HC Deb 16 March 1987 vol 112 cc685-6
28. Mr. Janner

asked the Attorney-General when he next expects to meet the Director of Public Prosecutions to discuss progress with the consideration of possible prosecutions under section 2 of the Official Secrets Act in the eight currently outstanding cases.

The Attorney-General (Sir Michael Havers)

I expect to meet the Director of Public Prosecutions shortly and to discuss with him such matters as appear at that time to be appropriate.

Mr. Janner

May I say how pleased we are to welcome back the Attorney-General in good health?

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman considering the lessons to be learnt from the catastrophic mishandling of the Wright case in Australia? As a result, will he make any further prosecutions under section 2 of the Official Secrets Act? Which of the eight are to be prosecuted and, if any, do they include Nigel West, alias Allason, who is a prospective Conservative candidate?

The Attorney-General

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for his kind remarks, which I greatly appreciate.

I do not accept that the case in Australia was a catastrophic disaster. It concerned a principle which we are maintaining and we were right to do so. Of the eight outstanding cases, two have been convicted, two have been dropped and the rest are awaiting final consideration. I have already dealt with the decisions on the others.

Mr. Forth

Does my right hon. and learned Friend appreciate how much support there is for the principle that those who sign the Official Secrets Act and then break it, particularly for personal gain, should be pursued and prosecuted, and that anything that he and his Department do in that connection in the future will have wide support on this side of the House?

The Attorney-General

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That in a nutshell is the principle behind the case.

Mr. Foot

If that is true, as it is alleged in some of the reports about what is in Mr. Wright's book, that people from MI5 were engaged in some sort of conspiracy against the elected Government of the United Kingdom, does the Attorney-General think that that, too, is a matter of principle? What steps has he taken to ensure that that is properly investigated?

The Attorney-General

I think I can refer the right hon. Gentleman most conveniently to the answer of the then Prime Minister when he addressed the subject.

Mr. Rippon

Most right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will welcome what my right hon. and learned Friend has just said. Does he agree that the operations of the secret service must remain secret and that they involve a lifelong duty of trust?

The Attorney-General

I agree entirely with my right hon. and learned Friend. I am surprised that so many Opposition Members seem unable to accept that principle.

Mr. John Morris

I, too, wholeheartedly welcome the Attorney-General back to his place in the House.

What is the prime consideration in relation to prosecutions? Is it damage to national security, or is it political embarrassment? Does the Attorney-General maintain consistency in his approach to Miss Tisdall and Mr. Ponting and to others such as Mr. West, Mr. Pincher, Lord Rothschild and the security men who may have leaked information to those people? Has not section 2 of the Official Secrets Act been virtually put out to grass and replaced in practical terms as a damage limitation exercise by actions for breach of confidentiality?

The Attorney-General

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his kind remarks. He used the word prosecutions, not for the first time during my questions. In fact, the proceedings in Australia are civil proceedings. There is no way in which we can prosecute under the Official Secrets Act in another country. With regard to the action in Australia, the principle has been brought out clearly today that it is the Government's determination to establish that once a man joins a service in which he promises to keep secret for the rest of his life all that he finds, that principle should be upheld.

Mr. Mates

For the benefit of the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), will my right hon. and learned Friend reinforce the point that whether or not a matter is politically embarrassing, the fundamental principle to be observed is that if a person breaches trust he must be pursued by any Government as far as it is legally possible to do so?

The Attorney-General

It would be impossible for the intelligence services to carry on their business and to maintain the confidence of other intelligence services if that principle was not upheld.