HC Deb 23 February 1987 vol 111 cc13-4
50. Mr. Janner

asked the Attorney-General what recent discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions regarding investigations of suspected infringements of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act; and if he will make a statement.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Patrick Mayhew)

The Attorney-General has frequent meetings with the Director at which current investigations and pending prosecutions under section 2 are discussed when appropriate.

Mr. Janner

Will the Solicitor-General tell the House how many investigations and prosecutions are current at the present time under this awful, intolerable section? Will he also say which is correct—the Prime Minister's letter to me saying that the Government have, in effect, no intention of amending the section or attempting to do so, or the leading article that appeared on the front page of The Sunday Times a week ago, which reported that Ministers had said that the section was to be amended or repealed?

The Solicitor-General

A total of eight prosecutions or matters are at present under active consideration under section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. The hon. and learned Gentleman will recall that the Government have more than once acknowledged the inadequacies of the Act and sought to introduce amending legislation in the previous Parliament, but it did not find favour. Clearly, whether further legislation is introduced is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that although the Official Secrets Act may need amending the growing number of people who are willing to betray their country is a much more important problem?

The Solicitor-General

My hon. Friend acknowledges, as do the vast majority of hon. Members of this House, that any community needs legislation which effectively protects its secrets. The difficulty is to get legislation which actively, accurately and appropriately balances conflicting interests.

Mr. Nicholas Brown

Before getting to the question, may I ask the Solicitor-General if he will convey our best wishes to the Attorney-General during his convalescence? We hope to see him back here shortly. [Interruption.] That is not the question. Mild mannered I may be, but not that mild mannered.

On the more contentious matters, will the Solicitor-General give the House an assurance that the matters referred to in Granada television's "World in Action" programme last week about that despicable organisation the Economic League are being investigated, especially the possibility that the league's officials have contravened the Official Secrets Act? Will the Solicitor-General also give us an assurance that there is no political impediment to a prosecution?

The Solicitor-General

The hon. Gentleman's opening remarks were characteristic of his generosity and were most gratefully received.

On the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question. the procedures for drawing evidence to the attention of the prosecuting authorities are well understood. As has been made clear by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, matters of political partisanship are never taken into consideration.