"Spycatcher"

Oral Answers to Questions — Attorney-General – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th January 1988.

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Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North 12:00 am, 11th January 1988

To ask the Attorney-General whether it is intended to take any further measures against the publication of the book by Mr. Peter Wright entitled "Spycatcher" and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Tunbridge Wells

Our litigation in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and this country is continuing.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Will 1988 see the end of all the ludicrous measures taken by the Government over "Spycatcher", and the restrictive measures taken against the media in this country that want to report matters of genuine public interest? Does the Attorney-General, as a senior member of the Government, ever wonder whether the amount spent on this matter — £500,000, or, more likely, £750,000—could have been far better spent on ensuring that children in need could have their operations on the National Health Service without all the waiting and difficulties that such children and their parents now face?

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Tunbridge Wells

As is now well understood, the Government's sole objective in the litigation has been to protect the lifelong duty of confidentiality owed by former members of security services to the Crown. I do not believe that the people of this country regard that as ludicrous. It is sometimes necessary to spend money to defend an important principle. I believe that the money has been well spent.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Aitken Mr Jonathan Aitken , South Thanet

How much money has the taxpayer had to spend so far on this litigation in international and national courts?

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Tunbridge Wells

Approximately £500,000 has been spent, and about £78,000 on travel costs.

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Norwood

Does the Attorney-General realise that if he were to apply for a legal aid certificate to continue the litigation he would probably be refused on the ground that it was a waste of public money? Now that "Spycatcher" is so freely available throughout the world and this country, why does the Attorney-General not drop these ludicrous proceedings and merely continue to obtain an account of the profits of the book? I do not believe that anyone disputes that that would be the proper course of action.

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Tunbridge Wells

My answer to the first question is no, because the Government have been concerned to defend the principle that I have already identified this afternoon. It has already become common ground that there is a lifelong duty of confidentiality. What remains at issue is the extent of that duty and the availability of means to enforce it in certain circumstances.

As to publication elsewhere in the world, it is important to uphold the duty of confidentiality by demonstrating by an order of the court that it is not open to a former member of the security services to publish in his own country what purport to be his memoirs and to make a profit thereby.

Photo of Mr Ivor Stanbrook Mr Ivor Stanbrook , Orpington

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the case of Mr. Anthony Cavendish fully justifies the Government—

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

Order. That is not covered by this question.