HC Deb 01 December 1986 vol 106 cc623-5
52. Mr. Campbell-Savours

asked the Attorney-General on how many possible prosecutions he has sought the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions over the last two months.

The Attorney-General (Sir Michael Havers)

I regularly meet the Director of Public Prosecutions. The last meeting took place on 25 November 1986.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Does the Attorney-General accept that there is no Government indivisibility on questions of criminal prosecution and that those decisions are uniquely and exclusively decisions of the Attorney-General?

Does the Attorney-General further accept that if the Government had wanted to stop Pincher and West's books they could have done so by taking action under section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911 against those who leaked to West and Pincher, including Mr. Martin? Action could also have been taken action against West and Pincher themselves, and also against the publishers of those two books. In so far as the Attorney-General did not take action, has he not been negligent, and should he not now consider resigning?

The Attorney-General

Of course the hon. Gentleman is right. When I am wearing my hat as Attorney-General and prosecutor, nobody can influence me and I would not accept any attempt to influence me from anybody. When the Government are acting as Government in civil proceedings I happen, by tradition, to be the nominal plaintiff and that is what has happened here.

I answered a question from the hon. Gentleman last week, and there is nothing that I wish to add to that about the prosecution of any of those particular individuals. So far as resigning is concerned, let me say this: I have no intention of resigning. I have had that most wonderful and loyal support from the Prime Minister, for which I am extremely grateful.

Mr. Stanbrook

Did one of those occasions to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred concern the successful action against the book "One Girl's War"? Will my right hon. and learned Friend tell us about the principles on which he acts in such cases?

The Attorney-General

The principle concerning the book of the late Mrs. Miller is exactly the same principle as that on which we have started the proceedings in the Australian courts.

Mr. Abse

Does the Attorney-General agree that when all the spy froth has disappeared, the important fact is whether his office remains inviolate and is not dominated by the Prime Minister or any so-called collective decision?

On what basis, and on what precedent, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman base the view that he is able to have instructions on civil matters, such as are taking place in Australia, and as has been canvassed in The Times, clearly on information coming from No. 10? On what basis does he rest the view that he can take instructions from the Cabinet to commence proceedings? Does he not realise that there is widespread concern at the Bar, within tie legal profession and among all within the legal profession and among all libertarians that his office is being assailed and that he is being manipulated by a Prime Minister who is dominating the whole of these proceedings?

The Attorney-General

I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman, whom I have known for many years. I am quite able to look after my independence, and I always have. The hon. Gentleman must realise—and as a lawyer I am surprised that he does not—that this was a Government decision and, of course, like my fellow Ministers, I accept collective responsibility.

Mr. Hayes

May I say to my right hon. and learned Friend that most, if not all, of us in the Conservative party feel that he has behaved with honour and dignity throughout these proceedings? Does he agree that none of this sorry saga would have occurred if one former intelligence officer had not put greed before principle, and one leader of the Opposition had not put ambition before his country?

The Attorney-General

On the last point, I am not responsible for the conduct of the Leader of the Opposition. On the first point, the idea that we can allow officers or ex-officers of the security services to write books would probably end with us not having any important secrets which should be preserved.

Mr. John Morris

Will the Attorney-General confirm that the decision to prosecute a receiver as well as a supplier allegedly in breach of the Official Secrets Act is a matter solely for the Attorney-General? Will he also confirm that it is the Attorney-General's duty to determine the public interest before commencing the injunctive process to ban a book, and not the duty of Ministers collectively, according to the precedents of the Gouriet case and the Crossman diaries? Why was he not consulted on the Pincher book? Is it another example of the Prime Minister flouting the conventions, as in the leaking of the Law Officer's letters in the Westland case?

The Attorney-General

If I answered all those questions, the next Minister would never get to the Dispatch Box. It is the same old story of the right hon. and learned Gentleman becoming too party political on occasions. Just as he accuses me of kow-towing to the Prime Minister, which is wholly untrue, I suspect that he may be responding to the Leader of the Opposition.