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Solicitor-General For Scotland

Volume 116: debated on Wednesday 13 May 1987

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Road Deaths


asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland what was the number of fatal accident inquiries concerning road deaths in the last year for which figures are available.

As far as can be ascertained, in 1986 there were 13 road traffic cases which resulted in fatal accident inquiries being instructed.

Is the Solicitor-General aware that many people are puzzled about the small number of fatal accident inquiries that there are in proportion to the number of fatal accidents? I understand that in 1986 there were 600 fatal accidents. Can he advise the House what criteria are used by his Department to initiate inquiries, because in many cases great stress is caused to individuals who suffer the loss of friends and relations because of a lack of knowledge as to exactly what happened?

If there are criminal proceedings following a fatal accident on the roads, in most circumstances it would be wholly inappropriate, either before or after such a trial, to hold a fatal accident inquiry. In some circumstances, under the Act there is a mandatory requirement that a fatal accident inquiry be held. A discretionary inquiry is held where it is considered expedient in the public interest on the ground that the death was sudden, suspicious or unexplained, or occurred in circumstances such as to give rise to serious public concern. It is under the last head, where a discretion is exercised, that such inquiries are held.

Royal High School, Edinburgh


asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland what is the number of people employed by the Crown Office at the old Royal High School building, Edinburgh.

The total number of persons employed in the Crown Office is 104.

Although I realise that the Solicitor-General may be busy in the next few weeks looking for another job for after the general election, may I ask him to try to find time to look for alternative premises for the more important people who are employed at the Crown Office headquarters? After the general election the building will be required for the Scottish Assembly, which the Labour Government will set up and which the majority of the people of Scotland want because they are absolutely fed up with being ruled by a quasi-colonial Tory junta which received no mandate from the people of Scotland in the last general election, and which will be kicked out by an even more resounding majority at the next general election.

The only chance there is of significant movement is that of the hon. Gentleman from his seat, as the Labour party Front Bench will have to move below the Gangway to find somewhere to sit after the general election. I have indicated on previous occasions that the Crown Office will look for alternative premises some time in the future. There is plenty of work for the Crown Office to do and it is a perfectly satisfactory use of the building for the time being.

Will my hon. and learned Friend take steps, anticipating the high probability of his being returned and occupying his present position after the general election, to look at the possibility of his staff being employed elsewhere so that the Royal High School building can be sold because a Scottish Assembly will have no part in the prosperous, competitive Scotland that the next Conservative Government will seek to achieve?

Yes. As I have already said, there is another appropriate location in Edinburgh for the Crown Office. It is extremely unlikely that the existing building will ever be put to the use of a Scottish Assembly. The hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) should appreciate that while his party was in government it spent its time arguing strenuously about a Scottish Assembly but did absolutely nothing to reform the law in Scotland. Since 1979 we have introduced about 23 reports from the Scottish Law Commission. We have done a great deal more than the Labour Government ever did, with all their talking.

Project Zircon


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.