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Official Secrets Bill (Allocation of Time)

10.15 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd) : I beg to move,

That the Order of the House [13th February] be supplemented as follows :

Lords Amendments 1. The proceedings on Consideration of the Lords Amendments shall be completed at this day's sitting and, subject to the provisions of the Order of 13th February, those proceedings shall, if not previously brought to a conclusion, be brought to a conclusion not later than the expiration of the period of two hours beginning with the commencement of the proceedings on this Order.

2.--(1) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 1 above--

(a) Mr. Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question which has already been proposed from the Chair and not yet decided and, if that Question is for the amendment of a Lords Amendment, shall then put forthwith the Question on any further Amendment of the said Lords Amendment moved by a Minister of the Crown and on any Motion moved by a Minister of the Crown, That this House doth agree or disagree with the Lords in the said Lords Amendment or, as the case may be, in the said Lords Amendment as amended ;

(b) Mr. Speaker shall then designate such of the remaining Lords Amendments as appear to him to involve questions of Privilege and shall--

(i) put forthwith the Question on any Amendment moved by a Minister of the Crown to a Lords Amendment and then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown, That this House doth agree or disagree with the Lords in their Amendment, or as the case may be, in their Amendment as amended ;

(ii) put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in a Lords Amendment ;

(iii) put forthwith with respect to each Amendment designated by Mr. Speaker which has not been disposed of the Question, That this House doth agree with the Lords in their Amendment ; and

(iv) put forthwith the Question, That this House doth agree with the Lords in all the remaining Lords Amendments ;

(c) as soon as the House has agreed or disagreed with the Lords in any of their Amendments Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith a separate Question on any other Amendment moved by a Minister of the Crown relevant to that Lords Amendment.

(2) Proceedings under sub-paragraph (1) above shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.

Stages subsequent to first Consideration of Lords Amendments 3. Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for the consideration forthwith of any further Message from the Lords on the Bill.

4. The proceedings on any such further Message from the Lords shall, if not previously brought to a conclusion, be brought to a conclusion one hour after the commencement of those proceedings. 5. For the purpose of bringing those proceedings to a conclusion-- (

(a) Mr. Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question which has already been proposed from the Chair and not yet decided, and shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown which is related to the Question already proposed from the Chair.

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(b) Mr. Speaker shall then designate such of the remaining items in the Lords Message as appear to him to involve questions of Privilege and shall--

(i) put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown on any item ;

(ii) in the case of each remaining item designated by Mr. Speaker, put forthwith the Question, That this House doth agree with the Lords in their Proposal ; and

(iii) put forthwith the Question, That this House doth agree with the Lords in all the remaining Lords Proposals.

Supplemental 6.--(1) Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith the question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for the appointment and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons.

(2) A Committee appointed to draw up Reasons shall report before the conclusion of the sitting at which they are appointed. 7.--(1) In this paragraph "the proceedings" means proceedings on Consideration of Lords Amendments, on any further Message from the Lords on the Bill, on the appointment and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons and on the Report of such a Committee.

(2) Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings.

(3) No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, the proceedings shall be made except by a member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

(4) If the proceedings are interrupted at any time by a Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration), the bringing to a conclusion of any part of the proceedings which, under this Order, are to be brought to a conclusion after that time shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on that Motion.

The time has come for the House to consider the Lords amendments to the Bill-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. Would hon. Members at the Bar either come into the Chamber or leave quietly?

Mr. Hurd : The purpose of the motion before the House is to make the necessary provision for this discussion. There can be nothing unusual or unexpected about it. It is normal, when a timetable has been agreed, to introduce a supplementary motion when the time comes for Lords amendments. Of all the 47 timetable motions since June 1970, so far as I can discover, all of them have been supplemented by further motions.

Obviously, the motion is not an occasion for debate on substance and you, Mr. Speaker, would rapidly pull me up if I launched into one. I doubt, anyway, that in the time available I would manage to dispel all the nightmares in which the critics of the Bill on all sides of the House have preferred to wrap themselves. Only the light of day could do that. When the Bill becomes law and the critics find its operation much closer to my explanations than to their nightmares, they will see the light. I do not expect a glass of champagne from my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) ; a mere nod of acknowledgement when that day comes will suffice.

It is proper to say one word about timing and to emphasise the point that the House has had plenty of opportunity to discuss the measure. The Government White Paper, which came before the Bill, was debated for five hours last July. We debated the Second Reading of the Bill in just under six hours and then we had 28 hours in Committee, which was on the Floor of the House. It is worth reminding the House that the first debates of that Committee, on 25 January, when we took the special

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offence contained in clause 1 of the Bill and notification, and on 2 February when we spent a full day, if I recall correctly, on the question of the public interest defence and the different amendments moved to that effect, took place without any limitation on time. We then had five hours on the remaining stages. In all, the Chamber has heard 39 hours of debate on a Bill that, although of high importance, which is why it was taken on the Floor--and has certainly turned out to be more controversial than I had hoped--nevertheless has just 16 clauses.

The motion allows ample time. All the amendments were passed in another place without a Division. Eight of the 10 amendments were tabled by the Government in response to proposals made or warmly supported by the Opposition spokesmen. The spokesmen declared themselves satisfied that the amendments tabled met the points that they had raised. The other two amendments are technical drafting changes and it was not considered in another place that they raised any issue requiring discussion, let alone Division.

It is reasonable to move forward to consider the amendments. I hope that the House will decide that they deserve to be supported and that the timetable motion allows time for such debates. I invite the House to agree to the motion.

10.18 pm

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington) : There are times when a Government are right to seek a guillotine on a Bill--usually when opposition has been no more than a filibuster and no points of real substance have been raised. That is not the case with this Bill, either tonight or during its earlier stages. If there has been a filibuster, it has been done by the Government and the only reason for tonight's supplemental gag on debate is that the Government still have no real answers to the points raised from the Opposition and by some of the Government's right hon. and hon. Friends.

It is no exaggeration to say that throughout the Bill the Government have treated the House with contempt. They do so again tonight. There is no need for this guillotine and there was no need for it earlier. It was the Government who, each day, decided how long the House sat, who drew stumps earlier than predicted and who then resorted to this form of gag. Why they have done so again tonight remains a mystery. We were allowed a single, pointless amendment, despite the force of the arguments on public interest defence, prior publication and the need to make more specific the various tests of harm or damage. The other place was generously allowed a whole 10 amendments--maybe two of which were of minor importance, the rest being matters of no more than clarity or drafting.

I have said before and I repeat tonight that there is a consensus among all parties in this House on sensible reform of the Official Secrets Act 1911. The only people to whom that consensus does not apply are the Government. That is why they have taken refuge in the guillotine. Shorn of any sensible argument or defence, they substitute brutal force for debate. No wonder the weekend polls on the 10th anniversary of the Government's election found that a majority in all parties felt that the country had become more authoritarian and more centralised under the Government. That is certainly the case here.

Time was, and yes, even in the early days of this Government, when the Chief Whip or Leader of the House

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would go to the Prime Minister to say that amendments should be accepted to respect the strength of feeling and debate. That no longer happens and it is the Government who suffer most from that, not the Opposition, as voters in the Vale of Glamorgan will make clear on Thursday.

Let me just ask the Home Secretary this : what is the need for this guillotine tonight? Against whom is it aimed? What it shows is that the Government are frightened of debate and challenge either from the Labour Benches or from the friendless Benches behind them. The guillotine means that we shall have no chance to debate the future of the D notice committee --just as we had no chance to do so during the Bill's earlier stages. Its future is highly relevant. On 22 February, Rear-Admiral William Higgins, the D notice committee secretary based at the Ministry of Defence, spelt out in an interview in The Independent :

"Now they"--

that is editors--

"will have to have greater concern for the law".

He added :

"Under the new legislation, an editor must know that what he publishes damages national security. If I tell him it isn't damaging, he's got a good defence. If I tell him it is damaging, and he goes ahead and publishes, then that will be a firm platform in the prosecution's evidence."

In other words, that form of self-censorship--that is what the D notice committee represents--now has new and more menacing substance. It puts Rear -Admiral Higgins into the witness box against editors with whom he is trying to run that voluntary system. What does that do to the D notice committee? Mr. Mike Ramsden, editor in chief of Flight International and chairman of the press and broadcasting side of the committee, revealed that when the Government ludicrously sought to ban the BBC radio programme "My Country, Right or Wrong," after Rear-Admiral Higgins had cleared it, the media threatened to withdraw its voluntary support from the committee. Mr. Ramsden says of the Bill :

"We have unanimously concluded that it would make the D-Notice system unworkable. The proposed legislation is an extension of secrecy, not freedom of information."

Under the guillotine we shall be unable to get answers on that matter. It also means that we shall be unable to discuss a report in today's edition of The Independent that Mr. Desmond Bristow, former chief of counter- intelligence in south-east Europe until 1954, plans to do a "Peter Wright" and publish a book from his home in Spain claiming that British intelligence was riddled with traitors. Will the Minister explain, how, under this measure, the Government would deal with that matter, since it contains no powers to prosecute British citizens living abroad, and extradition does not seem be be possible for alleged offences?

It seems that the Government might be about to face another Wright case, wandering around the courts of the world to uphold a lifelong duty of confidentiality and running up large bills to no avail in the process. Yet again, people abroad will be able to know what is being alleged while people in this country will not know. I want the Minister to clarify that, especially as Mr. Bristow is quoted as saying :

"The CIA and MI6 were equals before. Now they're not. The CIA does not share its super-secret stuff with us any more. Personally, I don't blame them."

It is almost as though Mr. Bristow has now joined Mr. Peter Wright in being the real author of this measure, the purpose of which is to reassure the Americans that we can

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keep secrets, and to save the Government's face. It is as though, perhaps by accident, we have discovered the main purpose of the Bill.

The Government may win--temporarily--here, but those of us who oppose the Bill, because of the way in which the Government have dealt with it, are secure in the knowledge that we shall win in the end. Despite the earlier words of the Home Secretary, I predict that when a jury comes to consider these provisions in relation to a prosecution, it will treat this new measure with the same derision and scorn as earlier juries have treated the Act that it seeks to replace. I urge all hon. Members who care for the proper traditions of this House to join my hon. Friends and me in the Lobby to protest against this further guillotine.

10.27 pm

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion) : I confess that I have some doubt as to whether the electors in the Vale of Glamorgan will be moved as much perhaps as they should be by the issue that is before the House tonight.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : It is a big issue.

Mr. Amery : I agree, and perhaps it would be better if they were so moved, but it would be foolish to base whatever feelings we may have on this occasion on their presence.

I do not want to burden the House again with renewing the arguments that I adduced when the Bill was in Committee and on Report. I simply recall that I said then that in relation to the publication of memoirs by former members of the secret services, there was an old and time-honoured formula that they would be submitted to authority and censured, if necessary, by the powers responsible.

When I put that forward as an alternative to the lifelong duty of confidentiality, the Minister of State gave me assurances which met all my objections. I regret that those assurances were afterwards withdrawn by the Secretary of State. However, these are administrative decisions and I would like to think that after the debates here and in the other place, when the time comes for administrative actions to be taken, those authorities will be guided by what the Minister of State said in reply to me rather than by the absolute doctrine of lifelong confidentiality to which the Secretary of State returned. I know well that we cannot win a vote tonight and that nothing we can do or that any of my right hon. or hon. Friends on either side can do will change the Government's mind.

I do not like imploring the Executive but I will tonight. There are several books in the pipeline, some of which I know about. When the time comes, I hope that the administrative function will be exercised in the right way. If it is not, some of us, myself included, will make a bit of trouble in each and every case. I do not want to go beyond that. I simply ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Minister to have in mind the feelings that the House and the other place have expressed, and not least the view of Lord Home, whose authority in these matters should carry a good deal of weight. The administrative function should be exercised pragmatically and sensibly and not on any rigid view of lifelong confidentiality or unacceptability. The

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Government should let the administrative function be exercised in the good old, reasonable way in which it was before.

10.31 pm

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent) : The right hon Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) has made a concluding, forlorn appeal to the Government. He knows better than anybody in the House that what future administrators and the courts will take into account is what is written in legislation and not what was said in answer to him or to others in debates. The right hon. Gentleman made a powerful intervention in previous debates. After we had heard his speech and the original response from the Government, most of us thought that that would be reconfirmed. His argument was overwhelming. When I read some of the debates in the other place and what was said by eminent historians, who were applying their minds to exactly the same problem as the right hon. Gentleman, I thought that the Government could have made some response. But they made none. They used their majority in the other place in the same way as they had used it in this House to vote down any plea such as that made so forcibly by the right hon. Gentleman that originally it was approved by the Home Secretary, only to be modified later. The Home Secretary seems to think that I have misinterpreted what he said. Certainly the right hon. Member for Pavilion thinks that there was a great difference between the Government's first and second response. The Bill has come back to this place in the last moments before it is to become an Act in a form which takes no account of that whole exchange or of the argument of the right hon. Gentleman about lifetime confidentiality and all that it may imply. It is not for protecting spies but for protecting the proper discussion of what has happened in the past on numerous occasions. I gave an illustration myself. I need only repeat the name. If such a provision had been applied to Winston Churchill, the publication of large sections of what he thought it was necessary and right to publish for the British people would not have been permitted. The right hon. Gentleman nods his head. He had the support of two or three historians in the other place who put that case as well. It is a wretched affair. That is one aspect. It is not the sole important one, as I am sure the right hon. Member for Pavilion will agree, but it is a most important one, and I am not trying to diminish it. The Government have not moved an inch to meet the whole of that argument. The same thing applies to a range of questions mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett).

We are not talking solely about tonight's proceedings, but tonight's proceedings are a disgrace to both Houses of Parliament. I am not sure which Chamber bears the most severe guilt. The Government bear the primary guilt in both cases because it is on their recommendation in both Houses that the measure has been put through in this way.

I have seen a number of guillotine motions of my own. If I do not mention them others might be tempted to do so, so I shall take prophylactic action by dealing with that in a second.

There is no need for this squalid little guillotine motion now. We cannot have any lengthy debate. The debate may have been slightly more extensive without the guillotine,

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but because the Government think that they can ram the Bill through with a guillotine that is what they do. If we allow this guillotine motion tonight, it will automatically become part of our proceedings. Whenever a Bill which has been subjected to the guillotine procedure returns to the House from the other place the guillotine will automatically be applied again. That is wrong. We could have debated this matter without that, so the guillotine motion is squalid on those accounts.

I happened to come across The Sunday Times at the weekend. Some hon. Members may have read the interview that the noble Lord Whitelaw gave to Mr. Brian Walden, or which Mr. Brian Walden gave to Lord Whitelaw--I am not sure which way round it was. The interview seemed designed to ensure that Lord Whitelaw's memoirs were brightened up. I am not saying anything against Lord Whitelaw. I have the greatest possible affection for him. Brian Walden is a skilful journalist, but the object seemed to be to brighten up the Whitelaw memoirs. I hope that that association will continue in the weeks to come. I was a little surprised, if not flattered, to read that when Lord Whitelaw was discussing the way in which the Government were proceeding to ram their huge legislative programme through the House of Commons and the other place without any proper respect for the way in which matters should proceed, he said that I was responsible because I had made the guillotine respectable. The Leader of the House nods his head as if he is acting on that basis. He had better not act on that basis in future because it shows a complete misunderstanding of the situation.

It is a very different thing to have a guillotine when the Government have a majority of only one or two, when they will not get any legislation through at all without some form of guillotine at certain stages. Even so, the Labour Government's guillotine motions were much more relaxed than the ones that this Government have imposed. If we had not used the guillotine we would not have carried through any legislation. That is not the Government's situation. The Leader of the House could get a huge amount of legislation through--perhaps not all of it would have been beneficial-- without use of the guillotine. Even Lord Whitelaw agrees with that. He thinks that it would have been much better if some of these ridiculous Bills had not been rammed through both Houses.

If only the Leader of the House had thought a bit more carefully he could have satisfied me and Lord Whitelaw at the same time. I should have thought that that was a most estimable aim for any Leader of the House to have. But the right hon. Gentleman forfeited any chance of getting such unanimous support. He has such a love of guillotines now that he will hardly allow any measure to go through the House without applying one. He does not think that the constitutional process is being applied unless a guillotine motion is applied at every stage. I am trying to prevent such a procedure becoming accepted.

But seriously, I believe that the procedures on this Bill are a disgrace to both Houses. We had good debates in this House. Anyone who listened to them all, or most of them, as I did, will know that they were excellent debates. Nobody could doubt that the weight of opinion was against the Government, but not the weight of the votes, of course. Therefore, when the legislation passed to the other place, the House of Lords should have taken that into account. If there is to be a second Chamber to survey what happens in this House, that was the time for it to do

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so. If there was to be any attempt by the House of Lords to mitigate what Lord Hailsham calls the elective dictatorship, that was when it should have happened.

However, Lord Hailsham does not seem to have exercised his rights in the other place. He still has the capacity to speak there but he is so intimidated by the elective dictatorship that he did not defend any of these matters. That is a great pity because he might have persuaded some others if he had had the nerve, courage and assiduity to put his case. We might not have been presented with this fait accompli now.

Nobody will take the House of Lords seriously in the future if it cannot exercise any second opinion on a measure such as this. When there is overwhelming opinion in the debates in the House of Commons against the Government's proposals which involve matters of central constitutional problems, and the House of Lords says that it will vote through the legislation, even against most of the weight of the debate in that House, it seems that the Government have an even bigger automatic majority in the second Chamber than here. The Home Secretary shakes his head, but of course the Government have a greater majority there if they summon all the backwoodsmen. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the figures on the poll tax legislation he will see that that is true. If the Government seek to continue to use their automatic majorities in both Houses against the major tone of the debate, they will do great injury to the constitution of our country.

Mr. Amery : The right hon. Gentleman is in danger of turning our discussion into an argument against the other place. I hope that he will forgive me if I recall that the first time that I met him was at dinner at Lord Beaverbrook's house. When the right hon. Gentleman came in, Lord Beaverbrook said, "Here is Robespierre. Whose head are you going to cut off today?" That brings me back to the subject of the guillotine.

If the right hon. Gentleman looks into the matter, he will see that the argument that he has made is just as true about the other place as it is about this one. The weight of the argument has been consistently, here and there, in favour of what we have been saying. I beg and pray the Ministers to take account of that, and, when they come to take their administrative decisions, to take account of what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman and some Conservative Members.

Mr. Foot : I happily adopt the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's argument because it happens to be the same as my own, but not the first part of it. There is no doubt that in both Houses the weight of the argument has been against the Government's proposition. However, the Government have not taken any account of either House. Therefore, I take the matter slightly further than the right hon. Gentleman and say that that is a condemnation of the other House, as well as this one. We cannot put all the blame on the Government's shoulders, although we can put most of it there.

I do not support the other place. I am in favour of doing away with it, and this is another reason why. When it comes to the crunch, to essential issues, and when Tory Ministers have made up their minds, they always have the obedient House of Lords at their disposal, even on a question on which there is such strong argument against the Executive. In the past few weeks the House of Lords

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has missed a great opportunity to carry powerful debates to votes, and when the reckoning comes that will have to be taken into account. The other place is now as subject to the whims and determinations of the Government as is the Cabinet itself.

That, I suppose, is what Lord Hailsham--in his way--was trying to describe as the elective dictatorship. There ought to be some members of the Government who would try to revolt against it ; instead, we have this squalid little motion--an attempt to force through late at night, when hon. Members have just returned from a stay in the country, a measure that has been torn apart every time the House has had a chance to debate it. The Government

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have brought it back, saying, "We shall ram this through again, and ram it through the other place, and we shall go on until--perhaps--the constitution is bust wide open."

The Government are making a great mistake. If they will not listen to me, they should listen to the right hon. Member for Pavilion or all the other Conservative Members who--I guess--will press the case as strongly as we did in our previous debates. They are making a great mistake even from their own point of view, although I shall not lose any sleep on that account. I shall lose sleep because I believe that they are twisting the constitution to suit the interests of the elective dictatorship.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : Order. I remind the House that we must conclude this part of our proceedings by 11.14 pm.

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10.46 pm

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay) : I suppose that as realists we must accept that, whatever is said tonight, bitter experience tells us that the Government will not take the slightest notice. In my wildest moments earlier this evening, I reflected that a debate such as this might just as well be taking place in the saloon bar of a public house ; and if I were looking for a name for that public house I would call it the Coach and Horses. I shall explain the reason later.

I did two things this morning when I woke up. First I opened my post, and found a review copy of a book entitled "The Blake Escape : How We Freed George Blake--And Why", by Pat Pottle and Michael Randle. Those two individuals proclaimed to the world last week that they had assisted in the escape of someone who had been sentenced to 42 years' imprisonment. The Bill will not have the slightest impact on that extraordinarily blatant advertisement for their self-confessed illegal activity. They have not been prosecuted, nor have they been given notice that they will be. Surely an Official Secrets Act could at least do that.

Why the "Coach and Horses"? After I had read some of the book I turned to The Independent , where I discovered that Desmond Bristow was preparing to write a book. Desmond Bristow has given long service to this country. If there had been a system under which he could submit his manuscript to the authorities and ensure that no lives would be endangered, he would have done so. The fact remains that the Government have consistently ignored all the pleas from both sides of the House for them to face reality and bring in a sensible system like the one in the United States, perhaps a publications review board. Surely that would be sensible.

The Government's objective in a Bill of this kind must surely be to protect information and to ensure that no information is released that would be dangerous. I am sorry : I believe that I cannot use the word "endanger", but must use "jeopardise". Or is it vice versa? Either way, that is surely the objective. Even while this Bill is being debated, we know that it is an abject failure. We will not achieve that very important objective. To dispose of the Peter Wright red herring once and for all, I point out that that case would not be affected at all by either the Bill or the proposed amendments. So, who is behind the Home Secretary? Who is behind the Government? Who is proposing these extraordinary changes?

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South) : It is a secret, but the name begins with "M".

Mr. Allason : I am glad that my hon. Friend is covered by parliamentary privilege, because in other circumstances he might be back in the Old Bailey, of which he has some knowledge. I believe that those behind the measure are the same people who advised the Prime Minister when Anthony Blunt's name was going to be bandied about in the courts in a defamation case. On that occasion, they advised the Prime Minister that Anthony Blunt should be protected and his name not disclosed. Those same people advised the Lord Privy Seal in 1956 that Kim Philby was not under any suspicion. Those same people advised the Prime Minister that there was no evidence of post-war Soviet penetration of the security and intelligence services.

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This Bill is surely intended to protect secret information and to ensure that former members of the security and intelligence services follow a particular way of getting clearance to write their books. Of course, such books have been published in the past.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing the allocation of time motion. So far, he has not addressed that motion.

Mr. Allason : I shall be brief. Suffice it to say that the Home Secretary said that he would give permission originally for people to publish. My hon. Friend the Minister of State has subsequently said that only in rare and exceptional circumstances would that situation change.

I believe that the objective of the Bill has been lost. I am very sympathetic to the plea by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), who has been pressing the point I am making. In future we are likely to see authors prosecuted and journalists going to prison. We have recently seen the spectre in the Salman Rushdie case of books being banned and burnt. We should not put ourselves in such a position. We will certainly be doing so if the Bill goes any further.


Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : There is some irony in the fact that we are debating the guillotine motion, and that it is only because of that motion that we are able once again to draw attention to the enormity of the Bill. Had the Home Secretary not felt inclined to follow the 47 timetable motions, we should no doubt have had to confine ourselves to the narrow ambit of the amendments from another place that we shall shortly be considering. That would certainly not have been an appropriate way in which to end the debate in this House of a Bill which was a substitute for the freedom of information legislation that this country needs to complete its effective democracy.

The Bill, so long in consideration, has been condemned on all sides. It has been condemned by the leading newspapers of the country and by the vast majority of those who have spoken in the debates in this House and in another place.

The Home Secretary spoke, albeit briefly, on the substance of the Bill. His speech resembled a guttering candle that did nothing to illuminate the debate. It left a somewhat acrid smell. It reminded us that the right hon. Gentleman, who began his term of office as Home Secretary with a somewhat liberal reputation, has systematically, through his legislative activities, destroyed it. In this Bill he has ensured that the law will be an ass. It will be set aside by juries. Public servants, notwithstanding the rubrics of the Bill, will put at the forefront of their mind public interest in the truth and the need to reveal wrongdoing. That is the subject which we wished to ventilate again. The country knows that the Government have stifled that debate. It is that debate which the Home Secretary has so slightingly dispensed with throughout.

Parliament has been made merely a cipher in the proceedings. Time and again hon. Members have been required simply to march through the Lobbies. They have seen the sense in opening up these matters set at naught by

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