New Statesman and Mr.Duncan Campbell

– in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 26th January 1987.

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Photo of Mr Chris Smith Mr Chris Smith , Islington South and Finsbury 4:15 pm, 26th January 1987

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, The searches by special branch at the premises of the New Statesman and the homes of Mr. Duncan Campbell and other journalists following a request by the Attorney-General for the instigation of inquiries. On Saturday, special branch officers entered the offices of the New Statesman in my constituency and began a comprehensive search of all papers held in those offices. That search continued through Sunday and was added to by a search of the homes of Mr. Duncan Campbell and other journalists. It is continuing. I was present when the offices of the New Statesman were searched and when the home of M r. Duncan Campbell was searched. I hasten to say that I do not criticise the officers of special branch, who conducted their investigation with perfect courtesy and decorum. However, it is the first time that such a search has been mounted against an independent newspaper. It was instigated by a Government who are supposed to believe in the freedom of the press.

Major questions arise that should be discussed in the House. We must ask why the Government are trying to muzzle the press seven months after they first knew that the Zircon film was being made—a case of shutting the stable door months after the horse has bolted. We must ask why, as in the case two years ago of my constituent Clive Ponting, action is being taken under the discredited section 2 of the Official Secrets Act, which the Attorney-General himself has disowned. Why are the Government, far from being concerned about genuine national security considerations, engaged in a public operation to cover up their political embarrassment and interest? Above all, there are questions about the geed to end the absurd secrecy and the paranoia about secrecy which characterises the Government and which should be replaced once and for all by proper, full and thorough freedom of information legislation.

These are issues of immense public concern and interest. The House must debate them urgently.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

The hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely, The searches by special branch at the premises of the New Statesman and the homes of Mr. Duncan Campbell and other journalists following a request by the Attorney-General for the instigation of inquiries. I listened with great care to what the hon. Gentleman said, but I regret that I do not consider the matter to be appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20. I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House.