"Spycatcher"

Oral Answers to Questions — Attorney-General – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th March 1988.

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Photo of Mr Robert Adley Mr Robert Adley , Christchurch 12:00 am, 14th March 1988

To ask the Attorney-General if he will make a statement on the latest development in the various cases relating to the book "Spycatcher".

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Tunbridge Wells

I refer my hon. Friend to my answer of 10 March to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson).

Photo of Mr Robert Adley Mr Robert Adley , Christchurch

I recognise from that reply that neither the circumstances nor the principle have changed. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that Wright's behaviour has been to exchange his oath of loyalty for a substantial royalty? Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that most of my constituents believe that Wright's behaviour is clear and despicable? In spite of the difficulties, will my right hon. and learned Friend continue to pursue the matter vigorously?

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Tunbridge Wells

I am certain that my hon. Friend speaks with complete reliability about the responses from his constituents. I will not comment personally upon Mr. Wright, but I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that all judges in this country who have pronounced on the case have described Mr. Wright as being in flagrant breach of the duty of confidentiality that he owes to the Crown.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Does the Attorney-General consider it appropriate that, as the senior Law Officer, he should have sent out a propaganda letter to all Conservative Members explaining the position on the "Spycatcher" case? Is that not incompatible with his position as Attorney-General?

As regards the amount of money that has so far been spent on the case, is it not a fact that, at the end of the day, the cost will be, not the sum that he told me previously, but millions of pounds that will have been wasted on this totally futile case?

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Tunbridge Wells

The "Spycatcher" proceedings are civil proceedings instituted by the Government as a result of a collective decision in pursuance of their policy to uphold the duty of confidentiality owed to the Crown by former members of the security services. In those circumstances, it is entirely proper for the Government to communicate on the subject with their parliamentary supporters— [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"]—as it is on any other subject. I communicate with this House every three weeks, and more often on demand.

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd , Aldridge-Brownhills

Is not the difficulty for the Government the fact that they have chosen to emphasise the lifelong duty of confidentiality to the grave as being more important than the right of the public to know and the press to report on crime, fraud or the possibly mooted causes of treason as reported in Mr. Wright's book? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one cannot enjoin any public servant to a lifelong duty of confidentiality to the grave without the caveat that that cannot cover fraud, crime or possible treason? Is it not in the interests of the House to know about those circumstances?

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Tunbridge Wells

The first thing to establish in these difficult matters is the law of the country. My hon. Friend is aware that considerable importance is attached to the fact that former and serving members of the security services owe a duty to the Crown. The question whether that duty is owed in all circumstances, including the circumstances to which my hon. Friend has referred, is before the courts at the moment. We shall have to see what the House of Lords says when it hears that appeal on 7 June. Then will be the time to consider what, if any, changes should be made to the law by other means. The first thing, however, is to protect that duty because, if we do not, and if we are not prepared to pay the cost that is required in money, it will not be very long before that cost is payable in lives as well as money.