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Mr. Worthington : It should surface because of the power given to the secret service to do fundamentally what they like. I am open to correction, but, as I understand the Bill, an article giving that kind of information would in future not be published, which is fundamentally wrong.
The police argue that the public interest defence is easy, but it is not. Hon. Members spoke earlier about the barriers to be overcome to establish that public interest defence. Have we learnt nothing from the events of recent years about what happens in various hierarchical institutions? One can take it from the world of psychology, and the work of Professor Milgram years ago on authority. He determined that people could be induced to do the most frightening things in the presence of authority. In cases of abuse within hospitals, child sex scandals and in every tragedy--whether it be Clapham Junction, or King's Cross--where there is human error, there is information that would have stopped that horror occurring if it could have been released from that hierarchical organisation. One must face up to the fact that the secret services and the world of secrets must be the most hierarchical organisation of all. It is not enough to appoint councillors and to have good internal supervision of those services. Ultimately, there must be a public interest defence for people to escape from that.
It is not easy to establish a public interest defence, because it would have been necessary for the person to have gone to the councillor, to have real knowledge that an outrage was going on and to have explored every other avenue in that organisation before that public interest defence could be accepted.
It is crucial--a kind of bedrock of our kind of democracy--that there should be some escape from a hierarchical organisation that has control over one's career, one's family and over everything in one life. One should be able to escape from that situation and have some root of satisfaction in being able to plead a public interest defence, and that is taken away in this legislation.
Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North) : One thing that the entire House has agreed upon is that section 2 of the 1911 Act needs reforming. The present law is a mess and is drawn too widely. As the Franks committee observed on section 2 :
"A catch-all provision is saved from absurdity in operation only by the sparing exercise of the Attorney-General's discretion to prosecute."
The Government are to be congratulated on grasping this problem and bringing legislation before the House, but it is right that we should examine the substance of the Government's proposals. The only matter about which I agreed with the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was when he said that we should consider the Bill on its merits, but he did his case no service when he then quoted a number of misleading examples. Referring to the special investigation powers, the right hon. Gentleman said that if those carrying out powers under a warrent were to blunder into his own house, which was next door to the house that should have been searched, if he were to pass on that information an offence would be committed. I must disagree with him because clearly, as I read the Bill, any action carried out that is not authorised by the warrant would not be covered.
Column 526The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook then criticised the Government for the test of harm. He and other Opposition Members, including the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott)--who referred to the Bill as bringing about the creation of a one-party state--said that the Government were actually setting down what amounted to harm, and that that was a dangerous precedent. Hon. Members who put that argument forward should read the Bill, because in five out of the six cases the Government may have a view as to what is harm, but it is for the jury to decide after considering the evidence in the case. It is poppycock to talk of a one-party state being created by the provisions.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook referred to the Civil Service, and, having listened to all the debate, I have failed to understand why it should be necessary for someone in the Civil Service who feels that something is amiss to run off to a newspaper. A procedure has been set up whereby a person can invoke the Civil Service procedure if he has a valid complaint. To argue that civil servants should have a licence to reveal to newspapers something that they consider to be underhand is a bogus point.
The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) denounced the Bill in a robust speech. His speech, as always, was good value. I am sorry he is not in his place becasue I believe that his remarks on this Bill carry no credibility. He was a member of the previous Labour Government, who, in 1978, published a White Paper--it was debated in July of that year--which did not address the question of freedom of information about which he was so concerned today. The Labour Government White Paper also stated that information relating to security and intelligence was to receive absolute protection. It appears that the right hon. Gentleman, who supported that White Paper, has gyrated through 180 deg. now that he has been relieved of the burden of office. His remarks did not carry any weight tonight. Contrary to some of the remarks that have been made, the Bill does contain a number of substantial changes that narrow further the scope of the present law as compared with the proposals published earlier this year in the Government's White Paper. I am especially pleased to note that it will not be an offence under the Bill simply to disclose information received in confidence from other Governments or from international organisations. The White Paper suggested that that would be an absolute offence, but I am delighted that the Bill makes it clear that harm would have to be proved. That is a welcome change.
The current proposals mean that the prosecution must satisfy specific tests of harm to the public interest in cases involving disclosure by most people, including journalists, in five of the six areas still covered by criminal law. It is only for members of and others closely connected with the security and intelligence services that any unauthorised disclosure would always be treated as harmful. The Government have got the Bill exactly right.
There is some controversy about whether there should be a statutory defence. A number of Opposition Members and some of my hon. Friends have said that they want absolute defences of prior publication and of disclosure in the public interest. When the House last debated this matter I had some sympathy for that view. If I read the Bill correctly, however, the existence of a harm test will mean that it will be open to a defendant in court to argue that he
Column 527had caused no harm beyond that created by the earlier publication. In those circumstances, it would be for the jury to decide. That is reasonable.
It is also fair to say that there is no statutory defence of public interest in the Bill. The harm test, however, will still apply. Surely a defendant will be able to argue in court that his disclosure was not harmful and that it was for the public good. If that is accepted by the jury he will, quite properly, be acquitted. I have a couple of questions that I wish to put to the Minister about the Bill as it affects matters concerned with crime. What about the discloser of information as opposed to the publisher? In some cases the person who discloses information will clearly be an accessory to the offence. Could that person be prosecuted as such? I hope that, in appropriate cases, he could. Also, will the Minister confirm that military offences--for example, desertion and other such offences--will not be covered by the Bill? I trust that they will still be dealt with under separate law.
Having read the criticisms of the Bill that have appeared in the press, I am led to the conclusion that journalists have obviously not read or fully digested the Government's proposals. I believe that when seeking to take a journalist to court, the prosecution--the Crown--would have a near Herculean task persuading the jury that the journalist had committed an offence. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) has already touched on that.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook referred to my hon. Friend the Minister's letter, which I understand was published in a newspaper, but I am afraid that I have not seen that letter.
Mr. Corbett : It was not published.
Mr. Knight : Well, whatever happened to the letter, the right hon. Gentleman referred to eight hurdles that the prosecution must clear. From my understanding of the Bill, I believe that there are nine hurdles to be cleared to ensure the prosecution of a journalist. It is not right for some members of the press to say that this is a repressive measure.
Mr. John Patten : Let me clear up the matter of the letter. Is my hon. Friend aware that I did not write a letter to the press, as suggested by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook? Rather, I gave an interview to The Times in which I set out the hurdles that the prosecution would have to clear to prosecute a journalist successfully. That was the source and it was entirely accurate. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury was spot-on when he directed the attention of the House to it.
Mr. Knight : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that clarification and I am glad that he has confirmed that nine points have to be proved by the Crown to pursue a journalist for a breach of the provisions. If that is the case, members of the press should be praising my right hon. Friend as the most liberal Home Secretary since 1911.
This is an excellent Bill. It is a well-balanced measure and I hope that the whole House will support it today.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : I believe that the question asked by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) about the position of the discloser is extremely important to all of us in the House.
Column 528I shall speak quietly to the Home Secretary and Minister in the hope that the questions that I put will be answered, possibly by a letter--not to me, but placed in the Library before we start discussing this Bill in Committee. Frankly, having spent 11 days at the Old Bailey during the trial of Mr. Clive Ponting, I realise that this is a very difficult, delicate, grey area.
One : is it unfair to say that this Bill could be subtitled the "Anti- Ponting Jury Bill"? It looks to me as though Ministers dislike the 1911 Act because it does not guarantee that those who reveal information can be prosecuted when convenient and found guilty? If that is unfair, may I be told by letter why?
Two : I have a personal request of the Home Secretary. It ill becomes him to use terms of abuse. That is not his style. Who were the obfuscators ? I genuinely do not know. We may be wrong, but we should not be treated with that kind of abuse if we are to have a sensible Committee stage. Such abuse is not in the Home Secretary's nature. If I am a melancholic obfuscator, I want to be told why. Three : is it fair to say that the Bill is designed to prevent the newspapers, radio and television from putting over stories and facts which the Government do not want made public, to make certain beyond peradventure that those prosecuted are found guilty in future ? We must know whether this a measure to deal with perverse juries in trials like Ponting's. That is how it looks to a number of serious people. I note that the Home Secretary is knitting his brow in a pained way. I simply want to know why the Home Secretary thinks I am wrong about that.
Four : having read the Bill, it seems to some of us that it is constructed for one purpose above all others--to put a stopper in the loopholes revealed by recent cases which have been awkward for the Government. My hon. Friends the Members for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbot) have already outlined the cases and to save time I need not repeat their excellent speeches. However, my point must be answered in a letter to all of us who have taken part in this debate. Five : I realise that it may be difficult to refer to previous cases, as there may be retrospective hypothetical situations, but it is fair to ask the following question. Under this Bill, I am sure that Sarah Tisdall would still be found guilty, but are we right to think that The Guardian would be found guilty as well ? Could The Guardian have been prosecuted for printing the documents ? From our reading of the Bill, it seems that it could, I would like that confirmed.
Six : under the Bill, are we right to assume that Cathy Massiter could be prosecuted with a greater chance of success ? Not only would it be illegal to report her allegations. If a newspaper or the BBC reported Massiter-like allegations, Ministers would presumably be cocking a proverbial snook at their critics, for would they not say then that illegal actions undertaken by MI5 are legalised under the new security legislation ? If I do the Government an injustice, let us be told.
Seven : I asked a former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), a question about someone acting as Desmond Morton acted for Churchill. The former Prime Minister said that the Home Secretary would have to answer. The home Secretary shook his head, and I believed that he thought that anyone in Desmond Morton's position would not be
Column 529prosecuted. May we have some reflections on that ? I believe that some people think that someone like Desmond Morton would find himself in prison.
Eight--in all these points I hope that Ministers will correct me in a letter if I am wrong--could Ms. Massiter be prosecuted under one of the new -fangled provisions in the new legislation for putting out "false information" about MI5?
Nine : under the Bill, if another Peter Wright were to publish in Australia, would it be illegal to report anything Wright wrote for the benefit of the public in the United Kingdom, even though the rest of the world could read about it as they pleased? That question was implied by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington. It would be useful to have the Government's reflections about that before the Committee stage.
Ten : under this Bill, would it be illegal for Duncan Campbell and the BBC to make a Zircon film or for the New Statesman or any other journal to write an article about Zircon? If so, we could cut out the need for highly publicised and damaging special branch raids on the BBC at Queen Margaret drive in search of Campbell's sources. If I have got it wrong, let us be told.
Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent) : My hon. Friend is right.
Mr. Dalyell : I think that I have got it right, because I have taken legal advice about it.
Eleven : as to national and sectional interests, will the Home Secretary explain what he was trying to say on that subject in his opening speech? His remarks were a little obscure. It may be that I was being thick about it, but I do not think that that can be said of all my right hon. and hon. Friends. It was not clear what distinction the right hon. Gentleman was drawing.
Twelve : are we being unfair in suggesting that the Home Secretary's distinction between the front pages of national newspapers and articles in technical journals borders on the absurd? The Russians will take into account--but the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) shakes his head.
Mr. Whitney : The point is not necessarily whether the Russians know a fact, but whether it suits the Russians or some other party to surface a fact and have it more widely distributed for other reasons. If I may say so, with respect to the hon. Gentleman, he thinks in simplistic, Len Deighton-type terms. The world has moved on and is a more subtle place. Prior publication is a more dangerous area that the hon. Gentleman seems to understand.
Mr. Dalyell : So that I may understand before Committee stage, let there be a letter on the matter, not just for myself but placed in the Library, so that all right hon. and hon. Members interested in the Committee stage will know the Government's reflections on the hon. Gentleman's point.
Thirteen : having spent 11 days at the Old Bailey during Clive Ponting's trial, I cannot understand how, under this Bill, Bruce Laughland or anyone else could mount a defence at the trial. Would the evidence of a Government cover-up introduced at that trial be allowed under the provisions of the Bill? I think not. I understand also that, under clause 3 of the Bill, my right hon. Friend the
Column 530Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) and Professor Wade, Master of Caius, would not be permitted to testify. That is what Ponting himself has written in today's press, and I know that he has grounds for doing so. If that belief is wrong, let the House be told.
Fourteen : at first sight, the Bill has been devised to stop leaks. Do the Government imagine that they will in any way be successful in that attempt? It seems that, in practice, the Bill will make leakers rather more sophisticated, as they have been recently. People are becoming better at it. In this context, I hope that I shall not be ruled out of order if I say that people such as Mr. Mogg put their accounts of delicate events and other matters in bank vaults, as has Colette Bowe. Heaven knows why civil servants should put their accounts of events in bank vaults if they tally with those of Ministers.
Fifteen : there is also the question of leaks to Members of Parliament. What will be the position if a right hon. or hon. Member, or anybody else, discloses information? The hon. Member for Wycombe made certain remarks. I shall not argue the point, but I do not see what else I should have done in the case in question other than go to the Chairman of the Select Committee. I did not go to the press. I believe that I behaved perfectly responsibly in keeping within parliamentary procedure. We can return to that point in Committee. I will only say that part of the trouble was misbehaviour by others. On the third day of the Ponting trial, what did we hear other than the clever Richard Mottram, private secretary to the Secretary of State for Defence, reveal that the report of the commander-in-chief, Sir John Fieldhouse, was altered behind his back. That seems a good example of misbehaviour--altering the commander-in-chief's report behind his back.
If the Government bring a case under the new legislation, they had better pick their first case carefully because it could easily end in a fiasco.
Finally, I shall quote the words of Bruce Laughland from the end of his submission at the Ponting trial, which are very moving : "If what he"--
that is, Clive Ponting--
"did was a crime for which he renders himself liable to punishment, you know it could be a licence for Ministers to withhold from Parliament information with the tame acquiescence of their Civil Servants and so infringe our liberties. And if what he did was a crime in English law, you say so. But if it is, God help us, because no government will."
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) : I detect a curious feature in the way in which the Government are approaching legislation. It seems that we are almost legislating to appear before the European Court on a whole range of issues, of which this is one. The Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984 has brought us before the Court. The letter that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary sent to the BBC governors and to the IBA will bring us there, and last week we introduced the Security Service Bill. I have no doubt that that will ultimately lead us there as well. As a party, we should be cautious in legislation that ensures that we are reviewed directly in front of the European Court. It seems that we no longer attest to the common rules and principles of our democracy that have informed it for the past 200 years. The Government should be mindful of that.
Column 531Why do I say that this Bill will bring us in front of the European Court? The most obvious reason is the absolute offence that the Bill establishes. An absolute offence means that a man or woman in public service, who has been or is at present in the narrow area of the security services, may never say anything. If they do say something, they will have committed an offence and all that the prosecution will have to demonstrate is that they have said something in contravention of an onerous law that insists, by virtue of the fact that they have said something relating to their former or present service, that they have committed an offence.
Mr. Allason rose--
Mr. Shepherd : One should consider crime, fraud and high iniquity, which have been tested and weighed in the courts--the High Court, the Court of Appeal or the House of Lords. All those courts have said that one cannot enjoin on a citizen an absolute duty of confidence in the face of iniquity. Yet the Government throw that out of the window, knowing that they will ultimately come in front of the European Court on this issue if they persist with the Bill. They do not see a way to remedy that or to give justice to the citizens of this country.
The public interest defence is one way to remedy that, and it is not as it has been caricatured by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in the White Paper. It can be narrowly defined--that a civil servant has to adduce evidence of crime or fraud and it can be brought into play only after the Civil Service has exhausted all internal remedies. If civil servants go directly to the public, they will deny themselves that defence.
Mr. Allason rose --
Mr. Shepherd : I regret that I shall not give way. I am already running into ministerial time.
The other point that causes me concern is clause 3 and its definition of international relations and organisations. I have exchanged correspondence with the Home Secretary on that, and we have been going round in circles. the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) made an important speech on a range of issues, which I am unable to cover because of lack of time. The qualifying basis on which a prosecution may be secured is that little phrase that has been slipped in, which states that damage may have taken place
"by reason of the fact that it is confidential".
That is the test that we now must meet. I know of almost no public document that does not have confidentiality in it.
Let me refer to the example given by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan), a former Home Secretary. He thought that the clause referring to international organisations should be dropped. The Government now seem to be legislating by Home Office press release. The extraordinary extravagance of the language of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on this matter has confused the issue.
Let us take two international organisations as examples--OPEC and the International Tin Council. They are producers or cartels against the public interest as we would define it. They are trying to maintain the price of their commodities against all our interests. They will be regarded as "international organisations" and information
Column 532revealed about them will give rise to a crime under the Bill. At present, there is no crime in that area in our statute book. It is an inhibiting factor.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary may yet again nod his head, but the fact is that the Foreign Office is quite incapable of identifying what constitutes an international organisation. We have been around this before. The Foreign Office cannot even tell us the international organisations with which it has done business this year. On the basis of the fact that clause 3 defines international relations as follows :
" international relations' means the relations between States, between international organisations",
OPEC is an international organisation, as is the International Tin Council.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that he wanted the Bill to be effective, enforceable and reasonable, I do not think that, as drafted, the Bill is reasonable. It does not meet that criterion. Because I have doubts about my right hon. Friend's arguments, I wonder whether the meaning of "confidential" should be clarified by amendment. If "international organisations" covers the Ghana Cocoa Marketing Company (UK) Ltd., the International Tin Council, OPEC and all the Common Market subsidiary organisations, it is an onerous and wrong principle.
I am nervous about saying that the difficulty that I have in voting for the Bill and my reason for therefore voting against it is that, all the way through the process from January to the White Paper and to this debate, the Government have consistently yielded very little on the principles. The underlying principle is the citizen's right to be able to hold Government accountable. We lose sight of that so often.
The Executive's perception of the way in which the world ought to be is, "If we can close unto ourselves and hold unto ourselves the information, all the inconveniences of having to manage this House of Commons go out of the way." It is not in the interest of the House of Commons to pass the Bill as drafted.
Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington) : It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member forAldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), and it is a shame that the Government did not allow two days for this debate. I hope that the Home Secretary and others heard the remarks by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) about ensuring adequate time when we come to Committee.
I should like first to congratulate the Minister on his reply. I expect that we shall have the usual knockabout accusing the Opposition for opposing the Bill. Perhaps, given the time of the year, it will be in pantomime costume. I hope that the Minister enjoys himself. I make no apology for the Opposition, who are guilty only of thinking about the Bill and that has led us to the conclusion that we should oppose it.
It was the Prime Minister who, in 1960 as a newly elected Member, set the proper background against which we should judge the Bill. When introducing a private Member's Bill to expand the right of the public to attend council meetings, she said :
"the paramount function of this distinguished House is to safeguard civil liberties rather than to think that administrative convenience should take first place."--[ Official Report, 5 February 1960 ; Vol. 616, c. 1357- 58.]
Column 533Those were wise words, but not for the first time they have been long since forgotten by the right hon. Lady and her Government. At heart this Bill is all about the convenience of the Government, and has nothing to do with civil liberties or freedom of information. That is why it is an unwelcome and unwanted Christmas present. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), my hon. Friends and some Conservative Members have shown, the Bill fails on every major count. It will not increase public access to information. It will provide tighter controls over information which the Government decide they want to keep secret, and over people, not just inside Government but outside Government service, who have access to such information--even unto the grave. Even if information comes to a journalist or anyone else, second, third or even tenth hand, if its disclosure was unauthorised, it will be an offence to receive it or to pass it on.
In many areas of the Bill, there is no test of specific harm. People can and will be convicted and imprisoned without there being any evidence that actual harm has been done to the national interest. Newspapers will have to decide, when they pick up a story about the intelligence or security services, whether all the potential harm attached to that report has already been done. There is no way in which they can know. Any newspaper's lawyers will advise, "Do not publish." In a free society, we take the view that the motto should be, "Publish and be damned" when there is no evidence of harm to our security.
In our debate in July the Home Secretary said :
"Our central objective is to narrow the law so that it applies only to disclosure without authority of official information which"-- these are the words that matter most--
"is likely to give rise to an unacceptable degree of harm to the public interest."--[ Official Report , 22 July 1988 ; Vol. 137, c. 1413.]
If that is what the Bill sets out to do, we would support it, but it does not. Those words are another example of the Government's doublespeak. The Home Secretary used the expression, "unacceptable degree of harm". Why is there no proper test of actual harm in most of the Bill? The Home Secretary mentioned the public interest. Why do the words "public interest" appear nowhere in the Bill? His words were designed to mislead. Yet again today he said one thing while the Bill says another.
When the Home Secretary spoke of unacceptable harm, he was near to the Franks report definition of a serious injury to the security of the nation or the safety of the people. The concept of unacceptable harm to the public interest is something with which we agree. It presupposes that there are different degrees of harm--that at one end disclosure is acceptable because no real damage is done, and that at the other it is unacceptable because damage is done to the nation's security. If the Home Secretary believes that--the words are his--why has he not put them in the Bill? Has he changed his mind since July, or has he had it changed for him?
On 22 July, the Home Secretary boasted :
"No Government have made so much official information available to the public or Parliament."--[ Official Report, 22 July 1988 ; Vol. 137, c. 1418.]
He cited the prison system, press visits to Scottish prisons, reports made by the schools inspectors and even press
Column 534visits to parts of Porton Down and Aldermaston. That is the trouble : his very boasting misses the point. The real question for the House is why these matters were ever made secret in the first place. The Home Secretary's boasting reveals an attitude--that freedom of information is based on the Government's claim to decide on and know what the people they are supposed to serve are able to know. That is to turn the argument on its head. In a democracy, there should be a general right to know everything except that which touches on the safety and security of a nation.
Still boasting, the Home Secretary described what was happening as, "an earthquake in Whitehall". He must know that it did not even rattle a teacup, let alone shake the doors to rooms full of information which should never have been locked away. One of the most wicked aspects of what is proposed is that entirely innocent people can, as in the past, have their lives ruined by the wrongdoings of the intelligence services. There is nothing that they can do about it. An MI5 officer, MI4 officer or other Government officials--
Mr. John Patten : That was last week's Bill.
Mr. Corbett : If the Minister will listen, he will see that they are related. Those people will commit a criminal offence if they reveal misbehaviour on the part of the intelligence or security services. It will be a crime for any newspaper, television programme, book or magazine--or indeed anyone uttering such statements--to disclose misbehaviour or wrongdoing. There are four cases of such behaviour on record. Under the Bill, they would never see the light of day.
Case one involves a former distinguished Labour Minister--Niall MacDermot-- who was denied high office because of a false allegation, made by the security services, that he had married a Soviet agent. False allegations were leaked to colleagues here and to selected journalists. Details of that malpractice came to light only through the publication of a book by David Leigh called "The Wilson Plot" which, under the Bill, would be banned.
The second case involved Jack Jones, a distinguished former general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union who was falsely and ridiculously accused of being a Soviet agent-- [Laughter.] . It is remarkable that anybody can find this funny. Misleading MI5 files were used to advise Ministers to prevent him from being brought into Government between 1965 and 1968. We know that only through "The Wilson Plot" book, publication of which--I remind the House--would be banned under the Bill.
The third case involved Miss Isabel Hilton who was falsely accused of being subversive after reading Chinese at university and joining the Scotland- China Association. Against that background she was denied a job at the BBC. Miss Hilton found out about that only after a report in The Observer-- [Laughter.] I repeat to Conservative Members, who find that funny, that under the Bill that report could not be published in The Observer.
The fourth case involves my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock), on whom a file was opened because of her work with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. That is a proper, legal organisation, as the former Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan), reminded us. The pretext was that she was a contact for
Column 535Soviet journalists. That came to light only because Miss Cathy Massiter, a former MI5 officer, spoke out on the "20/20 Vision" television programme. Under the Bill she would have committed a criminal offence and the programme makers would be similarly treated.
Clause 15 makes it an offence for any British citizen or Crown servant to disclose information about the security or intelligence services when abroad. It follows logically from other provisions and will doubtless afford successive Cabinet Secretaries expensive trips to the far corners of the globe where ex-spies seem to settle. What about satellite television? What happens if Mr. Rupert Murdoch's channel broadcasts out of Luxembourg a news item that involved security or intelligence in the United Kingdom? Mr. Murdoch is an American citizen and, I assume, outside the scope of the Bill --or is he? Are the Government contemplating starting extradition proceedings in the New York courts to bring him back here to be tried for unauthorised disclosure in the United Kingdom? What about the thousands, perhaps millions, who see such news via a satellite broadcast? Under the Bill, they will be caught, not for watching it but for telling their neighbour or someone at work about what they have seen and heard. The same would be true if they videoed such a transmission. [Hon. Members :-- "Ridiculous."] It is not ridiculous. Read the Bill. If a British citizen is not involved in such a satellite broadcast nothing can be done, except to British citizens who see and hear the broadcast because they have received unauthorised information and mentioned it to a relation, friend or neighbour. The world can know of a deed that did not even cause harm to the interests of the nation, but we who live here are not, under the Bill, allowed to know it. How is that for open Government? The lawyers will thank the Government from the bottom of their bank balances for such a gift.
How does the Bill stand in relation to article 10 of the European convention on human rights which, as the Minister knows, guarantees "freedom to receive and impart information without interference by public authority."
Has the Minister examined the Bill in light of that convention or will the Bill be yet another case--there have been more than 30 so far--where Britain has to be dragged before the European Court before our liberties can be safeguarded? Even the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks protested, when we discussed the White Paper, at the wider catch-all scope of proposals relating to defence. He said :
"It would be easier to prove that the material that is disclosed prejudices something than that it does serious harm ... I do not see any justification for what amounts to a tightening up of proposals that were originally put forward in 1979."--[ Official Report, 22 July 1988 ; Vol. 137, c. 1430.]
On the use of criminal law in that area, the Franks report said in paragraph 118 :
"This means that the criminal law would not apply to information the unauthorised disclosure of which would cause some injury to the interests of the nation, but short of serious injury."
I made that point earlier.
Paragraph 119 sets out what the Franks committee said should be. "a proper basis for the employment of criminal sanctions the unauthorised disclosure of official information which would be likely to cause serious injury to the security of the nation or the safety of the people. If criminal sanctions are justified at all, they are justified for this purpose. If they are to be reserved for what is most important, they should not go any wider."