HC Deb 18 December 1972 vol 848 cc915-8
36. Mr. Leslie Huckfield

asked the Attorney-General whether he will make a statement about his intention to insti- tute proceedings under the Official Secrets Act or the Theft Act, in connection with the leakage of confidential information regarding railway closures.

32. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Attorney-General what decision has now been taken by the Director of Public Prosecutions as a result of the police entry to the offices of the Railway Review.

The Attorney-General

The police investigations have not yet been completed. No decision can be taken about the possible institution of criminal proceedings until the Director of Public Prosecutions has received and considered the police report.

Mr. Huckfield

May I ask the Attorney-General when this monstrous and sinister witch-hunt of the Press is to end? Is he aware that there is a strong suspicion that a telephone call I made to the editor of the Railway Gazette on 1st December was tapped? Is he aware that the police have used blackmail in connection with questioning of the assistant editor of the Railway Gazette? Is he aware that many sections of the Press are afraid to comment because of possible proceedings under the Official Secrets Act? Can he not tell this House now whether the leak procedure is in process or not? Can he not tell this House now whether he intends to proceed under the Theft Act or the Official Secrets Act? Does he not think it is time that the Government came clean on this very dangerous, this very monstrous, threat to the freedom of the Press in this country?

The Attorney-General

The hon. Gentleman has made several dramatic statements. In fact the matter is as follows. There was an inquiry into the loss of a classified confidential document by a Department. The procedure is that the Director of Public Prosecutions is told and he calls for a police investigation. That police investigation is taking place. It would have been quite improper for the Department to have hidden the fact that a confidential document was missing. The House will recollect the interest which was shown in the missing documents at the time of the V & G inquiry. If, as a result of these inquiries, there is any evidence against any person, doubtless prosecution will be considered, but until the investigation has been completed it would be improper for me to say anything further.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us why in one case the warning was under the Theft Act and in the other case under the Officials Secrets Act? Secondly, as there is still a little confusion, despite the clarification by the Prime Minister last week, will he say whether this is happening under the leak procedure and the follow-up to it or under the separate procedure referred to by the Prime Minister? Thirdly, recollecting the Prime Ministerial directive of 1964 that the telephones of Members of Parliament would not be tapped, will the Government give a similar directive with regard to tapping the telephones of the British Press?

The Attorney-General

I know nothing about the third matter, which is for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. In reply to the second question, when a classified confidential document is missing and the inquiries instituted by the Department are exhausted, the procedure is for the Director of Public Prosecutions to be informed. Having been informed of the position, he causes a police investigation to take place. That is what happened on this occasion. I understand that the search warrant was taken out by the police under the Theft Act.

Mr. Wilson

Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman may be a little more forthcoming about this when the decision of the DPP has been taken. Is he saying that this is consequential on the use of the leak procedure, of which the House was given details, or is it a separate procedure?

The Attorney-General

The leak procedure is carried out by the Department. If when the Department has concluded its inquiries it finds that there are further matters which it feels should be investigated, the matter is passed to the Director of Public Prosecutions who calls for a police investigation. I will bear in mind what the right hon. Gentleman has said about waiting until after the police investigation has been concluded, but I repeat that nobody is immune from investigation if the police feel that there is a proper matter to investigate.

Mr. Huckfield

In view of the disgracefully unsatisfactory nature of the answer, I beg leave to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment of the House.