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Project Zircon

Volume 116: debated on Wednesday 13 May 1987

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asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland if he is now in a position to say when he expects to receive (a) an interim and (b) a full report from the procurator fiscal on the progress of police inquiries in relation to Project Zircon.

A number of reports have been received since 31 January.

Is it not 101 days since the special branch moved into Queen Margaret drive? Is it not 105 days since the Glasgow Herald and The Scotsman prominently displayed information about the likelihood of a police raid? Is it not 106 days since the Secretary of State for Scotland was first told what was happening? Is it not 107 days since Chief Inspector Ray Dowd of New Scotland Yard contacted Alan Protheroe of the BBC? Why have distinguished policemen in Strathclyde and the Metropolitan police failed to come up with anything?

I know that the answer I have to give to the hon. Gentleman will not fit in with the bizarre preoccupations that he has over this matter and the gratutiously offensive things that he has said repeatedly and without any foundation or basis of fact about my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I would have thought that the last honourable thing that the hon. Gentleman might do before the end of this Parliament is withdraw those remarks.

Does the Solicitor-General for Scotland accept that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as the Department responsible for Project Zircon, would be the aggrieved party in any action taken in relation to that project? I am sure that the Solicitor-General for Scotland is aware of Professor Bradley's view that the aggrieved party has a particular role to play in the case of any prosecution. Therefore, can the hon. and learned Gentleman say what contact has been made with Ministers or officials at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to ascertain their views on the matter?

My interest and that of my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate is to ascertain, through the procurator fiscal, following an investigation, whether there have been any breaches of the Official Secrets Act or any other offences.

If the hon. Gentleman will give me a moment, I might be able to give his hon. Friend a reply.

I know what Professor Bradley has said, and on previous occasions I have indicated that my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate and I disagree with what he said would be the appropriate steps to be taken with regard to contracting the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. However, more recently, as I have said, we are awaiting further reports, although some have been received. In that context, there is no further contact with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the great difficulties in the Zircon project investigation was the fact that the BBC linked the various programmes in a way that made it impossible for the searches to be carried out without having to look for all the related aspects? That complicated the inquiry from the outset and it was necessary that the instructions given to the procurator fiscal made it clear that that complication existed.

When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary addressed this matter in a debate some weeks ago he made it clear that the matter relating to the "Secret Society" programmes was so interwoven that that action had to be taken. As far as I am aware, the BBC has never publicly dissented from that.

Surely this is a most shocking situation. It is three months and more since the most devastating invasion that has ever occurred in Britain, in which the hon. and learned Gentleman's Office was closely involved. It had all the appearances of a conspiracy and charges have been made about the Secretary of State for Scotland. After three months, and on the eve of their own demise, the Government still cannot come forward with even an interim public statement. It is an absolute disgrace for the whole of Scotland.

I am not sure whether there was any question in the hon. Gentleman's comments. However, while the matter is being investigated, and while reports are being received, I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman, who proclaims himself to be a protector of the interests and rights of the individual, would expect such reports to be carefully considered by Crown counsel before any action was taken. To make a statement about this matter in the interim could, in certain circumstances—and I am not saying that such circumstances will occur—be highly prejudicial to anyone wanting the right to a fair trial.

The Solicitor-General may remember that when we last exchanged views on this matter at Question Time, he gave what I am sure was the inadvertent impression that all the material to allow the "Secret Society" series to be transmitted had been returned to the BBC. I understand that that is not true with regard to the Zircon programme. Will the Solicitor-General confirm that? Can he estimate when the material will be returned to the BBC, so that the BBC can proceed with showing that film?

Certainly, as I understand it, and I do not depart from this view, with regard to five of the six programmes, all the necessary material has been returned. There is what I believe is described as a principal transmission film of the Zircon affair programme which is still being held. Technicaly, I cannot say whether there is sufficient material in the hands of the BBC for that programme to be broadcast. However, I can confirm that the principal transmission film is still retained. In any event, I understood that it was the BBC's attitude that it would not broadcast that particular programme. I am not sure whether the hon. Member is aware of any change in the BBC's attitude.