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The Solicitor-General: It was an issue of evidence in this case, not of a lacuna in the law. I agree with my right hon. Friend; he is right to say that it was not a question of any late identification of the likelihood of the defence of necessity being raised. That had been anticipated from the outset. I repeat also that he is right that it was not a question of whether the disclosure of the Attorney-General's legal advice would be requested. That was not an issue.
I apologise to the House, as I appreciate that without being able to go through all the intelligence that comprised all the evidence forming not just the basis of the charge, but the basis on which the defence would be rebutted, hon. Members will not feel fully in the picture. But one of the characteristics of the security services is that people are supposed not to be put fully in the picture.
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) (UUP): The Solicitor-General has necessarily left some questions unanswered. None the less, she has been able to answer certain questions, and the House will have noticed the emphasis with which she has answered particular questions. Does she agree that it is a very good thing that she, and the Attorney-General in another place, are in a position to come to Parliament so promptly to deal with these matters and to be able, as she and other hon. Members have, to steer their way round those areas that have to be kept to, as it were, the discretion of the prosecuting authorities? Would it not do enormous damage to the House and its standing in the country if, as a result of some jejune notions about the separation of powers, these issues could not be ventilated here?
The Solicitor-General: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. I should like time to reflect on whether it was a thoroughly good thing for me to come to the House today to make this statement. Certainly, the Attorney-General takes very seriously his accountability to Parliament, through another place, and I take very seriously my responsibility to be
Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central) (Lab/Co-op): You will be pleased to hear, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I cannot speak lawyerly language, and do not wish to do so. Is not this case a very simple one, in that the Government decided that they could not convince a British jury that they had gone to war legally?
The Solicitor-General: That is not the case. My hon. Friend is entitled to assert it, but I ask hon. Members at some point to believe what I have said, which is that it was not an issue about the Attorney-General's advice on the legality of war or about second-guessing the extent to which the jury trusted the Government. I ask my hon. Friend to believe that that is the situation. He might well be mystified as to what happened, but that certainly is the situation.
Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): The Solicitor-General has said many times what the reasons were not for there being no realistic prospect of conviction. She said that she could not give a detailed basis for that, because it concerned intelligence issues. Is it fair from that to reach the conclusion that it was for matters of intelligence that she reached that conclusion?
The Solicitor-General: As I have said, it was a question of what evidence was available within the normal limitations, including statutory limitations, not a question of what evidence was comfortable, both to prove the charge and to rebut the defence. It was not the case that the Government looked at the evidence and decided that they did not want it in court and therefore pulled the plug. Were it the case, the Director of Public Prosecution's statement would not be true.
The Solicitor-General: I say this to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who is intervening from a sedentary position: the Director of Public Prosecutions has made a statement, which I have read to the House. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to accept that he has made that statement and that it is the truth.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): The Solicitor-General said that many questions remain unanswered and that further questions perhaps need to be asked. May I ask her one more? Given that the case against Katharine Gun was dropped and no evidence was put forward, can we all assume that the Solicitor-General and the Government accept Katharine Gun's defence of public interest overriding her loyaltyor notto her employer, and that she will now be reinstated in the service?
On whether this was an eleventh-hour, last-minute discontinuance, perhaps I should remind the House that this case had not been set down for trial and no trial date had been set. This was not an eleventh-hour decision; in legal terms, it was taken quite early in the morning.
Mr. Michael Weir (Angus) (SNP): The case against Katharine Gun arose initially because of allegations that GCHQ was involved in spying on members of the UN Security Council, as has been amplified this morning by the former Secretary of State for International Development. Does the Solicitor-General accept that any such action is a clear violation not only of the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations, butperhaps more importantlyof the 1946 general convention on the privileges and immunities of the United Nations? Article 2(3) of the convention states:
The Solicitor-General: I am afraid that all that I can say in response to the hon. Gentleman is that the Government comply at all times with their international treaty obligations, as well as with domestic and international law. That is not just a throwaway lineit is a very serious process.
Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): While we are left in this mystified state, it is fair for Members to speculate about the reasons why this prosecution was withdrawn. I wonder whether, à la Clive Ponting, there was a fear that no jury in the land would actually find this woman guilty. Echoing the points made earlier, I wonder whether the substantive issue is being buried under the various legalities. The substantive issue is whether or not we acted at the behest of the American Government, and perhaps it should be referred, at the very least, to the Intelligence and Security Committee, so that these questions can be investigated in the usual way and we can have a report on that substantive issue.
The Solicitor-General: Obviously, the question of what the Intelligence and Security Committee decides to look at is a matter for that Committee, which regularly hears from the Attorney-General in person.
My hon. Friend wonders whether no jury would ever have found this young woman guilty. The nature or characteristics of this particular defendant did not contribute to this decision, so I can reassure him that his speculation on that point is wrong.
Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Con): Has the right hon. and learned Lady any notion at allshe certainly has not expressed it this afternoonof the enormous damage that this shambolic incident has done to the credibility of the Official Secrets Act and therefore to the credibility of our ability to keep our secrets, and to the confidence that our allies and partners have in that ability; and to our national security and safety in an age of international terrorism? Does she agree that this morning, even greater damage was done to those essential elements, and will she tell the House now whether the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) has herself signed the Official Secrets Act?
The Solicitor-General: I think that Ministers are covered by the Official Secrets Act whether or not they sign it. The hon. Gentleman will know that the substantive law is a matter for this House, and that the operation of the law is a matter for the independent police activities and prosecution service. If there is to be a discussion of the substantive law, so be it, but so far as the independence of the police investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Director of Public Prosecutions is concerned, that must remain.