HC Deb 19 February 1990 vol 167 cc650-2
31. Mr. Allen

To ask the Attorney-General when he last met the Director of Public Prosecutions; and what matters were discussed.

32. Mr. Skinner

To ask the Attorney-General when he last met the Director of Public Prosecutions; and what matters were discussed.

The Attorney-General (Sir Patrick Mayhew)

I frequently discuss matters of departmental interest with the Director of Public Prosecutions, and I last met him for that purpose on 14 February.

Mr. Allen

Is the Attorney-General aware of the reports of the remarks of Sir Peter Leng, Army land commander in Northern Ireland from 1973 to 1975, to the effect that he was aware of the dirty tricks being performed by MI6 in Northern Ireland and the smearing of hon. Members of all parties? Is he aware that Sir Frank King, General Officer Commanding, said that he has "no quarrel" with Sir Peter's remarks? Will the Attorney-General now ask the DPP to consider whether criminal offences took place and to bring charges against those who deliberately sought to undermine democratically elected people in the House and elsewhere?

The Attorney-General

Although the question relates to the DPP and the supplementary question to Northern Ireland, I can say to the hon. Gentleman that, as with all assertions of criminal conduct—I have read a report in the newspaper today—any relevant information that is brought to the attention of the police or the prosecuting authorities will be duly considered.

Mr. Skinner

Has the Attorney-General seen the report published by the district auditor on the sale of cemeteries by Westminster council for 15p? Has he noted that the auditor said that the sale was unauthorised, unlawful and detrimental to ratepayers? When will the members of Tory-controlled Westminster city council be called to account? Why has the ball been kicked from one end of the field to the other for years without anyone being charged? Is it because Lady Porter is a friend of the Prime Minister and a member of the Tory party? Finally, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that if a Labour authority had done this, it would have been hung, drawn and quartered?

The Attorney-General

I am responsible for the enforcement of the criminal law in England and Wales, where hanging, drawing and quartering went out some time ago. I have not seen the auditor's report to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but, if there is a question of liability, it sounds like a civil matter, not a criminal one.

Mr. Latham

In view of the verdict of unlawful killing at the inquest on my former constituent, Petty Officer John Black, and the decision to seek a fresh inquest, can my right hon. and learned Friend say today, or discuss with the DPP, when a fresh inquest will take place? The man in question died in December 1983.

The Attorney-General

Again, the question does not arise as part of the responsibilities of the Director of Public Prosecutions, but I can help my hon. Friend by saying that, unless I am badly mistaken, the application for a fresh inquest will be heard soon in the Divisional court, where it is already listed.

Mr. Aitken

When assertions are made of attempts to overthrow a democratic Government by unlawful means, on what criteria does the Director of Public Prosecutions go into overdrive and put the accelerator down and when does he put on the handbrake? For example, does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that when similar allegations were made—admittedly from a different angle—by Mr. Peter Wright, the entire Law Officers' Department rushed round the world spending £3 million of taxpayers' money on hyper-legal activity? Why is no action taken when those assertions are made from a different angle?

The Attorney-General

My hon. Friend does not do justice to his recollection of the "Spycatcher" case. The litigation, here and overseas, ended in the House of Lords in complete vindication of the Government's contentions. The action was undertaken to enforce the Government's right to lifelong confidentiality from those who have been members of the security services, and that contention was wholly upheld by the House of Lords. It had nothing to do with the Director of Public Prosecutions. When he is confronted with evidence that a criminal offence has been committed, there is neither accelerator nor handbrake but one measured pace.

Mr. Fraser

Will the Attorney-General confirm that forgery with a view to disseminating defamatory information is a criminal offence and that no one in this country has the power to authorise the commission of crimes? Will he give an undertaking not to leave this serious matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions, but to report these exchanges to the DPP and then report back to the House of Commons on whether the DPI' will investigate it?

The Attorney-General

No, Sir. It would be wrong to answer the hypothetical questions with which the hon. Gentleman prefaced his question. It is unnecessary to depart from the well-tried and well-proven practice whereby matters suggesting that criminal offences may have been committed are considered first by the police and then by the prosecuting authorities.

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