Official Secrets Act

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st January 1988.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 12:00 am, 21st January 1988

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what consultations he has undertaken in order to ascertain views as to the reform of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

There have been at least 15 years of public debate on the matter, and there will be full opportunities to comment on the Government's proposals before legislation is introduced.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Will the Home Secretary make sure, in the months between the debate last Friday on the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and the White Paper that the Government plan for the summer, that he listens to the views of the country as a whole and not to the increasingly dominant view in his party that secrecy is justifiable? Is the Home Secretary aware that only two out of the 53 new Conservative Members elected in June voted for freedom of information? Is that not an indictment of a view that is generally rubbished, namely, that the Government put their own self-defence at a far more important level than the general interests of the nation and its ability to judge issues?

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

Order. I ask for brief questions, because long questions lead to too long answers.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. People who wish to express views to us obviously have a choice to do so between now and June, the time of the White Paper, or after the White Paper and before the legislation.

Photo of Mr John Stokes Mr John Stokes , Halesowen and Stourbridge

Is my right hon. Friend aware that all these matters of secrecy are of interest mainly to the media, and that the mass of ordinary patriotic people want state secrets to be kept as state secrets?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I must say that when I arrived in my constituency at the weekend I found a rather different flavour to the discussion there from the one here. We have a serious job to do, to honour the commitments that the Prime Minister and I have given to the House. During the debate on Friday many hon. Members explained how difficult that job will be. I agree with that, but we intend to do it.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

Does the Home Secretary recall that during the debate on Friday quotations were read to the House from the book by Mr. Anthony Cavendish, in which Mr. Cavendish said that the security service had recently been involved in operations to discredit Members on both sides of the House. Why does the right hon. Gentleman think that such allegations should be suppressed under section 2 of the Official Secrets Act rather than be investigated, as they would be in any other democracy?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I do not wish to comment on the Cavendish case or the injunctions that have borne on that particular publication. I would much rather have a decent, restricted system for the protection of official information than the present system, which is open to misinterpretation and misuse, and that is what we intend to get.