§ 7. Dame Irene Ward
asked the Lord Privy Seal what criteria he applies when approving for publication books and articles, which are in part fact and in part fiction, dealing with the work of the security services, which have been submitted to his Department for examination, details of which matters have been sent to him by the honourable Member for Tynemouth.
§ Mr. Heath
The criteria are whether material derived from official sources is involved and, if so, whether publication, assuming that this is in advance of the date provided for in the Public Records Act, 1958, would in our view be likely to damage the national interest.
§ Dame Irene Ward
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the public cannot possibly distinguish between what is truth and what is fiction in a book which is based partly on fiction and partly on truth? Why because the law is an ass should the Foreign Office be described in a book of this kind as being an ass, too? Is it not time that the Foreign Office brought itself up to date and modernised itself? Why should the Foreign Office agree to the publication of a book which is such a bad advertisement for the Foreign Office? For goodness sake, could not the Foreign Office get on with some modernisation?
§ Mr. Heath
My hon. Friend knows the difficulties about decisions in individual cases, because she has been in correspondence with me about a number of them. Of course, I am prepared, and my noble Friend is prepared, to consider any individual book which she refers to us, but each case must be decided on its merits. At the same time, I think that it is important to know what the technical position is: it is that this matter is governed by the Public Records Act, 1958,and that when authors send manuscripts 9 what they are really asking for is an assurance that they would be immune from prosecution for violating the Official Secrets Act. Therefore, what they are asking for is a special dispensation. The decision on publication always rests with themselves. If that dispensation is denied, they are not being denied any right. They are being asked for a particular service. We must judge these cases on the criteria I have mentioned.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine
Has the Lord Privy Seal read the dispatch from The Times Washington correspondent dealing with security matters in which it is said that the impression given about Britain in the minds of people over there is one of baffled confusion? Does not the matter raised by the hon. Member for Tynemouth. (Dame Irene Ward) exemplify the type of concern where he could take some action which would dispel the confusion existing?