HC Deb 01 February 1988 vol 126 cc693-5
74. Mr. Winnick

To ask the Attorney-General if he will provide a further update of the costs so far incurred in the "Spycatcher" case, and in all other cases in which Her Majesty's Government are a party, and which involve the restraint of publication of security-related information.

The Attorney-General (Sir Patrick Mayhew)

In the "Spycatcher" litigation the total amount of costs expended to date by the Government is about £575,000. The total expenditure to date on other current cases relating to the duty of confidentiality is about £9,000.

Mr. Winnick

It is all a waste of money. Will the Attorney-General state whether in any of these cases it was the Government's position that members of the security service could carry out criminal activities without any action being taken against them? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the lack of any effective parliamentary scrutiny of the security service is not only wrong in itself, but is undoubtedly a blot on our democracy?

The Attorney-General

The contention in the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question was never put forward on behalf of the Government. I might remind the House usefully of what was said by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in a written answer the other day: At no time have the Government asserted that any of the alleged actions which have featured in recent newspaper articles could lawfully be done under the prerogative when they would otherwise be criminal offences." —[Official Report, 29 January 1988; Vol. 126, c. 397.] The second part of the hon. Gentleman's question is not a matter for me.

Mr. Warren

How is it that people such as Wright arid Cavendish can flout our law and apparently publish what they want with no action taken against them? Is there no jurisdiction over them?

The Attorney-General

Mr. Wright and Mr. Cavendish, are rather separate considerations. Mr. Wright is outside the jurisdiction, but action has been taken in the courts in Australia. In the case of Mr. Cavendish, civil proceedings have been taken in England and Scotland.

Mr. Beith

When will the "Spycatcher" farce end? As the Government's actions seem to have led to the enrichment of Mr. Wright, how does it uphold the confidentiality of members of the security services to continue them? As the information contained in his book is now widely available throughout the world, is not the effect to keep from the British people information that they can obtain only with adverse consequences for our balance of payments?

The Attorney-General

My answer to the last part of the question must be the same as it has been for many months. It is important to uphold the duty of confidentiality — that has now become common ground in the litigation. Mr. Justice Scott in his judgment at first instance on the question whether the injunction should be made permanent said: Mr. Wright was in flagrant breach of the lifelong duty of confidence owed to the Crown. We must consider whether we should stand back and allow someone in that position to publish in this country, which must he the most profitable market, with all the consequences for the liaison security services of our allies that would follow.

It is not right to describe all this as a farce. It is a matter of serious import, and it is still before the Court of Appeal.

Mr. Stokes

Would it be possible for my right hon. and learned Gentleman to provide a further update of the costs so far incurred in the "Spycatcher" case by unnecessary and tedious questions from Members of Her Majesty's Opposition, and in particular from the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick)?

The Attorney-General

I never complain that the questions are asked, but I sometimes complain about the reception that the answers receive.

Mr. John Morris

May I ask the Attorney-General whether the Treasury has suggested that there should be a cash limit to this worldwide litigious rampage by the Government? Since there is considerable anxiety that the present Legal Aid Bill will result in furthering a second-class service for ordinary litigants, will the right hon. Gentleman publish a table of the fees paid in this case and compare it with legal aid fees so that we shall have an idea of what constitutes fair remuneration?

The Attorney-General

The last time that I was asked about costs I said that I thought the money was well spent. I remain of that view. Of course the Treasury will welcome it if the Government's litigation is ultimately successful. For example, the Government's claim for an account of the profits would substantially reduce the net outlay. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked a rather omnibus question about legal aid. As he knows, that is a matter for the Lord chancellor. It is not my practice to publish fees that are paid to individual members of the Bar or to solicitors.