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Paice, James

Patnick, Irvine

Patten, John (Oxford W)

Pawsey, James

Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth

Porter, Barry (Wirral S)

Porter, David (Waveney)

Portillo, Michael

Powell, William (Corby)

Price, Sir David

Raffan, Keith

Raison, Rt Hon Timothy

Rathbone, Tim

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Redwood, John

Renton, Tim

Rhodes James, Robert

Riddick, Graham

Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm

Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)

Rossi, Sir Hugh

Rost, Peter

Rowe, Andrew

Rumbold, Mrs Angela

Ryder, Richard

Sackville, Hon Tom

Sainsbury, Hon Tim

Sayeed, Jonathan

Shaw, David (Dover)

Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)

Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')

Shelton, Sir William

Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)

Shersby, Michael

Sims, Roger

Skeet, Sir Trevor

Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)

Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)

Soames, Hon Nicholas

Speller, Tony

Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)

Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)

Squire, Robin

Stanbrook, Ivor

Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John

Stern, Michael

Stevens, Lewis

Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)

Stokes, Sir John

Stradling Thomas, Sir John

Sumberg, David

Summerson, Hugo

Taylor, Ian (Esher)

Taylor, John M (Solihull)

Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)

Temple-Morris, Peter

Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)

Thorne, Neil

Thornton, Malcolm

Thurnham, Peter

Townend, John (Bridlington)

Tredinnick, David

Trippier, David

Trotter, Neville

Twinn, Dr Ian

Vaughan, Sir Gerard

Waddington, Rt Hon David

Wakeham, Rt Hon John

Walden, George

Walker, Bill (T'side North)

Waller, Gary

Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)

Warren, Kenneth

Watts, John

Wells, Bowen

Wheeler, John

Whitney, Ray

Widdecombe, Ann

Wiggin, Jerry

Wilkinson, John

Wilshire, David

Winterton, Mrs Ann

Winterton, Nicholas

Wolfson, Mark

Wood, Timothy

Woodcock, Mike

Yeo, Tim

Young, Sir George (Acton)

Tellers for the Noes :

Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington) : I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 1, line 14, leave out subsection (2).

Not content with silencing members of the security and intelligence services, any person the Minister chooses to identify and Government contractors, the Government now want to find ways to send the jokers and jesters to prison. That, in part, is what the subsection means. We have come close to the heart of never-never land if the Government can seriously propose that a lowly notified person should be prosecuted, and perhaps gaoled, for a disclosure that is not merely unsubstantiated or untrue but a total fabrication. It is no good the Minister saying, as I suspect that he might, that the Government would never be so daft as to go ahead on that basis--it would certainly be a rum Attorney-General who so advised-- because, if that is so, why is this silly and dangerous provision in the Bill? This great reforming Bill, as the Home Office press release describes it, contains a subsection which achieves something that even section 2 of the Official Secrets Act did not--it invents an offence. Under the present Act, the offence is committed only if an unauthorised disclosure of real information takes place. The Bill widens that to include any information. Under the Government's proposals, an officer could be prosecuted and imprisoned, for example, for falsely alleging that some hon. Members' telephones were being tapped for party political reasons. We know that that has never happened in the past--certainly not in relation to the lawful activities of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament--but it could happen. Pc Plod would arrive, arrest the officer and a man

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wearing a wig could send him to prison. The Government could say that there was not a word of truth in the allegation. The allegation might not even be mentioned in open court because the hearing could be held in camera. We are talking about the absolute offence. I imagine that other hon. Members have met people, usually men, who claim in a roundabout way to have been members of the SAS. I do not doubt for a moment that anyone casually mentioning that to a stranger in a pub would be unlikely to be telling the truth. Let us envisage the scene in the Swan public house in Erdington high street shortly after 11 o'clock on Friday night. It is likely that I shall be in there enjoying a pint after a busy advice bureau--[ Hon. Members :-- "After hours?"] We have 20 minutes Turner time. When I am in the pub people come up and speak to me, as no doubt happens to other hon. Members in similar circumstances. Some people-- this may be an unusual experience for Conservative Members--have been known to offer to buy me drinks.

Let us suppose that one man asks for a quiet word with me and makes an allegation concerning the security and intelligence services. He tries to give me the impression that he is, or has been, an officer or a notified person. He is full of sad pride that the Home Secretary thought him important enough to be notified. The man tells me that all special branch officers in Birmingham and the west midlands have been called by MI5 to a meeting in London next week because there is a panic on about terrorism. I listen, as I must, and he tells me that he expects me to take some unspecified action. It turns out that the man is indeed a notified person. We shall not know whether it would be safe for me to tell someone what he told me until the Leader of the House has spoken tomorrow.

Under the clause, that man could be charged and gaoled when, all the while, he was having me on and there was not an ounce of truth in what he told me about the meeting of special branch officers. He was doing it simply to try to impress me. He was just a bar room poseur.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North West) : There are a few of those around here.

Mr. Corbett : What about the real risk of entrapment?

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South) : Will my hon. Friend take the matter further and consider a serious point which I raised recently? If my hon. Friend returned to Parliament because he thought it his duty to raise the matter on the Floor of the House, he would, as I understand Mr. Speaker's recent ruling, be privileged. Would we then have the farcical situation where the bar room poseur would be prosecutable in respect of a non-offence over a non-event? The matter could not be mentioned in court because it might be contrary to the Official Secrets Act, so the case would be held in camera, but it could be mentioned in this place and, no doubt, reported in the United States, Ireland, Europe and everywhere else.

Mr. Corbett : My hon. Friend is right to remind the Committee of the ruling on privilege which was given on Monday evening. The circumstances which my hon. Friend set out are correct, and what he describes could follow from the Bill.

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