§ Committee [Progress, 25 January]
§ [MR. HAROLD WALKER in the Chair]
§ 4.8 pm
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
On a point of order, Mr. Walker. I am sure that you will agree that this is wholly appropriate to the Committee consideration of a Bill. When we came to the end of our deliberations last week, the Minister of State was pressed from both sides of the House to state the position of solicitors who might be consulted by men and women who believed—or, more important, had been told—that they were the victims of improper actions by the Security Service. The Minister of State gave what we believed to be a considered reply, which appeared in column 1109 of Hansard for 25 January. He said that the passing of such information to solicitors would be covered by what he described as "legal professional privilege." I have now received a letter from the president of the Law Society saying that that statement is simply untrue. [Interruption.] I revise my judgment: the letter says that it is inaccurate.
With your permission, Mr. Walker, I shall read what the president of the Law Society says about the position of men and women who seek advice from a solicitor having been told that they are the subject of improper activity on the part of the Security Service:It is not only members of the security services who would have difficulty in seeking legal advice: the difficulty appears to apply to any person who can commit the various offences under the Bill relating to unauthorised disclosure.According to the president of the Law Society, men and women who may regard themselves as illegally treated by the security services are prohibited by the Bill from taking legal advice.
I do not wish to pursue the matter at any length today, as we have a fundamentally important debate ahead of us. I simply ask the Minister of State to assure us that, having given advice which appears in Hansard but which is categorically wrong, he will take the first chance he gets to correct that advice.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) raises an issue of which I am not aware. He has not given me prior notice of the letter, nor have I had a copy of the letter from the president of the Law Society. If the right hon. Gentleman would be good enough to let me have a copy, I shall consider in detail what the letter says.
§ The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Harold Walker)
The Committee will recognise that these are not matters for the Chair, but for debate.