|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Hattersley : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not propose postponing debate on the amendment of the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), since the purpose of the operation that has been successfully carried out in the last hour is to give his amendment the opportunity that it deserves. However, I place on record that, while we hoped and believed that the Business Committee would provide that which the House wanted and deserved, it has insisted that the debate concludes at 10 o'clock. Therefore, the House has lost one hour of debate because of the Government's intransigence and incompetence. I do not believe that the House would have been incapable of making an adjustment to the Ten o'clock motion, had that been the will of the Leader of the House, and had the House endorsed it. Instead, the debate has been scandalously guillotined, which is another example of the excesses for which the Government are responsible.
Mr. Budgen : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I remind you of my suggestion that if the two Chief Whips got together it would be for the purpose of screwing down Conservative opposition to the Bill. Many right hon. and hon. Members who voted for its Second Reading will wish to express their reservation about the way in which matters have been dealt with throughout the guillotine procedures. We would have had the opportunity to do so on Third Reading, but, as a result of the agreement reached between the two Chief Whips, many right hon. and hon. Members will be prevented from doing so. That is another example of the way in which discussion and dissent is being limited by the guillotine, and of the
Column 1017actions taken by members of the Government and Opposition Front Benches, getting together to keep the awkward squad out.
Mr. Wakeham : I wish to proceed with debate as much as you do, Mr. Speaker, but I say to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook that the Business Committee did not have the power to extend the Third Reading vote beyond 10 o'clock, as that was in the guillotine passed by the House. The Business Committee had power to adjust earlier guillotines to the convenience of the House, and it did so unanimously. However, it did not have the power to do that which the right hon. Gentleman suggested.
(1) A person who has been a member of the security and intelligence services may with the consent of the Secretary of State publish information relating to his former work.
(2) The Secretary of State shall not unreasonably withhold his consent under subsection (1) above provided that the publication can take place without causing or being likely to cause jeopardy to national security directly or indirectly or to cause damage to the work of or any part of the security and intelligence services. (3) Where a person who has been a member of the security and intelligence services believes that the consent of the Secretary of State under subsection (1) above has been unreasonably withheld he may seek the advice of the Staff Counsellor to the Security Services.
(4) Where the advice of the Staff Counsellor has been sought under subsection (3) above and where it appears to the Staff Counsellor that by omitting specified information the publication could take place without causing or being likely to cause any of the effects in subsection (2) above he shall advise the Secretary of State of his omissions or alterations which in his opinion would be required for this purpose.'.
Brought up, and read the First time.
(a) before the time of the alleged offence the information in question had become widely available to the public, whether in the United Kingdom or elsewhere ; and
(b) there was no reasonable likelihood that its further disclosure would endanger the safety of a British citizen, or damage the work of any part of the security or intelligence services or have any of the effects mentioned in subsection (2) above.'.
Mr. Amery : I begin by expressing gratitude to those right hon. and hon. Members who earlier raised points of order and, as a result, ensured a rather larger attendance to hear the points to which I wish to draw attention.
The new clause concerns authorisation for publication of memoirs, articles, or whatever, by former or existing members of the security services or those privy to that information, and the basis on which it should be authorised. I do not suppose that there are 50 or 60 people today in a queue to publish their memoirs, but right hon. and hon. Members may agree that the House would not be discussing reforming the Official Secrets Act 1911 had it not been for the case of "Spycatcher" and Mr. Peter
Column 1018Wright. The need for reform has been discussed for years, but that case was the fuse that led to the present explosion and debate. Before "Spycatcher" and Peter Wright, there was a well understood convention by which members of the secret services who wished to write about their experiences submitted their text to the authorities, who discussed the text with the author and proposed amendments or deletion of names where that was thought necessary in the national interest. That procedure was well understood, and I know dozens of people who followed it with little difficulty. The authorities made objections only on reasonable grounds, and deletions followed in almost every case. If someone had not been prepared to make the requested changes, he or she would have been liable for prosecution under the Official Secrets Act 1911.
When the cases of Mr. Peter Wright and Anthony Cavendish arose, a new principle of lifelong confidentiality was advanced, and instead of discussion of the text, the authors were simply told by the authorities "We cannot talk about it because of your obligation to observe lifelong confidentiality". My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is the only person who can confirm the claim made by Mr. Wright's lawyers that a text of "Spycatcher" was submitted, but I know from Mr. Cavendish and his publishers that they submitted a text. In both cases, the reply was given, "Sorry. We cannot discuss the matter because of the principle of your obligation to lifelong confidentiality".
On Second Reading, I advanced as mildly as I could the argument for returning to the older and good-natured convention that previously prevailed. To my surprise--because in my 40 years in the House such a thing had never happened to me--a Minister agreed to a proposal that was put to him by a right hon. or hon. Member. My hon. Friend gave me the assurances I sought in great detail. I shall quote only one passage. In the presence of all of us my hon. Friend said : "So the sole criterion for authorising publication is whether publication of a particular piece of information will jeopardise national security directly or indirectly. It is a judgment about considerations which are relevant today, not about past history or former embarrassments.
If a point of difficulty were to be identified it might still be possible through discussion to agree with the author a change in the text to overcome the problem."
A little later my hon. Friend said :
"If the problem is larger than just a few minor textual changes or if agreement cannot be reached, sometimes authorisation will not be given. My right hon. Friend"--
that was me--
"will understand that authorisation cannot be given on every occasion but I can assure him that this decision would never be taken by one person alone, but by senior members."-- [Official Report, 21 December 1988 ; Vol. 144, c. 538.]
I had occasion to write to my right hon. Friend about other points that I had raised in the debate and to which my right hon. Friend, naturally, had not had time to reply. When my right hon. Friend replied he said :
"I must emphasise that authorisation to members or former members in respect of disclosures of information about their work will be rare and given only in exceptional circumstances."
As I told my right hon. Friend, I do not see how we can reconcile the statements made by my hon. Friend in the
Column 1019House and by my right hon. Friend in his letter to me. The second statement was just in a letter to me ; the House had not been told. However, my right hon. Friend has said that a correction was made earlier in Committee. So I searched, with the help of some of my hon. Friends, through Hansard. It is true that in the dinner hour on 25 January, my hon. Friend the Minister of State said, rather surprisingly :
"I have little to add to what I said on Second Reading. It will not come as any surprise to those concerned to know that authorisation to members and former members to disclose information about their work will be rare and given only in exceptional circumstances."--[ Official Report, 25 January 1989 ; Vol. 145, c. 1104.]
Clearly, what happened was that, in the cold light of day, my right hon. Friend and hon. Friend, having studied the assurances which they had given me, and which were so satisfactory that I almost ran into the Division Lobby to support the Government, saw that their assurances were not compatible with the principle of lifelong confidentiality, on which they had wasted a great deal of public money in the Wright case and rather less in the Cavendish case, and which was fundamental to the Bill. So they have been trying to get out of what they said.
What is to be done? We cannot square the assurances given by my hon. Friend with the statements in Committee and later by my right hon. Friend in his letter to me. The statements cannot be reconciled. What are we to do? this poses a difficult House of Commons problem. We have assurances. They are enshrined in the tablets of the Official Report . If they wish to go back on them, the Government will have to explain why, and they will have to allow right hon. and hon. Members to discuss the matter. They have to explain whether they have changed their mind. I hope that on reflection my right hon. Friend will say that he still stands by the assurances given by my hon. Friend the Minister of State. If he wishes to modify them, he should say so.
I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the new clause. In the clause we are trying to write into the Bill, in view of the uncertainty, the assurances that were given by my hon. Friend the Minister of State. We have tried to put in textually the assurances that he gave. I do not think that we have departed from them in any respect. The new clause could be amended, of course.
I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to the fact that from the beginning I have been basically on the Government's side. I do not want to see Privy Councillors or a Select Committee determining the conduct of the secret services. Members of the secret services must be under the control of the Executive. Every study that I have made of the American and Canadian systems convinces me that that is right. I point out to my right hon. Friend that the shadow Home Secretary has endorsed the new clause, as has the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), who had more direct, if less lengthy, experience of the secret services than I have had, when he was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
I urge my right hon. Friend either to accept the new clause as it stands or to seek to amend it, through a manuscript amendment or in the other place, but not to repudiate totally the assurances given by my hon. Friend. I urge him not to go back to the old position which was wrecked in Australia and has been made a laughing stock
Column 1020elsewhere. If he likes, he can produce a modified version of the assurances given by my hon. Friend which might be acceptable to some of us.
The point is of importance to the secret services themselves. They have a problem of morale because they work in the dark. No one can tell whether a member of the secret services is succeeding or failing in life. He cannot talk about his work when he goes home at night. Members of the secret services need encouragement. The best encouragement that can be given to them is for them to be able to read from time to time information about what has been done in the past by successful members of the secret services. I have no objection to the information being censored by the authorities concerned who may be more liberal than those who pursued Compton Mackenzie many years ago. He wrote a book, "Water on the Brain", which I commend to all hon. Members. It was a skit on the secret services. I would not want my right hon. Friend and hon. Friend to be the victim of anything like that, although I might attempt to write it if they are not careful.
Dr. Owen : I support the new clause. The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) rightly concentrated on people who have been in the employment at one stage in their career of the security or intelligence services. It is also necessary to consider another category of people in which, I suppose, we all have a vested interest. After all, in clause 1 the person to whom the complete ban applies is not just a member of the security or intelligence services but also, in subsection (1)(b) :
"a person notified that he is subject to the provisions of this subsection".
That would cover all Prime Ministers, all Foreign Secretaries, and all Home Secretaries, to name but a few, who have written memoirs. It would probably involve a number of other Ministers at various times. The formulation given to the right hon. Gentleman on Second Reading--that authorisation would not be unreasonably withheld and that there would have to be proof that the information would jeopardise national security--was a considerable reassurance to many people. Effectively, it meant that there would have to be some mechanism whereby memoirs could be written about past events. I was not privy to the letter that passed between the Home Secretary and the right hon. Gentleman, but I should be appalled if the authorisation were given only in rare or exceptional circumstances. I could understand that phraseology if it applied to only the initial period. We can all argue about when would be an apt time to allow someone to write his memoirs. After all, we are not the only country in the world with security and intelligence services. Other countries have mechanisms whereby people who have written their memoirs can have them checked and processed.
The new clause sensibly addresses itself to creating a recognised and acceptable method whereby memoirs can be vetted and authorisation is not unreasonably withheld, particularly after the passage of time. Clearly a professional judgment should be made by--to use the Home Secretary's jargon --somebody "inside the circle", and it is accepted that the staff counsellor is "inside". We are asking not for anyone to come in from outside, but for someone who is privy to all the matters concerned to make a reasonable judgment.
Column 1021An absolute ban--without any qualification- -is unacceptable. The Home Secretary may want to accept modifications to the new clause, and I am sure that the right hon. Member for Pavilion would accept any minor modifications that were needed. However, in principle, there should be some mechanism to assure the authorisation. Without it, the legislation would make us a laughing stock. Are hon. Members really willing to accept that they could be told that they could not reveal any aspect of their work?
The former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan did not feel able to give all the information when he wrote his memoirs--although, like most Prime Ministers, he leaked pretty satisfactorily. Clearly when he talked to his biographer he gave far more information. His most recent biography-- particularly its account of events in north Africa--has been given more authenticity, and an area of information has been revealed beyond what is in the official records. Should that avenue of information and knowledge be completely stopped without any say-so?
It may be that writers are no longer Members of the House when their books are issued, and are therefore covered by privilege. Will such writers be abstractly told that their works cannot be published? Will the Home Secretary deal with that category of writer when he replies?
It would be absurd for a Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary or Home Secretary--or other hon. Members--to be affected by the legislation. They should not be made a special case or treated differently from people in the security and intelligence services. I am not asking that politicians should be allowed to make money out of their memoirs while members of the security and intelligence services cannot : the same rule should apply to both. However, it strikes closer to home when hon. Members themselves are affected.
The severity, arbitrariness and authoritarian nature of the provision becomes more clear cut when we realise that hardly a word of Sir Winston Churchill's wartime memoirs could have been given authorisation under the Bill. It has been acknowledged that he went well beyond the bounds of reason and probably revealed far too much in his memoirs. He certainly did not have them checked. That precedent was followed by many people. I plead guilty to making a number of arbitrary judgments about what it was reasonable to disclose, and I think that it is healthy that we are not bound by provisions. However, I would live with a general mechanism such as that proposed in the new clause.
I am not asking to be treated differently from anyone else, but the absence of the necessary mechanism in the Bill places intolerable restrictions not only on future hon. Members but on people who work in the security and intelligence services.
Mr. Aitken : As the debate has rolled forward I have wondered increasingly, listening to the Government's arguments, whether to cry or to laugh. On the whole, I have decided to do the latter. The burlesque nature of the episode was highlighted by the farce that we witnessed this afternoon over points of order.
Mr. Aitken : I am glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary loudly saying, "Hear, hear". I am about to take him on the third act of the comic opera that he has staged for us--the way in which he and my hon. Friend the Minister of State have conducted this part of the argument. They remind me of the famous character of Uncle Podger in Jerome K. Jerome's "Three Men in a Boat." Uncle Podger was a somewhat hamfisted individual who, when asked to perform the simplest task such as hanging a picture or knocking in a nail, produced disastrous results. He smashed the window, cracked the sculpture and created mayhem and chaos as the hammer broke and flew off in the wrong direction.
Uncle Podger has been at work on this part of the Bill. We need do no more than study exactly what was said about the perfectly sensible argument deployed by my right hon Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). As he reminded us, he first deployed it on Second Reading. Clearly the doctrine of lifelong, eternal, absolute confidentiality, in all circumstances and at all times, cannot stand up to serious examination without sooner or later, as the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) said, making those who administer the law a laughing stock. There are hundreds of good reasons for saying that such a doctrine cannot be sustained, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion illustrated on Second Reading. When he tried to discover whether there was any flexibility in the Trappist vows that we were being asked to write into law he received an assurance from my hon. Friend the Minister of State whose words bear repeating once more, that
"the sole criterion for authorising publication is whether publication of a particular piece of information will jeopardise national security directly or indirectly. It is a judgment about considerations which are relevant today, not about past history or former embarrassments."
My hon. Friend the Minister went on to make it absolutely clear that the matter would be handled in a reasonable manner and that authorisation would sometimes be given. He ended with the words--in view of the fact that his right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion was threatening rebellion, the wise words--
"Following those reassurances, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion will be persuaded to join us in the Division Lobby tonight."-- [ Official Report, 21 December 1988 ; Vol. 144, c. 538.]
Didn't the Minister of State do well? Yet less than a month later those assurances were completely repudiated--not just by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in what I am sure he thought was a top-secret letter exchanged between him and my right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion, but up popped the Minister of State, with an apparently straight face--[ Hon. Members :-- "In the dinner hour".] Yes, it was the dinner hour. He opened with the words :
"I have little to add to what I said on Second Reading." hardly the usual phrase with which to announce a 180 degree U-turn. He continued :
"It will not come as any surprise"--
but, my goodness, there were enormous surprises to come "to those concerned to know that authorisation to members and former members to disclose information about their work will be rare and given only in exceptional circumstances."--[ Official Report, 25 January 1989 ; Vol. 145, c. 1104.]
That was a tremendous surprise. Not since Archbishop Cranmer thrust his hands into the flames has there been a more spectacular example of public recantation. I thought
Column 1023that we might get an apology or explanation for such a major volte face, but apart from the poor old Minister of State appearing in the role of Uncle Podger, embarrassed and being made to eat humble pie, we have not.
This is a serious matter. Humble pie is clearly not a diet to which my hon. Friend the Minister of State is accustomed. He wears his embarrassment lightly, but I hope that I can shame him into seeing the necessity to honour his original words, which were infinitely sensible compared with the later correction.
It is not right that ministerial memoirs should be blocked for all time. I am looking forward to the second volume of the memoirs of my right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion. My right hon. Friend's memoirs were memorably reviewed by a colleague with the opening line :
"Julian Amery was born with a hand-grenade in his mouth." In his old age he seems to have lobbed it in the direction of the Treasury Bench instead of at the Albanians or whoever it would have been in the old days.
In all seriousness
Mr. Aitken : I think that we have two men in a sinking ship this afternoon. They are really in trouble with this new clause. Perhaps hon. Members remember the brouhaha over "My Country, Right or Wrong". That was a BBC radio programme, of ultimately stunning tedium, in which several members of the Security Service such as Lord Dacre, Lord Annan, Mr. John Day, with the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees)--who would be a proscribed person under the Bill--contributed a few thoughts as to how the security services might be better run and whether there should be oversight or better management. That is publication and it is covered by the all-singing, all-dancing eternal doctrine of absolute
I have a more private and perhaps more illuminating example. Some months ago certain Conservative Back Benchers met at a suitably clandestine rendezvous, the Flyfishers club in London, with certain former senior members of the Security Service. We did not say anything improper, outrageous or anything which affected national security. We had discussions about how the security services might conceivably be a little better run and improved in future. Memoranda of some interest were exchanged. Would those publications mean that we shall all be in the dock? Would we all be in trouble under the terms of the Bill? We would be unless a sensible amendment along the lines suggested by the Minister of State is introduced.
Unless the new clause is accepted, we shall be encapsulating a doctrine which is insulting to good Crown servants. It is quite wrong that disclosures cannot be made in any circumstances. The new clause provides that authority should be given on reasonable grounds which have nothing to do with national security and if it cannot
Column 1024damage the Security Service. The wording of the new clause almost exactly follows the words used by my hon. Friend the Minister of State. The new clause is sensible and wise and I commend it to the House.
Mr. Hattersley : I want principally to speak in support of amendment No. 9, which has been grouped with this new clause. Before I do that, I support the new clause moved by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). I hope that he will not find it offensive, indeed he will probably find it positively helpful, when I say that the new clause is a comparatively modest improvement on the Government's proposal because, if it is passed, the Government will in the end remain the arbiter of what is published. I hope that some Conservative Members as well as some of my colleagues will believe that the very modesty of the right hon. Gentleman's proposal should commend it to the House in the Division this evening.
In common with the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), I regard myself as too old to cry and I have decided to laugh about the Bill. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that, in admitting that, we both confess a taste for black humour. To paraphrase another cliche , some people will laugh all the way to prison as result of the proposals in the Bill.
That may occur when people believe that they have a right or duty to reveal what happened during their distinguished careers in the secret services and then find that the present ban is so absolute and total that they are required to write nothing, or write things which, while legitimate when applied to any normal person making an objective judgment, become a criminal offence under this Bill. I hope that the Government will be able to accept the new clause. Not to do so offers a ban which is so total, absolute and unqualified that it renders the Government oppressive and absurd at the same time. The Government gain no advantage, even from their own point of view, in putting themselves or any of their successors in that preposterous position.
The new clause changes the emphasis. It accepts that there are occasions when publication is right, proper and acceptable. However, it then goes on- -and I understand the principles on which the right hon. Gentleman proceeds --to claim that publication must be organised in such a way that the interests of the nation are not jeopardised. For all its modesty, the new clause contains the essential element which has been lacking from so much of the Bill--the ability to distinguish between publishing information which is harmful and information which is harmless. Harm is defined, as the right hon. Member for Pavilion has rightly said, ultimately by the Home Secretary. When the appeals and complaints of the various subsections are exhausted, the Home Secretary will decide. If the Home Secretary is not prepared to accept this modification, that shows that not only does he wish to prevent publication of that which may harm, but in relation to the Bill he insists on the right to prevent publication of harmless material.
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that this goes even further? Under the list of notified persons, the Prime Minister of the day is entitled to silence former colleagues or former officials of
Column 1025another party. It brings in a form of dictatorship and censorship over what people can know. Is that not very dangerous?
Mr. Hattersley : My hon. Friend must not tempt me into exploring all the dangers inherent in all the provisions. I agree with him and will go further. One of our objections to the rules as they now stand is that not only do they allow the Government to suppress things which should have been made public, but, as the Government can allow publication according to their judgments and criteria, they can positively encourage the publication of authorised memoirs, material which serves the Government's purpose, as distinct from fulfilling the proper purposes described by the right hon. Member for Pavilion. Amendment No. 9 is intended to extend the harm test about which the Home Secretary has spoken so often and which he has told us in a sense is an alternative to the public interest defence. In the debates on prior publication, the Home Secretary told us that the harm test is relevant to a defence, but should not, and cannot, be used as conclusive proof of evidence. Amendment No. 9 seeks to extend the Home Secretary's principle into two areas where, at the moment, the fact of publication is an offence, irrespective of whether the publication causes harm or can be demonstrated to cause harm. I know that the Home Secretary has constant semantic difficulties over this issue. I warn him that I am not asking for "serious harm" which is a concept to which he is wedded outside this place, but which he opposed in Committee. I refer simply to "harm test" as he defines it. Under amendment No. 9, the harm test should be extended to two areas to which it does not apply at present.
As the Bill stands, any information related to a warrant under the Interception of Communications Act 1985--to put it colloquially, that is telephone tapping--or any information concerned with or related to a warrant under the Security Service Bill is automatically prohibited from publication. We did not have the opportunity to debate why that should be so and the guillotine made it impossible for us to argue, as we would have argued, that the absolute rule--nothing can be published ever--should not have applied to those two categories of information.
We want to extend the harm test to, as an obvious example, a telephone tap. I want to refer to an example which has been referred to many times in Committee. A man may discover from a member of the security services that his telephone is being tapped illegally without the permission of the Home Secretary or that it is being tapped under warrant with the Secretary of State's permission. It seems wholly unreasonable that he should be prevented from discussing that if the discussion does not harm the national interest. We simply ask that the harm test be extended in those two particulars. Since time is short, the Home Secretary may not want to intervene now, but he owes it to the House to give a considered explanation when he makes his speech.
Sir Ian Gilmour : I should like very briefly to support the new clause and the amendment, which are, of course, joined by a common feature- -the Government's obsession not to admit error over the Wright case. That follows in
Column 1026both cases. I think we all know that Peter Wright did submit his memoirs to the Government and that a great deal of trouble would have been saved--
Mr. Budgen : Is not the tragedy and the irony of these proceedings that they arise principally because section 2 of the 1911 Act lacked authority and could not be used by the Government? By bashing this measure through in such an authoritarian way the Government incur the serious risk that juries may not accord it the authority that it ought to have. Will they not have spent far more time and money than they would have done if they had treated the House with rather more respect?
Sir Ian Gilmour : Of course, I agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, in our earlier truncated discussions I tried to make something of the same point--that this Bill will soon have very little more legitimacy than the much-derided section 2 of the Act of 1911. The Government have an obsession not to be proved wrong. As I have said, Peter Wright did submit his memoirs.
What my right hon. Friend is suggesting, and what my hon. Friend originally agreed to, is eminently sensible. Quite apart from the very good point made by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), if the new clause is not accepted the Government will be creating a complete barrier : ex-Ministers will be allowed to publish what they want, and members of the security services will not be allowed to publish anything at all. That is really quite unconscionable, and something that a free society cannot possibly tolerate.
Sir Ian Gilmour : Either way, I think it would be wrong. What will happen, I think, is that ex-Ministers will publish their memoirs and that no action will be taken. That distinction, as I have said, is one that I do not think is tolerable.
It seems to me that what the new clause provides for is eminently sensible and that the only reason the Government can possibly have for not accepting it is that, by doing so, they would be implicitly admitting error over the case of Peter Wright. The same thing applies, of course, to the amendment. It, too, brings in the question of prior publication, which again was one of the features of the Peter Wright case--in fact, eventually the crucial point, I think. The judges, quite rightly, decided that it would be entirely wrong to keep from the British people what was being published everywhere else.
This amendment seems to me to be eminently sensible. It is quite inconceivable that a case such as that mentioned by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) should be kept quiet. If I were involved in such a case I would certainly publicise it, as, I think, would most other people. I hope very much that my right hon. Friend will accept both the new clause and the amendment.
Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South) : I support the principle of the new clause and of the amendment. The wording of both may need further attention and adjustment ; nevertheless, I hope that the Government will consider them sympathetically and, if need be, come back to the question in another place. None of my hon. and
Column 1027right hon. Friends can argue that the wording is necessarily exactly right, but the major point in both the new clause and the amendment is made in subsection (2) of the new clause, which says quite clearly :
"The Secretary of State shall not unreasonably withhold his consent provided that the publication can take place without causing or being likely to cause jeopardy to national security directly or indirectly or to cause damage to the work of or any part of the security and intelligence services."
That is a major aspect of both which leads me to believe that, in looking for more flexibility, I can support the principle in both. I hope that the Home Secretary will look at those two points. I referred a moment ago to the actual wording. I must say that I am sceptical about the use of the words "Secretary of State". I do not want to develop the point, but I have to say that a Secretary of State is a bird of passage. As Home Secretary, I was informed that I could not see security information which arose under the previous Administration. There may be former security service officers or politicians who wish to publish a book years later. In these circumstances a new Secretary of State may not be able to make a judgment except on the advice of people talking second-hand or of people who were involved in the activities years previously. Of course, those people will tend to have closed minds. The words "Secretary of State" mean more than an individual occupying that position, so they ought to be reconsidered.
I should like briefly to consider also the word "consent". Both the amendment and the new clause keep referring constantly, and properly, to consent under subsection (1) and consent of the Secretary of State. I wish to refer to one aspect of the Franks report which I do not believe has had sufficient airing. I should like to know whether the advice that we were given by the Home Office in 1972 still applies. I agree that that was given under the catch-all section 2, but in case the Home Secretary relents and the idea comes up in another place I draw attention to page 14 of the Franks report. We had come across something that we did not understand, in that many officials, and certainly politicians, regarded themselves as being self-authorisers--that, whatever the legislation said, they could authorise the giving of information. That part of the Franks report--I shall not read it out at this time--arose as a result. Senior civil servants and senior officials of the security services, not to mention Ministers, could authorise themselves in the public interest to reveal information. That authorisation was not given to people lower down and it was not crystal clear where the line lay. Nevertheless, as a result of the information that we were given, we wrote--it was not a recommendation--that Ministers were, in fact, self-authorising, that they decided for themselves what to reveal. That is the existing situation. Is that self-authorisation implicit in the new legislation, whether amended or not?
In this regard I will tell the House what happened to me. I wrote a book about Northern Ireland. I looked at the Cabinet papers--there were not very many which referred to Northern Ireland, though there were acres from Cabinet sub-Committees. I read through them all and through security reports, and wrote what I had to write. I submitted my book to the Cabinet Office, chapter by chapter, and officials there looked at it. I had no complaints at all about what happened. The Cabinet Office suggested that certain things should not be revealed. When
Column 1028I pointed out that I had given the information to the House of Commons 10 years previously, and that it had been published in Hansard, it became clear that I could publish it. That was simple. Previously I had taken out people's names, and certainly I gave the name of nobody in the security services, but it was suggested that all names should be removed--even the names of persons whom I was praising for the excellent job that they had done, because, in the context of Northern Ireland, revealing a name in any way would be dangerous to the person concerned. I accepted most of the changes that were suggested to me, but nobody authorised me to publish--I made my own judgment after people had given me their views on certain aspects of the book.
As the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and others have said, we shall be running into serious trouble with this tighter Bill if politicians and others wish to write memoirs--unless, of course, there is a time aspect, a sort of innate 20-year rule, or something. I want to be absolutely sure what view the Government take of their own Bill in respect of authorisation and the role of politicians. What the Home Secretary says about that will influence me greatly.
Both the new clause and the amendment have provisions to protect the security of the state, but they allow greater flexibility than the Bill as it stands. I have no great cases for my memoirs, but I know people who have. One day there will be a great argument about the security services, and in the public interest that argument should not be conducted under the legislation that will result from the Bill as it stands, which will not allow information to be published in the public interest. I hope that the Secretary of State will look closely at the amendment.