HC Deb 27 January 1988 vol 126 cc292-4
2. Mr. Galbraith

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the controller of BBC Scotland; and what matters were discussed.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

My right hon. and learned Friend last met the controller on 4 December, along with other senior Scottish television and radio executives, for a discussion on a broad range of Scottish affairs of interest to them.

Mr. Galbraith

Did they discuss the episode "Cabinet" of the series "Secret Society"? I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths), who has seen this programme, that it is a damning indictment of the Cabinet and Press Secretary Ingham. Is not the Minister, having failed to censor the Scottish media by using the courts, now resorting to his other method —intimidation?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I can answer the hon. Gentleman's question in relation to this film by saying that I understand that, after consulting the Government, the BBC decided last year not to show the film; but the BBC is aware that the Government deplore the dissemination of security information of this nature.

Sir Hector Monro

Will my hon. Friend impress upon the controller the importance of improving both long-wave and VHF reception in Scotland? Secondly, will he take up the issue in south-west Scotland of the occasions when the BBC splits programmes and south-west Scotland receives programmes from the north of England, which often means missing good Scottish international football?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I will draw to the attention of the controller my hon. Friend's comments. The proposals for the creation of new commercial stations will increase the competition faced by the BBC, and it will have to ensure that the quality of its material is sufficient to retain its business. I am sure that it will welcome that challenge.

Mr. Darling

Further to the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith), I have seen the programme "Cabinet", which is part of the "Secret Society" series. Can the Minister assure us that he will place no impediment in the way of the BBC transmitting the film, which was cleared by the former director general, and has been cleared legally, and which raises no questions of national security?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I understand what the hon. Gentleman is asking for, but I can only repeat what I have already said. The Government would deplore the dissemination of classified information of this nature. I do not wish to depart from that.

Mr. Dewar

Does the Minister, with hindsight, regret the rather high-handed way in which the warrant against the BBC was executed by the police, and does he not have doubts about the endless paperchase through the courts as the Government attempt to stop free discussion in the press about matters that are already in the public domain and which can be discussed in almost every other country?

Lord Douglas-Hamilton

I shall answer the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question first. In relation to the distinction between an injunction and an interdict, I would say this. The Lord Advocate has not suggested — [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) has asked about the courts, so I am entitled to give him a full reply. I will come back to the first part of his question as well.

The Lord Advocate has not suggested that an injunction granted by the High Court in England would apply in Scotland. Nor does the statement, as reported by The Scotsman, imply that to be the case. The Scottish legal system is distinct and separate from systems applying elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The Government consider that a responsible media will ordinarily take account of decisions of a court in one jurisdiction of the United Kingdom which may have an effect on the conduct of the press in that jurisdiction, and that a responsible media will deduce that, in the absence of special circumstances, a similar restriction might reasonably be expected to apply in other jurisdictions. The Government take the view that the media should not be subject to restrictions in Scotland to which they would not be subject in England, and vice versa. Therefore, the Lord Advocate took the view that if the injunction granted by the High Court was in terms less restrictive than the terms of an interim interdict, it was appropriate to indicate that he would not seek to enforce the interdict. In one sense—[Interruption.] I will answer the hon. Gentleman's first question later. The Lord Advocate is satisfied that the proper—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Under-Secretary must be given a chance to answer. Or has he answered?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The Lord Advocate is satisfied that the proper procedures had been followed in obtaining the search warrant.