Is my right hon. Friend aware of the deep disquiet which exists in the country at the ever-increasing amount of telephone tapping, perhaps for political or for divorce reasons? Would he really not agree that it is time telephone tapping ceased in this country once and for all?
No; I do not accept my hon. Friend's premises. I can assure him that the present practice conforms fully with the recommendations of the Committee of Privy Councillors which reported in 1957. I have nothing to say beyond that.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Question does not refer to the kind of practices which were dealt with by the Committee of Privy Councillors but rather with the invasion of privacy by people who are not authorised to be used for telephone tapping? Would he look into that?
I think, with great respect to my hon. Friend, that this Question refers to authorised telephone tapping, though there is on the Paper another Question which refers to unauthorised tapping.
As the 1957 White Paper clearly suggested that Parliament might wish to consider whether the unauthorised tapping of telephones ought to be made an offence, and as there have been technical advances since then which make tapping easier, and probably more widespread, surely there is a clear-cut case for making unauthorised tapping unlawful?
I think one has to be satisfied that there is a substantial evil, and I think that there may well be, but one also has to be satisfied that legislation could deal with it effectively. I am open to receive representations, and to receive any evidence about the prevalence of the position if the hon. Gentleman wishes to send it to me.
Now that we have reached the proper Question, may I put my supplementary question and ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that in a number of recent cases, particularly divorce cases, judges have cast strictures on inquiry agents who have used telephone tapping or bugging devices to collect evidence, and that it is this kind of incident which is on the increase? Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to deal with this matter is to institute a civil action for damages, rather than a criminal prosecution? This might be the better way of dealing with it.