HC Deb 13 December 1976 vol 922 cc963-4
47. Mr. Fletcher-Cooke,

asked the Attorney-General whether, following the statements of the Secretary of State for the Home Department on 22nd November, he now intends to give his fiat for prosecutions under the Official Secrets Act only for those cases which would remain offences if the legislation envisaged by the Home Secretary reaches the statute book.

The Attorney-General

No, Sir. I shall continue to consider each case on its merits in deciding whether it would be in the public interest to consent to a prosecution. It will be open to me in appropriate cases to regard my right hon. Friend's statement and the general wel- come given to it as indicative of the public interest.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Does the Attorney-General recollect that the Home Secretary said he was making this early announcement so that the public should know what the prosecution policy was likely to be? If that is the case, is it not a strange constitutional position that the Attorney-General will take into account legislation which will not be on the statute book for at least two years and which might not reach it at all in the form prophesied by the Home Secretary?

The Attorney-General

I read with care what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said in answer to three separate questions on this matter. It did not seem to me that, adding them together, he said anything constitutionally wrong or improper. However, I have given my answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman and I hope he agrees that that is constitutionally proper.

Sir David Renton

In exercising his fiat whether to grant a prosecution under the Official Secrets Act, does the right hon. and learned Genleman consider himself bound by statute or does he consider that he has a completely free and political discretion which might involve the exercise of dispensing powers about which he should be very careful?

The Attorney-General

I am always very careful about these matters. There have been few prosecutions under this section during my period of office. There are two separate matters. I have to be satisfied, first, that there is evidence to support the charge and, secondly, that it is in the public interest to give my consent. I invariably consider both those issues with great care and separately.