HC Deb 09 November 1987 vol 122 cc13-4
67. Mr. Winnick

To ask the Attorney-General how much in total Her Majesty's Government have allocated for future expenditure on trying to prevent the publication of the book "Spycatcher".

The Attorney-General

No specific amount for future expenditure is allocated in respect of any particular case.

Mr. Winnick

Has Wright expressed his gratitude to the British Government for helping to boost the sale and publicity of his book? Would not all the public money that has so far been spent, and probably the greater amount that will be spent in future on this farcical exercise, be better spent on scrutinising the security service and having a parliamentary Select Committee reporting on the matter?

The Attorney-General

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind two factors. The first is that in litigation it is the ultimately successful party that is normally awarded costs. Secondly, we are claiming an account of profits against Heinemann and Wright in Australia and against newspapers in New Zealand, Hong Kong and here. If those claims are ultimately successful — [HON. MEMBERS "If".]—that will cause money to flow hack to the Treasury. In those circumstances, I would expect the Opposition, with their notable concern for reducing public expenditure, to rejoice.

Mr. Lawrence

Is my right hon. and learned Friend considering any changes in the law or in the terms of contract of security service men to stop those who may be tempted to betray their country's secrets for money from doing so?

The Attorney-General

The present legislation remains in force and work has been in hand for some time on devising provisions that would be an effective, enforceable and reasonable alternative. This is not without difficulties. As my hon. and learned Friend is aware, the Official Information Bill 1979 was found to be unacceptable, although it closely followed the recommendations of the Franks committee.

Mr. Fraser

As Mr. Wright's disclosures are now about as confidential as a stage whisper, and if the Government are sensitive about the expenditure of public money, why does the Attorney-General not simply pursue Mr. Wright and his publishers for an account of profits? Why is it necessary to proceed with these extraordinarily expensive proceedings in the courts in many countries? The Attorney-General is presently reviewing the legal aid system. Will he be as indulgent to the ordinary citizen pursuing his rights as he is to the Government in pursuing Mr. Wright?

The Attorney-General

By now it must be understood that it is as important to uphold the principle in this jurisdiction, as it is in every other jurisdiction where it proves possible to do so, that when somebody retires from a position in our security service he continues to owe a duty of confidentiality. If the Government do not take all the steps that are properly open to them to enforce that obligation, they will not be able to do so in any subsequent and perhaps even more serious case.