HC Deb 02 February 1987 vol 109 cc682-4
39. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Attorney-General when he first became aware that Sir Robert Armstrong had offered inaccurate evidence in the Wright case in Australia concerning the Attorney-General's alleged role in deciding whether to proceed against Mr. Chapman Pincher's book "Their Trade is Treachery"; and if he will make a statement.

40. Mr. Winnick

asked the Attorney-General if he will make a statement on the latest position regarding the Wright case in Australia.

44. Mr. Nicholas Brown

asked the Attorney-General if he will now make a statement on the Government's handling of the Wright case.

The Attorney-General (Sir Michael Havers)

This is a matter at issue in the proceedings in Australia. I must remind the House again that I am the plaintiff in that case and cannot, therefore, comment on it. I have to be careful to avoid the risk of prejudicing the case or, at worst, being in contempt of court in New South Wales. When the proceedings are over, then will be the time to deal with any matters that are outstanding, in the light of the usual customs and conventions. We are awaiting judgment, for which no date has yet been fixed.

Mr. Dalyell

Would it be unkind to the Attorney- General to suggest that it was only after questions were asked and a fuss was made in the House, especially by the Leader of the Opposition on 27 November, at column 426, that he took steps to correct a perjury in the Australian court? Nothwithstanding the general issues to which he understandably referred, why did this correction take so long?

The Attorney-General

I think it is right to say that there was no question of perjury, which requires an intentional deception of the court. As for other matters, I am bound by the attitude which the Government have adopted on this.

Mr. Winnick

Does the Attorney-General recognise that an important lesson of the Wright case is that civil liberties should not be undermined by the Administration of the day? Does it not appear that that lesson has not been learnt by the Government, hearing in mind the KGB-like operation against the Glasgow office of the BBC? Does the Attorney-General recognise that this matter—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman's question must relate to the main question.

The Attorney-General

I am afraid that I was unable to hear the hon. Gentleman's last few words.

Mr. Winnick

Does the Attorney-General recognise that the importance of the Wright case is that civil liberties should not be undermined by the Government? We need an explanation of what occurred at the weekend, bearing in mind the KGB-like operation against the BBC in Glasgow.

Mr. Speaker

Order. There will he other opportunities to raise that matter. The Attorney-General may answer the first part of the question.

The Attorney-General

On the first part, I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have realised by now the principle which the Government are trying to uphold in the court in New South Wales. The second part of the question cannot possibly arise from the main question.

Mr. Nicholas Brown

It would help the House enormously if the Attorney-General would give a clear and unambiguous commitment to make a statement on the Government's conduct of the Wright case as soon as the judgment is announced.

The Attorney-General

There is a problem— I am taking advice on it—as to whether I could comment if the case went to the Court of Appeal. All that I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that I am longing for the opportunity to make a statement to the House.

Mr. Stokes

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that although the people of Walsall, North and Newcastle upon Tyne, East may be waiting with bated breath for the news of the Wright case from Australia, no one in my constituency has written to me about it or even mentioned the subject?

The Attorney-General

I thought that I was tempting providence when, in answer to questions three weeks ago, I said that some 70 hon. Members had informed me that they had received no letter. I got no letters from any hon. Member saying that that statement was inaccurate.

Mr. Adley

Has my right hon. and learned Friend noticed that, whether it be obsessive, old MI5 buffoons in Australia, or fellow travelling journalists in Britain seeking to undermine national security, there is never any shortage of Opposition Members jumping up to defend them, regardless of the circumstances?

The Attorney-General

It has struck me as curious that, while the Leader of the Opposition has agreed that this could he a serious breach of national security, so many of his hon. Friends take a completely different view.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Does the Attorney-General recognise that, when one puts aside all the personal and political criticism that has arisen from it, the Wright case and other more recent events have given rise to severe public anxiety about the attitude of Government, of whatever colour, to secrecy. Will the Attorney-General recommend to his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that the time has come for a thoroughgoing and fresh inquiry into the whole subject of secrecy and secrecy legislation?

The Attorney-General

No, I will not. The ordinary British public believe that when somebody working in one of the security services makes a promise to keep the secrets that he learns in the course of his duties secret for the rest of his life, that promise should be honoured.

Mr. Hickmet

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that much of the evidence that was given in camera in the case in Australia came into the possession of Opposition Members? Will he confirm further that it was used in the House and that the effect was to undermine the Crown's case in Australia? Is he aware of the arrangements that existed between the Leader of the Opposition and his office and Mr. Turnbull, the lawyer acting for Mr. Peter Wright? What effect did the presence of Mr. Paul Greengrass in court in Australia have upon the presentation of the Crown's case and the manner in which it was presented to the court?

The Attorney-General

It would be quite wrong for me to comment on any proceedings that took place in camera. Perhaps it will be of some consolation to my hon. Friend to know that, in the end, the facts will speak for themselves.

Mr. John Morris

In the Attorney-General's anxiety to make a statement to the House, do I understand his answer to mean that he clearly and unequivocally is telling the House that, provided he can get over any legal difficulties that may remain after judgment is delivered at first instance in Australia, he will not be thwarted by even the Prime Minister and will make a statement to the House?

The Attorney-General