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Mr. Hind rose --
Mr. Hurd : No, before I close I shall return to the theme that has been behind almost the whole of the debate for more than a year. I refer to what I would describe as the myth of obsessive secrecy. There can be few critics of the Bill who have not used some such phrase.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) personalised that argument in debating the Bill last week by referring to my background. He was polite, as he almost always is, and he described me as a mandarin. As it happens, before I was a mandarin I was a son and grandson of Members of the House, both of whom spent many years as journalists, so my background is not wholly dissimilar from that of my hon. Friend, albeit less celebrated. I assure my hon. Friend that the main difference that has occurred since I started as a small mandarin in 1952 has been precisely the spread of information flowing out of Whitehall. That is the biggest single change under all Governments, and it is continuing. It is a particular change that I see in my present Department. The great increase in the workload of my Department is, in large part, due to the disclosure, publication, defence and explanation of information which was previously held tight. That is true in relation to prisons and immigration, and it is increasingly true of the police. I welcome it and I acknowledge that much of it has been extracted by the press and by the Select Committees and proceedings of this House. I repeat that I welcome that. I believe that the process has some way to go and that the Bill makes an important contribution to it.
This is a task that has baffled several Governments. It baffled the Government of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who received the Franks report but had no time to do anything about it because of the 1974 election. My right hon. Friend would certainly have done something about it, but it is equally certain that what he would have done would have been on the basis of conclusive ministerial certificates. For five long years, it baffled the Labour Government of 1974 -79, who left behind the White Paper, which again rested on conclusive ministerial certificates. It also baffled the present Government in their first year or two. Now we have a chance collectively to get it right and to get it through. Far from making the Government the arbiter in these matters, the Bill reduces the present wide, vast role of the prosecuting authorities. It asks Parliament to define the harm and it asks the jury, without ministerial interference,
Column 1082to conclude whether the harm has been done. I believe that, among the reforms introduced by the present Government, this is one of the most substantial and I hope that the House will give it a Third Reading.
Mr. Hattersley : I appreciate that the rules of order governing a Third Reading debate have put the Home Secretary at some disadvantage. Those rules require that speeches do not deal with matter that is not contained in the Bill. Yet since the Bill was published the Home Secretary's speeches have concentrated largely on material that does not appear in this legislation, usually pretending that it did.
The process of misrepresentation of the Bill's contents began when the Home Office handout, purporting to describe the Bill, referred to
"specific tests of harm to the public interest".
As we have discovered after the limited debate that the Government have allowed, the phrase "public interest" does not appear in the Bill. Nor are any of its clauses built on the concept of public interest.
But the concept of harm does appear, and I shall spend the limited time that the guillotine allows me examining whether the concept of harm as it appears in the Bill enables the Home Secretary to claim with anything like plausibility that his proposals pass the central test of official secrets legislation.
That test can easily be defined. In a free society, official secrets legislation should protect information that, were it to become widely available, would jeopardise the security of the nation. It should not, however, embrace or include information that can be made public without damaging the national interest, whether or not the publication of that information embarrasses the Government of the day.
That is central to the principle on which much of the argument in Committee and on Report was based--an argument in which the Home Secretary has never chosen to join--which is the contention that the Government are not the nation, that the national interest is not necessarily synonymous with the Government's interest and that the courts, rather than the Government, should decide where the national interest lies.
Those principles are all essential to democracy. After all the time spent on discussion and debate, about which the Home Secretary spoke with such pride, we still have no idea whether the Government share the view I described, or whether the Home Secretary believes that he has introduced legislation that properly distinguishes between national and Government interest. He has by implication continually rejected all the principles advanced by hon. Members by his refusal even to contemplate a public interest defence for those accused of revealing official secrets. At the same time, the right hon. Gentleman has attempted to create the impression- -at least outside the House--that the so-called harm test is in some way proof and demonstration of the Bill's moderation.
The claim that the Bill suppresses only information that, were it to be revealed, would jeopardise the national interest is built on that simple idea--a concept that the Home Secretary variously calls "serious damage", "serious injury", and "serious harm". None of those terms accurately describes anything that appears in the Bill. When attempts were made specifically to insert into the Bill the word "serious", to qualify harm, injury or damage, the Home Secretary always resisted. Tonight, in his most
Column 1083recent and final speech--until the Lords improve the Bill--he told the House that the harm or damage must be serious, and was giggling when he remembered that, although that is what he told the House, "serious" is not a word that he will allow into the Bill. The Home Secretary sought to bolster his arguments over the adjective "serious" with language that a more confident and scrupulous man would not employ. A recent example of the Home Secretary attempting to make words mean whatever he wished them to mean appeared in The Daily Telegraph last Saturday. I quote his words exactly :
"Under the new Bill, prosecutions must, in most cases, prove to a jury that serious damage has been done, in terms defined by the Bill."
No doubt the parentheses "in most cases" and
"in terms defined by the Bill"
were intended as qualifications so extreme and substantial that the meaning of the sentence was, on analysis, quite different from that which the casual reader supposed. That is a pretty disreputable technique in itself. But even when that disreputable linguistic practice has been recognised as such, the Home Secretary's statement is wrong. The idea that the Bill prohibits only the publication of official information when serious harm is done, or is even likely to be done, does not stand up to a moment's examination.
All information covered by clause 1 is expressly excluded from all tests of harm. Any man or woman employed by the security services is required now and for ever to maintain absolute confidentiality about every aspect of their work, as are men and women notified by the Government that they are obliged to maintain lifelong
confidentiality. For them, there is no test of harm. For them, there is no question of judging whether or not the information they revealed is damaging to the national interest--or is inconsequential, trivial or even meaningless.
Members of the security services and those associated with them are allowed to publish anything about their work only when the Government agree that they should do so. Nobody doubts why that rule applies. The Government want to be able to allow and promote books that are to their political advantage, and suppress books that are politically embarrassing. If there is a test for harm in that area, the test for publication is the test of whether harm will be done to the Government's political reputation.
There is a test of harm in other areas, but as to the Bill itself--and contrary to what the Home Secretary persistently says about it--no reasonable person could believe that the test of harm relates to serious harm and to serious harm alone. I take as my example clause 2(2)(a) where the concept of damage, which, rightly or wrongly, the Home Secretary equates with serious harm, is defined. A damaging disclosure is said to be any disclosure which
"prejudices the capability of, or any part of, the armed forces of the Crown to carry out their tasks".
We learnt in Committee that that definition applies to all the armed forces' tasks, no matter how trivial or inconsequential, no matter whether or not they are even related to the national interest or could reasonably be defined as assisting the national interest or damaging it. The idea that the definition of harm, as specified in clause 2 and related to the armed forces, contains any serious protection for those who might inadvertently allow inconsequential or trivial information to appear in the public domain is nonsense. I cannot believe that the Home Secretary, with his expensive education and all the prizes about which he
Column 1084keeps telling profile writers, does not realise that what he claims to be in the Bill does not appear in it. I cannot believe that it is a genuine error. He must know that his claims for the Bill are substantially, materially and grossly different from what the Bill contains on analysis of its clauses.
I am reinforced in that belief by the Home Secretary's demeanour and performance. Throughout the debate he has avoided, rather than meet face on, the arguments of his critics. He has been an accessory to the guillotine and he has exploited it on every occasion to avoid giving serious answers to serious questions. In my 25 years in the House, where I have seen Governments of both persuasions anxious in adverse circumstances to slip legislation through with the minimum of debate, I have never seen a measure that was so opposed by some Government Back Benchers and so little supported by the rest. I have never seen a ministerial parliamentary private secretary running around attempting to get Government Back Benchers to read from the Home Secretary's notes and failing to persuade them to do so. What I have seen throughout the debate that we are about to conclude has been a shabby performance by the Government ; they knew that they could not win the arguments on their merits and, therefore, took refuge in every device that was open to them. I have no doubt that they will get their majority tonight, but it will be a shabby victory and the Government will pay for it in the long run. 9.22 pm
Mr. Amery : When my right hon. Friend replied to the debate on new clause 1 he tried to draw a distinction between procedure and policy. I do not think that anyone who listened to him or who studies the matter can believe that there is such a difference. The assurances that I was given by my hon. Friend the Minister of State detailed how authorisation would be given. Then my right hon. Friend said, yes, but the policy was different. It was the procedure on the one hand and the policy on the other. I do not think that we can seriously reconcile the two.
Where do we stand? We have a repudiation by my right hon. Friend of assurances given by my hon. Friend. Perhaps we should not be too surprised about that. If my right hon. Friend had come back to the Dispatch Box and reassured us that we could rely on the assurances given by my hon. Friend, he would have kicked away the whole basis on which the Peter Wrights, the Cavendishes and the other cases were based. There is a difficulty for the Government. If they kick away a pebble, they may bring down the whole arch on which the Government's policy is based. I do not see that the House should accept that view of the architecture on which our policy is to be determined. I very much regret that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has gone so far in repudiating the assurances given by my hon. Friend the Minister of State. What are we to do about this? We know perfectly well that the Bill must be accepted, but I regret that, because the future of our defence administration--which to some extent depends on the secret services--may be weakened.
I have been careful during these debates never to oppose what my right hon. Friend tries to do if I can help it. However, we must face up to the fact that the Trappist vow of lifelong confidentiality cannot work in a democratic society. Of course, it can work if the Trappist monk has made his vow to God, but who can say what
Column 1085God will decide? I have great regard for my right hon. Friend, but I cannot regard him--or even the "Ayatollah" or higher responsibility to which he has to bow--as God. Therefore, I find the Bill difficult, perhaps impossible, to accept.
I have been a Member for a long time and I have quite often been a Cassandra, and nothing is more boring than saying "I told you so". Tonight I am trying to say, "I am telling you what is going to happen". If the Bill is passed as drafted there will be a number of cases--perhaps even during my right hon. Friend's tenure of office--that will discomfit him or the Government. I do not know whose memoirs it will be--perhaps those of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) who is not present or perhaps some quite insignificant man will write his memoirs or publish an account of what he has done--but it will be very difficult to proceed against him in court when he will be able to claim various reasons why he should have made his disclosures.
It is too late tonight to ask my right hon. Friend to disclaim what he has already laid down. All I would say is that from the beginning I have tried to help him by putting forward my suggestions, which were accepted by my hon. Friend the Minister of State. I tried to throw the Government a lifeline, but I recognise the difficulties that they would have faced if they had accepted it. Perhaps they have accepted it in part, and, when decisions are taken in court or elsewhere, perhaps some of what has been said in the House--and to which my hon. Friend the Minister agreed--will rub off ; I hope so. I have some experience of defence and foreign affairs, and I could not bring myself to vote against the Government on the entire Bill. However, I hope that my right hon. Friend will understand that in the circumstances and after what I have been exposed to--double dealing? I would not want to call it that--I cannot support him tonight. On Second Reading I said that I would support the Government if they gave me the right assurances. They gave them, but then they took them back, so I hope that my right hon. Friend will understand that when I abstain tonight it will not be with any spirit of malevolence. 9.29 pm
Mr. Maclennan : The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) has played a role in this debate rather like Hamlet when confronted by Polonius. The right hon. Member seems to have said, "Methinks I see yon cloud in the shape of a camel." "Very like a camel," says Polonius. "Methinks it's like a whale," says the right hon. Member for Pavilion. "Very like a whale," says the Home Secretary. The Home Secretary will agree with anything to command the right hon. Gentleman's vote. Many of the Home Secretary's remarks have sounded as if they were made by Polonius. If he continues to play Polonius to the Claudius of this Government, he may find himself stabbed behind the arras.
The Home Secretary rather gave the game away when he opened the debate. In a throwaway line, he said that the press has a great interest and a natural interest in maximising the disclosure of information. Do we not all have that interest? Is that not why we subscribe to article 10 of the European convention on human rights which
Column 1086guarantees our freedom of information? Is that not why Lord Goff of Chieveley in the "Spycatcher" case said in the House of Lords : "Although in the case of the private citizen there is a public interest that confidential information should as such be protected, in the case of Government secrets, the mere fact of confidentiality does not alone support such a conclusion because in a free society there is a continuing public interest that the workings of Government would be open to scrutiny and criticism"?
The truth is that the Home Secretary has tackled the problem which he says has been ducked by other Governments, not through any desire to widen the disclosure of information, but as a straight response to the disclosures of the "Spycatcher" case. He has acted in this way because of the "Spycatcher" case. He has rightly recognised that there are certain public interests in maintaining security. Those exceptions are set out in the article 10 provisions of the European convention. However, he has surrounded the exceptions with such definitions as to extend the scope far beyond what is necessary in the interests of the security of the state.
I know that I must be brief, so I will give only one example. The Home Secretary's definitions of international relations are so broad and all- encompassing that almost any matter considered by Government will fall foul of those exceptions because we discuss those matters in our daily dealings with the European Community. If those matters are considered in that forum or are leaked abroad, the full weight of the criminal law--two years' imprisonment--can befall the leaker. The Home Secretary recognised the most serious point in his opening speech. His proposals prevent those who are conscious of iniquity in the public service from disclosing that information. The Bill makes it a crime to reveal crime. I do not see how that can stand. I hope that another place will reconsider that. The arguments have been deployed extensively in this place, but they were not answered extensively. We look to the Lords, including some of the Law Lords who sat on the "Spycatcher" case--such defenders of our free speech--to bring to the consideration of these matters an objectivity which the Home Secretary, wrapped up in the net of secrecy which the Government cast over all their doings, cannot.
If the Home Secretary is right, I cannot see why he finds it necessary so to misrepresent the provisions of the Bill as he has misrepresented them now. I need not repeat the quotations from The Daily Telegraph of Saturday. Those words merely compounded the Home Secretary's frequent misrepresentation of the nature, purpose and effect of this Bill. He has referred constantly to the serious-damage tests that must be applied before the sanction of the criminal law is invoked. He knows--we have debated the matter extensively--how to import that concept, which he says he embraces, into the Bill. We had the benefit of the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), who was on the Franks committee, reminding us--if we needed to be reminded--that that was the very nub of the test that Franks had applied as long ago as 1972.
We have failed to persuade the Home Secretary that those words should appear in the Bill. I hope that they will appear when it comes back from another place. At least they would cut down the all-embracing, all- encompassing impact of this widely drafted clamp-down on our freedom of speech.
This has been something of a charade on the part of the Home Secretary--the pretence that this is a liberalising
Column 1087measure. As he has acknowledged, the provisions of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act have rarely been invoked ; in fact, that part of the Act could almost be regarded as having fallen into desuetude. This new piece of legislation, if it goes through, will be used to try to bottle up information whose disclosure might be in the public interest--matters concerning, for example, the public safety, the public weal, matters that concern the Father of the House, to whose amendment the right hon. Gentleman gave no adequate answer. This is a constitutional measure meriting more than six days' debate in this House. Cutting down our freedom of speech merits more than six days' consideration, and that is why the House has taken so badly the Home Secretary's pretence that it is a liberalising measure. It is nothing of the kind ; it curtails our liberties, and it will do his reputation no good. I believe that it will be in vain because it is fundamentally opposed to the provisions of article 10 of the European convention. Certainly the view that was expressed in the "Spycatcher" case by more than one of their Lordships is an indication that if these issues come before the European Court this measure will be struck down as being inappropriate and quite out of conformity with our international commitments. Their Lordships have a heavy and important task. It should have fallen to this elected House to ensure that the task was completed. Alas, it is not so. 9.38 pm
Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South) : This will be a short speech, as time is limited. I voted against the Government's three-line Whip when my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) introduced his private Member's Bill. Since the introduction of this Bill I have supported it at every stage, and it may be helpful to my hon. Friends-- those who are still not in agreement with the Bill--if I tell them why my mind is so made up.
Under the present law, the prosecution has only to prove that an unauthorised disclosure of information gained in the course of certain employment has taken place. Thus, for instance, a clerk working at the Department of Social Security office in
Stockton-on-Tees commits an offence if he or she discloses the colour of the carpet in that office. All information, no matter how trivial, is classified, and the consequences of disclosure are a dire thing, a criminal offence.
For that reason, overhaul of the legislation was long overdue. My hon. Friend's Bill was a good attempt at reform. Without it, and without the rebellion that supported it, the Government might have been tempted to do as all Governments have done--found the balance of convenience in favour of doing nothing. We might pose to ourselves the question that Abraham Lincoln posed to Congress :
"Must a Government, of necessity, be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?" I believe not, and I believe that this Bill is evidence of that. The Bill is a liberal measure and is to be welcomed for that reason. Under the Bill, a jury can convict only when it has been persuaded that a disclosure has caused specified harm or is likely to cause such harm. For that very reason, there is no need of an overriding defence of prior publication or public interest. If no harm is done, or the benefit outweighs the harm, the jury should not convict.
Column 1088The Bill will effectively protect the nation's secrets while opening up a significant new province of information to the public. It is consistent with the principle of rolling back the frontiers of the state and curbing the power of the Executive, which so many Conservative Members hold to be clear and central planks of our policy. The final resolution in a matter of degree is always a difficult process. There are those who say that it should be more restrictive and those who say that it should be more liberal. A line has to be drawn somewhere and the provisions of the Bill explained to an uncomplicated and sceptical public. The Bill, if not perfect, is a good measure, and should therefore be supported.
Mr. Foot : Only an hon. Member who had attended so few of our debates over the past few days could have reached the conclusions reached by the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin). I prefer to refer to the speech of the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). Those on the Government Front Bench looked uneasy under his questioning, not only because of the way in which he was led to vote for Second Reading but because of the questions that he is still posing, to which he has still got no answers. Even if those on the Government Front Bench and some of those on the Government Back Benches do not heed what the right hon. Gentleman said--credit belongs to those who do heed it--many will study what the right hon. Gentleman said. By the time the Bill gets to the other place, there may be an answer to his question.
The Home Secretary went over the history of attempts to deal with measures such as this. If I remember correctly, he said, "We have a chance collectively to get it right". He might have said that at the beginning of our debates, but he cannot seriously mean it at the end of them. I say that as one who has listened to pretty well every sentence uttered during the Bill's proceedings. Some of the debates have been curtailed in a manner that is an offence to the House of Commons. Many provisions have been pushed through in a manner that is utterly abhorrent, particularly when we are dealing with a Bill that carries such large implications for the future. By any comparison and by any reckoning, the way that the Bill has been pushed through is a disgrace to the House of Commons, to the Government, and to those in this place who have tolerated the passage of such matters through the House by such means.
Major questions have not been resolved, and the Home Secretary cannot pretend that they have been. For example, there are all the matters associated with the supposed claim of lifelong
confidentiality, implied at the beginning of the Bill, about which the questions of the right hon. Member for Pavilion are so pertinent and about which many other questions have been asked. If the Bill had been law when Winston Churchill wrote his memoirs, they could not have been produced in anything like the form in which they were presented to the nation. If the Home Secretary has an answer to that point, which has been made so often, he should have given it to us. The effects of the Bill deriving from this provision will alter the relationship between the Executive and Parliament, and affect our democracy and how information may be given to the British nation. All these points are touched on in the question posed by the right
Column 1089hon. Member for Pavilion, to which he has had no answer. We have discussed premature disclosure. I hope that we have made some dent in the Home Secretary's certainty.
I fully acknowledge that this is a serious matter for the newspapers of this country. I thought that we were to get from the right hon. Gentleman an idea of how to get a compromise that will work. If he was serious in what he said at the end of his speech about wanting a collective settlement of the matter, that is one aspect in which he should have searched for it. Of course, if the Government had considered our debates and taken account of what hon. Members have said, we could have had a compromise between the demand of those who say that there should be no claim of premature disclosure and those who argue at the opposite extreme.
All responsible editors in Fleet street who have talked about these matters could have had a clause which protected the defence and rights of this country but which still protected, as far as we possibly can, the right to print information, to print the facts, and to print them in a way that must take account of what has been published before. Otherwise what would happen to the judgment in the "Spycatcher" case?
As the Home Secretary said, the "Spycatcher" conclusion was one reason for the Bill. Throughout our discussions, the Government have failed to meet the argument about the conclusions of the "Spycatcher" case and the reason the judges concluded that they must decide against the Government. They said that it would be madness and folly for them to say that it was wrong for newspapers to publish what had been published all over the world. The right hon. Gentleman is now saying that the conclusion of the "Spycatcher" case is that all that must be restored to the position that prevailed before. The Minister has accepted not the majority of judges but the minority of judges in that case.
After all our debates, that is a monstrous way for the House of Commons to deal with a serious matter. Like many hon. Members, I have much faith in the other place. This is one occasion when our counterparts can come to the rescue not of the Government--they are not worth saving--but of the country. I hope that our colleagues in another place will examine these matters in great detail. I hope that they will look at all the clauses that have been truncated in discussion here, take account of the way in which the Government have sought to deny full debate, and send back to the House a reputable Bill that can do what the Government have said that they want to do, which is to have a collective discussion in the House of Commons and the country about how we should deal with it.
The opportunity for a collective discussion has been forfeited by the guillotine, the form of the Bill, and the way in which the Prime Minister forced on the right hon. Gentleman the detailed clauses--the "Spycatcher" clauses--of the Bill. The combination of clause 1 and the other clauses dealing with disclosure mean that this is a much more ferociously anti- liberal Bill than the measures that prevailed before. That is what the right hon. Gentleman has presented to the House of Commons, and that is what the other place should throw out.
Column 10909.49 pm
"vastly reduces the scope of the criminal law."
If that is the Government's view, it misses the point--either because it is tantamount to arguing that a change from bad to bad is better than no change at all, or that, having made a change, it must be a change for the better.
In truth, there has indeed been a change--a change both for the better and for the worse. Although the Bill vastly reduces the scope for successful prosecutions, it sows a whole range of new doubts as to what may or may not be published, thereby inhibiting without prohibiting. So instead of the draconian and obnoxious clarity of the previous Official Secrets Act, we shall have a new regime of uncertainty. That confusion and doubt will have the effect of suppressing publication of unquantifiable amounts of information which were previously entirely legitimate. A handful of daring editors may decide to publish and be damned, but for every courageous or reckless challenge there are likely to be a hundred--perhaps a thousand-- timid and cautious decisions to spike the story and be spared.
Some people in Government circles may be happy to argue--even perhaps with a modicum of justification--that tighter security will flow from this legal form of stealthy deterrence, and that may well be so, but that is not the only consideration for Parliament. We have to weigh one unproven benefit against several evident
disadvantages--disadvantages which are not obviously justified by commensurate gains. The Government have argued for drawing a line in the wrong place--they have erred in favour of stringency where freedom of expression is both defensible and essential. When Governments curtail the flow of information, they are tampering with the raw material of democracy. No democracy can survive in a vacuum of ignorance--for its survival it must feed on facts and information. Democratic electorates do not need just the good news--they must be able to censure the mediocre and the inefficient and to castigate the evil.
There is no dispute that some categories of information must not--perhaps may never--be revealed, but every attempt to restrict information requires close examination. The Bill has not been given the careful and sceptical scrutiny that is called for. Ministers may have been courteous and patient in their answers--there have, indeed, been plenty of answers--but time and again it has seemed that the argument between those who have taken the Government view and those who have thought differently was essentially about exactly where the line should properly be drawn. On the one hand, one has asked what constitutes a justifiable exposure of information. On the other, the question has been what should be a culpable and punishable revelation. To permit or to prohibit, that has been the question. Whether it is in the public interest to have the record straight, or, by so doing, harm it. For my part, I come down on the side of freedom of expression. I am against the imposition of a regime of stealthy suppression and I shall vote against the Third Reading of the Bill.
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Ms. Abbott : We have heard the Secretary of State in the Chamber and on the radio define the Bill as a great reforming measure. He has talked especially about how the Bill has limited and narrowed the scope of the existing legislation. Unlike the hon. Member for Southport-- [Hon. Members :-- "Stockton."]--the hon. Member for Stockton who, not having attended most of the Committee stage, came with his speech already drafted by the Whips, I want to say succinctly and in my own words that it will not do for the Secretary of State to boast that the Bill is a great reforming measure. In the first place, his boast that he has dropped the idea of ministerial certificates will not wash because, although the Bill contains no mention of ministerial certificates on information, by the notion of notified people, it introduces ministerial certificates on people. The notion of ministerial certificates on information has been exchanged for certificates on people.
It will not do to boast that the Bill is a reforming measure when it introduces the notion of lifelong confidentiality that Mr. Justice Lawson described as something which could not be achieved this side of the Iron Curtain. It will not do to boast that this Bill is a reforming measure because it narrows the number of offences covered since, under the 1911 Act, there were no fewer than 2,314 offences with which people could be charged. Therefore, it is hardly likely that the Bill would widen the scope of the 1911 Act.
The content and the manner in which the Bill has been forced through has revealed a Government careless of power. They will win tonight, but, as one of their hon. Friends has said, they will win by the exercise of an ignorant majority.
Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott), made reference to the hon. Member for Stockton and I would like to make it clear that she was referring to the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin). Upon being referred to, that hon. Gentleman made a two- fingered gesture in her direction. I disassociate myself from that gesture, but associate myself with the remarks that my hon. Friend was justified in making.
Mr. Cook rose --
Mr. Buchan rose --
Mr. John Patten rose --
Mr. Buchan rose --
Column 1092Mr. Buchan rose --
Mr. Buchan rose --
Mr. Buchan : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With your acceptance of his denial, Mr. Speaker, you are assuming--almost declaring--that some of us are lying. With respect, we are speaking the truth and the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) should honourably withdraw the gesture that he made.
Mr. John Patten : I am extremely sorry that the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) should seek to waste the time of the House. It is characteristic of his approach during our debates on the Bill.
The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) seems to have forgotten everything she was taught in the Home Office when she was a civil servant. She has forgotten the great width of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911 and has failed to understand the considerable narrowings of the law that my right hon. Friend's Bill introduces.
Of course, debates have been heated and detailed because the protection of official information inevitably raises extremely difficult questions of principle and practice. The debates in Committee, on Second Reading, on Report and on Third Reading have illustrated that.
It is not surprising, given such debates, that previous Governments have found it much easier to soldier on rather than attempt to grasp the nettle of legislation. We have made such a contribution in our traditional role as a radical and reforming Government. We have grasped the nettle and the Bill offers the answers. On such a contentious issue we certainly did not expect unanimity from all sides of the House.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) criticised us for going too far in drawing up the Bill. We certainly expected to be assailed with general arguments and specific concerns. We have attempted to answer those concerns, but the Bill leaves the House in such a shape that it entirely deserves the support which it has received. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), to whom I rarely turn for a text, said in an earlier intervention that was meant to be unhelpful to the Government that the Bill would last for a generation. But it will last for considerably longer than a generation.
Column 1093It being Ten o'clock, Mr. Speaker-- proceeded, pursuant to the order [13 February] and the Resolutions this day to put the Question already proposed from the Chair, That the Bill be now read the Third time :--
The House divided : Ayes 320, Noes 195.
Division No. 113] [10.00 pm
Alison, Rt Hon Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Biffen, Rt Hon John
Blackburn, Dr John G.
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Body, Sir Richard
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Boscawen, Hon Robert
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Browne, John (Winchester)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick
Buck, Sir Antony
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda
Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Cope, Rt Hon John
Currie, Mrs Edwina
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Davis, David (Boothferry)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Emery, Sir Peter
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Fenner, Dame Peggy
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Fishburn, John Dudley
Fookes, Dame Janet
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Fox, Sir Marcus
Glyn, Dr Alan
Goodhart, Sir Philip
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Hordern, Sir Peter
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)