall sorts of reasons".

And Ministers settle forthat? Well, lots do.

And if you don't,

he'll say that the policy"has run into difficulties".

Such as? Technical, political, legal...

Legal are the best sort.

He can make those totally incomprehensible.

And with any luck, this technique will have lasted forthree years

and you'll be at the final stage when he says:

"We're getting very close to the next general election.

Are you sure you can get this policy through?"

Howhas it taken three years?

Sir Humphrey will do absolutely nothing unless you chase him.

And you've got fartoo much to do.

You see, it's what they call "creative inertia".

What's the policy you're trying to get through anyway?

I'm trying to make this National Integrated Data Base

a bit less of a Big Brother.

Oh, is that what it is?

He's told you it's all quite new? Well, yes.

My dearfellow, we spent years on that.

We had a White Paper when they called election.

I've done it all.

And administrative problems? I've solved them.

And you couldn't see any of the previous papers?

yes No wonder. He's wiped the slate clean.

D'you knowwhat his next move's gonna be?

No. Howmany boxes have you got?

Three? Four? Five.

Did he tell you not to worry about the fifth one?

Yes. Right. I'll take a bet.

You will find at the bottom of the fifth box a memo

which explains exactly why

any newmoves on the Data Base

must be delayed. If you don't find it,

he won't do anotherblind thing, but in six month's time

he'll say that he has told you all about it.

Tom you were inoffice foryears. You know allCivil Service tricks.

Not all, old boy. Just a fewhundred.

And how do you make them do something they don'twant to do?

My dearfellow, if I knew that I wouldn't be in Opposition.

But I don't get it. Tom's the opposition.

Why did he tell you all this?

The Opposition aren't the opposition. Of course not. Silly of me.

They are called that. They're the opposition in exile.

The Civil Service are the Opposition in residence.

Now then, bottom of the fifth box, Tom said.

But you can't really do anything.

Oh, can't I?

Tom's given me all his papers on the Data Base.

Three year's worth!


Found it.

It had slipped into an 80 page report on Welfare procedures.

"Safeguards still underdiscussion...

programme not finalised...

nothing precipitate...

failing instructions to the contrary, propose await developments".


Ring Humphrey and tell him. I'll see him first thing.

Ring him now! It's two o'clock.

He'll be fast asleep. Exactly!


Why should he be asleep and you're still working?

He's had you on the run. Now it's yourturn.

I couldn't do that.

What's his number?

Itwas in the fifth box, you couldn't have got to it earlier.



Humphrey, sorry to ring you so late.

I didn't interrupt you in the middle of dinner, did I?

No, we finished dinner some while ago.

Oh, good. What's the time?

Er, two a. m.

Good God, what's the crisis? No. No crisis.

I'm going through my boxes,

and I knew you'd still be hard at it.

Oh, yes, yes, yes, yes. Nose to the grindstone.

Well, I've just come across this Data Base paper.

Oh, you've found... you've read it!

Thought I'd bettertell you I'm not happy with it.

You'll welcome an opportunity to work on something else.

You didn't mind my calling you? No. Not at all Minister.

Always a pleasure to hearfrom you.

I meant to tell him to see me about it before Cabinet.

Don't ring him now.

You're right, it is a bit late.

Give him anotherten minutes.

If you could be fairly quick.

He does have Cabinet at 10. I can be very quick.

The word "No" is one of the shortest in the language.

Sorry to be so late. Lots of reading to do this morning.

Good morning, Bernard. Thank you, George.

Now, Humphrey, the Data Base.

Have you drafted yoursafeguards?

Well, Minister, I quite appreciate your intention

and fully agree that there is need forsafeguards,

but is this

the rightway to achieve it? Well, it's my way.


That's my decision, anyway.

Well this is not really the time forall sorts of reasons.


It's the perfect time.

Safeguards should be developed alongside systems,

that's common sense.

We tried all this before and we ran into all sorts of difficulties.


Such as?

Well, technical, for instance. No. No problems.

We can use the same basicfile interrogation programme

as the U.S. State Dept. And the Swedish Ministry of the Interior.

No problems there.

Yes, but there are also formidable administrative problems.

And all departments are affected.

An interdepartmental committee... No. No. No, Humphrey.

You'll find that the existing security procedures are adequate.

This is simply an extension. Anything more?

Well, yes, Minister. Legal problems, forexample?

Yes, Minister. Good, good.

Do we have the legal power?

I'll answer it. We have.

All personnel affected are bound by theirstaff agreements.

Yes, but Minister, there will be a need forextra staffing.

Will you be able to get it through the parliamentary party?

Yes, I'm quite sure. Anything further?

I don't think so. We can go ahead then.

You're very silent.

You don't seem to realise the amount of work that's involved.

Haven't you examined safeguards before?


I remembersome written answers to parliamentary questions.

Well, in the first place as we've agreed that question is not...

In the second place, if there had been investigations,

which there haven't ornot necessarily,

orl am not at liberty to say whetherthere have,

there would have been a project team, which,

had it existed, on which I cannot comment,

which would nowhave disbanded if it had existed

and the members returned to do theirdepartments,

if indeed there had been any such members.

Ornot as the case may be.

Quite so, Minister. I want these safeguards

made available immediately.

Minister, it is not possible. It is.

It isn't. It is.

It isn't. It is.

It isn't. 'Tis, 'tis, 'tis, 'tis, 'tis, 'tis.

Just to remind you, you have Cabinet at 10.00,

the Anglo American Society at one,

and the "World in Focus" interview, this evening.

Can't you get me out of the lunch?

I'm afraid not minister. It's been announced.

I see... I suppose I...

What's that you just said? We can't get out of it.

It's been announced, it's in the programme.

Thank you, Bernard.

Thank you very much.

Forwhat, Minister?

Foreverything, Bernard.

our Man ontheSpot tonightis the Right HonourableJim Hacker,

MinisterforAdministrative Affairs,

the man at the heart of the Big Brothercomputercontroversy.

He's talking to Godfrey Finch.


as you know there's been an outcry this week

about the dossierthat the Civil Service bureaucracy

has apparently been building up on every citizen in this country.

Now, it's rumoured that this is not in fact, yourown policy,

that you'd like to have safeguards forthe individual citizen,

but that you are being totally frustrated at every stage

of the game by the Civil Service machine.

You know, Godfrey,

there's a lot of nonsence talked about the Civil Service.

It's a marvellous, efficient, professional organisation,

capable of enormous energy and speed.

It's staffed by a lot of talented, dedicated people

who do everything in theirpower to help the Government

make it's policies into law.

Well, thank you forthe commercial, Minister.

Perhaps we can start the programme now?

The fact of the matter is that the Civil Service and I

are in complete accord overthis whole business

and I'm happy to announce that we're nowready

to put ourproposals into publication.

In fact, tonight I can say that from Septemberthe first,

every citizen of the U.K. Will have the absolute right

to inspect his personal file and check any information

that he has eversupplied to the Government.


no civil servant will be allowed to examine personal files

from anotherdepartment, without written authorityfrom a Minister.

And I shall be announcing in the House next week legislation

enabling citizens to take legal action against any civil servant

who gains unauthorised access to his file.

Encouraging, Minister.

Why did you not say so first, and put people's minds at rest?

I didn't believe that the Civil Service could meet ourdeadlines.

But they've convinced me that they can.

And, in fact, my Permanent Secretary

has staked his reputation on it.

And if not, heads will roll...

Anyway, Assistant Heads.

Thank you very much, Minister.

It can't be done. It's been announced on TV.

Bernard, what did you make of our Minister's performance?

Well, I... I think it's check mate, Sir Humphrey.

See me on the box last night, Humphrey?

Of course, Minister.

Howwas I? Good?

A most remarkable performance,

Minister, if I may say so.

You may, you may. Thank you, Minister.

We have been working very hard all night,

and I'm happy to be able to tell you thatwe have come up

with some draft proposals

which would enable you to achieve your desired objectives

by the stated dates.

Well done. Humphrey

I told the nation how splendid you were and I was right.

I had every confidence in you. Quite so, Minister.

You must have had quite a night.

Yes, Minister, quite a night! Let's see yourproposals.

Here they are.

And here are mine.

You have specific proposals too?

Oh, indeed I have.

Now, Humphrey, you read out what you've got on safeguards,

and I'll read out what I've got and we'll see how they compare.

"Personal data 1A:

Safeguards must be applied with reference to...

Two criteria.

The need to know and the right to know.

1A1. The need to know

only those officials...

forwhom the information was submitted may be deemed,

prime facie, to have a need to know.

We seem to be of the same mind, Humphrey.

Indeed, Minister.

Where did those proposals come from?


Can you hearme?

Where did those proposals come from?

Humphrey, my lips are sealed.