HL Deb 03 February 1981 vol 416 cc1039-41

2.58 p.m.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make strong representations to the European Economic Commission to ensure that justice is done to Stanley Adams, who suffered imprisonment, bankruptcy, the suicide of his wife and received only derisory compensation after he had drawn the Commission's attention to the illegal practices of a drug company.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, Mr. Adams is a Maltese citizen, who was tried under Swiss law in respect of information he was alleged to have given to the European Community Commission. The British Government have no direct locus to intervene. But our permanent representation in Brussels have discussed the case informally with the Commission, with whom prime responsibility lies. We understand that the Commission are seized of the issues involved. Their attitude was fully described in the two declarations made by the Commission to the European Parliament on 23rd May and 18th September 1980, which are to be found in the Library of your Lordships' House. The Commission made an ex gratia payment of 50 million lira (about £25,000) to Mr. Adams on 29th May 1980.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, can the noble Lord verify these facts? Is it quite clear that there was no question at all of Mr. Adams's employers, Roche, marketing any drug which had been insufficiently tested, or anything of that sort, the offences committed being purely commercial; that he was an executive of Roche, enjoying their confidence, and that, without consulting them, warning them or protesting to them, he went and sneaked to the European Commission; that the Swiss, who in my view are certainly a very highly civilised country, regard this kind of private treachery as criminal; that on a charge of this private criminal nature he was tried and sentenced; and that, so far as the European Commission are concerned, what they do to compensate their "grasses" is their business and not ours?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, I think that his supplementary question was a mixture of conjecture and his own opinion. The fact is that almost everything that the noble Lord has mentioned was a reference to the Swiss legal system, for which I am not responsible.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, has my noble friend read the many press reports drawing attention to this individual's tragic circumstances; and would he say whether it is open to an individual to go to the European Commission of Human Rights to seek for such injustice to be put right? Would he say whether our strong representation at the ECC will do all it can to set this matter to rights; because an individual's suffering and an individual's freedom is of supreme importance when he has, in his opinion, drawn a malpractice to the attention of that Commission?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, as I understand it, the European Commission on Human Rights has its doors open to any citizen of Europe or any citizen of a signatory state to make representations to it—which is doubtless what Mr. Adams will seek to do. But it is no part of my job to comment on how that Commission should go about its work.

Lord Fletcher

My Lords, did I understand the Minister in his original reply to say that because Mr. Adams was a Maltese subject, Her Majesty's Government have no locus standi to intervene? Is it not the case that, as a member of the European Community, we are at least as much interested as is any other country in seeing that justice is done; and the original Question draws attention to the fact that there may be a miscarriage of justice here? Would the Minister therefore say that, if there is any suggestion of a miscarriage of justice, our representatives should make known to the European Commission the very deep feeling in this country about the way this has been handled?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, if there were any miscarriage of justice—and I would not comment on that—it occured in Switzerland and not in Brussels.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, is there not in any event a case for restraint in character assassination in this Chamber?

Lord Monson

My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm that Mr. Adam's public-spirited action in revealing price-fixing practices has effectively saved the National Health Service and the British taxpayer substantial sums of money? If this is the case, has not this country a moral duty to do all in its power to assist him?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am wary about taking on board the moral duties which the noble Lord suggests. The duty that I have at this moment is to answer for Her Majesty's Government—and that I have done.

Lord Waddon

My Lords, does the noble Lord not agree that a most disturbing feature of this case was the leakage by the Commission of information given to it in confidence which has resulted in these troubles? What action are the Government taking to ensure that security is considerably tightened so that future information will not be blocked off on allegations of this kind?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I do not think I can answer for the European Commission on the sort of point that the noble Lord puts to me; but, as I said in my original Answer, our permanent representatives in Brussels have discussed the matter informally with the Commission.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, does the noble Lord not agree that a question-and-answer session is not the appropriate way in which to deal with matters of which this House is not fully apprised and of which the House has heard no evidence whatsoever?

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