HC Deb 22 February 1988 vol 128 cc13-4
55. Mr. Harry Greenway

To ask the Attorney-General when he now expects to reach a decision "on whether to prosecute Mr. John Stalker under the Official Secrets Acts in respect of his book entitled "Stalker".

The Attorney-General (Sir Patrick Mayhew)

I refer my hon. Friend to my answer of 11 February to my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden).

Mr. Greenway

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that Sir John Hermon, Chief Constable of Northern Ireland, said on television yesterday, and will say again today, that Mr. Stalker is thoroughly immature and that his book is a tissue of lies? Should not the public, therefore, treat Mr. Stalker and his book with the contempt that they deserve?

The Attorney-General

My hon. Friend expresses himself with characteristic robustness. I am not responsible for the views expressed by the Chief Constable or, indeed, by anybody else. Naturally, the Government deplore any breach of confidence of the kind to which my hon. Friend refers.

Mr. Archer

Does the Attorney-General agree that, in respect of decisions about prosecutions, he is accountable to this House, and only to this House? Although there may be difficulties about disclosing particular facts, does he agree that that accountability should be made a reality, either through a Select Committee or another acceptable channel? Has he directed his mind to that question, and would he care to make a statement?

The Attorney-General

I am accountable to this House. That does not need to be made a reality. It is a reality.

Mr. Cormack

Does my right hon. and learned Friend know whether the book is a tissue of lies, or a breach of confidence? Surely it cannot be both.

The Attorney-General

My hon. Friend speaks as though these things are mutually incompatible and as though the entire book, or any book, is wholly consistent in falling into one category or another. That is not always the case.

Mr. Rees

Is the Attorney-General aware that I agree that, although the Stalker book obviously contravenes the Official Secrets Act 1911, he is right not to prosecute? Will he consider other circumstances in the background to the case in which it is alleged that, while the report was being undertaken, details were passed to a journalist in Manchester? Will he speak to the Northern Ireland Office and the Home Office and suggest that, in the light of his investigations and these worrying allegations, senior officers who are put in to investigate other police forces should be given instructions on how to carry out those investigations?

The Attorney-General

The right hon. Gentleman speaks with much authority and experience. I shall undertake to ensure that his observations are referred to my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and for the Home Department, who plainly have an interest in the matter.

Mr. Fraser

Was one of the Attorney-General's considerations that it might have been in the public interest for the public to have the right to know Mr. Stalker's conclusions on his investigations in Northern Ireland? If the right hon. and learned Gentleman's conclusion not to prosecute was based on that consideration, will it apply similarly to any civil proceedings?

The Attorney-General

It falls to me to take into account, in my criminal jurisdiction, all relevant circumstances. The hon. Gentleman has referred to one of them, but all of them have to be considered and a right and sound judgment has to be reached at the end. That I endeavour to do.