Previous Section Home Page

Column 579

Mr. Aitken : I cheerfully plead guilty to the mote in my eye and to believing in openness and in the freedom of the press. I am not ashamed of that, any more than my hon. Friend should be ashamed of some of his origins which are cloaked in mystery.

The amendment comes down to the kind of society that we want to live in. There is nothing wrong with the concept that my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) wants to personalise--perhaps I do, too. On the one hand, we have the openness and journalists' mentality--let us not forget that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) was a most distinguished editor and newspaper owner in his day-- and on the other hand we have the Whitehall mentality of the Treasury Bench.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup said, the Whitehall mentality has become gravely tarnished in the past few years as a result of excessively authoritarian behaviour by the Government of the day. Let us look at the "Spycatcher" affair and the way in which the Gibraltar press matters were handled. I am talking not about security matters but about the briefings that were put out about the Gibraltar affair. The Government have unclean hands when it comes to freedom versus authoritarianism. The ghost of Peter Wright stalks through the pages of the Bill. There is the absurdity of going after another Peter Wright, and being able to clobber him and, above all, letting the threat of prosecution dangle like an unpleasant sword of Damocles over the head of every editor, so that they will face enormous costs if they dare to take a risk on a second publication.

It is nonsense to spend vast sums of public money trying to chase after a horse that has already bolted and to slam a stable door that cannot be sensibly closed, unless one is in the vindictive and authoritarian frame of mind that the Government got into in the "Spycatcher" affair.

I remind hon. Members of Jefferson's famous phrase. He said that if he had to choose between a Government without newspapers or newspapers without a Government, he would choose the latter. I would choose the Bill without this clause, because it is a threat to newspapers which are still a healthy influence in our society.

Mr. Richard Shepherd : It is a rare privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) on a theme that is central to the issue. We are concerned--I willingly support my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) and the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) and observe the points made by the former leader of my party--because the Bill is constructed in such a way as to reject any of the balances and contentions that a free society needs. It is allied to the Security Service Bill, which created several absolute offences. Even the construction of this Bill, with its absolute offences and low damage tests, creates a new offence in connection with publication. Clause 6 prevents the repetition in the United Kingdom press of information leaked abroad by someone not subject to the Bill--for example, a foreign civil servant or an EEC official. We have pursued this matter, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary accepted it as far back as the White Paper. It was a narrow addition to the limitations on the press to publish, but it was a limitation. It is now graver and more serious. We have a portrayal of


Column 580

the Government's increasingly authoritarian attitude to the press. It is a genuine worry, and it is why we support the contention behind the amendment.

By the Home Secretary's hypothesis, they are matters which concern us, and we appreciate the fineness of the judgment in this area, but it is clear that he has constructed a Bill which does not provide the balance that our democracy needs. The prime purpose of a free press is to preserve public control over the men and measures of Government, to use a well-known expression.

The Home Secretary did not give an example where the second publication could cause harm. This is the creation of a new publishing offence. A newspaper may not publish, without the possibility of prosecution, information that has been leaked in Belgium or in Italy or information given by the British Government to one of those Governments. If it is published in one of those countries and is then published again in this country--currently, that is not an offence--it may be an offence under the Bill. The Home Secretary has acknowledged that, yet it remains in the Bill. That must mean that he is creating a new offence, and I still do not understand the necessity to create a new offence against the press. This is the Wright trial all over again. One of our judges said in that instance :

"The Crown is only entitled to restrain the publication of intelligence information if such publication would be against the public interest"--

we agree with that--

"as it normally will be if theretofore undisclosed. But if the matter sought to be published is no longer secret, there is unlikely to be any damage to the public interest."

I quote that from Lord Brightman. I will not speak at length because I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham wishes to address the Committee. The amendment is worthy of consideration.

Sir Ian Gilmour : I am surprised that the Home Secretary did not use the most obvious example of damage that could be done the second time round, which was the action in the "Spycatcher" trial. That caused damage because it spread a great deal of knowledge--I do not know how much of it was right ; clearly a great deal of it was wrong--around the world. That was perhaps the best example that could have been given, but it was not employed.

I was not joking when I was said to be cavalier by some of my hon. Friends, who are perhaps themselves in danger of being pompous. I said that the amendment was designed to help the Government rather than the people of the nation because it would prevent cases such as "Spycatcher", a case which did great damage to the Government and the intelligence service. That is a serious point because if damage is to be done--which is extremely unlikely, apart from in that case--it will be done by bringing the case.

It has been said that none of my hon. Friends has been able to produce a serious example of how damage could be done the second time round. The Home Secretary did not do that either, although after being interrupted by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) he made an effort to do so.

Mr. Hurd : I spent some time explaining--as the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) acknowledged--how there was, in my view, quite a serious risk that,


Column 581

from a second disclosure, states which supported state terrorism or terrorist organisations might learn information which they badly needed about techniques, equipment or personnel involved in the counter-terrorist effort. It is true that I could not produce an actual past case, but it is not true to say, as has been said repeatedly, that I did not adduce dangers that could happen, because I did.

Sir Ian Gilmour : I thought my right hon. Friend's explanation on that came after the interruption by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, but I accept that it came earlier. I still do not see how that could happen. I cannot see how any newspaper in this country could behave in that way or how, if it did, it would be affected by the clause. To that extent, it is unreal.

However, we are aware that there are risks to the freedom of the press. It used to be thought that taking risks with the freedom of the press was just as bad as, or even worse than, taking risks with security. I do not believe that there is a risk, but if there is, it can be easily met by an amendment incorporating a provision dealing with counter-terrorism, which would stop the terroristic use of clause 5. It is clear that it could be used to intimidate the press, and that if left unamended clause 5 will intimidate and stop many things being published. It will mean the British press not learning things that the press of every other country will know.

If, on reflection, my right hon. Friend seriously believes that any newspaper would behave in the way that he described--

It being Ten o'clock, The Chairman-- proceeded, pursuant to the order [13 February] and the resolution [15 February], to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question put, That the amendment be made :--

The Committee divided : Ayes 97, Noes 247.

Division No. 99] [10 pm

AYES

Abbott, Ms Diane

Aitken, Jonathan

Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)

Battle, John

Beith, A. J.

Benn, Rt Hon Tony

Benyon, W.

Bermingham, Gerald

Boateng, Paul

Boyes, Roland

Bray, Dr Jeremy

Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)

Buchan, Norman

Buck, Sir Antony

Buckley, George J.

Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)

Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)

Cartwright, John

Clwyd, Mrs Ann

Cohen, Harry

Cook, Robin (Livingston)

Corbett, Robin

Crowther, Stan

Dalyell, Tam

Darling, Alistair

Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)

Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)

Dewar, Donald

Dixon, Don

Duffy, A. E. P.

Dunnachie, Jimmy

Dykes, Hugh

Field, Frank (Birkenhead)

Fisher, Mark

Flynn, Paul

Foot, Rt Hon Michael

Foster, Derek

Galloway, George

George, Bruce

Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian

Golding, Mrs Llin

Gordon, Mildred

Gorst, John

Haynes, Frank

Heath, Rt Hon Edward

Henderson, Doug

Hinchliffe, David

Holland, Stuart

Hood, Jimmy

Howells, Geraint

Hughes, John (Coventry NE)

Johnston, Sir Russell

Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Mo n)

Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil

Leighton, Ron

Lestor, Joan (Eccles)

Livsey, Richard

McAvoy, Thomas

McFall, John

McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)

Maclennan, Robert

McWilliam, John

Madden, Max

Marek, Dr John

Martlew, Eric

Meale, Alan


Column 582

Michael, Alun

Murphy, Paul

Nellist, Dave

Pike, Peter L.

Powell, Ray (Ogmore)

Prescott, John

Randall, Stuart

Richardson, Jo

Robinson, Geoffrey

Rooker, Jeff

Rost, Peter

Ruddock, Joan

Sedgemore, Brian

Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)

Skinner, Dennis

Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)

Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)

Snape, Peter

Soley, Clive

Spearing, Nigel

Steel, Rt Hon David

Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)

Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)

Vaz, Keith

Wall, Pat

Walley, Joan

Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)

Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)

Winnick, David

Wise, Mrs Audrey

Wray, Jimmy

Tellers for the Ayes :

Mr. Frank Cook and

Mr. Robert N. Wareing.

NOES

Adley, Robert

Alexander, Richard

Amess, David

Amos, Alan

Arbuthnot, James

Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)

Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)

Aspinwall, Jack

Atkinson, David

Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)

Baldry, Tony

Banks, Robert (Harrogate)

Beggs, Roy

Bellingham, Henry

Bendall, Vivian

Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)

Bevan, David Gilroy

Blackburn, Dr John G.

Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter

Bonsor, Sir Nicholas

Boscawen, Hon Robert

Boswell, Tim

Bottomley, Peter

Bottomley, Mrs Virginia

Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)

Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)

Bowis, John

Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes

Brandon-Bravo, Martin

Brazier, Julian

Bright, Graham

Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)

Browne, John (Winchester)

Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)

Burns, Simon

Burt, Alistair

Butcher, John

Butler, Chris

Butterfill, John

Carlisle, John, (Luton N)

Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)

Carrington, Matthew

Carttiss, Michael

Cash, William

Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda

Chope, Christopher

Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)

Colvin, Michael

Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)

Coombs, Simon (Swindon)

Cope, Rt Hon John

Couchman, James

Cran, James

Currie, Mrs Edwina

Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)

Davis, David (Boothferry)

Day, Stephen

Devlin, Tim

Dorrell, Stephen

Eggar, Tim

Emery, Sir Peter

Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)

Evennett, David

Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas

Fallon, Michael

Favell, Tony

Fenner, Dame Peggy

Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)

Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey

Fishburn, John Dudley

Fookes, Dame Janet

Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)

Forth, Eric

Fowler, Rt Hon Norman

Fox, Sir Marcus


Next Section

  Home Page