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British Broadcasting Corporation

Volume 990: debated on Monday 4 August 1980

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asked the Attorney-General, further to his reply to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) 18 July, what his reasons are for refusing to publish his correspondence with the chairman of the British Broadcasting Corporation relating to offences allegedly committed by members of the staff of the British Broadcasting Corporation under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976.

There was an Adjournment debate in the House on Friday, as a result of which the BBC decided to publish those letters. They were not published by me, because I regard letters between myself and those to whom I write saying that they are not to be prosecuted as confidential.

The House will be grateful for what my right hon. and learned Friend said in his speech on Friday, the clear warning that he gave to the BBC and his letter to Sir Michael Swann about these disgraceful incidents. Does he agree that in its reply the BBC purports to imply that there is some imprecision about section 11 of the Act? Will he therefore confirm that it is the duty of any employee of the BBC, or of any other medium, who has any contact with known or suspected terrorists to report that fact immediately to the police or security forces?

I think that I made that clear in the debate on Friday. I have to say that I regret the manner of the reply of the BBC in not accepting the law, which I think is clear on this point.


asked the Attorney-General what representations he has received following his decision not to institute proceedings under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1976 in connection with recent incidents involving the British Broadcasting Corporation.

My hon. Friend was himself able to hear the representations I have received, in the course of the debate last Friday.

While expressing appreciation of what my right hon. and learned Friend said on Friday, may I suggest that the reply from the BBC amounted, in the eyes of at least some, to a rejection of his warning? Is he therefore considering other ways in which the seriousness of the warning might be brought to bear on the BBC?

I think that the press comment that followed the debate initiated by my hon. Friend emphasised that what I said was the law and that I would be stricter in future. In particular, it stressed that I was making clear that it was a stern warning.

Is it not deeply disturbing that there appears, at least to the layman, to be one law for large public corporations and another for private individuals?

The approach of Law Officers of any party is always the same, whether a large corporation or an individual is involved. The various factors that I took into account were set out in detail in the speech that I made on Friday.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that it is important that the Law Officers should preserve their discretion over prosecution and should not regard it as vital that prosecution must follow automatically whenever they get evidence of a breach of the law?

I am grateful for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's comment. As far as I know from the records, it has been the practice of my Department for many years that because a case may show prima facie evidence, it does not always follow that it is necessary for there to be a prosecution. There are other ways of dealing with cases, apart from always prosecuting.