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Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West) : May we have an early debate on the number of people--mainly children and the elderly--who are killed on the roads at places where pedestrian crossings have been approved but not installed? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in my

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constituency last week, eight-year-old Kerry Allen was killed at precisely the spot on a road in New Parks estate that is to be the location of a crossing approved by Leicestershire county council, but which it says that it does not have the money to install? How many more children will be needlessly killed on our roads because county councils either do not have enough money to install crossings, or say that they do not have enough money?

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. and learned Gentleman raised this question during Transport Question Time earlier this week. I can add nothing to what was said then by my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic, but I recognise the hon. and learned Gentleman's concern and I shall have a word with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield) : I reinforce what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) about the need for a debate on the White Paper concerning the future of development plans. Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is no more important an issue in my constituency than planning and the protection of the green belt? If we are to have a planning Bill in the next Session, would it not make sense to have a debate between now and the end of July?

Mr. Wakeham : I agree with my hon. Friend that it would make an excellent subject for debate, and I know that good speeches would be made about that important issue. I cannot be more forthcoming than I was to my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker).

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Arising from replies given to my hon. Friends, will the Government make it clear that all religions must be respected--the Moslem no less than any other--and that we recognise the offence that has undoubtedly been caused to many Moslems in this country and abroad? However, it is also necessary to emphasise that the rule of law applies in this country, unlike in Iran, and that incitement to violence is a criminal offence here. As to the death threat from Iran, is it not intolerable that such a threat should be made by a country with which we have diplomatic relations? Will the Government make it perfectly clear that British people will not stand for that kind of threat or blackmail? We learned 50 years ago this year that there cannot be appeasement of dictators.

Mr. Wakeham : I fully recognise the hon. Gentleman's strong feelings. Given the situation that we are in, I chose my words carefully. I do not think that I ought to add anything to my previous remarks.

Mr. Neil Hamilton (Tatton) : At the risk of sounding mildly unfashionable, I urge my right hon. Friend to exercise considerable caution before rushing to introduce legislation to ban the sale of human organs. Many people feel that if that practice increases the supply of organs, and has the effect of saving life and easing discomfort, it ought not to be banned. Does my right hon. Friend share my bewilderment that Opposition Members who are keen to allow women the right to choose to kill their unborn chidren seem to become very indignant when other parts of their body are up for choice?

Mr. Wakeham : My hon. Friend makes his point, as he usually does, in a clear way. As to the sale of organs and kidneys, the Government have made known their

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abhorrence of the particularly repugnant trade that exists. Nothing that my hon. Frind has said persuades me to think differently.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : I welcome the interest of the Leader of the House in my personal affairs. I wish to ask him about the personal affairs of six Conservative Members. Will he say whether a list of those six hon. Members was available to him when he was in the Whips' Office? Is a similar list available to the Patronage Secretary now?

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman raised with me points of order on that subject. I remind him that we are dealing with business questions.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : My question relates to the business of the House, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : Then the hon. Gentleman had better ask for a debate.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : I asked the Leader of the House whether he had a list of the six Conservative Members in question when he was Chief Whip, and whether there was a similar list in the office of the present Chief Whip? May we have a straight answer?

Mr. Wakeham : I do not want to entice the hon. Gentleman into any further trouble, either with you, Mr. Speaker, or with his mother. I have nothing to add to my previous answer, because I do not comment on security matters.

Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North) : Is my hon. Friend aware of the growing anger and concern in Derbyshire that ratepayers have suffered a 168 per cent. rate increase since 1982, and that Derbyshire is now the highest rated shire county? May we have an early debate on remaining order No. 36, standing on the Order Paper in my name? If my right hon. Friend agrees to such a debate, may we also learn what has been the cost to the citizens of Derbyshire of the employment for nine months of Reg Race as chief executive?

Mr. Wakeham : My hon. Friend adds his significant voice to the calls made to me earlier in business questions. I wish that I could meet his request. I am afraid that I cannot do so, but no doubt my hon. Friend will find another way of ventilating the points that he wishes to make.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : It was prescient of you, Mr. Speaker, to call me so late, because now I am able to put my question in the presence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who leads for the Opposition in our debates on the Official Secrets Bill, and of the four Ministers concerned. My question relates to Wednesday's business. How came so clever a man as the Home Secretary to be so confused on the radio this morning? Is that not typical of the geological flaws in the Bill? Is it satisfactory that Ministers should write letters over which they have taken a lot of trouble--such as that written by the Minister of State, Home Office--to me and to some of the Minister's own hon. Friends, when, lo and behold, phrases used in those letters appear nowhere in the Bill?

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Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman appears to be addressing his questions to me. I know nothing about the matter. The hon. Gentleman must ask the Leader of the House for a statement.

Mr. Dalyell : Does the appearance of the Attorney-General on the Government Front Bench mean that we are in for better times this afternoon than on Monday? As a non-lawyer, I think that it is high time a lawyer came to the Committee and explained some of the points in the Bill. I commend to the Home Secretary the views of Lord Griffiths, chairman of the Security Commission, who appeared on television last Friday and said, "Of course, the judges do not read Hansard. " They are not meant to read Hansard. They must judge matters on the basis of what is in the Bill. What is being said about vital issues in letters and in this House bears no relation to the Bill. The Home Secretary has not answered the key question, which was most eloquently put by a former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), about the difference between state interest and Government interest. Such matters must be cleared up.

Mr. Speaker : Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are dealing with business questions to the Leader of the House. He appears to be taking the opportunity to raise points that should properly be raised in Committee.

Mr. Dalyell : Will we have the Attorney-General here?

Mr. Wakeham : When the hon. Gentleman talks about people being confused, I listen very carefully to what he has to say--because there is no greater expert in the House on that subject than him. The hon. Gentleman is wrong, and if he listens carefully to the debates, and perhaps takes a few notes as they progress, at the end of the day we may even straighten him out.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton) : Further to the subject of confusion, has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to read my early-day motion 365, which has been signed by a number of my hon. and right hon. Friends?

[That this House notes the confusion and dismay which the leadership of the Right honourable Member for Yeovil is sowing in the Social and Liberal Democrat Party, in particular his conflicting statements in the same Times' interview that I have made a mistake in slamming the door on pacts ' and that I believe pacts won't work' ; welcomes the Right honourable Member for Yeovil's long-delayed recognition that we have no definition', that no one really knows what we stand for' and that our members don't know' ; notes that he is expecting the Democrats to lose about 200 seats in this May's important county council elections, including control of some county councils ; welcomes the encouragement this gives to the heavily-burdened ratepayers, not only of Somerset, Devon, Cambridgeshire, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and the Isle of Wight, where the Democrats have held control for all or most of the time since 1985, but also of such counties as Cheshire, Bedfordshire, Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Shropshire and Humberside, where the Democrat group keeps Labour in power ; and expects Democrat emissaries will soon be begging the honourable Member for Berwick-upon- Tweed to take the lead and try to effect a rescue.]

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that the House and the country would benefit from a debate on the confusion in the Liberal party and on the variety of pacts and alliances at local level between the Liberal and Labour parties?

Mr. Wakeham : It has been a moving scene for most of my time in the House, and even if I found time for a debate on the confusion and dismay in the Social and Liberal Democratic party I doubt that it would help to resolve the confusion.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Will the Leader of the House explain why the Prime Minister has run away from the debate next Tuesday on the subject of food and the various diseases connected therewith? Is it not a cockeyed way to run the Government's agenda, when, after all the furore in the course of the past week, with one Minister contradicting another and the Prime Minister having to try to clean up the mess, she is allowing one of those Ministers to open the debate and the other to close it? We shall have more contradiction and confusion. Will we have a statement on Wednesday to clear up the mess? Is it the case that the Prime Minister is not prepared to take on the argument that there is one law for the egg producers, who get £19 million, and another for tinplate workers in Wales who are thrown on the scrap heap, shipyard workers in Sunderland who lose their jobs and miners throughout Britain who cannot have the same kind of assistance?

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman waxes eloquent on these matters, as usual, but it is by no means unprecedented for Cabinet Ministers with departmental responsibility to respond to debates in this way even when initiated by the Leader of the Opposition. This was the case in the debate on the National Health Service on 27 October 1983. My right hon. Friends are more than competent to deal with any matters that arise. At the end of the day, the Opposition may wish that they had chosen another subject.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the answers he has given on the question of Moslem threats, because it appears from the Scottish media this morning that there are eight volunteers in Scotland prepared to carry out the asssasination task? We do not want such people living in Scotland. That is the first thing. Secondly, we want a debate on the matter so that it may be properly aired in this place. The Labour party

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could be given the opportunity during that debate to show that it supports measures which the House passes to deal with acts or terrorism.

Mr. Wakeham : I recognise what my hon. Friend says, but I detect even in the way he phrased the question sufficient justification to think that a debate in the House next week would not help to solve the problem.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : Will the Leader of the House say a bit more on the question of private Bill procedure? He has said for a number of weeks now that the Government are considering the Committee report very closely, but hon. Members on both sides of the House are getting very worried about the date for a debate. What sort of debate will it be? In the past he said that it would be a take-note debate. If the Government are now studying the report in great detail, will he tell us that we shall have a debate in which we can take decisions? Unless he does so, the suspicion on the Opposition side and the Government side will be that the Government are deliberately dragging their feet so that the private Bill for next Session on the fast routes through Kent will be dealt with under the existing private Bill procedure. We want a fairly short and sharp answer from the Leader of the House today.

Mr. Wakeham : If I had wanted delay, the easiest thing would have been to have a debate before anybody had had a chance to study the report. We could then just have forgotten about it. As it is, we are studying the matter in detail. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman in advance of the debate what line the Government will take, but I will make progress, discuss the matter through the usual channels and hope to find an arrangement that is satisfactory to the House.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread concern about violence on the London Underground, and that the great interest in the Guardian Angels and other forms of possible defence of people threatened with violence is an example of this? May we have an early debate on this very important matter to see what further measures can be taken to ensure that the large numbers of people who travel on London Underground can do so in safety?

Mr. Wakeham : I agree that it is a very important subject and I recognise the concern. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Transport made some announcements a few days ago. I should like to initiate a debate, but I cannot promise one in the near future.

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Points of Order

4.14 pm

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am not by nature a whinger, because one has to take the rough with the smooth in this place, but during Prime Minister's Question Time you ruled me out of order when I was asking a question because you said, "It has got to be a matter for which she has responsibility." The question before mine was from the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) and he referred to the Labour party's defence policy. Where is the Prime Minister's responsibility concerning the Labour party's defence policy?

I was asking a question that involved the welfare of the Prime Minister's son and her future grandchild. I cannot see that there could be any other matter more closely within the Prime Minister's purview and area of responsibility than the welfare of her son and her grandchild. I therefore think, Mr. Speaker, that on this occasion you grossly overreacted, because you were seeking to defend the Prime Minister when there was no need for you to do so. I had mentioned to your secretary--because I thought that you might be a bit sensitive about this--that it would be a gentle question, and it was. During business questions, the Leader of the House twice referred to the mother of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). You, Mr. Speaker, did not say at any stage that that had nothing to do with the Leader of the House. What responsibility has the Leader of the House for the mother of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington? That is the last time that I shall try the kid-glove approach.

Mr. Speaker : If the hon. Gentleman looks at Hansard tomorrow, he will see that I said that the matter referred to had to be part of the Prime Minister's parliamentary responsibilities. If a Conservative Member had put a question of that kind about the Leader of the Opposition, there would have been uproar. When we are dealing with the Prime Minister's parliamentary responsibilities, there is no reason for hon. Members to introduce family relationships.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I always abide by your rulings, but it appeared that you applied one rule to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and another to the Leader of the House. Surely, if the Leader of the House refers to the mother of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), he should be ruled out of order.

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Mr. Speaker : Those are two entirely different things. It is a question of the context in which the question was put and the answer was given.

Mr. Tony Banks rose --

Mr. Speaker : No, I shall not call the hon. Member again.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has a point.

This is a matter directly for you, Mr. Speaker. I do not know whether you have noticed that in today's newspapers there is a report that the Italian Republican party, which I believe is a very Right-wing party, has suggested that it will be calling upon Liberals, or Social Democrats, or whatever they call themselves nowadays, to stand in Italy. That raises an interesting question for you. We had a long discussion about this the other day. What will be the position if they get an invitation to stand on behalf of the Italian party in Europe, in the Common Market or in Italy itself? Will the Chiltern Hundreds apply or the Manor of Northstead? Will we have to get out "Erskine May"? Will there have to be a new copy printed? This may lead to some very interesting developments. Will they get the Short money? Can they serve in both Parliaments? I could go on, but I know that we are very busy people. What is the answer?

Mr. Speaker : We are indeed very busy people. I think that the answer is for the hon. Gentleman to discuss this with me in private. I am sure that with his background of experience he will be able to give me some useful advice.

Mr. Tony Banks rose--

Mr. Speaker No. I have said to the hon. Member that I cannot help him any more.


Age of Legal Capacity (Scotland)

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, supported by Mr. Bill Walker and Mr. Menzies Campbell, presented a Bill to make provision in the law of Scotland as to the legal capacity of persons under the age of 18 years to enter into transactions, as to the setting aside and ratification by the court of transactions entered into by such persons and as to guardians of persons under the age of 16 years : to make provision in the law of Scotland relating to the time and date at which a person shall be taken to attain a particular age ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 24 February and to be printed. [Bill 78.]

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Orders of the Day

Official Secrets Bill

[2nd Allotted Day]

Committee [Progress, 15 February]

[ Sir Paul Dean

in the Chair. ]

4.19 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : On a point of order, Sir Paul. I should like to refer to the points of order raised by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) at the beginning of each of the last two sittings of the Committee, on the relationship between solicitors and their clients. The House will find a point of order on 2 February at column 441 of Hansard, and my response recorded there. He also raised a point of order yesterday.

With your permission, Sir Paul, I should like to tell the Committee that, having considered the matter anew and taken further legal advice, we remain confident that the common law relating to legal professional privilege protects communication between a client and his solicitor of the kind I was addressing during the Committee proceedings on 25 January.

Legal professional privilege acts to prevent the production in evidence of such a communication and hence to deprive of its foundation any prosecution that might ever be sought to be founded on such a communication in the circumstances that the right hon. Gentleman envisaged in his first point of order. But of course it is well established that anyone who, when communicating with his solicitor, seeks the latter's help in the furtherence of some criminal purpose, is disqualified in respect of that communication from the benefit of privilege.

The function of legal professional privilege is to aid the administration of justice and not to aid crime. But such a person's position is quite different from that of someone who discloses information to his solicitor in the process of seeking advice in good faith about his own legal position in relation to it.

This is not a new issue. It has existed for many years under section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911 and there is absolutely no evidence that it has given rise to any practical difficulties for lawyers or for their clients.

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook) : Further to that point of order, Sir Paul. This will break new ground for points of order, but may I pursue the point as briefly as necessary, as we are constrained by the timetable motion?

The advice that the Minister of State gives to the Committee is in absolute contradistinction to the judgment made by the Law Society, which, as it is responsible for solicitors' relationships with their clients, may be thought to have some authority on these matters. It is also contrary to common sense, as it is unlikely in the House and outside that the practice to which the Minister refers can overrule--for that is what he implies--the

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commitment in an Act of Parliament that specifies individuals who can pass on information, but does not include clients wishing to approach their solicitors.

May I raise a further, and genuine point of order--unlike the Minister of State's first statement and my response to it--about the problems that the Minister of State's statement raises for proceedings on the Bill? Clearly, the subject ought to be debated, but cannot be, because on a guillotine motion, clause stand part motions do not become debatable due to pressure of time. What is more, Sir Paul, with great respect to you and the Chairman of Ways and Means, an amendment that would have allowed us to clear up the matter, at least in part, has not been selected.

All I can do, therefore, is to make a ritual, but clearly very reasonable, complaint about the problems caused by the timetable motion, and ask that when Mr. Speaker and his advisers select the amendments for the Report stage, they understand that it is essential--a necessity compounded by the Minister of State's statement--that we are able to debate exactly this question and get it cleared up once and for all.

Several Hon. Members rose--

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Paul Dean) : Order. I will take one or two more points of order. I am sure that the Committee realises that I allowed that point of order from the Minister and a response from the Opposition Front Bench, but clearly it would not be in order to debate the matter, especially as we are operating under an allocation of time motion.

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau, Gwent) : Further to that point of order, Sir Paul. May I say from the Back Benches that we have rights to protect in this sphere, just as much as have spokesmen from the Front Benches. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) agrees with that. We are in great difficulty. Obviously, this was an improper point of order in the first place. I am not blaming you, Sir Paul, because you did not know what the Minister was going to say. But surely, the Minister ought to have asked to make a statement, or made it absolutely clear to the House, rather than raising a point of order, that we would be given a chance to debate the matter in the later stages of the Bill. That is the only way in which the matter can now be remedied. I hope that, as soon as the Home Secretary has a chance to take charge of his Bill again, we shall have a clear statement from him and an absolute guarantee that this matter, which should never have been put to the Committee as a point of order, will come up on Report when we shall have the chance of a proper debate. If necessary, further time should be granted, because the Government are apparently seeking to deal with a major matter by means of a point of order, and Back Benchers will have no chance of proper debate.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : Further to that point of order, Sir Paul. I do not wish to be pedantic, but for non-lawyers this is the sort of statement that is much better to see in writing rather than to hear it once, so that one can look at the small print. I have one question for the Minister. He used the phrase : "seeking advice in good faith."

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I am not sure how we can prove good faith or otherwise, but do we take it that, in general, any communication between a solicitor and someone who approaches him is privileged? I am thinking especially of the position of Brian Raymond.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South) : Further to that point of order, Sir Paul. The Minister was kind enough to make a statement and if I understood it correctly, he made it clear that his authority was the common law, and not statute law. Could I ask him, through you, Sir Paul, if he will publish in the Official Report , or at least circulate in correspondence, as the Front Bench is wont to do at present, to those of us who are interested, the authorities of common law ; in other words, the case law and the judgments that make up that case law? Then we can all have a look at an issue that must be at least debatable, as it seems to conflict with the Law Society's views.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) : Further to that point of order, Sir Paul. Is it not the case that common law is subordinate to statute and that in the circumstances it is inappropriate for the Government to rely upon common law?

Mr. Hattersley : Further to that point of order, Sir Paul. You will understand, and I think from your demeanour you sympathise with, the fact that the point of order I raised was a response to the Minister's statement, for statement it was. You were kind enough to allow me to reply.

I now raise what by any standards can be regarded only as a point of order, concerning the intolerable position into which the Committee has been put by the Minister's behaviour. The Minister made his statement under the guise of a point of order. Quite rightly, Sir Paul, you would prevent that statement from being cross-examined in the way that statements usually are. The Leader of the House and the Home Secretary, who are in the Chamber, have a duty to make sure that the situation is redressed. We must have a statement, given as a statement, on some occasion, so that we may question the Minister. To allow a point of order that puts on record a contentious viewpoint without its being cross-examined in the usual way is an abuse of the proceedings of the House.

The First Deputy Chairman : I cannot take this matter any further at the moment. I am sure that those on the Treasury Bench have heard what is being said. I shall of course report to Mr. Speaker what is being said. Without, of course, making any commitment for him, I am sure that he will take this discussion into account when he makes his selection for the Report stage of the Bill.

Clause 7

Authorised disclosures

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : I beg to move amendment No. 74, in page 7, line 17, at end insert


(c) to a Member of Parliament.'.

Mr. Maclennan : Clause 7 deals with authorised disclosures of official information. The purpose of my amendment is to enable an officer to whom a disclosure of information has been made to pass that information to a Member of Parliament in certain restricted circumstances.

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Under clause 7(3), a member of the public who obtains protected information commits an offence by disclosing it to anyone else, unless the disclosure is to a civil servant or has been authorised. My amendment would allow a member of the public to disclose such information to an hon. Member.

It is important that the House recognises that the amendment does not apply to disclosures by civil servants, but only to disclosures by other persons- -members of the public. Therefore, it does not provide a direct channel for a civil servant who wishes to leak information to a Member of Parliament and it does not deal with the Ponting point. A disclosure by a civil servant, whether to a journalist or a Member of Parliament, would not be protected by the amendment.

It follows that the amendment does nothing to make leaks more likely. The person at the beginning of the chain would commit an offence. However, it would protect a member of the public into whose hands a leaked document came and whose only disclosure of protected information was to a Member of Parliament.

If one has to decide who is an appropriate person to whom protected information should be disclosed, there is no one more accessible or more suitable than a Member of Parliament.

4.30 pm

Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North) : Will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether he intends to bracket a Member of Parliament with a Member of the European Parliament as being synonymous?

Mr. Maclennan : I did not do so in the amendment, but, in the light of the decisions that the House took last night about leaked information from the European Parliament, it would be reasonable for us to address the question whether there might be a case for extending the cover. However, I did not make that proposal in the amendment.

It is widely recognised that Members of Parliament are accessible to their constituents in a manner that makes them the natural people to turn to if information of a protected kind should come into the possession of a member of the public. Members of the House of Commons are honourable and are to be entrusted with the task of dealing appropriately with information that they are handed by their constituents or any other member of the public. If a member of the public received such protected information, he would be at a loss to know to whom to turn if he could not turn to his Member of Parliament. Therefore, I commend the amendment to the Committee.

Mr. Aitken : I have some sympathy for the amendment which I understand would give some protection to a Member of Parliament who was simply carrying out the perfectly fair and honourable role of being as little as a mere conduit pipe between a Crown servant and perhaps the Government of the day.

I can well envisage circumstances in which a member of the security services, or someone who had been notified under the Act, might seek advice from his Member of Parliament on what he should do in the light of his anxiety about something that had gone wrong inside the security services or the defence establishment, on which, for one reason or another, he had not had adequate redress or a fair hearing through the normal channels of communication.

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A Member of Parliament is quite used to such an approach at a constituency surgery or in correspondence. Such approaches are received several times during one's career as a Member of Parliament, if not always from officials who would be designated under the Act. There should be some protection in the Act of a complainant's civil rights, and, indeed, those of a Member of Parliament.

In case anyone thinks that that is all fanciful stuff, let me take the House back to an episode that has been well reported by Mr. Chapman Pincher and others, in which I played a modest conduit pipe role, in the months following the disclosures in 1979, when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister came to the Dispatch Box having decided, as a result of a written question from the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter), to reveal that Mr. Blunt had been a traitor and had been granted immunity.

Up to that moment, inside the security services there had been much tighter secrecy and general acceptance that the vow of omerta, or absolute secrecy, should prevail under all circumstances, than appears to be the case today. There is no doubt that, when some Crown servants read my right hon. Friend's disclosure--a right and proper disclosure in the national interest --they felt that the statement was not as full as it should have been in the light of extra information that they had. Therefore, they wondered what to do in order to reveal certain additional information.

For various reasons linked with a mutual friend, one such Crown servant approached me. I am saying nothing new, simply telling a story, perhaps rather more accurately than Mr. Chapman Pincher has already told it. That former Crown servant was a man whom I knew only as a member of the Clerks Department in the House, a Mr. Arthur Martin, who had previously been a Crown servant in the Security Service. He felt strongly that the Prime Minister's statement had left unmentioned some vital matters and he feared that she might not even be aware of that herself. His fundamental fear was that the Prime Minister had gone in to bat on that major issue of Blunt without being fully briefed on the alleged treachery of Sir Roger Hollis. I know that hon. Members hold many views on that. The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) feels that those fears were completely groundless and that Sir Roger Hollis's reputation has been unjustifiably besmirched.

But be that as it may, let any hon. Member put himself in the position in which I found myself, of being told out of the blue the amazing story that a former head of our security services had been a Soviet agent and that a formidable body of opinion inside the security services not only believed that and had a committee set up which reported that they believed it, but also had set up an extra inquiry under Sir Burke Trend. All those matters had gone on inside the barrier of secrecy but, allegedly, might not have been fully known to the Prime Minister of the day.

What should any Member of Parliament do in those circumstances? Exactly, I suggest, what I did after consulting a couple of close friends who were Privy Councillors. I wrote the whole story down in a letter and sent it to the Prime Minister, after which, for some months, there was complete secrecy and silence, and then in due course, the Prime Minister responded in confidence.

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My point is that any Back Bencher could suddenly have been given a disclosure such as that which seemed to me at that time to be of earth-shaking proportions. I am sure that any Back Bencher, whatever his party loyalties, would have taken more or less the same course that I took--to act as a mere conduit pipe and pass it on to the responsible Minister, in this case the Prime Minister. Against the background of that anecdote--which I assure the House is entirely accurate- -I submit that there could easily be similar instances in the future.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West) : If we are to be used as conduit pipes, and, for the sake of argument, it becomes a criminal offence to receive that information, how in practical terms can a Member of Parliament stop himself receiving it? If someone sits in one's surgery and says something or sends one a letter, how can one stop oneself receiving that information?

Mr. Aitken : I am glad to see that for the first time during these debates my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General is present, because he will be aware that a "conduit pipe" is an expression in law. It is not a piece of plumbing or drainage, but is, in fact, a legal term meaning a quite innocent party who does no more than transmit the information onward. Certainly, if a Member of Parliament were to be more than a conduit pipe--for example, if he spoke on the radio, put down parliamentary questions, or made a song and dance about it--I can see that he could exceed what might be called his normal lawful responsibilities.

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