§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Page 269 of "Erskine May" deals with the sound broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings. The BBC is deeply involved in this issue. Last night, the 9 o'clock BBC news led with 13 minutes on the subject, whereas the ITN news had a much shorter display. The BBC had the item first, whereas ITN had it second. Of the last four emergency debates, only one has been broadcast. I am not saying that this debate should or should not be broadcast, but there is no doubt that the BBC is a participant in the controversy, and has a vested interest in broadcasting the debate.
Page 269 of "Erskine May" says that the broadcasting of debates should besubject to directions of the House.How can the House have some sort of control over the broadcasting of these subjects, in which the BBC is deeply involved and has a vested interest in ensuring a disproportionate amount of publicity?
It may be that this matter should be referred to the appropriate Committee, but I understand that the issue is subject to the directions of the House. What action can the House take today to decide whether the debate should or should not be broadcast? At the very least, the matter should be discussed.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you say whether any authorities within the House were approached by the BBC before its decision to broadcast the debate was taken, or whether any authorities in the House chose to deliberate on the matter before the BBC decided to broadcast it? Surely it is not good enough that we are faced with a fait accompli and that what my hon. Friend has proposed will come after the decision and after the broadcast has taken place
§ Mr. Speaker
If both hon. Gentlemen feel strongly about this, their proper course is to bring it to the attention of the Broadcasting Committee. There is a great deal of interest in this debate, not only in the House but in the country at large, and we should proceed with the debate.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. This is an important debate. Does the hon. Gentleman have a helpful and genuine point of order?
§ Sir Kenneth Lewis
Do you agree, Mr. Speaker, that it is no bad thing that the debate should be heard by the country?
§ Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)
May we have your undertaking, Mr. Speaker, that not only will the debate be broadcast but that it will all be broadcast?
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn.
We are debating events which took place during the past few days, but those events trace back their origins to many months ago. It was in November 1985 that BBC Scotland commissioned Mr. Duncan Campbell to make a six-part series called "The Secret Society".
816 The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) yesterday traduced the BBC for engaging Mr. Campbell, and Mr. Campbell for being the kind of journalist that he is. Mr. Campbell certainly has a reputation for being troublesome, but he has been just as troublesome to Labour Governments as to Conservative Governments, and I have no doubt that he will be so again as soon as he is given the opportunity. That is the mark of an independent journalist.
§ Mr. Kaufman
The mark of an independent journalist is to be troublesome to everybody.
It was in June last year that Mr. Campbell, in an interview, raised the secret Zircon project—
§ Mr. Whitney
Is the right hon. Gentleman telling the House that if he had been Home Secretary instead of the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) he would not have been party to the prosecution of Mr. Campbell? Is he also saying that the BBC should have entrusted a programme on the nation's secrets to a man with such a record?
§ Mr. Kaufman
The hon. Gentleman has not been listening to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister made it clear that Home Secretaries are not parties to prosecutions.
It was in June last year that Mr. Campbell, in an interview, raised the secret Zircon project with Sir Ronald Mason, the ex-chief scientist at the Ministry of Defence, and it was about that time that the Government became aware of the projected "Secret Society" series. The Prime Minister confirmed that in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) on Monday last week.
In that same answer the Prime Minister said:The Government became aware … of the intention to include specific material on a secret defence project in October 1986.October 1986 was four months ago. It was then that alarm bells should have been ringing in the Ministry of Defence, in the Attorney-General's office, and in Downing street itself. If specific material relating to a secret defence project was, in October 1986, known to be in the possession of Mr. Campbell and others, surely that was the time when, in the interests of national security, Mr. Campbell and others should have been questioned, warrants should have been issued, any necessary searches should have been made, and, if appropriate, persons should have been charged under the Official Secrets Act. But none of those actions was taken.
Instead, all that happened, in the Prime Minister's own words, was:Discussions then took place between the Government and the BBC, which subsequently decided on grounds of national security not to show the material on the project."—[Official Report, 26 January 1987; Vol. 109, c. 18.]So all that the Government did to protect the nation's security was to have a friendly chat with the BBC and remain apparently content that secret material should still be available to possibly numerous non-authorised persons, none of whom, including Mr. Campbell, was questioned, let alone charged. That surely was a culpably negligent way in which to treat secret material affecting national security.
817 The Government by then knew that five other programmes were to form part of "The Secret Society" series, yet they expressed no concern about them. They had no discussions with the BBC about them. They made no request whatever to the BBC not to show any or all of those five other programmes.
Last week the Prime Minister sought to obtain credit from the Government's actions when she boasted to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition:In October 1986 the Government learned of the BBC's intention to show specific material on a secret defence project. Discussions took place between the Government and the BBC, which subsequently decided, as a result of those discussions, not to show the material on the project. Therefore, the discussions were successful.The Prime Minister clearly thought that that point was so telling that she repeated it several times. She said:The discussions with the BBC were successful.A little later she said:As a result of the action which the Government took … the BBC did not show that film."—[Official Report, 27 January 1987; Vol. 109, c. 177–78.]
If the Government were as successful as the Prime Minister claims, presumably the success was a complete success. Presumably the Government had no other concerns about the "Secret Society" programmes. Presumably they had no misgivings on security grounds with the other five programmes in this series.
On 22 January the Foreign Secretary invited my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and other Labour Members to a security briefing on the Zircon project, following which the Labour Members, as the Prime Minister mentioned again this afternoon, accepted that national security was sufficiently involved in the material of that programme.
The acceptance of that contention has been used again today for partisan purposes by the Prime Minister, but characteristically she has never expressed the tiniest acknowledgement of the concern of the Leader of the Opposition for national security. None of the Labour Members would contemplate revealing what was communicated to them at that secret briefing, but they are perfectly free to disclose what was not communicated to them at that briefing. Therefore, let me make it absolutely clear that no indication of any kind was given to my right hon. Friends that national security was involved in any way in any of the other five programmes.
That was not surprising in view of the content of the programmes which is as follows. Data: the threat posed by computer data banks to the citizen's right of privacy and whether the current legal safeguards are adequate. Powers: an account of the plans which exist for the government of Britain in a wartime emergency. Police: an account of the work of the Association of Chief Police Officers. Radar: an account of the problems which have attended the updating of Britain's air defences since the war and includes contributions from the Royal Air Force. One issue which some people may regard as being detrimental to national security is a programme about the work of certain Cabinet Committees.
However, the Government did not complain about any of that, so why, in investigating the security leak involving the Zircon programme, have the police been ordered to seize material relating to the five other programmes?
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
The right hon. Gentleman said that the police were "ordered". Would he like to say by whom?
§ Mr. Kaufman
I shall come to that matter in my own time and in my own way.
Today's Daily Mail claims that already material seized from the BBC last weekend contains "red hot secrets". lf that is so, we must face the fact that those red hot secrets have been lying around in the BBC's offices in Glasgow for months, available to any Soviet agent who wanders in.
If that newspaper story is true, the Government are once again revealed as culpably negligent with the nation's security. If it is not true, and if the Government's inaction on these programmes and this material is properly based on acceptance that they are innocuous in security terms, we must ask why, at this late stage, material without security implications has been seized in a massive police fishing expedition, with the use of a catch-all warrant going far beyond the accepted scope for such searches.
Therefore, there are already key questions that the Home Secretary must answer when he replies. As it was known for months that Mr. Duncan Campbell was in possession of secret material that the Government regard as damaging to national security, why was no action taken until two months ago? As not only Mr. Campbell's informant or informants but Mr. Campbell himself must, if the Government are right, be in breach of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911, why have arrests not been made and why have charges not been brought? Why, instead, have there been those vengeful and spiteful fishing expeditions against Mr. Campbell and the New Statesman?
I understand that when the police called on Mr. Campbell the other weekend some of them spent part of their time reading back issues of the New Stateman. If they had gone back for enough, they would have had a worthwhile intellectual experience.
The New Statesman is a ready-made victim because of being what the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine)—a peculiar and rare example of a rat trying to jump back on to a sinking ship—labelled an organ of Left-wing opinion. The Prime Minister was ready to echo her errant right hon. Friend's opinion last week, but for a very different purpose. She said, in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock):I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that I think he should direct his strictures at Left-wing organs such as the New Statesman which have, in spite of the fact that the BBC refused to show the film, deliberately attempted to release material which is contrary to national security.The right hon. Lady emphasised her point later by saying:The action of the Government prevented the showing or the film"—she realised that her slip was showing and corrected herself—or the BBC agreed not to show the film. The trouble has arisen because of Left-wing organs like the New Statesman."—[Official Report, 27 January 1987; Vol. 109, c. 178–181.]So the New Statesman was the baddie in contrast with the BBC, which was the goodie. The BBC co-operated with the Government and, at the Government's instigation, refused to show the film. The Prime Minister now shows her gratitude to that public-spirited organisation, which complied with her wishes and was so patriotic in comparison with the extremist New Statesman by letting loose the special branch on the BBC's headquarters in Glasgow—where, among the van-loads of subversive material that was taken away was archive film of the state opening of Parliament.
819 Ministers, including the Prime Minister, will say, "It was not us." Yesterday the House was treated to the extraordinary spectacle of the Secretary of State for Scotland denying any responsibility by anyone for the police raid on the BBC. He implied that it had taken place as the result of a process of spontaneous combustion. I would have said divine inspiration, but the raid was carried out by the Metropolitan police, not the Greater Manchester police.
The Secretary of State for Scotland was clearly upset that the exploding parcel of answering Parliament on this difficult issue had landed in his lap. He showed that it was nothing to do with him by making it clear in his first sentence that the action was by the Metropolitan police, and then pointedly mentioning the Metropolitan police a further eight times. He also specifically complained, on a couple of occasions, that the private notice question had been been put to him. However, Mr. Speaker, both you and the Secretary of State are aware that it was the Home Secretary whom we wished to question. You will also be aware of the reasons why that was not possible, through no fault of ours. The fact that the Home Secretary never wanted to answer was obvious yesterday from the frantic way in which he repeatedly gesticulated towards the Secretary of State for Scotland whenever we indicated that he, the Home Secretary, might have a responsibility.
Of course, as police authority for London, the Home Secretary has personal and parliamentary responsibility for every action by the Metropolitan police. However, it is not only the Home Secretary who is answerable to this House for what has taken place; it is the entire Government under the leadership of the Prime Minister. Therefore, I hope that the Home Secretary will answer— or deny if what I put to him is inaccurate— our contention that the Prime Minister, at a meeting in her room in this House the week before last, with the Attorney-General present, gave the Foreign Secretary direct responsibility for clearing up the mess left by the Zircon bungle. It is now said that it was at a meeting chaired by the Foreign Secretary, and attended by, among others, the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General, that policy decisions were taken on how to handle the Zircon problem.
When the Home Secretary replies, will he specifically state whether such a meeting took place? Only if he denies that will we be convinced, and silence will be taken as confirmation— [Interruption.] All the right hon. Gentleman has to do is say "No".
If the Secretary of State for Scotland is to be believed, the Metropolitan police suddenly took it into their heads that it would be an interesting way to pass time if they raided the BBC offices in Glasgow. He said thatthe decision to apply for a search warrant was taken at the request of the Metropolitan police.He challenged anyone to question the divine right of autonomy of the special branch.
However, the matter is not quite that simple. The Secretary of State, being as unscrupulous and shifty as he thought it possible to get away with—and being too sensible to try to lie—gave the game away with obscure phraseology about petitions being presented to the sheriff of Glasgow by the procurator fiscalwith the authority my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Advocate."—[Official Report, 2 February 1987; Vol. 109, c. 695.]820 Who exactly is the Lord Advocate? His name is Lord Cameron of Lochbroom, and he has many distinguished predecessors, most notably the father-in-law of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). The most relevant aspect of the office of Lord Advocate, in the context of this controversy, is what is said about him in a certain highly relevant Act of Parliament, section 12 of which states:The expression 'Attorney-General' means the Attorney or Solicitor-General for England; and as respects Scotland, means the Lord Advocate.Section 8 provides:A prosecution for an offence under this Act shall not be instituted except by or with the consent of the Attorney-General:No prizes—it is from the Official Secrets Act 1911.
§ Mr. Kaufman
What was the Secretary of State for Scotland seeking to conceal from this House yesterday? It was that when the special branch raided the BBC in Glasgow with warrants citing, first, section 9 and then section 2 of the Official Secrets Act they did so not on their own initiative but in accordance with a statute that places the right to institute prosecutions under the Official Secrets Act solely with the Attorney-General.
I wish to quote a written answer, part of which the Prime Minister quoted at Question Time today. Anyone who has the patience to read the fine print could have linked the Attorney-General with the raid by studying that written answer given last Thursday, not surprisingly, to my hon. Friend the Member for Workington. I shall read that quote in its entirety and not partially, as the Prime Minister did today:
On Friday 23 January 1987 the Director of Public Prosecutions, at the request of the Attorney-General, asked the Metropolitan police to investigate possible breaches of the Official Secrets Act 1911 arising out of the publication in the New Statesman magazine of a report entitled 'The Parliamentary bypass operation'. It is the policy of both the Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions not to give details of advice provided to police about the conduct of current investigations."—[Official Report, 29 January 1987; Vol. 109, c. 330.]
It was the Attorney-General who launched this whole train of events—the answer makes that clear. Unless we get a specific denial today, we have the right to take it that it was either the Attorney-General—
§ Mr. Kaufman
It is the Attorney-General's answer that I am quoting. If hon. Members do not like it, they should take it up with the Attorney-General.
§ Mr. Kaufman
Unless we get a specific denial today, we have the right to take it that it was either the Attorney-General or the Director of Public Prosecutions, working to the Attorney-General's instructions, who gave the police their orders to raid not only the New Statesman but also the BBC. The Attorney-General has the opportunity to tell the House; I will gladly give way if he wishes to do so. Did the Attorney-General take, initiate, authorise or consent to that action?
Of course that action was taken not on the instructions of a ministerial meeting that the Attorney-General had 821 attended—no Attorney-General would do that— but after having consulted Ministers and taken cognisance of their views. We need an answer. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer now."] I have asked the question and the House must draw its conclusions from the Attorney-General's reaction. [Interruption] If we have an answer from the Attorney-General at some stage, we shall study it in the context of the clear statement made by the Prime Minister in this House on 22 January when she said, with reference to the action taken on 22 January:The Government took out and obtained an interim injunctionShe went on to repeat:the Government took that action."—[Official Report, 22 January 1987; Vol. 108, c. 1021.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Both the right hon. Member and the hon. Member know that if the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) does not wish to give way they must not persist.
§ Mr. Heseltine
In an earlier reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) the right hon. Gentleman said that it was quite clear that orders had been given, yet it is clear that the right hon. Gentleman has no evidence of that whatsoever.
§ Mr. Kaufman
Is the right hon. Member for Henley saying that a group of special branch officers go to Heathrow, catch an aeroplane and go to the BBC headquarters in Glasgow at random, with absolutely nobody telling them to do so? [Interruption.] That is an interesting example of the kind of random gathering that will be made illegal under the Public Order Act 1986.
From the very beginning this whole train of events has borne the personal hallmark of the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. This is a very serious debate and it is not helped by shouts of hon. Members on both sides from sedentary positions.
§ Mr. Kaufman
This debate is being broadcast and the public will hear how I am being shouted down. I am prepared to wait until hon. Members are silent.
The hallmark of the Prime Minister is bungling inefficiency coupled with arrogant authoritarianism. Everyone should have a concern for national security and, in so far as national security is involved in this episode, the Government have shown themselves to be slipshod and negligent.
Action to deal with the leak over the Zircon project has been delayed for months while the number of unauthorised people with access to that material has increased. The secret itself has become more and more widely known long before it was published in the New Statesman. Of course, the Prime Minister's definition of national security is not confined to material that might help the Russians militarily. It expands to take in material that would politically inconvenience her Government.
§ Mr. Marlow
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it possible for the right hon. Gentleman to produce evidence for his allegations and accusations rather than indulging in personal abuse and trivia?
§ Mr. Kaufman
The Prime Minister does not seem to understand that national security must be upheld not in the absence of civil liberties but to protect our civil liberties. But to undermine our civil liberties is to undermine national security. The Prime Minister will authorise any action, however extreme or destructive of our liberties, to revenge herself on those who incon venience her. That is the reason for the introduction into Britain, in Glasgow last weekend, of the 3 o'clock knock as a summons by the police.
That is the reason for the raid on the offices of our most internationally respected institution. That raid will have caused consternation among the BBC's many admirers abroad who are friends of Britain and will have caused satisfaction in Moscow. The raids on the BBC last weekend will be shown on Moscow's television screens again and again to undermine the BBC's reputation among uncommitted nations which respect and trust the BBC's broadcasts as the voice of decent democracy.
Yesterday, the Glasgow Herald—
§ Mr. Kaufman
A very good newspaper. The Glasgow Herald said in its leading article:Having thoroughly searched the offices of a dissident magazine, the secret police then worked through the night removing documents from the headquarters of the broadcasting organisation.It continued:It is not of Eastern Europe that we write but of our own dear free country. The actions of the Government in the Zircon affair began by seeming merely incompetent. They now appear incomprehensible and, worse, sinister.The Glasgow Herald continued:what we are seeing is a political witchhunt.
It is the Prime Minister's style to use the cloak of national security for witch hunts. It is the Prime Minister's style, as in the Tisdall, Ponting and Massiter cases and now in this case, to manipulate the Official Secrets Act for political purposes. It is above all, against that arrogant and high-handed style of government that we shall be voting tonight.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)
There is one point on which I agree with the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). He and I exchanged gesticulations across the Table yesterday when my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland was speaking. The right hon. Gentleman misunderstood the advice that I was trying to give him. I was suggesting that he might listen to my right hon. and learned Friend. If he had taken that advice, we would have been spared some of the amazing inaccuracies to which we have just listened.
It may be for the convenience of the House if I set out the sequence of events covered by the motion but, at the outset, I wish to make it clear, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland did yesterday, that I totally reject the charge that there has been interference by the Government in this police investigation.
823 On 23 January, the Director of Public Prosecutions, at the request of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General in his prosecuting capacity, asked the Metropolitan police to investigate any criminal offences that may have been commited by those associated with the making of the television programme in the series "The Secret Society" dealing with a proposed intelligence-gathering project and the publication in the New Statesman of an article entitled "The Parliamentary Bypass Operation". Apart from the proper involvement of the Law Officers in England and Scotland, no Minister sought to direct the course of the police investigation which followed; no Minister sought to influence the course of the police investigation; and no Minister knew of the steps that the police were proposing in the course of their investigation.
This afternoon the Leader of the Opposition said that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had been the initiator of all this action. He spoke in a passion and he was wholly wrong. The right hon. Member for Gorton, who made a carefully prepared speech, used exactly the same, or a very similar formulation, when he said that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had unleashed the special branch on the offices. He produced no jot of evidence to suggest that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had done anything of the kind. It is not sufficient in a matter of this importance to dress up generalised and prejudiced accusations of this kind.
I shall not describe meetings between Ministers— [HoN. MEMBERS: "Oh."]— but, in response to the question asked by the right hon. Member for Gorton, I shall say this categorically: at no meeting of Ministers was prosecution discussed, for the simple reason that questions of prosecution are never discussed collectively between Ministers. As has been often described in the House, including by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, those are matters for my right hon. and learned Friend in his prosecuting capacity. He does not consult his colleagues—indeed, he debars himself from consulting his colleagues on any matter relating to a prosecution.
There are on the Opposition Benches right hon. Gentlemen who have held the position of Prime Minister, Home Secretary or Law Officer of the Crown, either in England or in Scotland. They know how that procedure worked in their time. That is how the procedure works now and, for the reasons which I shall give, I believe that is how it should work in future. That is to say, once an investigation has been set in hand, it should be for the police and not for politicians to decide how it should be carried out within the law.
There is no argument between the two sides of the House that a grave breach of national security occurred. No one has been stronger on that point than the Leader of the Opposition. On 22 January, during Prime Minister's Questions, he agreed that the material in question was prejudicial to national security. Five days later, on 27 January, he went further and asked my right hon. Friend:Does the Prime Minister really hope to convince the country that a chat with the BBC is a sufficient way in which to safeguard national security?"— [Official Report, 27 January 1987; Vol. 109, c. 178.]The right hon. Gentleman clearly felt then that sterner measures should be taken, or should have been taken. But 824 I would ask, in view of what the right hon. Member for Gorton said today and what the Leader of the Opposition has been spilling out for 48 hours, whether the Leader of the Opposition really hopes to convince the country that when a serious breach of national ecurity has occurred there should be no action by my right hon. and learned friend the Attorney-General to set in hand a police investigation or that that investigation should be anything less than determined and thorough.
I have continuing difficulty in understanding the thrust of the Opposition's argument. Are they saying that this investigation should not take place—that is the main thrust of their criticism— or are they saying that it should have taken place earlier? They cannot have it both ways.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)
The right hon. Gentleman will know that the whole thrust has been criticism of the Government for eight months of complacency and inactivity followed by two weeks of intensive bullying or attempted bullying. I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question which the Prime Minister would not answer last week: why were there all those months of complacency and inactivity and recent days of hyper-activity? Why did the Government not take action on the basis of the information to which they had access as early as July or even June last year? Why did they leave it until they tried to cover their trail with injunctions and invasions of the BBC?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If the Home Secretary is answering the question, there is no point in intervening. Give him a chance.
§ Mr. Hurd
The matter was fully debated in the House. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has pointed out, action was taken to persuade the BBC not to broadcast the programme. Then, when it was possible, because of information which became available, an injunction was taken out to prevent further showing of the film. It follows from what I have said that it is not for me to comment on the timing of a prosecution or of an investigation because that is not a matter for the collective decision of the Government. Having answered the question put by the Leader of the Opposition, I return to the question that I put to him: are the Opposition saying that this investigation should not have taken place—that has been the whole thrust of their criticism until now—or are they simply saying that it should have taken place earlier?
If national security is to be protected—again, there is no real argument between hon. Members on this matter—serious breaches must be investigated to see whether there is a case to bring before the courts. A failure, after a serious breach, to investigate how that breach occurred 825 and who might have been responsible should rightly be condemned as a breach of elementary duty. At one amazing stage in his speech this afternoon, the Leader of the Opposition asked why there have not been arrests and charges. The answer is that the investigation is under way. Hon. Members should think about what the right hon. Gentleman would have said if there were arrests and charges before the investigation had been completed. He is standing the principles of justice on their head.
§ Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)
If it is the Home Secretary's case that the weekend raid was to collect evidence in the course of an investigation into a criminal offence, will he explain why it then was necessary for the police to remove both copies of the master tape for every programme? Surely the removal of identical copies of the same tape shows that this has nothing to do with the collection of evidence but everything to do with a wish to obstruct and intimidate the BBC.
§ Mr. Hurd
I shall refer to that point as I detail the sequence of events.
Following the request from the Director of Public Prosecutions to the Metropolitan police, search warrants were obtained by the police, through approaches to the Common Serjeant—he is equivalent to a circuit judge—in respect of four London premises. These warrants were secured under the special provisions in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 for obtaining search warrants in respect of journalistic material. One of these premises was, of course, the offices of the New Statesman magazine. Documents and other material were removed from all the four addresses and are still to be examined by the police. During the course of the searches, Mr. Campbell indicated to the police that most of the work for the film had been conducted while he had been staying in Scotland and that the research material was stored at the BBC headquarters in Glasgow.
I am informed that, on 26 January, Mr. Alan Protheroe, the BBC assistant director-general, was telephoned at BBC headquarters in London and asked whether he would be prepared to hand over the original film to help the police investigation. He stated that he was not prepared to do so because of the—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Mr. Protheroe was within his rights. He said that he was not prepared to do so because of the possibility of breach of copyright, and he advised that if the police wanted the material they should attempt to obtain it through due legal process.
That is why the investigation then shifted to Scotland, as described by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State yesterday. He told the House of the visit of the officers of Strathclyde police, with members of the Metropolitan police special branch, to the BBC premises on 31 January, following the grant of a warrant by the sheriff in Glasgow. He described the legal exchanges that occurred on 31 January, as a result of which a revised warrant was obtained to search the premises of the BBC after an officer of the Metropolitan police had taken an oath before the sheriff. The warrant was then executed and material was removed from the premises of the BBC.
The material is now being examined to establish whether an offence may have been committed in Scotland and a report will be made to the procurator fiscal. At the same time, the Metropolitan police are examining the material in the context of their investigation into the 826 breach of national security. I understand that the police intend to return any material that can be eliminated from their inquiries as soon as they can. They will retain only material that they consider provides possible evidence of an offence under the Official Secrets Act.
§ Mr. Kinnock
The Home Secretary, in part, has answered the question I wanted to raise. He has gained some reputation, at least in recent years, of being something of a libertarian. As it is the case that the police took themselves to Scotland because of the information provided by Mr. Campbell that research material would be available in Scotland, what is the Home Secretary's view of the decision to take away all copies of film, together with research material, rather than at least leaving the BBC with one copy of each film? Why does he believe—no one has even suggested that the other five films had anything to do with national security—that there was any justification for taking them away?
§ Mr. Hurd
The right hon. Gentleman misses the point because he continues to believe that the purpose of this operation is to do with the showing of the films. That is not so. This is a criminal investigation designed to establish whether a breach of security took place, how it took place, who was involved and whether there is a case for prosecution. Therefore, we are dealing not just with the films but with the whole of the material that may be relevant to such an investigation. I understand that the material on which the programmes were based is so interwoven that it was not possible immediately to disentangle one kind of material from another. Therefore, as I said, the material is being sorted out as quickly as possible so that the police can return any material that is eliminated from their inquiries as soon as possible
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
As the Home Secretary has responsibility for the Metropolitan police and Government relations with the BBC, will he tell the House on exactly what date this operation was reported to him and what response he gave to it?
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
In respect of the BBC's refusal to make available to the police material that was relevant to the prima facie breach of national security, will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is the duty of every citizen, including the BBC, to assist the police with their inquiries and that, if the BBC had been willing to assist, the matter of the warrants would not have become so critical?
§ Mr. Hurd
I prefer not to enter into the detail of those matters because they may come before the courts in one way or another, although my hon. Friend is at liberty to develop that argument if he wishes to do so.
I do not in the least underestimate the strength of concern of many hon. Members about both the breach of 827 security and the events that followed. It seems to me that the attack on the Government has shifted ground remarkably in the last day or so. Originally, the argument was that we had improperly intervened and directed a major attack by the police upon Mr. Campbell and upon the BBC to frighten them or to inflict some sort of revenge. There were rather strong traces of that in the speech of the Leader of the Opposition today. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) made that the main point of his intervention yesterday. It was also implied by the intervention of the leader of the Liberal party and others.
What is now emerging, it seems to me, is a different and, indeed, contradictory line of criticism. Now it is clear that Ministers did not intervene in the conduct of the police investigation—[Interruption.] Nothing has been said or written that produces one jot of evidence to the contrary. The implication now is that we should have intervened and taken action to prevent the investigation taking the course that it did. This implication lies behind what the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) have been saying. Our fault, it is now said, lies not in intervention but in failure to intervene to prevent the course of action that was taken.
For example, the right hon. Member for Hillhead yesterday asked which Minister should take responsibility for the way in which the police conducted the investigation. Obviously, Ministers can take responsibility only when they have power to intervene and influence events. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the Home Secretary has no power to intervene in the course of an investigation by the police. The Home Affairs Select Committee—
Mr. Bruce Milian (Glasgow, Govan)
The warrant that was used last weekend covered all six films, not just one film. It was specifically authorised by the Lord Advocate who is a Government Minister.
§ Mr. Hurd
That is why I referred to the perfectly proper part that was played by the Law Officers in England and Scotland, upon which my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland touched yesterday. Both yesterday and again today the right hon. Member for Gorton made much of the fact that the Home Secretary is the police authority for the Metropolis. Of course that is true, but is the right hon. Gentleman saying that police authorities up and down the country should have the right to intervene and to direct the police investigations? [Interruption.] Yes, that is exactly what he is saying. The whole thrust of the Labour party's policy towards the police is that their operations should increasingly be handed over to politicians, whether at local or central level.
In the exchanges last week on Wapping it became clear that the Labour party would hand over decisions about the policing of Wapping to the borough leaders of 828 London. Now it emerges that the Labour party would also open to political direction the way in which the police investigate alleged offences.
§ Mr. Hurd
We can argue that case in the country when the time comes. I simply say to those hon. Members in all parts of the House who are genuinely concerned about the liberties of the individual that I believe that the courts of law provide much safer protection against any abuse of power than some system of arbitrary political interference with the investigative role of the police.
The chairman of the BBC wrote to me yesterday. In his letter he said that the BBC would take whatever legal action might be appropriate. That is indeed the BBC's right, as it is the right of any citizen in this country. It is for the courts to decide whether suggestions that on any occasion the police exceeded their powers are valid; it is for the prosecuting authorities to decide whether a case should come to court; and it is for the court to decide on a verdict once a case has been brought. There is no part for politicians in these three processes.
§ Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)
Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that it was in the High Court that the warrant and its terms were confirmed? Does he accept that in Scotland, for a Law Officer to be asked to prosecute by a Minister would be totally alien to our system and that what would be even worse would be if he were asked not to prosecute by a Minister and to call off the police, which is what the Opposition suggest?
§ Mr. Hurd
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. He confirms my understanding that the system that applies in Scotland is exactly the same as the system that applies in England and Wales, which I have been describing over and over again. That is the prosecuting role of the Law Officers of the Crown and that is divorced from collective decision by the Government.
No one is wholly content in 1987 with the Official Secrets Act. That is why we tried to reform it at the beginning of our term of office. I do not doubt that this matter will return to the agenda when there is some chance of the necessary degree of support for a change. However, there is no doubt in my mind that, whatever the chosen instrument, two essential principles must continue to be upheld. First, it is essential— this is a point that the Opposition have continually let slip—that breaches of national security should be thoroughly investigated and, if offences have occurred, that those responsible should be brought to justice. Secondly, it should be clear that the liberties of the citizen are much better secured by recourse to the independent courts than by a system through which politicians guide, nudge or direct the police in the course of their investigations.
§ Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)
Today the House is discussing the state of the law in this land. The law is made here, and it is as parliamentarians that we should be discussing some of the legal aspects of this case.
At the start it should be stated clearly that the Official Secrets Act is grossly defective and that section 2 ought to be repealed. Once again, the evidence for its repeal comes from our experience of its application. It is also abundantly clear as a result of this case that the protection 829 of the individual citizen under the law of this country is inadequate. On Friday we shall have a rare opportunity to seek to remedy the inadequacies of the protection afforded to the individual citizen. The hon. and learned Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner) will introduce a private Member's Bill to incorporate into the law of this land the European convention on human rights. Article 10 of the convention would provide some safeguard in terms of a basic right against such provisions as have operated in the past few days.
Apart from the fact that this case demonstrates the need to repeal section 2 of the Official Secrets Act and the need for a freedom of information Act and a Bill of Rights, it underlines, on a number of counts, the case that has constantly been made for some form of parliamentary mechanism to investigate matters of national security.
§ Dr. Owen
No, the hon. Gentleman can intervene later. I am just developing my argument.
A fundamental question relates to the issue of warrants and the breadth and scope of such warrants. It has always been understood that a warrant is a basic intrusion on civil rights. It has to be done, but the terms of the warrant have always been considered to be of extreme importance and they have been zealously guarded. [HoN. MEMBERS: "What are they?"] I shall deal with that point. One may refer to the generalised warrants against which John Wilkes argued, to the American constitution and how the colonists, because of their experience of generalised warrants, insisted upon an amendment to the constitution to safeguard the rights of the citizen against search and seizure. We thus have the power to challenge the scope of a warrant.
In the case of the New Statesman a warrant was issued. I have it here and it is quite specific. It refers toany material, whether in written, electronic or other form, which relates to the subject matter of an article in the issue of The New Statesman magazine dated 23 January 1987 entitled 'The parliamentary bypass operation' and that the issue of a warrant is appropriate by reason that service of notice".The warrant is narrowly confined. It may be that the House and the country were not zealous enough about the range and depth of the investigation of the New Statesman offices, but the fact is that it was not a matter of major controversy, whereas the BBC Scotland case has been a matter of major controversy. I should like to examine why, and the differences between the two cases.
In the case of the New Statesman, although the special branch spent four days there and carried out an investigation in great depth, including even the subscription department, it has been openly accepted by those involved in the investigation that the police were courteous at every stage and seemed to wish to confine the articles that they took away specifically and deliberately to the terms of the warrant. I understand that there has been little criticism of the police by either the editor or the solicitor of the New Statesman. The amount of material that was taken away was extremely limited—about 27 items from the offices of the New Statesman and 11 items from Mr. Campbell's house. That was sufficient in total to fill only a small suitcase, whereas the material taken from the Scottish offices of the BBC filled three vans.
830 It is also true that, before criminal action was taken against the New Statesman, civil action was taken to persuade the magazine not to publish again any of that material.
Neither the Government nor the Home Secretary denied that the Government were deeply involved in that whole process, just as they had been involved in persuading the BBC not to show the Zircon film. They were then acting in their capacity as guardians of national security, as they are perfectly entitled to do.
§ Dr. Owen
Indeed they had a duty to do so.
I have not seen the Zircon film, although others have. I presume that the Leader of the Opposition has seen it, or has discussed it with the Foreign Secretary and come to the conclusion that it was not unreasonable for the Government to persuade the BBC not to show the film. As a consequence, first under your advice, Mr. Speaker, the House agreed not to see the film, although it is rather odd that about 900 people in Cardiff have already seen it, but the Government seem to have taken no action—
§ Dr. Owen
I shall not give way.
Questions arise about the investigation and the warrant that was issued on the BBC. Detective Superintendent Cole said on Sunday 25 January, in front of the editor of the New Statesman, and the magazine's solicitors, that he had been asked to conduct this investigation. I imagine that he was asked by the Director of Public Prosecutions. I gather that the Attorney-General does not deny that he knew that that was taking place and that he acted in his role as adviser on prosecutions. I confirm the procedure which the Home Secretary stated, that successive Attorney-Generals have taken the view that that is a decision for themselves to take but that on occasions they have felt it right to consult Ministers, but not collectively, to take advice but to preserve that decision to themselves.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Michael Havers)
To consult only on matters of public policy, if they are relevant.
§ Dr. Owen
I have been consulted by a former Attorney-General who was always scrupulous to maintain that provision. The Attorney-General would be the first to admit that it is dangerous to make the distinction between civil and criminal as separate and distinct as has the Prime Minister. The fact is that Ministers collectively decide whether the issue raises questions of national interest and security. They decide collectively whether to persuade or to take out an injunction to prevent publication. During that process the Attorney-General is involved as an adviser to the Government. His advice is crucial because the Government know that if they decide to take out an injunction, it will very likely, although not definitely, lead to a prosecution.
That was why many orbs were amazed to discover that the Prime Minister had not had the Attorney-General with her when the decision had been taken not to take out an injunction to prevent publication of Chapman Pincher's book on MI5. That was why Sir Robert Armstrong let it be thought in the courts for 11 days that the Attorney-General had been present. Sir Robert Armstrong knew—we all knew—that it would be inconceivable not to involve the Attorney-General in the civil process as an adviser because we know that he would be involved in any 831 prosecution. Although there is quite properly a separation between the two roles of the Attorney-General, they run together as strands and cannot be totally separated.
What else happened in the New Statesman offices during that four-day period? I have already paid tribute to the courtesy with which the police officers conducted themselves in their wide-ranging activities.
However, what is important about their investigation is that Inspector Williams, who conducted the raid on the New Statesman and the Scottish offices of the BBC, saw the transcripts of the unedited interviews for the five programmes in "The Secret Society" series in the New Statesman offices. He also saw the same evidence in the filing cabinets in the New Statesman offices and on Mr. Campbell's computer screen. At one stage, he took such an interest in the programme about the secrecy that relates to ministerial Cabinet committees, apparently established by both Labour and Conservative Governments to mastermind election planning, that he said that he would like to think about their contents. He went away to telephone Detective Superintendent Cole, came back and asked to look at the transcripts on the computer screen. He considered them and, after a short time, said that he had seen enough and that he did not wish to see more. He took with him a synopsis of all six programmes which clearly showed the contents of the five programmes, other than the Zircon programme, the contents of which were already known to the authorities.
I think that he was right not to take those programmes away. In my judgment, under the terms of the warrant—I am not a lawyer—he would not have been justified in going wider. Nobody complained about the fact that he looked at them, but did not do anything about them. The big question then arises as to what happened between the end of the investigation into the New Statesman and the decision on 31 January to take out that very wide warrant to search the Scottish offices of the BBC.
As we know, that first warrant was challenged by the BBC, which rightly said that it was oppressive. It was withdrawn and a second warrant was issued, incidentally to the wrong address. We then witnessed the spectacle of the police going out with material, coming back with the material, and going out with the material again. As I understand it, the BBC did not challenge the third warrant. I wish that it had done so, but that is a matter for its judgment. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because it is extremely important that at every stage warrants are narrowed down to that which is appropriate, and only to that which is appropriate.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
The right hon. Gentleman has said that the first warrant was oppressive. The difference between the warrants was that the petition ran on the basis that an offence had been committed under section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911 and that the warrant was granted merely in the terms that an offence had been committed under the Official Secrets Act. That is hardly oppressive and was immediately corrected and conceded by the Crown.
§ Dr. Owen
It was challenged on the ground that it was oppressive. I did not say that the court or the sheriff held that it was oppressive. It was thought by the BBC to be oppressive and was challenged on those grounds. The court is right until proved otherwise. We all live under the laws of the courts.
832 The court redrafted the second warrant which went through, although it was sent to the wrong address. However, the third warrant did go through.
I do not believe that the House should abandon its right to question the width and the scope of the investigation, but we have the right to ask why all that material relating to the five other programmes was taken. We have that right, but we do not have the power to stop those actions because, as the Home Secretary rightly pointed, the only body with that power is the court. Those with the major right to question the actions at the moment are the members of the BBC's board of governors.
One of the most encouraging things that has happened in this episode is that the new chairman of the BBC's board of governors has shown his robustness and has made it quite clear that the BBC is considering taking legal action.
§ Dr. Owen
I do not share the view of the Labour party about the appointment of Mr. Duke Hussey. I do not think that he will prove to be the Government's poodle. I never thought that a man of his outstanding courage and integrity would be rolled over, even by this Prime Minister. Justification of that has already been demonstrated. The Labour party's shadow Home Secretary may live to regret his determination to remove Mr. Hussey from office, something the right hon. Gentleman uttered within hours of Mr. Hussey's appointment.
It is now up to the BBC board of governors to take that action. I hope that it does so and I believe that if the BBC was to make an immediate application to the High Court for the return of the goods it would have at least a sporting chance of getting them returned. I hope that the BBC will do so, but I do not know whether the courts would return the goods. It is fundamentally important that the BBC should probe and test the law. If, nevertheless, the law upholds these actions, I hope that the House will reconsider the law and question whether it should be so wide.
Why do the police want the material from those five programmes? We do not know.
§ Dr. Owen
I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman will make his speech in his own time.
We are entitled to surmise because these programmes do not involve national security. One programme includes the Association of Chief Police Officers. Many hon. Members defended that association during the miners' strike as a safeguard which prevented us from having a national police service. Many of us felt that that was the right way of achieving an integrated, co-ordinated response from our different police forces. I cannot see anything wrong with having more information about the organisation. Perhaps some allegations were made in the film which the association may not like. But it is an open body and meets twice a year. It holds its annual general meeting in Preston and meets again in the summer. It invites local authority representatives to attend. There cannot be anything unduly wrong with that. We know that 833 the Air Force co-operated on the programme on Nimrod and that the Home Office co-operated on the programme on the Association of Chief Police Officers.
On the Zircon programme, two former highly senior civil servants were involved. Sir Ronald Mason, the former chief scientist at the Ministry of Defence, was interviewed in July. Incidentally, that makes it a little odd that the Government heard about the programme only in October. Judging from how people have described the look of surprise on Sir Ronald Mason's face when he was asked about the Zircon programme, it is hard to believe that, he did not immediately tell the Ministry of Defence about the investigation. Sir Frank Cooper, former permanent under-secretary of state, no doubt well briefed by the Ministry of Defence in advance, was also certain to brief the Ministry after his interview, so the Government were given ample warning.
Yet we are asked to believe that in our society there should be a warrant so wide that the police can mount a vast fishing expedition to remove vanloads of materials because, according to the Home Secretary, the materials were so interwoven that it was difficult to disentangle them. Disentanglement should not have to take place after the removal of material. On that argument, we should allow a warrant to be issued for the police to fish through all our offices.
§ Dr. Owen
No. The court granted a warrant and the police interpreted it. I have made it clear that I believe that the police interpreted the warrant fairly in relation to the New Statesman offices, but I do not believe that they interpreted it fairly and openly in relation to the BBC. I shall not allow hon. Members never to let me criticise the police. Many police officers do not want reasonable objective criticism of the police to be silenced. That is particularly true in relation to the Metropolitan police. For perfectly proper reasons to do with the present local government in London, the Home Secretary retains responsibility for the police. If we had a different system of local government with properly balanced proposals and fair representation, that could be changed, but there are reasons why the Home Secretary has responsibility for the Metropolitan police. That puts a responsibility on this House to question how the Metropolitan police conduct themselves. Even if they are conducting themselves in Scotland and even if action may have to be taken against the chief constable for Strathclyde—I hope that that is the right term because I have had difficulty with Scottish legal terms— it must be clear to both the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland that there is legitimate anxiety about the range and extent of the fishing expedition in the BBC's Scottish offices.
§ Mr. Mates
Many hon. Members will agree with many of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks and with his analysis of how far the police or anyone else should be allowed to interfere with the liberty of citizens. However, there is one point that he has not yet covered and I hope that he will deal with it. It is the seriousness of the breach of security. Will he concede that if the breach of security was sufficiently serious the police and the courts were justified in granting wide powers to find the source of that breach? What is important is not the journalism in making and editing the films, but finding the person at the heart of our security who is in a position of trust but who has betrayed that trust.
§ Dr. Owen
The hon. Gentleman asks me to agree to those wide powers. The whole purport of what I have been saying revolves around that. If we use a warrant to force down the door of a private citizen's house and search every article in it, we must be careful to narrow the terms of the warrant. Civil liberties require warrants to be as specific as possible, so I would not follow the hon. Gentleman in asking for wide powers. If the police wish to search another person's house, they should provide the court with the necessary evidence.
As I understand it, in Scotland the police were operating under the terms of the warrant which was issued in relation to the New Statesman offices. [Interruption.] I should be interested to know exactly how different the terms were.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
The warrant that was sought in England for London arose under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 which the right hon. Gentleman clearly has not studied. The warrants sought in Scotland arose, sadly, under the Official Secrets Act because the powers of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act are not available north of the border.
§ Dr. Owen
I am well aware of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. I still believe that the main onus of the investigation was on the New Statesman offices. If the warrant went wider than that, it should have been made clear that it was deliberately drawn wider. That makes an even stronger case for the BBC to take action over the third warrant.
Finally, serious questions are raised about the functioning of our democracy and of the police under the rule of law. It would be a major mistake for us to allow the debate to be diverted into a discussion about whether the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for Scotland knew of these proposals. Throughout the country there is considerable anxiety about the breadth and scope of the police action in the Scottish offices of the BBC. That should be challenged in the courts and this House should lead the challenge.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The House knows that this is a timed debate. No fewer than 18 right hon. and hon. Members have shown an interest in participating. May I ask for brief speeches, please, so that as many hon. Members as possible may be called?
§ 5.8 pm
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
I supported the application for this debate because the House should 835 deliberate on these matters. Obviously, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) should be able to criticise the police or anybody else.
It is difficult to find the right balance between freedom of information and the needs of secrecy. Secrecy should not be misused or overdone. As a lieutenant of marines during the war I remember receiving a signal which began:Most secret. Please inform all ranks under your command.The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) was right when in the House he described secrecy as the art of government. We have not been practising the art very well lately, and various remedies are prescribed. An antiquarian might seek to learn something from the Committee of Imperial Defence which Mr. Balfour inaugurated at the beginning of this century. I myself have been attracted by the idea of the entrustment to certain Privy Councillors, including former Prime Ministers holding confidence throughout the House, of information which cannot be imparted for obvious reasons to an assembly of 650 Members.
I do not agree with those Liberals and Social Democrats and others who want a systematic Committee of Privy Councillors. The right hon. Member for Devonport spoke of a mechanism. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion, (Mr. Amery) is probably correct—as he has experience in these matters—when he said on 3 December:Political control should be strengthened only informally."—[Official Report, 3 December 1986; Vol. 106, c. 956.]
Security should not become the subject of regular questioning in Parliament. It is generally agreed that the Official Secrets Act 1911 is, to put it mildly, unsatisfactory. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary admitted that in his speech today. It may well fall to the next Conservative Government to amend or replace the Official Secrets Act. I say the "next" Conservative Government partly because the nation will repudiate Opposition Members who condone or even use for partisan purposes the leaking of official secrets inside or outside the Palace of Westminster. I do not believe that the electorate will warm to or even take seriously a shadow Home Secretary who sneers at the police as the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) did in his speech today.
There are fallen standards in politics, in the public service and the mass media which must be raised once more. The reputation of the BBC stood so high in Europe and the world at the time of our greatest peril. At best, it was an astonishing lapse of judgment to choose Mr. Duncan Campbell for "The Secret Society" series. Despite his services to the national executive committee of the Labour party, the Leader of the Opposition did well to say on 22 January:the Government properly took out an injunction against Mr. Campbell."—[Official Report, 22 January 1987; Vol. 108, c. 1020.]
The right hon. Member for Gorton referred to secret police. It is a strange kind of secret police that works in the glare of television. I must confess that when I heard of the operation at the BBC offices in Scotland I had my misgivings and I believe that my hon. Friends also had misgivings.
836 There was a picture in some people's minds of plainclothes PC Plods heavy-handed and trampling heavy-footed through the studios of Radio Scotland. The right hon. Member for Devonport referred to "fishing" and the right hon. Member for Gorton spoke of "spiteful fishing". Some light, however, was thrown on the matter by my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Hirst) in his question to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister today. We are now aware that the Metropolitan police requested the co-operation of the BBC. However, that co-operation was not forthcoming. We may say that perhaps the BBC was justified in withholding co-operation. The BBC sought legal advice. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will confirm that when he replies.
I have been told that the BBC in Scotland sought legal advice from its legal adviser and he properly recommended full co-operation, but the BBC decided not to co-operate. Supposing that co-operation had been given. If it had been forthcoming, as it should have been, the investigation could surely have been conducted decently, discreetly and without any undue inconvenience to the BBC. However, there would have been no appearance of "fishing" and "spiteful fishing" to excite that cacophonous indignation with which the factions on the Opposition Benches cover their unbridgeable divisions.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)
I do not like the line that has been developed by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) in one respect. This has also arisen on the Government Front Bench, from the Prime Minister and others. There is a suggestion that a reasonably competent, investigative journalist who tends to produce things that the establishment does not like, which certain other newspapers may be afraid to touch— not because the matters infringe national security, but because they might embarrass the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—should not be employed.
I believe that someone who can stimulate us in this way is precisely the kind of person who should be employed. It is then up to the judgment of the producers to consider how the information should be used. The immediate blacklisting of Duncan Campbell that is taking place must be deplored.
It is also worth stressing that this country is becoming obsessed with questions of secrecy. The Government are protecting their political position by their line on the question of secrecy. They call in aid national security which is sometimes defined as "national interest". We must remember that the last judge who defined "national interest" said that that was thepolicies of the Government of the day.If Dr. Johnson was alive today he would believe that the calling in of "national interest" was thelast refuge of the scroundrelas we have seen from the Government Front Bench over the past few weeks.
We are moving into a dangerous situation. The Government are blurring the lines between the legal duties of the state and the political sense and authority of the Government. When that is blurred we are in difficulty. That is why we had all hoped that the Attorney-General—that sphinx-like person on the Government Front Bench— might have spoken. The Attorney-General 837 intervened on the Australian case in the "Real Lives" programme and his intervention was necessary to establish the truth. It required him at least to establish the truth. That rush of blood to the head obviously rather worried him and he has stayed silent ever since except for a minor perambulation across the Front Bench towards the Dispatch Box, which was quickly interrupted this afternoon.
We are facing a dangerous position because we are beginning to prosecute people for matters which in America people would be compelled to disclose. We are trying to prevent things from being said which should be made known. Those of us who have read the New Statesman article know that it contains nothing that is secret. No secondary KGB man would have bought a lunch for the secrets contained in that article. The whole performance is nonsense and the Government know that. However, the Government are prosecuting on such aspects. In America, Duncan Campbell would have been hauled before the Congressional Committee as a hero because he told the truth about what is happening behind the Government Front Bench.
The matter is also serious because the Government are blurring the lines between what is legally proper and what which is politically suitable for them. Matters are being exaggerated. We watch what is happening under the name of the rolling back of the state—the rolling back of the welfare state and the rolling in of the authoritarian state—and the ease with which any response to disturbance goes over the top as it did at Orgreave with the miners, and as happened at Wapping two weeks ago with the calling in of the Metropolitan police cavalry charge, which television reports claimed happened without warning. I recall that the Home Secretary is in charge of the Metropolitan police and therefore in charge of that cavalry charge and he is at the same time entrusted with the freedom of speech in broadcasting and the press. That is a dangerous combination of responsibilities which cannot be tolerated.
Of course, this is not a Fascist state. That is not the problem. The opposite is the case, and the problems lie in the incidents which are happening within the structure of the democratic state. For example, there are the attacks by the Prime Minister when she uses the word "significantly". She said "significantly" the article comes from a Left-wing journalist. That in the form of innuendo is the nearest approach to a lie that I have ever heard from a Prime Minister.
We have seen a long and accelerating diminution of civil liberties in this country over the past seven or eight years in every possible way. It has been spearheaded by the sneering, snide remarks and innuendoes of the Prime Minister herself. We cannot avoid the fact that we have a third-rate democrat in the shape of the Prime Minister with a second-rate mind and a first-rate ruthlessness. That is a frightening combination to be facing. We see her attacks on the so-called social security scroungers. We see her attacks on the young unemployed and the way in which she is using the state apparatus to juggle the unemployment figures. We see her over-the-top response in the use of her power and authority.
§ Mr. Buchan
Yes, the sort of response we saw at Wapping. We now see it in a more dangerous way. It is 838 creeping into the last basic right that we have, freedom of speech. The interference in that freedom is the most frightening of all.
Let us compare what happened two years ago on "Real Lives" with what happened two or three weeks ago. On "Real Lives" the broadcasters still had sufficient confidence in their position and, therefore, courage to resist the imposition of a Government diktat. It forced an open intervention by the Home Secretary. Not this time. After two years of continual attacks and pressure from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the snide remarks of the Prime Minister, this time the BBC capitulated even before it was necessary. That is the most dangerous of all situations in a democracy. It is not just the over-application of censorship or the open intervention of the Home Secretary, but the creation of a mood in which self-censorship is taking place.
§ Mr. Buchan
Time is short and I wish to deal with serious matters.
Self-censorship is extremely dangerous as the timidity is such that the power of the state is not even tested but there is capitulation before it is necessary. We will never know when self-censorship is applied by the press or broadcasting and we will be prevented from knowing the issue that has given rise to it. The truth never gets out in that way. That is what the Government are afraid of and that is what we are talking about. As the edges are being blurred between the legal apparatus and the state, political truth is the first casualty.
The Government talk about secrecy in the New Statesman article. If there were any moles, they are Sir Frank Cooper, the previous permanent secretary, and British Aerospace which first published this. There was nothing unknown in the article. Special branch broke down the door of Duncan's. house—I knew him when he was a young lad so I shall call him Duncan—
§ Mr. Buchan
Yes. That is true. When members of special branch broke down his door to investigate him he asked them whether they wanted to see the rest of the programmes. They said, "No. We are concerned only with one programme." Within four days the Prime Minister had altered that situation, or someone had, and the BBC offices in Scotland were turned inside out. They even looked at those aspects that had nothing to do with security. Even the specific film that was supposed to be an issue of security, in fact, had little to do with it.
We can look at the mess that was made of the warrants.
§ Mr. Buchan
We should not look for legal advice from the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn). He is not really very good.
The warrants were wrong because they tried to make them as wide as possible. I believe that it was because of the attitude of the Prime Minister, as a result of negotiations with the New Statesman last week, when she tried to get a statement or art attitude from the magazine that she could iterate from the Dispatch Box and because she was beaten last Tuesday by the intervention of my right hon. Friends the Members for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), 839 a former Prime Minister. The revenge motive then came to the fore. The other five programmes had to be obtained to try to prove a point.
The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Scotland yesterday, and the Home Secretary today have been arguing that we are trying to seek ministerial intervention. I have never heard such chutzpah, even from the Secretary of State for Scotland.
§ Mr. Buchan
The Secretary of State understands what that means. It is wrong for the Prime Minister to make a bare-faced attempt to attribute that to us when it is the Government themselves who are using the law for political purposes. The truth is that freedom of expression in Britain has been decreasing. It is under attack and it should be defended. If we need anything now it is a freedom of information Act, abolition of section 2 of the damnable Official Secrets Act and above all some truth and honesty from the Conservative Front Bench. That in itself, without structure or change, would be a massive improvement.
I end with one point. It is an issue that hon. Members will not find surprising coming from me. It is an astonishing coincidence that on the weekend in which the New Statesman published an article rubbishing the idea that broadcasting in Britain should be taken from the Home Office and passed to a ministry of arts and the media, it found its own doors being broken in by the police under the control of the Home Office. What an irony that is. In the very week that I was removed from the Opposition Front Bench to the Back Benches in defence of that proposition, Wapping also occurred. Section T1, subsection 7 of the Home Office instructions for broadcasting says that the Home Secretary is responsible, among other things, for the press, especially freedom of speech and the right to reply. That responsibility belongs to the Home Secretary under whom was launched the cavalry charge at Wapping.
The steps we could take would be to introduce a freedom of information Act, abolish the Official Secrets Act and get an intelligent and sensible security charter for Britain. We should shift the responsibility of the freedom of broadcasting and the press to a Ministry that would become supportive of broadcasting and supportive of freedom of expression, and whose first and last purpose would not be just security.
I am glad of the opportunity, after three years of fairly enforced silence from the Back Benches, to make this short contribution to the most serious problem now facing us.
§ Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)
As this incident occurred in Scotland, perhaps I can say a word or two about it. A court in Scotland was presented with prima facie evidence that a serious crime had been committed. The crime was that of disclosing classified secrets essential to the security of Britain, and nobody should underestimate that. The court granted a warrant in order to obtain the evidence in the same way as it would if the charge had been that there was reason to believe that there were drugs or whatever in the headquarters of the BBC. The police have to take material. They cannot test it on the spot and they cannot identify it absolutely. In any 840 case in which a warrant is properly granted, as this one was, and restricted, as it should be, under the authority of the Lord Advocate in which it was issued, it is a matter not for Ministers but for the Law Officers who acted independently and properly and were approved by the court at two levels.
Let nobody underestimate the other issue that is raised, which is that there is a consistent attack on security and the forces of the law. I do not believe that the television series could have begun had it not been known that classified information would be available. In that situation, it is almost treasonable that such a series should be conducted. If it were suggested that action should not be taken, I cannot see how the law could be upheld.
The attack has been made that this warrant was too wide and was a fishing diligence, which is a term of civil law and not of criminal law in Scotland. I know that the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and even the chief constable of Strathclyde do not understand the law of Scotland. I should have thought that it was a simple enough term even for somebody representing Devonport, but there we are. If the warrants had been issued against the offices of the National Front or if the charge had been one of multiple assault on a Left-wing journalist on the premises of the BBC, I do not believe that the Opposition would have complained about the process or the warrant, which would have been identical.
I believe that there is a political element, and it is this. No electoral issue has emerged which the Opposition have been able to exploit except when the Government and security are involved. Who has always tried to breach security and raise issues? The answer is Opposition Members and those who operate from their party, whether in the BBC or elsewhere. I believe that this was an intentional challenge to the law. I am glad to say that the law of Scotland was properly carried out by the Lord Advocate, in consultation with the Solicitor-General, without the influence of any Minister, and I trust that that independence will continue to guarantee the safety of this country for a long time to come.
Mr. Bruce Milian (Glasgow, Govan)
The hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) has just made a ludicrous speech. His allegation that it was the deliberate intention of the BBC, in making these six programmes, to breach national security lies very oddly with the fact that the former permanent secretary of the Ministry of Defence and the former chief scientific officer of the Ministry of Defence, not to mention the RAF itself, co-operated and took part in these programmes. I want to distinguish between the one programme dealing with Zircon and the other five programmes in this series. I have not seen the Zircon programme but I have read the New Statesman article.
I find it very difficult to understand why there should be such extreme concern on the part of the Government, so we are told, about national security on the basis of the New Statesman article if that is a reflection of the actual television programme. But there may be an argument for taking that view. If my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has been given additional information which is not available to the rest of us and takes the view that the 841 Government deserve the benefit of the doubt on that, for the purposes of my argument at least this evening I am willing to agree with that, although I am not convinced.
There was not a single suggestion in the debate last week that the Government had any worries about the other five programmes in this series. Indeed, the Solicitor-General went out of his way to pay tribute to the responsible attitude of the BBC over the Zircon programme. What seems to be at issue is the extreme incompetence and ineptitude of the Government in believing that the programme involved major breaches of national security but being unable in practice to prevent its public showing or to prevent the gist of the programme from appearing in the New Statesman.
When we come to the events of last weekend, we move into entirely different territory. There we are concerned with not one programme but the other five programmes in this series. We move therefore from an episode which has elements of farce into an episode which has very sinister overtones indeed. The Secretary of State for Scotland was put up to answer the private notice question yesterday. I wonder whether that was decided within the Government. Incidentally, the right hon. and learned Gentleman misled the House in pretending that the question had been deliberately put down to him. That was not so. The intention was to get an answer out of the Home Secretary, but he dodged the question. The question could have been asked of the Attorney-General, who has some direct ministerial responsibility, and it could have been passed to the Solicitor-General for Scotland, who answers questions in this House on behalf of the Lord Advocate. [AN HON. MEMBER: "He is too light weight."] But unfortunately he is in another place.
The Lord Advocate has direct ministerial responsibility, but the Secretary of State for Scotland was put up no doubt so that he could say, with perfect accuracy but nevertheless misleading the House, that he was not responsible directly for what happened over the weekend. He went further and at different stages in his answers he tried to pretend that there was no ministerial involvement or responsibility. That is simply untrue. Apart from the responsibility of the Home Secretary for security matters, and apart from the responsibility of the Attorney-General, who initiated these investigations, there is the responsibility of the Lord Advocate for Scotland, who is, apart from anything else, not just a Law Officer; he also happens to be a Minister.
There is some misunderstanding in this House about the role of the procurator fiscal. The procurator fiscal is not responsible to the police. He is quite independent from the police. He does not take instructions from the police, whether they come from the Metropolitan police or the Strathclyde police. He does not do their bidding and apply for warrants on the basis of information which they supply to him. He is not only an independent authority but he is responsible directly to the Lord Advocate through the Crown Office. Many cases— not necessarily involving official secrets— are referred by the procurator fiscal, when faced with a difficult problem, to the Crown agent, who in turn refers it to the Lord Advocate or the Solicitor-General for Scotland. Official secrets do not have to be involved.
No procurator fiscal in his right mind would take a decision on a warrant under the Official Secrets Act without passing it upwards. He referred it to the Crown office, which in turn referred it to the Lord Advocate. 842 What happened at the weekend was done under the direct and deliberate authority of the Lord Advocate, who is a Minister. I intervened in the Home Secretary's speech earlier this afternoon to make that point— and the Home Secretary acknowledged it. We are entitled to ask why the warrant was drawn in the terms in which it was drawn. As I understand it it was deliberately drawn in those terms to allow the police to search the BBC offices not just for material relating to the one film but for material relating to all six films.
It is not a question of the police going beyond their authority. The police, of course, may have gone beyond their authority. That is a matter for legal argument, if the warrant had been defective in allowing them to search for material from all six films. But we are entitled to ask the Government directly— and I hope that we will get an answer to this— whether this warrant was deliberately drawn in a form that would allow material relating to all six films to be removed from the BBC.
As I understand it, that was in fact done, not by the Metropolitan police or Strathclyde police— and they may have wanted it—but on the deliberate authority of the Lord Advocate, who is a Minister. The Lord Advocate has certain independent responsibilities in prosecutions and it is certainly true that at the end of the day he does not discuss these collectively with Ministers. It is a travesty of the situation to suggest that Law Officers in any Government live in a cloistered world and never talk to any of the Ministers. The Attorney-General is talking at this very minute to two Ministers on the Front Bench. [AN HON. MEMBER: "He is getting his orders from the Home Secretary."] He is acting for the Conservatives, as my hon. Friend says.
No doubt the Attorney-General and the Lord Advocate acted in this particular matter, whether or not the Lord Advocate consulted the Secretary of State for Scotland or informed him what he was going to do. It would be absolutely astonishing if he did not inform the Secretary of State for Scotland what was in mind and simply allowed the Secretary of State to read about it in the newspapers and hear about it on the television. Whether he formally consulted him, discussed it with him or simply told him, the fact is that he acts in a matter of this sort in a way in which he believes Ministers collectively would wish him to act. Obviously, from what had gone before, from the whole nature of the instigation of inquiries from the Attorney-General, and from the political sensitivity of this matter, the Lord Advocate did not make an error in approving the warrant. I assume that he saw the exact terms of the warrant before approving it. If he did not, I hope that we shall have a specific denial from the Secretary of State.
The warrant was drawn up in terms acceptable to the Government as a whole. The Government decided to intimidate the BBC, not only on the Zircon film but on the whole series and on a number of other matters as well. There has not been an iota of justification for the warrant or for its width. The Home Secretary said that the items of security in the West were interleaved through all of the six films. I have never heard a more puerile or weak excuse for a matter involving fundamental civil liberties. The whole sorry and squalid episode in Glasgow over the weekend was the direct responsibility of Ministers. They have attacked in a fundamental way civil liberties and have attempted to intimidate not just the BBC but, through it, the whole of the media.
§ Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe)
The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Milian) has spent some time confirming what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said about the role of the Lord Advocate in this case. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by saying that there was not an iota of justification for the warrant. That is a matter for the court which made the judgment. We have to await the evidence. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, it is highly likely that there is a high degree of interweaving of the various films and productions of Mr. Duncan Campbell and his colleagues. At the end of the day, I should not be surprised if that turned out to be the case. The right hon. Member for Govan has no evidence for saying that there is no justification for the warrant, and to say that is to challenge the judgment of the court.
There is no doubt that there is deep anxiety about the implications for the press of what has happened in the past two or three weeks. We all become distinctly unhappy and uneasy when we see on our television screens policemen going into the offices of a political journal or going into the BBC and taking away material. I am sure that there can be no challenge, debate or argument from any part of the House about that. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said, the Opposition's argument is changing. The implication that some special status should be enjoyed by organs of the media was made by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). We must challenge and examine that issue. Hon. Members who imply that and people in the media who say it because, understandably, they are defending their own interests are saying that the media are special. They seem to be suggesting bringing back the law of sanctuary that used to reside in our churches but which I believe was abolished by statute in 1623. Until the abolition of that sanctuary, a criminal escaping from the law could find protection once the church door was shut behind him. We are getting precious close to the suggestion that once the office of a newspaper or studio is shut it is sacrosanct and beyond the bounds of the law. Clearly, that cannot be so. From all the prima facie evidence available at present, there is a case for the prosecuting and investigating authorities taking the action that they did take.
§ Mr. Buchan
I am listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman is saying about the authority of the state and broadcasting. He will know that the warrant was issued on a Friday and was not served until the Saturday. If it could wait for 24 hours, so much for secrecy. The Secretary of State for Scotland visited the BBC on the Friday.
§ Mr. Whitney
The hon. Gentleman totally misunderstands the issues at stake and falls for the tricks of his friend young Duncan, as he calls him—the man that he holds up as a hero, to use the hon. Gentleman's words, but that is not the case. Prima facie, there was evidence on which the prosecuting authorities could act. Sadly, for reasons perhaps best known to itself, the BBC declined to co-operate with the authorities who were investigating an offence under the Official Secrets Act. That is extremely disturbing. It was entirely right for the investigating authorities to proceed. Indeed, it would have been remiss of them not to proceed.
The evidence that they were right to proceed is legion. First, there was the security breach which the Government established in the case of the Zircon film. That was 844 recognised by the Leader of the Opposition, although many of his hon. Friends, including the right hon. Member for Govan, appear to have the greatest difficulty in accepting what their leader has accepted. There was also the clear lie—I say lie—uttered by the New Statesman and by Mr. Duncan Campbell about the state of this House and what happened about informing the Public Accounts Committee. According to the New Statesman and Mr. Duncan Campbell, this is a £500 million project and has broken the established procedures. Those procedures were established by the House following the failure of the last Labour Government to advise the House about expenditure on Chevaline.
§ Mr. Whitney
I shall give way when I have finished this point. Those procedures are now established. The clear testimony by the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), given in our debate last week, completely destroyed that assertion by the New Statesman and Mr. Campbell. That is the second lie. The third justification for proceeding with the action is the record of Mr. Duncan Campbell and the prosecutions brought against him during the term of office of the last Labour Government. On the basis of the current performance by the Opposition, the country must hope that that was the last ever Labour Government.
It is vital that hon. Members and the country should understand what is at stake. No one can be happy to see policemen appear in newspaper offices or in television studios. The reason for them appearing in such places is because people like Mr. Duncan Campbell—and he is not the only one— are conducting a campaign of political warfare against our organs of state. It behoves not only this House but those responsible for the media to understand that campaign. It was understood in the 1970s but, sadly, it now appears that that understanding is failing. In 1975 the editor of The Guardian said to one of Mr. Campbell's associates that he would not run a story about the American CIA. He said that they were our allies and he was not in the business of helping the KGB. That spirit must be returned to the media, and the House must take care that its jealously guarded and hard-won privileges built up over the centuries are not subverted by people like Mr. Duncan Campbell.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)
The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) has written a number of articles, as well as the speech that he has delivered, in which he has made some comments about Mr. Duncan Campbell. I can only describe his comments as odious; I think that is the politest word to describe them. It is disgraceful that the hon. Gentleman should renew the attack on that basis, particularly in the light of the revelations of the dining and luncheon companions of the Attorney-General. If Duncan Campbell was the figure described by the hon. Gentleman, I hardly think that the Attorney-General would have been so persistent in the arrangements that he made.
If it were not for the serious nature of the debate and the serious nature of the developments for freedom and free discussion in Britain, it would be comic in the extreme 845 that the Government should present themselves as the great exponent, champion and skilful defender of national security. I can recollect no Government who have been so gratuitously absurd in defending national security as this Government. Whenever they have taken steps to try to suppress an official secret they have detonated the affair across the universe; whenever they have said that they would take steps to protect the secret service they have put up a notice saying, "Please keep away. Spies at work". Whenever they have taken the matter to the courts, thank heaven, a British jury gives them the bird. It seems to be the principle of the Government that the secret agreements that they believe in most must be trumpeted across the world whenever they have the chance by the method in which they manage our affairs.
In this case, if it were true that the revelations about Zircon were so serious, the Government have not dealt with it in a way which they should have. The Independent, in its leading article yesterday, made the perfectly reasonable recommendation that if the Government had decided last October that they wanted to take action to deal with the problem they could have made some quiet announcement of what was going ahead, allowed some controversy on the matter—I know that controversy is something that the Government do not like—and there would have been less stir throughout the country about this. Then the Russians, if they were watching so carefully, would not have had everything supplied in a single copy of the New Statesman.
The Government have no right whatsoever to say that they have protected national security in a sensible manner. They do not have to take it from me, Left-wing journals or Left-wing politicians, because it was stated clearly enough in a leading article in today's Daily Telegraph. It said:The position of the authorities has been hopelessly compromised by the fact that they knew that Mr. Campbell knew about Zircon many weeks ago, and they failed to do anything about it. It is doubtful whether they can now recover from this failure.
The Daily Telegraph goes on to comment on the honesty and good faith of the Government Front Bench, and the speech of the Secretary of State for Scotland. He usually has a better reputation than the others and we are sorry to see him getting into the same mire. The article says:We should rejoice, Mr. Rifkind was bold enough to imply, that in this country our police act independently and without political instruction. Opposition members found this hard to swallow. So will a great many other people.In other words, throughout the country, the claims of the right hon. and learned Gentleman are not believed.
I had hoped that the Home Secretary would have said—perhaps he did in the last sentence or two of his speech—that he was deeply concerned about what had happened in Scotland. In my opinion, what happened to the New Statesman is just as bad, because the fishing expedition there was just as extensive. As I understand it from articles that have subsequently appeared, many matters that were looked into at the New Statesman offices did not directly concern the security question, and many matters could easily have been touched upon by Mr. Peter Kellner, who wrote an article in The Independent a few days later, in which he described how his desk, too, was open to investigation from the secret police.
I know that Conservative Members do not care much about those matters, but anybody concerned with freedom 846 and the free press in Britain should be concerned, because that is the way in which forms of intimidation can spread. That is why it would have been a scandal if the House of Commons had not shown the strongest opposition and concern about the way in which the enlarged warrant was issued. The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) is right to press that issue. It is perfectly clear that some of our freedoms are dependent upon the way in which general warrants are drawn. When Wilkes fought the case he said that a general warrant against him was a warrant against the English nation. He might have included the Scottish nation if he had known what the Government were to be up to. It is an offence against the whole nation and that is why the Government should be brought to a halt and called to account for what they did.
Many of us are not prepared to accept the doctrine of the Home Secretary. I suppose that he includes the Solicitor-General for Scotland in this, although in the shaking of his head the Solicitor-General for Scotland has been a little more forthcoming than the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Solicitor-General for Scotland played some part. He is nodding his head again. I refuse to accept the position outlined by the Home Secretary that he had no power, and that whatever the police did he could not have done anything about it. Supposing the Home Secretary shared the opinion of many of us that the police were acting on a warrant that carried their investigations far beyond anything to do with security. Would he not have any powers to intervene? He would have had powers if it had happened in London. The Home Secretary says not. I do not believe it. The right hon. Gentleman has responsibilities for the way in which the police conduct themselves. If the police had acted in a way that he thought outrageous, he would have been able to intervene. It is a combination of the two. I am not just criticising the police— although there may be criticism of them— but the result is something of which the House must take note if it has any care for freedom at all.
§ Mr. Hurd
I tried to cover that point in my speech. Whether it is myself as the police authority of the Metropolis or police authorities in other parts of the country, we do not have the right or power to intervene in the investigation by the police of a criminal matter. That is a statement of fact and the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) will confirm that.
§ Mr. Foot
If the right hon. Gentleman had listened more carefully to what I said, he would know that I am perfectly justified in what I am saying. Many Opposition Members believe that it was a monstrous invasion of our freedoms that such an event should have taken place in Scotland. Looking at the facts, there was an almost equally monstrous invasion of our freedom, with all the possibilities of intimidation that are involved, by the entry into the New Statesman.
It is a combination of those factors that led to this position, and we have a right and duty to disentangle the factors to try to discover how much was due to the general warrant being stated in general terms; how much was due to the police exceeding their powers; how much was due to the failure of the Law Officers to intervene at a much earlier stage and say that we must be constrained about these matters and preserve some respect for our civil liberties in the process of doing it. If the Attorney-General 847 says that he has no power to intervene, he is saying that we are in a police state because the police can do anything without anybody doing anything about it.
We all want to be brief, but there are many important issues touching on the way in which we conduct these matters. Let us consider the intervention of Ministers. There is no dispute that at one stage the Prime Minister called upon the Foreign Secretary. I do not know what powers he was to assume, but at any rate he was given some authority in the matter. He was given some authority to invite my right hon. Friends to discuss the security questions with him. I do not know what was said and I am sure that my right hon. Friends would not divulge what was said. But I wonder whether in those discussions the Foreign Secretary mentioned some likely later developments. Did the Foreign Secretary mention at those discussions that within a short time efforts would be made to intervene in the way in which the House of Commons conducts its affairs; to intervene in a way quite unknown in our previous methods of doing our business to bring pressure upon Mr. Speaker? Did the Foreign Secretary say that that was one of the courses that the Government were seeking to follow? I doubt it very much indeed. Of course, if he did not, he was also helping to mislead.
Private meetings with Privy Councillors are not banned subjects. We all know what can happen. Did the Foreign Secretary say that not only would there be an investigation into Mr. Campbell and the New Statesman, but that the investigation would be carried much wider, that the BBC would be brought into it and that all the programmes might be open to a warrant which would later be issued? But even if words such as warrant were not mentioned, surely such matters should have been properly discussed if national security was so deeply involved. If at that meeting the Foreign Secretary did not mention the attempt to suppress the discussion and free dissemination of information in the House, or how the matter was to be carried further against the BBC, he was not his usual expansive self.
§ The Attorney-General
I can give the right hon. Gentleman the firmest assurance that there is no way in which my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary could have spoken of any intended police operation initiated by me because I had not discussed it with any Minister.
§ Mr. Foot
In that case, we are asked to believe that the Government decided that the Foreign Secretary was to undertake discussions about national security with the Opposition parties without mentioning the Government's thoughts on how the protection of national security should be followed. I find that difficult to believe. It may be that the Government said that they would talk to the Opposition leaders without saying what they had in mind. If so, that was a grossly misleading way of dealing with right hon. Members at such a major point in the whole conference.
There is a combination of two reasons for our being in such trouble and why our freedoms are threatened. If it were not for the protests made in the House, presumably such events as this could be repeated often on future occasions, but the protests will have done something to check that. There is a combination of two reasons why we have been forced into a position so threatening to our 848 freedoms. Partly it is the nature of the law—the Official Secrets Act itself. I agree with all those who say that it must be reformed. We all know that reform is belated. We all know the history of that. Partly this arises from the nature of that law and it is because of that that warrants are so often drawn up in such a shameful, shocking and unworkable way, as I am sure the Government will discover.
But the reason for this situation is not only the nature of the law; it is also the nature of the Government and the way in which they deal with these crises. It is part of the Government's approach to respect for the powers of the Law Officers. I would be surprised if the Attorney-General claimed that he has always had proper respect from the Prime Minister in these matters. It is the Westland way of dealing with the Law Officers which has partly led to his situation. It is the Robert Armstrong method of dealing with the truth which has led to this situation. It is that seedy, shabby amalgamation of the failure of the Government to understand the real principles involved and their record of always searching for the dirtiest way out of a corner. That is what we have seen from the Government, and the sooner we get rid of them the better.
§ 6.5 pm
§ Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood)
I want to follow the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) on one point, but first let me tell the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan) that, of course, the procurator fiscal presented a petition to the sheriff with the authority of the Lord Advocate. That is what my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland told the House this afternoon. The right hon. Member for Govan, followed by the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent, made a most serious charge against my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Advocate. The thrust of his speech was that the Lord Advocate has acted improperly. In particular, he has alleged that the Lord Advocate acted in a political manner rather than exercising, properly and objectively, his function as a Law. Officer of the Crown. That is a most serious and wholly unjustified charge.
I represent a Strathclyde constituency and many police officers live there. I speak also with some personal experience as a former Minister with responsibility for home affairs in the Scottish Office. Many comments, particularly those made yesterday by Opposition Members about the Strathclyde police, are outrageous.
Of course, as the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) has said, hon. Members are entitled to criticise particular police operations, but yesterday, one after the other, Opposition Members alleged that the police take political orders. Hon. Members should recognise that that is a serious charge. The idea that chief constable Andrew Sloan of Strathclyde takes political orders from the Scottish Office is preposterous, as anyone who knows anything about the matter will realise. Yet that was the constant theme of question after question yesterday to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. It was the theme of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), and even the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), who described the police operation as beingmeant as a warning and a form of intimidation".849 Even the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) said:the Government must take responsibility for the investigation … who is politically responsible for this operation … the Government are … running a second-rate police state"—[Official Report, 2 February 1987; Vol. 109, c. 692.]
The right hon. Member for Devonport did not repeat today his initial criticism of the police action as being outrageous. However, I end on this note. The right hon. Gentleman and Opposition Members will live to regret some of their remarks. They have made allegations without a shred of evidence. They should have heeded the warning of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) yesterday, who suggested that they should have awaited first the outcome of these investigations.
§ 6.8 pm
§ Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)
I have seen the film not once but half a dozen times. I must confess that I am totally puzzled about what in the film challenges national security. I have looked at it over and over again until my eyes are sore. The only conclusion I have come to is that the Government must be afraid of the animal lobby because the film has a shot of a monkey being orbited into space. That is the only reason that I can imagine for the Government opposing the viewing of the film by the British public.
Before going to such extraordinary lengths to prevent the transmission of the film and to prevent, apparently, the transmission of the other five films in the series, I wonder why no one asked Duncan Campbell some questions on the record, because presumably the purpose of the whole exercise is to find out who leaked this information which is such a challenge to national security.
No one asked Duncan Campbell any questions. He has never been asked who his mole is, or moles are. The only question that the police asked him was where the transmission master tapes were. It is extraordinary that the security services and the Government should go to such extraordinary lengths when they have not asked the main suspect the obvious question. I imagine that, if asked, his answer would be that all his moles appear in the film which has been banned by the BBC. They are the former permanent under-secretary in the Ministry of Defence and the former chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Defence. They all appear in the film.
The British Aerospace plc press officer must have released the vital bit of information that, whatever was going to be sent into space, would circle at 53 degrees east. That was the key to the fact that the satellite would orbit over the Soviet Union. Before they go to any other such lengths—they are obviously bungling all their attempts to get at the truth—why not ask Mr. Duncan Campbell directly who his mole or moles were?
There are two alternative versions of events which led, presumably, to the Government's actions and the actions of the security forces. Was investigative journalism used as the pretext for irresponsible and damaging reporting of a politically biased nature or was the term "national security" used as the pretext for obsessive and futile secrecy which apparently broke an agreement to Parliament and was therefore politically biased by nature? Labour Members believe the latter to be the truth.
We have a right to know what was the matter of national security which Duncan Campbell and the film are supposed to have breached. We cannot take that on faith 850 because there are too many examples of the Government using the term "national security" or "confidential" to cover up information which is an open secret in every other country.
Not long ago I asked the former Secretary of State for Defence three questions about air land battle because, at that time, the Government were discussing with NATO ways of modernising battlefield nuclear weapons. To each of those three written questions the Secretary of State for Defence answered "Confidential". Yet exactly three days earlier in Brussels, according to the International Herald Tribune, General Bernard William Rogers, the supreme allied commander of NATO, had briefed journalists on the answers to each of those three specific questions. That is why, until we know exactly what the Government's definition of national security, confidential and secrecy is, we cannot take these things on trust.
Since last week, when the Government completely bungled their attempt to prevent Duncan Campbell from publishing what is now a politically embarrassing story about the Ministry of Defence and the Government, they have used dubious and erratic means to cover their embarrassment. They have tried to link investigative journalism and Left-wing politics with the subversion of national security.
The Government are rapidly taking us in the direction of Franco's Spain where people are dragged from their beds in the middle of the night, where people's homes are ransacked and where censorship is the rule of the day, all to cover up by repressive means the Government's political embarrassment. When the Government are prepared to allow Parliament properly to supervise the costly activities of the Ministry of Defence and when they are prepared— there seemed to be some indication this afternoon that they would be— to replace the totally discredited Official Secrets Act with a Freedom of Information Act, we can more easily define what should be kept secret in the national interest and what should rightly be public knowledge. Until that time, if only the Left in politics demand such information in the public interest and to protect the freedom of the press and broadcasting, we are content to assume that role.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)
The longer this emergency debate has gone on the harder it has been, at least for Conservative Members, to understand what exactly is the principal charge that the various Opposition voices are levelling against the Government.
The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) echoed the cry that we were entering a police state, with Franco's Spain being the norm in today's society. The mere fact that we are having this debate at all gives the lie to that. I can hardly think of another country in the world whose national legislature would suspend its proceeding; for three hours to tackle what is, after all, still a comparatively minor episode of police activity. Then there was the charge that the warrants had been far too wide, but that surely is a matter for the courts and not something which the Government control, eloquent though the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) was in his efforts to make us all feel that somehow it was the hon. Members on the Treasury Bench who were responsible for that. Then it was suggested that police 851 action was in some way over-zealous. If that is the case, the remedy for that surely lies in the Police Complaints Authority procedures.
The real issue has to some extent been missed. The real issue is the degree of Government involvement and the judgment that lies behind it. Here we come to a sad legacy of the Official Secrets Act which remains, to some extent, the villain of the whole piece. It has created this curious schizophrenia in the role of the Attorney-General, or the Law Officers of the day, who have to divide their judicial personalities on the one hand from their political personalities on the other. All lawyers believe totally that this is an easy and simple split of the personality. All laymen frankly have their doubts as to whether any politician can ever completely keep political considerations out of his mind when he is in the judicial sector even though he is doing his best to exercise his judicial role.
In a case of this sort some measure of Government involvement is inevitable and totally proper and correct. We start from the point of an Act on the statute book which requires the consent of the Attorney-General of the day and his fiat before a prosecution can be brought. That is what makes an Official Secrets Act activity a completely different type of activity from any other sector of the criminal law.
There is no way in which an investigation of a possible breach of the Official Secrets Act can be triggered other than by the Attorney-General or the Law Officers instructing the Director of Public Prosecutions that a prima facie breach may have occurred and the police must investigate it. That is standard practice but standard practice goes further than that.
From my experience, which was acquired at the sharp end of the Official Secrets Act, the involvement of the Law Officers and the Government is not confined solely to the initial directive to the Director of Public Prosecutions and a final issuing of a fiat. When a public interest issue arises in the course of an Official Secrets Act investigation, the Director of Public Prosecutions or the special branch officers involved normally refer back to their political masters, the Law Officers, for some guidance. For example, and without being unduly personal, the official secrets case in which I was involved— which had no national security implications and which ended, happily, in acquittals—required difficult decisions by the special branch— for instance, whether to raid the offices of Yorkshire Television, whether to raid the offices of the Thirsk and Malton Conservative association, whether to tape record certain conversations and how to approach and investigate certain political figures, such as our late colleague Sir Hugh Fraser and Lord Hartwell. From discussions after the case, I happen to know that with such difficult decisions the special branch referred to higher guidance on what action to take.
With the current position, the question that arises—unless the practice has changed—is whether the Director of Public Prosecutions and his special branch team felt it necessary to refer to the Law Officers before authorising the raid on the BBC offices. After all, a decision to raid the offices of the BBC would not usually be treated as a run-of-the-mill operational matter, to be handled by an ordinary police officer. I am not suggesting that the BBC holds a privileged status in law, far from it, but it is not yet the equivalent of Fagin's kitchen or Ali Baba's cave on 852 which the police might feel free to swoop in the course of their inquiries. The BBC is a law-abiding institution of international repute, and is quite naturally surrounded by public interest considerations. Therefore, the police must have wanted someone's authority to raid the BBC as a matter of public policy.
Who gave that authority and why? The first part of that question was answered in what was, at the time, a rather curiously unquestioned phrase by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland yesterday, when he said that it was the Lord Advocate. But with all respect to the Lord Advocate in his Highland fastness, is he fully familiar with the national security implications of the Zircon affair? If so, on whose advice was he acting and on what basis?
We come now to the vital issue—that of judgment. The Government do not need to be bashful or defensive when giving the answer. After all, we laymen do not have—
§ The Solicitor-General for Scotland (Mr. Peter Fraser)
I wish to make the position clear. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland said yesterday, the application to the sheriff in Glasgow for a warrant was made by the procurator fiscal with the authority of the Lord Advocate. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said today, that was done with an officer of the Metropolitan police taking an oath before the sheriff.
It is not directly the responsibility of the Lord Advocate to secure the search warrant. He is there to ensure that, first, the warrant is sufficient to meet its purposes and, secondly, that it does not go beyond what is required. In those circumstances, an application is made—[Interruption.]. It is quite clear and the extent of his authority is spelt out. Thereafter—and this may be of interest to my hon. Friend—it was not once, not twice, but on three occasions that the extent of the warrant used was before the court. At that time, the BBC was represented by the senior Queen's counsel at the Scottish Bar.
§ Mr. Aitken
The House will think that a revealing and helpful intervention. If I have it right—and obviously I am not experienced in the Iolanthe-like dance of Scottish legal figures—it appears that there was an element of judgment by the Law Officer. The Government need not be defensive about that and say that it is a matter entirely for the police. We laymen cannot possibly seek to challenge that judgment at this stage. Perhaps the national security implications of the Zircon affair are serious, in which case the Government must say so, and say also that the BBC was raided as a matter of Government policy to protect our national security interests. If such a statement were made, I think that we would all accept the authority of the Government spokesman and take a step backwards, at least until the outcome of the trial—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] However, if such a statement is not made, there will be a lingering impression that the authorities have been engaged in something dangerously close to an intimidating fishing expedition. That would be a bad precedent and would worry me. I seek an assurance from my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland that will calm my fears.
§ Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)
There have been spirited exchanges during the debate, but the test is not simply the concern and anger felt in the House; it is what I detect to be a feeling throughout the country that something has gone wrong and that something rather sinister and unpleasant is afoot. What should have been a discreet investigation carried out with proper regard for the rights of others has, in the view of many members of the public, become marked by bully-boy tactics, and there is something of the smell of a vendetta about it.
I wish to make it perfectly clear that, despite what was suggested, we are not saying that the press should be immune from the legal process and that it should be given a privileged position. However, we contend that events during the past few days, and specifically those in Glasgow, were conducted with an insensitivity that must be challenged in this House and in public debate.
There may well have been an offence committed under section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911. Certainly— and I wish to make this clear—if there was prima facie evidence that that was so, the authorities had a right and perhaps a duty to investigate. However, everyone in the House—and it is almost common ground—agrees that the Official Secrets Act can be used by authorities as a weapon to inhibit the curiosity that every citizen has a right to exhibit. The events of the past few days have done nothing to allay the fears.
A number of serious questions arise, and are being properly canvassed. We know that the procurator fiscal played a central part in obtaining the warrants. We know that the Metropolitan police appealed to him for his assistance and that that was given. When the bill of suspension appeared before Lord Clyde, a very senior advocate depute appeared on behalf of the authorities. We have been told quite frankly by the Secretary of State for Scotland and others that all that was done on the Lord Advocate's authority.
The Secretary of State attempted to shrug off all but a rather narrow responsibility. But even within that narrow responsibility a number of questions arise that require answers. We had one or two hints of that in a useful intervention when the Solicitor-General for Scotland at last managed to force his way into the debate.
I wish to know exactly what test was applied by the Lord Advocate when he considered his duty in the matter. Did he satisfy himself that there was prima facie evidence that required the issue of a warrant, or did he merely offer his services and those of his Department without any inquiry? We know from what the Solicitor-General for Scotland said that he at least took into account whether the powers being requested were sufficient for the purpose. It is reasonable to assume from that that he also had the power to consider whether they were too widely drafted for the purpose. In other words, he was the central man who took the decision about how the warrant was to be drafted. Therefore, he carries a direct ministerial responsibility, as a Law Officer, for what happened at the BBC headquarters in Glasgow. That, I think, proves that this is not an unjustified debate and that the Opposition are not errant on this occasion. It shows that we are right to inquire into the circumstances.
For the classical avoidance of doubt and to put the matter on the record, will the Secretary of State tell us whether he was contacted by the Lord Advocate and 854 whether the Lord Advocate notified the Scottish Office of the request made and the decision taken? It is not unreasonable to want answers because the Official Secrets Act is an issue of great sensitivity. A prosecution cannot be mounted without ministerial authority. In those circumstances, it is likely— and, indeed, not unreasonable—that the Secretary of State was informed of what was happening by the Lord Advocate. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is shaking his head. Perhaps he will put his position as he wishes it to be known on the record.
What is clear is that the Law Officers were responsible. or at least their staff were, for drawing those warrants. I make no great point about the confusion that arose and the fact that three different warrants were issued. In fact, one warrant was for Duncan Campbell's flat in the west end of Glasgow. It all added to the atmosphere of black farce. Members of the special branch were tramping in and out of the floodlights, with plastic boxes, shuttling backwards and forwards through the fore hall of the BBC. In fact, on Friday night the Secretary of State for Scotland and myself were in the building and if the warrant had been executed that night we could have ended up in plastic boxes. Perhaps that would have been a good swap, but I will not go into that now.
In view of the direct acceptance of ministerial responsibility from the Secretary of State for Scotland— no doubt he speaks for his Law Officer colleagues—why was the warrant drawn as widely as it was? Was the warrant deliberately wide? Such a warrant should be precise and limited because what is involved is the power of forcible entry and the power to search and seize. Such an operation is a fundamental assault on individual liberties and the House should make sure that such operations are carried out with discretion.
Did section 2 of the Official Secrets Act make the wide compass inevitable? If so, it is an indictment of section 2. The Secretary of State for the Home Department used the strange perjinct phrase "No one is wholly content with the operation of the Official Secrets Act". That is a masterly understatement that will do the right hon. Gentleman's reputation for trenchant debate no good.
§ Mr. Dewar
When the Lord Advocate was considering his duties—considering what was and was not sufficient—did he consider using some other statutory authority in Scottish law? For example, the Criminal Justice Act 1975 could have been used to draft a warrant that may have been more precise and less of an omnibus, catch-all solution to this problem. Everything would not have been swept up and carried off. It was not a trawl; it was comprehensive, indiscriminate and a mistake.
Why were the master copies, the back-up copies and cassettes taken away? I am told—that is an important caveat—that not just the scripts and research material were taken away but also notes and personal correspondence. I was not present, but that is what I am told.
During the debate I do not believe that it has been seriously maintained that the other five films— apart from the Zircon film—were in any way a serious threat or potential threat to national security. The trouble is that the public have been left, and I believe many hon. Members have been left, with the view that this was an attempt to stamp out any possibility of the series being shown. That is very odd when invitations to view the film were ten a penny in central Scotland in the past few days.
855 I welcome the Home Secretary's assurance that that material which is not connected with further proceedings will be returned as quickly as possible. However, I fear that the weekend's action looks like intimidation—a warning shot. It looks like an attempt to inhibit awkward questions from awkward people. There is a place for awkward questions, for that is the way to get to the truth.
There has been the assertion—it is bound to be just an assertion— that Ministers played no sinister part. However, in view of what the Solicitor-General for Scotland has said about the direct involvement of the Law Officers and the personal testimony of the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), there is no clear dividing line. Ministers, in a sense, get involved—perhaps they must be involved—but it is how they use the power to influence future events that is of interest to the House. We shall see what happens because there is certainly more to come.
There is the crucial matter of credibility. I am not in a position to challenge what the Home Secretary has said. If he says he was not involved in an improper or threatening way, we have to take that at face value.
I hope that the Home Secretary will not resent what I say, but what has been said colours my perception of the situation. It has been said that if there had been agreement and co-operation the warrant would have been unnecessary. Certainly, in the early stages, when the offices of the New Statesman were searched there was such cooperation and agreement. Why was there a sudden change of pace? Why a sudden change of tactics?
I am told— I stress that— by people who were involved that the authorities were offered copies of the Zircon film but refused them. Perhaps if there had been cooperation on the other side some later actions would not have taken place and the damage avoided.
I understand—this is a paraphrase from people who were there—that when the senior police officer came back with the third warrant he told the senior executives of the BBC, "There is an easy way and a hard way of doing this. The easy way is to hand over the evidence voluntarily, and the hard way is that I will flood the building with police officers and take it apart." I do not believe that that squares with some of things said about the atmosphere in which the search was conducted.
Perhaps it would be helpful if I were to remind the House of what the Secretary of State for Scotland— I want to be fair to him— said, because it gave a very different impression of how the BBC acted:I understand that the BBC technicians were asked whether they would be willing to come in to assist those taking part, and that they voluntarily chose to do so because they were aware of their public responsibilities."— [Official Report, 2 February 1987; Vol. 109, c. 695.]My impression is that the BBC has been aware of its responsibilities. [Interruption.] I do not like the sniping coming from the Conservative Benches.
There is another reason for anxiety. The events must be seen against a backcloth of what I can only describe as a vendetta against the BBC. It has been conducted by the chairman of the Conservative party. I would describe it as a ludicrous vendetta if I were not left with the strong, uncomfortable feeling that it was one of the factors that led to the recent decision of the director-general of the 856 BBC to leave. It is a record which breeds a certain cynicism when Ministers appear at the Dispatch Box to protest their innocence.
Earlier today the Prime Minister said—perhaps I did not catch her exact words—that the Opposition would do anything except to help the police. That is not the situation. We are having this debate because we believe that it is necessary. It is not a form of political opportunism. It is not an incompetent debate because of some theoretical lack of ministerial responsibility. The reputation of the police is a public asset and should be carefully guarded. The events of the past few days have damaged that reputation. We will not be put off or deterred. We have a duty to press for the facts and to make sure that, despite the special pleading from the Government Benches, this House ensures that the necessary hard lessons have been learnt from this unfortunate episode and that a damaging precedent is buried for all time.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)
During the course of the debate there has been a remarkable transformation in the position of the Opposition. The background to the debate centres on the responsibility for the police operations that took place within the Strathclyde region at the BBC headquarters in Glasgow. The comments of the Leader of the Opposition suggest that the police operation was directly initiated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said that it was part of a vengeful, spiteful, fishing expedition and that the Prime Minister had let the special branch loose on the BBC in Glasgow. That was not the charge that we heard from the Opposition spokesman for Scottish affairs, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). He was very careful, with his customary attention to accuracy, to confine any question of responsibility to what he suggested was the responsibility of the Lord Advocate—and indeed, as he said, the Lord Advocate acting as a Law Officer. The hon. Gentleman did not make any attempt—he knows perfectly well why—to suggest that the raid, the intervention, the police operation at the BBC offices in Glasgow was in any way the Government's responsibility.
I will comment on the position of the Lord Advocate, because the hon. Member for Garscadden sought to imply and my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) mistakenly sought to suggest that the Lord Advocate in his role is in any way judging the desirability of whether a search warrant should be obtained, and, if so, the manner in which it should be executed. The Lord Advocate's function is simple and straightforward. Having been presented with evidence by the Metropolitan police and the Strathclyde police, it was his duty to ensure that the matter was properly presented before the court. It was for the court and the court alone to decide whether the circumstances justified the granting of a search warrant and, if so, its terms.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
§ Mr. Rifkind
I am sorry, but I shall not give way.
The hon. Member for Garscadden knows perfectly well that neither the Lord Advocate nor any other Law Officer 857 north or south of the border exercises any judgment about what are essentially the operational decisions of the police or the proper discretion of a court of law.
It was made clear in the intervention by the Solicitor-General for Scotland that the Lord Advocate authorised the terms of the warrant—in other words, he knew the terms of the warrant. Were those terms deliberately drawn to take in all six films and did the Lord Advocate agree to that?
§ Mr. Rifkind
The Lord Advocate's duty— [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."]— and that of the procurator fiscal, who drafts these documents, is to take account of what the police are seeking and then to ensure that the application to the court is in terms that enable the information that the police are seeking to be realised, if the court believes it to be appropriate. I suggest to the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Milian) and others who have questioned the width of the warrant and the matters covered by it that we should all accept the very wise advice that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) gave yesterday—that we should await the outcome of these investigations. Only then will it be possible to judge whether the police, in seeking such a warrant, and the court, in granting it, were acting appropriately.
§ Dr. Owen
Surely the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not saying that the Lord Advocate, any more than the Attorney-General, is a functionary whose sole job is to give legal advice on the terms of the warrant. Surely the Lord Advocate is there in his dual role as a politician and Minister and as a lawyer to give advice and judgment. Surely the judgment that the Lord Advocate has to give is on how wide the warrant should be.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman has got it totally wrong. First, as with any Law Officer, in these circumstances the Lord Advocate does not have a dual role— he has a single role as a Law Officer. Secondly, the width of any warrant sought is a matter not for the police or for the Lord Advocate but for the courts. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not true."] As the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well—
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
The House would very much like to know whether the Lord Advocate agreed, desired or assisted in the drafting of a warrant which included six programmes rather than one.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The function of the Lord Advocate— [HoN. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] The function of the Lord Advocate was to give his authority to the presentation to the courts of an application requested by the police. It was for the courts then to determine whether that warrant should be granted.
§ Mr. Rifkind
I have already given way more than any official Opposition spokesman. Given that the whole basis of the argument—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. This has been a very good debate so far. There are three more minutes and I ask the House to listen in silence.
§ Mr. Rifkind
The case raised by the Leader of the Opposition and by the right hon. Member for Gorton— [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."]— was simply based on the extraordinary and absurd proposition that Her Majesty's Government sought to involve themselves in the question whether a search warrant should be applied for in regard to particular premises and the execution of that warrant. The Opposition have not produced an iota of evidence to substantiate a very grave charge. When Opposition Members who aspire to be Ministers of the Crown make serious allegations of the kind that they have chosen to make today, the House and the country are at least entitled to assume that those allegations are based on evidence and not on the most disreputable distribution of rumour, innuendo and allegation, unsubstantiated by any evidence. If the right hon. Member for Gorton raised an action in the courts based on the total absence of evidence that we have noted today. I would not fancy his prospects of success and he would probably be found to be wasting the court's time.
As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary correctly said, we have seen extraordinary confusion among the Opposition. They accuse the Government on the one hand of intervening and on the other hand of abdicating their responsibilities by not preventing the police from initiating the action that they wished to take. I have no hesitation in saying to all hon. Members who are prepared to judge these matters on the basis of evidence rather than innuendo that they should reject the Opposition's charges and show the country their confidence in the independence of our police.
§ Question put, That this House do now adjourn:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 200, Noes 351.
|Division No. 77]||[6.50 pm|
|Abse, Leo||Beckett, Mrs Margaret|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Beith, A. J.|
|Alton, David||Bell, Stuart|
|Anderson, Donald||Benn, Rt Hon Tony|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Bermingham, Gerald|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Bidwell, Sydney|
|Ashton, Joe||Blair, Anthony|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Boothroyd, Miss Betty|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Boyes, Roland|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Bray, Dr Jeremy|
|Barron, Kevin||Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)|
|Adley, Robert||Cormack, Patrick|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Corrie, John|
|Alexander, Richard||Couchman, James|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Cranborne, Viscount|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Critchley, Julian|
|Amess, David||Crouch, David|
|Ancram, Michael||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Arnold, Tom||Dickens, Geoffrey|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Dicks, Terry|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Dover, Den|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)||du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Dunn, Robert|
|Baldry, Tony||Dykes, Hugh|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)|
|Batiste, Spencer||Eggar, Tim|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Bellingham, Henry||Evennett, David|
|Bendall, Vivian||Eyre, Sir Reginald|
|Benyon, William||Fairbairn, Nicholas|
|Best, Keith||Farr, Sir John|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Fenner, Dame Peggy|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey|
|Blackburn, John||Fletcher, Sir Alexander|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Body, Sir Richard||Forman, Nigel|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Bottomley, Peter||Forth, Eric|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)||Fox, Sir Marcus|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Franks, Cecil|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Fraser, Peter (Angus East)|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Freeman, Roger|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Fry, Peter|
|Bright, Graham||Gale, Roger|
|Brinton, Tim||Galley, Roy|
|Brittan, Rt Hon Leon||Gardiner, George (Reigate)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Browne, John||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.||Gorst, John|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Gow, Ian|
|Budgen, Nick||Gower, Sir Raymond|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Grant, Sir Anthony|
|Burt, Alistair||Greenway, Harry|
|Butler, Rt Hon Sir Adam||Gregory, Conal|
|Butterfill, John||Griffiths, Sir Eldon|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)||Grist, Ian|
|Carttiss, Michael||Ground, Patrick|
|Cash, William||Grylls, Michael|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Gummer, Rt Hon John S|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Chope, Christopher||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Churchill, W. S.||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)||Hannam, John|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Hargreaves, Kenneth|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Harris, David|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Harvey, Robert|
|Clegg, Sir Walter||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Cockeram, Eric||Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael|
|Colvin, Michael||Hawkins, C. (High Peak)|
|Coombs, Simon||Hawksley, Warren|
|Cope, John||Hayes, J.|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||John, Brynmor|
|Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)||Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Kennedy, Charles|
|Buchan, Norman||Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil|
|Caborn, Richard||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Callaghan, Rt Hon J.||Lambie, David|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Lamond, James|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Canavan, Dennis||Leighton, Ronald|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Litherland, Robert|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Cartwright, John||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Loyden, Edward|
|Clarke, Thomas||McCartney, Hugh|
|Clay, Robert||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Clelland, David Gordon||McGuire, Michael|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)||Maclennan, Robert|
|Cohen, Harry||McNamara, Kevin|
|Coleman, Donald||McTaggart, Robert|
|Conlan, Bernard||McWilliam, John|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton North)||Madden, Max|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||Marek, Dr John|
|Corbett, Robin||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Martin, Michael|
|Craigen, J. M.||Mason, Rt Hon Roy|
|Crowther, Stan||Maxton, John|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'Ili)||Meacher, Michael|
|Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)||Meadowcroft, Michael|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)||Michie, William|
|Deakins, Eric||Mikardo, Ian|
|Dewar, Donald||Milian, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Dixon, Donald||Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)|
|Dobson, Frank||Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|Dormand, Jack||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Dubs, Alfred||Nellist, David|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.||O'Brien, William|
|Eadie, Alex||O'Neill, Martin|
|Eastham, Ken||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Evans, John (St. Helens N)||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Fatchett, Derek||Park, George|
|Faulds, Andrew||Patchett, Terry|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)||Pendry, Tom|
|Fisher, Mark||Pike, Peter|
|Flannery, Martin||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Randall, Stuart|
|Forrester, John||Raynsford, Nick|
|Foster, Derek||Redmond, Martin|
|Foulkes, George||Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)|
|Fraser, J. (Norwood)||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Garrett, W. E.||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|George, Bruce||Robertson, George|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Rogers, Allan|
|Godman, Dr Norman||Rooker, J. W.|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)|
|Gourlay, Harry||Rowlands, Ted|
|Hamilton, James (M'well N)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central)||Sheldon, Rt Hon R.|
|Hancock, Michael||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)|
|Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith||Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Silkin, Rt Hon J.|
|Haynes, Frank||Skinner, Dennis|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Smith, C.(lsl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Snape, Peter|
|Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)||Soley, Clive|
|Home Robertson, John||Spearing, Nigel|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley, N)||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Hoyle, Douglas||Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Stott, Roger|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport East)||Strang, Gavin|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Straw, Jack|
|Janner, Hon Greville||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)||White, James|
|Thorne, Stan (Preston)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Tinn, James||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Torney, Tom||Winnick, David|
|Wainwright, R.||Woodall, Alec|
|Wallace, James||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Wareing, Robert||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Weetch, Ken||Mr. Sean Hughes and|
|Welsh, Michael||Mr. Allen McKay.|
|Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Hayward, Robert||McCurley, Mrs Anna|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Heddle, John||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Henderson, Barry||MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)|
|Hickmet, Richard||MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)|
|Hicks, Robert||Maclean, David John|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Hill, James||McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)|
|Hind, Kenneth||McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)|
|Hirst, Michael||McQuarrie, Albert|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Major, John|
|Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)||Malins, Humfrey|
|Holt, Richard||Malone, Gerald|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Maples, John|
|Howard, Michael||Marland, Paul|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Marlow, Antony|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Mates, Michael|
|Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'Idford)||Mather, Sir Carol|
|Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Hubbard-Miles, Peter||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Mayhew, Sir Patrick|
|Hunter, Andrew||Mellor, David|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Merchant, Piers|
|Irving, Charles||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Jackson, Robert||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Jessel, Toby||Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Mitchell, David (Hants NW)|
|Jones, Robert (Herts W)||Moate, Roger|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Moore, Rt Hon John|
|Key, Robert||Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)||Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Mudd, David|
|Knowles, Michael||Murphy, Christopher|
|Knox, David||Neale, Gerrard|
|Lamont, Rt Hon Norman||Nelson, Anthony|
|Lang, Ian||Neubert, Michael|
|Latham, Michael||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Lawler, Geoffrey||Normanton, Tom|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Norris, Steven|
|Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Osborn, Sir John|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Ottaway, Richard|
|Lester, Jim||Page, Sir John (Harrow W)|
|Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Lightbown, David||Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil|
|Lilley, Peter||Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn)|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Pawsey, James|
|Lord, Michael||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Luce, Rt Hon Richard||Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Pollock, Alexander||Stokes, John|
|Porter, Barry||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Portillo, Michael||Sumberg, David|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Powley, John||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Prentice, Rt Hon Reg||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Price, Sir David||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Proctor, K. Harvey||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Raffan, Keith||Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.|
|Raison, Rt Hon Timothy||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Rathbone, Tim||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)|
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas||Thurnham, Peter|
|Ridsdale, Sir Julian||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey||Tracey, Richard|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)||Trippier, David|
|Robinson, Mark (N'port W)||Trotter, Neville|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Rossi, Sir Hugh||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Rost, Peter||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Rowe, Andrew||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Ryder, Richard||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Sackville, Hon Thomas||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Sainsbury, Hon Timothy||Walden, George|
|St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.||Wall. Sir Patrick|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Waller, Gary|
|Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)||Walters, Dennis|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Ward, John|
|Shelton, William (Streatham)||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)||Watts, John|
|Shersby, Michael||Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)|
|Silvester, Fred||Wheeler, John|
|Sims, Roger||Whitfield, John|
|Skeet, Sir Trevor||Whitney, Raymond|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Soames, Hon Nicholas||Wilkinson, John|
|Speed, Keith||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Spencer, Derek||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)||Wood, Timothy|
|Squire, Robin||Woodcock, Michael|
|Stanbrook, Ivor||Yeo, Tim|
|Stanley, Rt Hon John||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Steen, Anthony||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)||Mr. Robert Boscawen and|
|Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)||Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones.|
|Stewart, Ian (Hertf'dshire N)|
§ Question accordingly negatived.