Engagements

Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd February 1987.

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Photo of Mr Michael Hirst Mr Michael Hirst , Strathkelvin and Bearsden 12:00 am, 3rd February 1987

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 3 February.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Photo of Mr Michael Hirst Mr Michael Hirst , Strathkelvin and Bearsden

In relation to the Zircon affair, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Metropolitan police asked the BBC to co-operate but the BBC refused to do so unless the police went through all the legal processes?—[Interruption.] Is she aware that when asked by the police where the relevant tapes and files were held, the BBC replied to the effect, "You will have to take the lot"?—[Interruption.] Can she also confirm that the BBC's solicitor liaised in the drafting of the warrant and that information and the relevant material that was held in Glasgow was disclosed to the police by Duncan Campbell himself?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I am sure that the House will be very interested in what my hon. Friend has to say. However, he will know that these are not matters for Her Majesty's Government—[Interruption.] It is for the police to decide whether to apply for a search warrant and for the courts to decide whether to grant the application. The Government do not give orders to the police as to how—[Interruption]—when, and where the law should be applied.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Does the Prime Minister recall saying 10 days ago that the courts are very rightly concerned to protect the liberties of the people and that they will not just give a blanket injunction not to publish? What is her view of action which results in the blanket confiscation of five films and other material, which nobody ever suggested relate to national security, with all the consequent prohibition of the right to publish?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General said in a written reply on 29 January 1987: On Friday 23 January 1987 the Director of Public Prosecutions, at the request of the Attorney-General, asked the Metropolitan police to investigate possible breaches of the Official Secrets Act 1911 arising out of the publication in the New Statesman magazine of a report entitled 'The Parliamentary bypass operation'."—[Official Report, 29 January 1987; Vol. 109, c. 320.] Clearly, it is a criminal case under the Official Secrets Act. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, in criminal cases it is for the police to decide whether to apply for a search warrant, and it is for the courts to decide whether to grant the application. The police did decide to apply for a search warrant and it was the courts which decided to grant the application. That has never been a matter for the Government, for past Home Secretaries or for past Secretaries of State for Scotland, and it is not a matter for the present Government.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Does that reply not make it clear that, contrary to what the Secretary of State for Scotland said yesterday, all this action has been initiated directly by the Attorney-General, one of the Prime Minister's Ministers? Why is it that a few months ago a discussion with the BBC was, in the Prime Minister's words, sufficient to stop one film, but it is now found necessary to undertake an invasion of the BBC to stop five films? Is it not the case that since 22 January every action by the Government has been prompted, not by considerations of national security, but by an obsession to save the Prime Minister's face?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The right hon. Gentleman is deliberately trying to muddle the injunction with matters of criminal law. He knows full well that decisions to prosecute on matters under the criminal law are for the Attorney-General in his prosecuting capacity, and not for the Government in any way. It would be wholly wrong if they were. The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that it is for the police to decide whether to apply for a search warrant; the police took the decision to apply. It is for the courts to decide whether to grant the application; the courts decided to grant it. I would have thought that, having agreed that a vital matter of national security was at stake, the right hon. Gentleman would also agree that the police were right to investigate how the information was leaked. Instead, he and his party are now once again attacking the police.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The Prime Minister has good cause to know that I shall do everything to safeguard national security—[Interruption.]—but she also has good cause to know that I shall never protect her from the effects of her incompetence and the injustice that she perpetrates.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The right hon. Gentleman will do everything except support the police in carrying out—[Interruption.]—their independent, impartial duties. Their duties are to the law. They carry out their duties impartially, and how they carry them out is not a matter for the Government. The day the Government direct the police about what they do or how they carry out their duties will be the day the rule of law will die, and, with it, freedom.

Hon. Members:

No.

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

Order. This is a serious matter.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The Prime Minister is killing the rule of law and with it the reputation of the police. Why does she not stand up and admit that she is the initiator of this action and that it has nothing to do with national security? Is she not big enough to admit that she is trying to cover up her incompetence with this injustice?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As usual, the right hon. Gentleman is completely muddling a civil action or injunction with the issue of the right of the criminal law to investigate how secret information came into unauthorised hands. The latter is a matter for the Attorney-General in his legal capacity; it is not a matter for the Government. [Interruption.] It is no good the right hon. Gentleman shouting at me in that hysterical fashion. The criminal law is a matter for the Attorney-General, not the Government.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine , Henley

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that it is the overwhelming opinion of the House that a serious breach of national security has taken place and that the police are right to investigate it in every way they consider possible? Does she agree that the Leader of the Opposition only reveals his ignorance of government in pretending that it is in some way a political direction which tells the police how to carry out their responsibilities?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Yes, my right hon. Friend is correct. The Government do not give orders to the police as to how, when or where to enforce the law, nor do they wish to have any powers to do so. If any Government wanted to do so, that would be the end of the rule of law and freedom in this country.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel Leader of the Liberal Party

As the Prime Minister continues to reject the idea of creating a senior parliamentary Committee on security issues—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]-will she say what objective test there is of what constitutes national security, or do we just have to accept that it is what the Prime Minister says it is at any given moment?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition first said that if a Government say that there is a serious matter of national security at stake, their word must be taken, certainly by the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition. The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) will also be aware that the Government whom he supported and kept in power issued a White Paper on the Official Secrets Act 1911. That White Paper, issued in 1978, said: There is likely to be a broad measure of agreement that information about defence measures and equipment deserves to be protected by the criminal law. The White Paper continued to state that matters in the legislation that was then proposed for replacing the official Secrets Act: should apply to official information relating to matters which concern or affect the defence or security of the realm, including in particular those matters set out in the paragraphs below … military weapons, stores and equipment of all kinds, including nuclear weapons, ships, aircraft, vehicles, communications systems and all means of warfare; The Opposition seem to have forgotten that White Paper.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton , Congleton

To change the subject, Mr. Speaker, and bearing in mind the firemen's strike at Manchester airport, which is inconveniencing thousands of the travelling public in the north-west of England, does my right hon. Friend think that the time is right to introduce legislation to make such strikes illegal in essential services?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I know that this matter comes up from time to time and that many right hon. and hon. Members would like to introduce such legislation, if it could be made effective. It is not easy to make it effective, as many of us know. The matter is being further reviewed by the Government now because, unlike the Opposition, we believe that the public need protection and that the unions should not hold the public to ransom.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara , Kingston upon Hull North

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 3 February.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara , Kingston upon Hull North

Is it not about time that the right hon. Lady came clean about the activities of the Attorney-General and his dining with people who are subject to criminal inquiries? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Is she aware that the Attorney-General had Mr. Duncan Campbell as his guest at the Garrick in 1985 and that on 17 July last year, he had lunch with Mr. Duncan Campbell at the BBC's expense—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"]—to discuss the "Secret Society" series? Is she further aware that, amidst the documents seized by the special branch, was the Attorney-General's note of thanks and Mr. Campbell's full note of that discussion? Should not that note now be put in the public domain?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General effectively dealt with that matter in the House at the beginning of his speech when we had a debate the other day.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Sayeed Mr Jonathan Sayeed , Bristol East

Will my right hon. Friend find time to read the report of yesterday's debate on the Royal Navy? When she does, she will recognise and understand the widespread concern that exists over the decline of our maritime capability. At the same time, she will note many practical suggestions that have been made to reverse that decline. Will she urge those suggestions on her right hon. Friends?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I am aware of the concern caused by that matter. Even during a period when the capital allowances were very generous, many ships were flagged out to different countries. We are particularly concerned that there should be sufficient officers and men of the merchant marine, and for that reason my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport made his announcement a few weeks ago about helping with fares to enable them to fly hack at the Government's expense, to ensure that we have enough.

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam , Blaydon

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 3 February.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam , Blaydon

Is the Prime Minister aware of the statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury that there is an inflammable mixture of frustration, lack of hope and helplessness in the urban communities? Is that not a damning condemnation of the policies of her Government?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

It so happens that I read the entire—[Interruption.]

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

Order. I ask the House to give the Prime Minister a fair hearing.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I read the entire report of the debate in another place the other day and found it all interesting, including all the speeches and the reply of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. I also found interesting the speech of another Member in the other place who said that if in 1979 we had said that £1 billion would be spent on the inner cities to assist them, it would have been thought that that would solve the problems. Since 1979 some £2·2 billion has been spent on the inner cities. That is evidence that it is not money alone that will solve that fundamental problem.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

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

I hope that hon. Members will raise genuine points of order that I can deal with and that it will not be a continuation of Question Time.

Photo of Mr Andrew Rowe Mr Andrew Rowe , Kent Mid

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand the Leader of the Opposition's desperate need to reinforce—[Interruption.]

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

Order. That is just what I was hoping the hon. Gentleman would not say.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook , Livingston

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise the matter of tabling documents before the House. Before I do so I refer you to page 433 of "Erskine May" where it is written: A Minister of the Crown may not read or quote from a despatch or other state paper not before the House, unless he is prepared to lay it upon the Table … A Minister who summarises a correspondence, but does not actually quote from it, is not bound to lay it upon the Table. I refer you, Mr. Speaker, to the correspondence quoted by the Solicitor-General at the end of Tuesday's debate. You will recall that that was a direct quotation by the Solicitor-General, not a summary of the letter. It is now evident that there were material omissions from the quotation, notably the concluding passage, which states: Look forward to seeing you on Thursday. Yours ever, Michael. I put it to you that it would be appropriate for the House to request that that correspondence be laid upon the Table on two counts. First, such a step would be in accordance with the precedent clearly set out in "Erskine May". Secondly, it has direct and relevant bearing on the debate we are about to commence, in that it demonstrates that last July the Attorney-General was in discussion with Mr. Campbell concerning a film that special branch found it necessary to impound at the weekend. In view of the extraordinary contradiction clearly revealed in the correspondence, is the House not entitled to see both letters?

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

The hon. Gentleman correctly draws the attention of the House and of myself to "Erskine May". However, the item quoted was a letter and not a state paper or a dispatch. I see no reason why it should he laid.

Photo of Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark , Birmingham, Selly Oak

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Bearing in mind your proper ruling that there should not be a continuation of Question Time, and also bearing in mind that we have a debate to follow, which you rightly ruled on, of three hours, is it right that half of Question Time should be taken up with points essentially concerning that debate? How, in a short Question Time, do other important matters get discussed? Is it right for trailers to go on and on and on?

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

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that I have no control over what is said provided it is in order, and it was in order.

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You are, of course, the defender of the rights of Back Benchers, who make up the majority of this House. Ever since I have been in this House I have noticed that during Question Time, particularly that of the Prime Minister, there has tended to be an average of three questions from the Opposition Front Bench rather than two. May I ask, Mr. Speaker, that you give careful consideration to the average being two questions and the exception being three rather than four?

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

Order. Let me deal with one thing at a time. I think that the hon. Gentleman's arithmetic is faulty. If he will go to the Library he will see that the average has been much nearer four to five than three, and that is what I try to achieve for Back-Benchers.

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell , Middlesbrough

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Arising out of the response given to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), who referred to certain alleged lunches at the Garrick club between Mr. Duncan Campbell and the Attorney-General

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

Yes, but that is an extension of Question Time, and I have already ruled one hon. Member out of order. I must say to the House that we have a busy day ahead of us, with a very important debate. I can rule only on matters that are directly my responsibility.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, arising out of your statement. You have said on many occasions that you are the guardian of Back-Bench liberties. I make no complaint about the fact that I was not able to catch your eye today, but the guidance that I am asking for is this. The fact that I was not able to catch your eye today—and many hon. Members on both sides of the House were not able to do so either—was directly because of the amount of time taken up by the Leader of the Opposition. Surely you should do something about the fact that the Leader of the Opposition cannot control his temper and ask a concise question.

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

Order. I think I mistook the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) a moment ago. I think I misinterpreted what the hon. Gentleman was saying. The average number of Back Benchers called at Prime Minister's Question Time is five and, on one occasion, as many as 15 on one day. The hon. Gentleman was referring to supplementary questions by the Leader of the Opposition. A certain discretion is and always has been given to the Front Bench.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) raised his point of order with you and you gave the reply, you may have noticed that, at the point when you were replying to my hon. Friend, the Attorney-General advanced towards the Despatch Box and, having got there, the Prime Minister obviously told him not to open his mouth.

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

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I am not responsible for hon. Members who may be entering or leaving the Chamber. As far as I am concerned an hon. Member is called only when I call him from the Chair.

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the procedures of this House are largely based on precedent, could you confirm that the fact that the Leader of the Opposition was called on four occasions during Prime Minister's Question Time—the first time this has ever happened in this House—does not set a precedent for the future?

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

I have already dealt with that. The House knows that this is not a precedent. Leaders of the Opposition have on occasion—I confess not often—been called four times, and that is perfectly in order.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang , Edinburgh East

Further to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, on the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook). Would it be of help to the House if you could clarify the distinction between a letter signed by a member of the Government on official business and an official document?

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

Order. The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) quoted from "Erskine May." That which was quoted by the Solicitor-General was a letter and not a state document or a dispatch. I have nothing further to add to what I have already said.

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

Order. I think we should move on because we have an important day ahead of us.

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

Order. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that he did not get his point of order in order on the first occasion, and it was not a point of order.

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

I am not prepared to take it.