HL Deb 23 March 1987 vol 486 cc1-3
Lord Grimond

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the BBC has approached the Home Secretary or the Law Officers with evidence of a possible miscarriage of justice over the case of Mr. Stephen Ward.

The Minister of State, Home Office (The Earl of Caithness)

No, my Lords.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, I am not sure whether I am grateful for that Answer, but I quite appreciate that the Government have no responsibility and I am glad to hear that there have been no representations. However, do the Government agree that the BBC—for the Government are not responsible—has a public responsibility, and its intention to make a film of the events concerning Ward, which are now 20 years old, was extremely irresponsible? If the BBC had evidence, it should have produced it to the appropriate authorities, and if it does not have sufficient evidence, as it now alleges, surely it would be quite improper even to suggest making a film which could only cause pain and could serve no conceivable public purpose?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. If anybody, including the BBC, has any such evidence or allegations, he should present them to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary; but nothing has been presented to him.

Lord Denning

My Lords, are Her Majesty's Government aware that quite recently I was approached by the BBC with a suggestion that I should take part in a programme concerning the case of Mr. Stephen Ward and that I refused, because over 23 years ago I heard all the evidence in that case in great detail and was quite satisfied that there was no miscarriage of justice at all?. Here is my report. Mr. Stephen Ward was found guilty of living on the earnings of prostitution but before he could be sentenced he took an overdose of drugs and died. Do Her Majesty's Government deplore the recent conduct of the BBC in raking up cases from the past, alleging that it had found fresh evidence and putting them over as miscarriages of justice in our courts? Such programmes are called "Rough Justice" and the like. Does not this conduct tend to shake people's confidence in the courts and in the police, and is it not therefore to be condemned?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, with regard to the noble and learned Lord's main question, this is a matter for the BBC and not for the Government. But I am sure that the BBC will hear his words.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, is the Minister aware in connection with the Ward case that ever since the regrettable incident Mr. Profumo has worked tremendously hard for Toynbee Hall? As a past student and a member of the council, I know what he tries to do for the university settlement of the East End of London. Is he further aware that this recurrent publicity causes much pain and suffering to the Profumo family?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's question. Yes, we are fully aware of the excellent work that has been done and are grateful to him for drawing it to the attention of the House.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, with regard to the question of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, is it not a fact that the BBC programme "Rough Justice" resulted in a review of certain convictions and the freeing of people who were, as a result of the evidence produced in those programmes, found to be innocent after approaches had previously been made to the Home Secretary without producing the result which he now claims—that all evidence given to him of alleged wrongful convictions is carefully scrutinised and he is satisfied that any miscarriages of justice come to light?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord wanders far from the Question on the Order Paper. But I assure him, in case he has any misapprehension on the point, that if any evidence is put to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary he will consider it.

Lord Annan

My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that, whatever may have been the intentions of the BBC in the past, it is a tribute to its new chairmanship under Mr. Hussey and to the new director general, Mr. Checkland, that the BBC no longer intends to make any such programme as the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, was asking about?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, that is a matter for the BBC, and I can assure the noble Lord that the Government have not interfered in any way whatever.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are a number of us in the House who strongly support the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Bottomley? We think that Mr. Profumo has taken more than enough punishment for a so-called crime committed many years ago and the sooner people leave him alone the better.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is dangerous ground when the BBC uses its influence to become a body of inquisition?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, what the BBC does is a matter for it, within the guidelines set out by the Government.

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