On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) spent 22 minutes of the previous debate on human rights deploying the same arguments as I anticipate he is likely to deploy in the Adjournment debate. Is it possible, in those circumstances, that those of us who were not able to make a speech on the Human Rights Bill because of the hon. Member for Linlithgow's actions should be able to take part in the Adjournment debate and deploy some of the important arguments that we were seeking to deploy on the Human Rights Bill?
The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) will be disappointed, because there is another, different aspect to the issue.
Charmingly, the Solicitor-General began his speech this morning with what he said was a platitude. I should like to start with a non-platitude. While not being his easiest parliamentary colleague, and, trying though he may find me from time to time, being over-inquisitive, I have had every courtesy from an approachable and forthcoming Attorney-General. It is no platitude to wish him a speedy return to full health.
I heard the Solicitor-General this morning and I thank him for attending the Adjournment debate. In my opinion, in the 1950s he was the most eloquent Oxford president ever to come to the Cambridge Union. He was extremely eloquent this morning.
May I say at the outset that I gave the Attorney-General a copy of my speech in relation to the possible prosecution of Lord Rothschild and Mr. Bernard Sheldon on Monday, since it raises issues of byzantine difficulty and daunting delicacy, which should not be sprung out of the blue on any Minister. Knowing the Solicitor-General, I am sure that he will respond to this in the same spirit of considered seriousness.
The purpose of the first part of my speech is to give the Law Officers an opportunity to tell Parliament—these issues are ultra-party— what on earth they propose to do to clear up the Augean stables of inconsistency in prosecutions under the Official Secrets Act. The Law Officers will understand that my deep interest in these matters was born during the 11 days that I spent in the Old Bailey, in Mr. Justice Sir Anthony McCowan's court, during the trial of Clive Ponting.
Why prosecute Clive Ponting and dither, understandably—I do not use that word in a pejorative sense—over prosecuting Victor Rothschild? Why send Sarah Tisdall to prison for months and do nothing about Bernard Sheldon, albeit he is approaching retirement, in relation to Rupert Allason, alias Nigel West? Why fail to prosecute Bernard Ingham for the selective leaking of the Solicitor-General's letter? It looks as if there is one prosecution policy for the influential, the famous and the distinguished and another prosecution policy for the more junior, hitherto less famous, civil servants.
Compared with what Victor Rothschild set in train, with Peter Wright and Harry Chapman Pincher, anything that Clive Ponting put in my way melts into insignificance, in terms of national security, if not political embarrassment. There is an apparent inconsistency of policy, and it would be helpful to the House to know on what principles those discriminating practices are justified and on what basis discrimination is authorised by Ministers.
It is to the position of Lord Rothschild that I wish to refer. If, for the first time, I shelter under the cloak of parliamentary privilege, it is because Lord Rothschild can be a litigious man and, secondly, I do not think that what I am saying is to his discredit. I refer to 26 November—[Interruption.] Hon. Members had better wait and hear what I shall say. I refer to 26 November, when I asked the Attorney-General
what consideration he has given to proceeding against …. Mr. Arthur Franks, formerly head of MI6, and …. Lord Rothschild for breach of confidence in relation to information on matters of state security given to authors.
The Attorney-General replied:
I am considering with the Director of Public Prosecutions the allegations made in respect of the two named individuals."—[Official Report, 26 November 1986; Vol 106, c. 268.]
I returned to the subject on 1 December 1986, and the Attorney-General said:
The matter remains under consideration." — [Official Report, 1 December 1986; Vol. 106, c. 415.]
On 18 December 1986, I asked the Prime Minister
whether she will now release Lord Rothschild from his obligations of confidentiality as a former member of the security services; and if she will make a statement.
The Prime Minister replied:
All present and former members of the security services owe a lifelong duty of confidentiality to the Crown. They may not make unauthorised disclosures of information acquired in their work. Any requests for authorised disclosure would be considered in the normal way."—[Official Report, 18 December 1986; Vol. 107, c. 613.]
Let me offer necessarily truncated points. First, in the 1930s, international Jewry, of which the Rothschilds were one of the leading families, were aghast at the anti-semitism that was then rampant in Germany. Secondly, Victor Rothschild may, as the author Douglas Sutherland suggests, have recruited Guy Burgess for a minor role in one of the Jewish intelligence services. Thirdly, as an understandably passionate anti-Fascist, Victor Rothschild may have had relations with Comintern agents. Talk of spying is jejune nonsense. Anyhow, a good agent is one who gets from foreign powers more than he gives.
Fourthly, the events of long ago fade into the past. Sleeping dogs from the 1930s and 1940s were rightly, in my view, allowed to lie. De mortuis nil nisi bonum. But in 1979, Britain gets a new species of Prime Minister. On 15 November 1979, the new Prime Minister makes a statement on Blunt, against advice, with the aplomb of a cow in a china shop. Sir Charles Cunningham tells me that Sir Anthony Blunt's activities as an agent of both sides many years previously were fully known to successive permanent secretaries at the Home Office.
Fifthly, I believe that Lord Rothschild was extremely angry about the Prime Minister's reaction on Sir Anthony Blunt. Some of us believe that Sir Anthony Blunt's memoir, given to his brother, and now lodged in an institution in London, will reveal a complex story, part of which is that Sir Anthony Blunt was asked by a former member of the security forces whose name I have given to the Attorney-General, and by Guy Liddell, to help get Burgess and Maclean, by that time embarrassments both, out of the country.
Sixthly, in the summer of 1980, Lord Rothschild had the Prime Minister to his flat in Saint James's. He is subsequently quoted in the press as saying:
She does not understand intelligence matters.
Seventhly, Lord Rothschild then came to believe that his own reputation was at stake, especially after the Prime Minister's statement on Sir Roger Hollis on 23 March 1981, which appears in the Official Report at column 1079. At his own expense, Lord Rothschild brought Peter Wright from Australia. He discussed with Wright certain material which appeared to constitute a contravention of section 7 of the Official Secrets Act 1920. Section 7 states:
Any person who attempts to commit any offence under the principal Act or this Act, or solicits or incites or endeavours to persuade another person to commit an offence, or aids or abets and does any act preparatory to the commission of an offence under the principal Act or this Act, shall be guilty of a felony or a misdemeanour or a summary offence according as the offence in question is a felony, a misdemeanour or a summary offence, and on conviction shall be liable to the same punishment, and to be proceeded against in the same manner, as if he had committed the offence.
If the Attorney-General would decide to prosecute Lord Rothschild in open court, it would be possible to ask questions which are causing much public concern and which Lord Rothschild would then have to answer on oath. These are some of the questions that might be asked. First, how does Lord Rothschild explain his involvement with Sidgwick and Jackson over the Pincher-Wright book? While it is possible that Sidgwick and Jackson would consult Sir Arthur Franks about possible breaches of the Official Secrets Act 1911, that would not explain Lord Rothschild's involvement.
Secondly, why should Lord Rothschild expose himself by suggesting an unlawful enterprise to Mr. Wright, namely that he should breach the Official Secrets Act and then procure a writer, Mr. Pincher, to act as a channel for royalties?
Thirdly, why should Lord Rothschild fly Wright to London if, as has been suggested, all he needed was a testimonial to protect himself against suggestions that he had been a Soviet agent?
Fourthly, why pay Wright? Why introduce him to Harry Chapman Pincher? Why should Mr. Pincher pay him half the royalties?
Only by proceeding in open court on oath can obscurities be made less obscure. Only by proceedings in open court can there be an end to doubt and to the suspicion of discrimination.
I ask the Law Officers why they will or why they will not prosecute Victor Rothschild. If they decline to prosecute, apologies should be winging their way to Sarah Tisdall and Clive Ponting.
Even more clearly, the Law Officers owe Miss Tisdall and Mr. Ponting an explanation as to why they take no action against Mr. Bernard Sheldon for briefing Mr. Rupert Allason — alias Nigel West — who incidentally, and I do not intend to make much of this, is Conservative candidate for Torquay, for his books. I want to make it clear that I do not wish to enter the argument about Mr. Allason being Conservative candidate for Torquay.
If I am asked in general terms after my comments this morning about sources, part of my reply would be that there is an urgent need for an appeal body to which civil servants, policemen, service men or people in the intelligence services can go without jeopardising their careers if they believe that they have been abused. That is the official policy of the Labour party put down by the Cirencester and Tewkesbury amendment at the party conference at Bournemouth on the Sunday. I was interested to hear on the radio that Nigel West — alias Rupert Allason—said at 8.15 am on 5 February that he supported the idea of such an appeal body.
Finally, yesterday my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and I raised with the Leader of the House the question of the Interspace articles with regard to Zircon. The question was whether the knowledge of Zircon or Skynet IV was in the public print at least two years ago. The Leader of the House said that he would draw that matter to the attention of the Solicitor-General.
I will leave the matter there, because the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) have a very serious interest in these matters.
I thank the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) for his kind good wishes for my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and for his kind remarks about him, which are much appreciated. May I also thank him for his kind reference to me. I am grateful to him for having given the Law Officers advance notice of the contents of his speech, which was a helpful gesture. Even so, he made several allegations to which, as I shall explain, I shall be unable to respond.
The main theme of the hon. Gentleman's speech was whether Lord Rothschild should be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act. On 17 December 1986, the police were requested by the Director of Public Prosecutions to investigate allegations that Lord Rothschild and Mr. Chapman Pincher had committed offences under the Official Secrets Act. The police investigation is continuing and no decision can be taken until the Director of Public Prosecutions is given the police report, which will then be sent to the Attorney-General, or to me if the Attorney-General has not yet returned to his duties.
In those circumstances, and in accordance with the normal practice of the Law Officers, I cannot comment, except to say that I am satisfied that the matters raised by the hon. Gentleman will be considered by the police officers who are carrying out the investigations. As far as I can recollect, most, if not all, of the allegations formed part of the evidence given by Mr. Wright in the proceedings in Sydney and, as allegations, they are common knowledge.
I emphasise once again that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has no discriminatory policy in considering cases submitted to him under the Official Secrets Act. Each case is considered openly upon exactly the same criteria, and there is no foundation for a claim that importance or seniority in rank provides a person who is under investigation with any advantage.
The hon. Gentleman asked a question today which is already the subject of a question on the Order Paper for priority written answer by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. It relates to the publishers of the Interspace newsletter in respect of an article or
articles that might be considered to refer to the Zircon project. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the matter raised in the written question and which he has raised today will be the subject of consideration.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has authorised me to inform the House that, on having considered the report by the head of the Civil Service, and on the material before him, he has decided after consultation with, and with the full agreement of, the Director of Public Prosecutions and senior Treasury counsel, that there is no justification for the institution of proceedings under the Official Secrets Act 1911 in respect of any of the persons concerned in this matter" — [Official Report, 23 January 1986, Vol. 90, c. 451]
—that matter being the one raised by the hon. Gentleman a considerable time ago relating to the Westland affair. I mention that in relation to the name which he mentioned today of Mr. Bernard Ingham. I do not recall that, in the copy of the speech which he furnished to the Attorney-General, he said that he would make allegations against Mr. Bernard Ingham to the extent that he has done today. The words that I have just uttered formed the basis of a statement on 23 January 1986 by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
In the context of remarks about the book, "A Matter of Trust" written by Mr. Rupert Allason, alias Nigel West, the hon. Gentleman mentioned Mr. Bernard Sheldon, who is an official. He asks why the Attorney-General has not prosecuted Mr. Sheldon. The answer is simple and I trust that it is welcome. I am informed that there is no evidence at all to show that Mr. Sheldon has committed any offence under the Official Secrets Act. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned Mr. Sheldon in connection with the recent searches of BBC premises. I am informed that neither that official nor the security service had any involvement at all in any decisions or actions relating to this matter. During the last debate the hon. Gentleman made allegations about my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate and his Department in connection with the search of BBC premises. Having had no notice of the allegations made in that debate, perhaps I may be permitted to say that in his answer in another place on Wednesday 4 February my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate set out the circumstances in which the search warrants were applied for and granted.
I am informed that there is no foundation for the allegation that the Crown Office, alarmed at the enormity of what it was being asked to do, made a direct or indirect approach to the Prime Minister's office and that the Crown Office was told by the Prime Minister's office to allow special branch officers to take everything and anything from BBC Scotland. I am informed that at no time was the Crown Office in communication with the Prime Minister's office. I understand that yesterday the hon. Gentleman told my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General for Scotland that he would not expect him to be in his place today for this debate. Therefore, I find the allegations made earlier today a little surprising.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about that, and no doubt it is an explanation. When officials enter the public service they know that throughout their service they will be unable to speak in their own defence to answer criticism and that they must rely on their Ministers to do that for them, especially when criticism is unfounded. The hon. Gentleman thinks it justifiable to allege that named officials should be prosecuted for offences under the Official Secrets Act. I have already repeated the Prime Minister's words about Mr. Bernard Ingham and I should now like to say something about Mr. Bernard Sheldon.
The hon. Gentleman earlier made a speech about human rights, but has not provided a scrap of evidence to support his allegation about Mr. Sheldon. Either he has evidence, as The Independent reports him as claiming he has, in which case it is disgraceful that he has not provided it, or he has none, in which case it is disgraceful to allege an offence.
This is part of the problem and the reason why I said in my speech that it is of great urgency to institute some kind of appeal body to which civil servants, service men, intelligence officers or policemen who think that they are being maltreated can go without jeopardy to their careers. That is important and that is why I raised the subject at my party conference and was one of those who made it helpful to be the policy of the party.
Civil servants must be defended by their Ministers when they have no means, at present at any rate, of speaking in their own defence. However, officials are entitled to rely on more than defence by their Ministers. They are entitled to expect that hon. Members, protected as they take pains to be by privilege, will treat officials fairly. I regret that Mr. Sheldon and Mr. Ingham, both of whom have had careers of great dedication and distinction with successive Governments, have been unfairly treated in the Chamber.
Before the Solicitor-General sits down, may I remind him that I am talking about men of considerable power. I worked closely with the late Dame Evelyn Sharp and know how civil servants should properly be treated. The difficulty arises when civil servants become so powerful that they are not accountable in the normal sense of the word. That is why I had an Adjournment debate on the role of the Prime Minister's press officer, saying that we were dealing with the most powerful "man" in British politics. Later several of the Solicitor-General's colleagues vouchsafe to me—that I was quite right arid that he is the most powerful—
I am most grateful for an opportunity to speak. We have just had a debate on human rights in which the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) made a speech which stretched the procedures of the House. He has now made a series of apparently groundless allegations against certain people. I was not privy to that speech and I can only form a judgment on the basis of what he said. He said nothing specifically and he substantiated nothing with evidence.
There are times when we have reason to be worried that the hon. Gentleman is as much interested in grabbing headlines as in getting at the truth. I suspect that that is true of what happened earlier this morning.
Campaigns such as the Campaign for Freedom of Information and the hon. Gentleman's suggestion of an appeal body, which was apparently endorsed at the Labour party conference, raise central questions about the nature of authority and where it resides.
The hon. Gentleman says that I am absolutely right, but I suspect that we disagree fundamentally about where the centre of gravity must remain.
Self regulation and the constraints that people impose on themselves to ensure a proper balance of responsibilities and, by contrast, the right to speak, are issues which go to the heart of the matter. We have become increasingly fed up — I am sure that is true for the country as well — with people who believe that their unsubstantiated opinions which appear in the media or here, and which are drawn from a fairly limited range of information, can be used to make assertions and inferences—
The hon. Gentleman says that I have made unsubstantiated allegations. That was the type of speech which was made against me for 18 long months before the Old Bailey Clive Ponting trial substantiated everything that I had tried to say.
I named Colette Bow in the House and there was the matter of the Solicitor-General's letter. Who has since been proved right about that? The Solicitor-General will not comment but, with regard to his letter, I was attacked time and again by Conservative Members, but who now thinks that I have been wrong?
I have a straight and simple answer. If the hon. Gentleman was proved right in the courts before, he should make the unsubstantiated allegations that he made today outside the House and prove his point in the courts. That is my direct and simple answer to him. Will he reply to that?
If I go to a court of law and name names, people's careers are in jeopardy — not mine, other people's careers. I have to make a judgment whether what I have been told is the truth or not. From my inquiries in Scotland, I believe that every word that I am saying is true.
The record has to stand for itself. The only person's reputation that will be harmed by what has been going on here this morning is the hon. Gentleman's. I have offered the hon. Gentleman an opportunity, which he is not prepared to take up. If he thinks that making statements and allegations within the privilege of the House will enable him to be able to justify what he has to say, when what he is doing—because he knows perfectly well that everything he says will be splashed over the newspapers tomorrow — is not damaging people's reputations when they cannot reply to him, then he is absolutely wrong and we are fed up with it and the way that he carries on.
If there is going to be anger, I am exceedingly angry about what was done in BBC Scotland, which was a wholly un-British thing to do. What happened in Glasgow was horrific. That was something that has never happened in Britain before. I have been here for nearly a quarter of a century and previous Prime Ministers — the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), Mr. Harold Macmillan and Sir Alec Douglas-Home—know that I have behaved impeccably towards them. This is a different kind of Government and a new species of Prime Minister. As a Member who has been here for a quarter of a century, I do not like it.