HC Deb 11 February 1987 vol 110 cc307-10
44. Mr. Pollock

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland whether he has any plans to review the resources available to the procurator fiscal service; and if he will make a statement.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland (Mr. Peter Fraser)

The resources of the Crown Office and procurator fiscal service have recently been reviewed and, subject to parliamentary approval, the 1986–87 cash limit for Class XX, Vote 20 will be increased by £180,000. Class XX, Vote 21 provision will be increased by £150,000.

Mr. Pollock

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that reply. In view of the current pressures on the procurator fiscal's office in Glasgow, why was it necessary for the procurator fiscal to be involved in the obtaining of a search warrant recently for the BBC offices in Glasgow?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

It was in accordance with both proper and accepted practice and procedure in Scotland in such circumstances for the police to make a request to the procurator fiscal to make application on their behalf to the sheriff. In deciding whether it was proper to present such an application, the procurator fiscal had to be satisfied as to the legal justification for the application. In that regard he would consider the information to be sworn to by the police and the known attitude of the BBC to the requirement of due legal process. He sought to ensure that the warrant was sufficient to meet its purpose and did not go beyond what was required. With his legal experience, I hope my hon. Friend will recognise that the course followed there and the relationship between the police and the procurator fiscal were appropriate in the circumstances.

Mr. Dalyell

Was Professor Bradley right, or wrong, in suggesting—[HON. MEMBERS: "Wrong."] If he is wrong, let it be said where he is wrong. Was he right, or wrong, in suggesting that the procurator fiscal and the Lord Advocate, in the mode and style of their investigation, had to take into account the interests and the feelings of the victim? In this case was not the major victim the Foreign Office? When did the Crown Office first approach or talk to the Foreign Office, or when did the Foreign Office first approach or talk to the Crown Office?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

To answer the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question first, in no circumstances and at no time did the Crown Office contact the Foreign Office, nor indeed was there any pressure or approach from the Foreign Office to the Crown Office. Although I studied under Professor Bradley, I regret to say that I do not consider that his statement of the law, as I saw it reported in The Independent today, is wholly correct. I would not dissent in any way from what he has to say with regard to consideration of the public interest where there is—

Mr. Dalyell

Is he wrong?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

If the hon. Gentleman would give me half a moment I shall try to answer his question. I do not dissent from what Professor Bradley has to say about the consideration of the public interest once a stage of consideration of prosecution is reached. However, I do not agree, nor would my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate agree, that it would be his practice to consult any other Minister when considering applications for search warrants in the course of a criminal investigation.

Sir Alex Fletcher

In considering the resources in Glasgow, is my hon. and learned Friend still satisfied that the attitude of the BBC at the highest level was such that the police had no alternative but to obtain a search warrant and raid the Glasgow premises? Can he assure the House that every reasonable possibility was covered by the police before this drastic action was taken?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

The BBC was perfectly within its legal rights in insisting that if any action was to be taken against it in relation to material that it held, due legal process should be carried through. As I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Mr. Pollock), one of the known factors at the time when the application was considered by the procurator fiscal was that at a senior level the BBC took the view that if those investigating this matter wanted material from the BBC, it was for them to follow due legal process. The BBC had a right to insist on that and, clearly if it did insist, that excluded the possibility of such material being handed over to the investigating authorities without the necessity for a search warrant, as is sometimes the case in some circumstances.

Mr. Wallace

It has been said on a number of occasions by some people that the showing of the Zircon film last week in Edinburgh and Glasgow could put those who saw it in breach of the Official Secrets Act. Does the Solicitor-General think that the procurator fiscal's office has sufficient resources to deal with such a vast number of cases? Given that the Government and the Leader of the Opposition think that it endangers national security, why did the Government not seek to take out an interim interdict against the showing of these films?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, following the New Statesman article, information was already in the public domain, as it were, and the prospects of obtaining an interim interdict or an interdict in perpetuity in Scotland were thereby limited. I am certainly not answerable for the views of the Leader of the Opposition, and I am even loss answerable for the disagreements that have opened between him and his Back Benchers.

Mr. Bill Walker

Is my hon. and learned Friend satisfied that sufficient resources are available to the procurator fiscal? If they are riot, will he look at those resources and recruit people of the highest calibre so that we may have the best possible people prosecuting when we want to bring prosecutions in cases such as the BBC case? That will ensure that we can make the charges stick.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I shall resist the temptation to make any observations about the last point made by my hon. Friend. I know that he has a continuing interest in the affairs of the procurator fiscal service. I am encouraged by the fact that there is some agreement to increase the Vote, and I hope that the House will approve the Vote. I share my hon. Friend's view that, through the procurator fiscal service in Scotland, we probably enjoy the finest prosecution system in the world.

Mr. Dewar

I am sure the Solicitor-General will agree that he was aware that a warrant was in existence in England at the time when he considered the Scottish process. Did he think about restricting and narrowing the scope of the warrant in Scotland, in the way that it was done in England? Does he agree that that might well have stopped some of the controversy and damage that has flowed from this lamentable incident?

We know that the Secretary of State for Scotland was informed on the day on which the warrant was obtained. Can the hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that that was Friday 30 January, and can he say when on that day the Secretary of State was advised by his office? Will he again categorically confirm, because I want to be absolutely clear beyond all doubt, that there was no consultation at any time about the application, the drawing or the exercise of the warrant, with any of his ministerial colleagues outside the Law Officers?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I shall start by answering the hon. Gentleman's last point. I confirm yet again that in the drawing up of the petition and the warrant, in considering whether such an application should be made to the sheriff and in arranging for its execution there was no pressure and nothing was done in relation to any other Ministers, least of all, as the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends seem to think, with No. 10 Downing street or with any other office.

I am aware that the hon. Gentleman has written to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. With respect, it seems to me that this is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend to answer. I shall now deal with the major part of the hon. Gentleman's question. Of course there was an awareness that a warrant had been obtained in England. It was obtained under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. The hon. Gentleman ought to appreciate that such a warrant would not have any validity in Scotland. I wish that he would go back to the letter that I sent him and read it rather more carefully, together with the petition and the crave attached to it. Had the hon. Gentleman looked at it, he would have realised that it referred explicitly to highly classified information. If he had read as far as the first paragraph of the petition, he would know that it referred to highly classified information contained in the article in the New Statesman.