HC Deb 28 February 1985 vol 74 cc458-60
14. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement regarding his Department's assessment of security requirements involved in monitoring the communications of pressure groups.

Mr. Brittan

I have made it clear on a number of occasions recently that peaceful political campaigning to seek changes in Government policy or to influence public opinion generally does not fall within the very strict criteria under which the interception of communications may be authorised. Those criteria, and the associated procedures and safeguards, are set out in the White Paper "The Interception of Communications in the United Kingdom", published on 7 February 1985, Cmnd. 9438.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Home Secretary aware that we do not believe what he has just had to say? Have his civil servants told him about the letter that I sent him regarding Mr. and Mrs. Wallis of Old School House, Clopton, near Molesworth? They are both peace campaigners. Over a period of five days relatives and friends of theirs rang them only to be answered by an answerphone. Subsequently, those friends annd relatives found that the Wallis's had never had an answerphone in their home. In the Home Secretary's eyes their only so-called crime was that they were trying to get American missiles off British soil. Is it not a scandal that this dictatorial Government should go to such lengths to hound decent British people?

Mr. Brittan

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong to come to that conclusion. He knows very well that it is not the practice to comment on individual cases. I do not for one moment accept the validity of his general observations. However, the Interception of Communications Bill, which the House will shortly be debating, will provide safeguards which have never before existed and which certainly did not exist when the Labour Government were in power.

Sir Anthony Kershaw

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that if he is not watching these people, I want my money back?

Mr. Brittan

Without going, as is customary, any further into these details, I can only say that my hon. Friend should not expect a refund.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Was that not a disgraceful question — [Interruption.] — a perfectly disgraceful question? How can the Home Secretary justify tapping the phone of an assistant to the leader of the Labour party — [Interruption.] Oh yes. That is what that programme showed. It means that a file on that woman now remains within MI5's records. How can the right hon. and learned Gentleman justify the fact that a woman who is now a Labour Member has had her phone tapped? How can he justify the fact that the phone of a peace-loving representative of CND was tapped? How can all those instances of phone tapping be justified by the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister and by senior Conservative Government officials when the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows perfectly well that every one of them was an intrusion into the civil rights of ordinary citizens? Why does he not come to the House and make a statement instead of hiding behind a question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd)?

Mr. Brittan

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the allegations made in the television programme, to which reference has been made, he will know perfectly well from what I have already said that they will be looked at by Lord Bridge, the judicial monitor, who will report to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The hon. Gentleman will also know perfectly well that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has reiterated the statement that has been repeatedly made that there is no telephone interception of Members of Parliament, and that if such telephone interception were to become necessary or desirable, a statement would be made to the House before it was done.

Mr. Aitken

Earlier this afternoon my right hon. and learned Friend made quite lengthy references to the television programme that has so far not been seen by viewers, but which sparked off many of the allegations concerning the alleged monitoring of pressure groups. As we have now had lengthy parliamentary exchanges, a screening of the programme in Parliament, and a statement this afternoon from my right hon. and learned Friend, would it not be fair and in the public interest to instruct the Independent Broadcasting Authority to take off its suppressing devices and let the public see for themselves what all the fuss is about?

Mr. Brittan

The IBA came to its decision on the basis of the legal advice that it obtained. It has a duty to comply with the law. However, its decision is entirely its affair.

Mr. Kaufman

Will the Home Secretary say whether the reports in today's edition of The Times, which tell us that the Government have decided not to prosecute Miss Cathy Massiter because the matters that she revealed were too secret to come before a court, are true? Is that an indication that if an individual wants to leak, he or she should leak very secret things?

Mr. Brittan

The decision is for the Director of Public Prosecutions under the superintendence of the Attorney-General, and not for the Government. No decision has yet been made.

Mr. Maclennan

I recognise that the Leader of the House is responsible for the management of the Government's business, but will the Home Secretary acknowledge, bearing in mind his admission in answering the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) that Lord Bridge's report would be produced very soon, the inappropriateness of bringing forward the telephone tapping Bill next Wednesday?

Mr. Brittan

No, I cannot make any such acknowledgement. Parliamentary business is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.