Skip to main content

Mr Peter Wright

Volume 118: debated on Monday 29 June 1987

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


asked the Attorney-General if he will make a statement on the proceedings in the Wright case in Australia.

The hearing of the Government's appeal against the judgment delivered in the Supreme Court of New South Wales is due to commence on 27 July.

Having lost the court case in Australia, why is more public money being wasted in pursuing this matter further in the courts? Would it not be useful if the Attorney-General started his new post with a clean sheet and recognised that the Wright case has become a farce? Is he aware that another book which the Government tried to ban, "One Girl's War", and which technically is banned in the United Kingdom, is now freely available in the Library and I have a copy of it in my hand?

I thought that it was well enough understood by now that the Government were upholding, or seeking to uphold, in the courts of New South Wales the principle that those who have served in the security services of this country owe a lifelong duty to the Crown to preserve the confidentiality of any material that came to their knowledge by reason of that employment, unless authorised to publish it. That is the principle that I shall seek to uphold in the Court of Appeal. I certainly do not intend to embark on my tenure of this office by surrendering after one adverse hearing.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that all right-minded people support him in his endeavours and his desire to ensure that former members of the security forces are not allowed to publish their memoirs? Will he also consider the longer term, that is that section 2 should not be abolished, but should be replaced by a freedom of information Act which would ensure what the permissible boundaries are in respect of all these publications?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the first part of his question. I did not notice that this was much of an issue during the general election, and if it was, it did not seem to advantage the Labour party to any discernible extent. On the second part of his question, my hon. Friend will recall that the Government introduced a Bill in another place along the lines that he suggested, but that it did not find favour. Further policy on that matter is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Where is the consistency in the Government's position? Why is it that they pursue Wright in the Australian courts, yet they leave Mr. Nigel West, now a Tory Member of Parliament for Torbay (Mr. Allason), free? The Government do not pursue him in the courts, but he wrote two books which set out, in detail, the internal workings and structure of both MI5 and MI6. Are there two laws in this country? The Government pursue one man but leave the other, when both have committed the same alleged crime.

In spite of the numerous questions that the hon. Gentleman has asked and the answers that he has received, I am afraid that he still has not understood that the principle that the Government are seeking to uphold is that anybody who has held employment in the security services owes a life-long duty of confidentiality to the Crown.

May I re-emphasise to my right hon. and learned Friend that for many of us on the Conservative Benches the only thing that matters is that a trusted public servant has abused his position of trust. We firmly support what the Government are doing.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I shall not comment upon anything that is in issue in the proceedings before the court in New South Wales, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support for the principle that the Government are seeking to uphold.

I welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman to his new office, if not to entirely new responsibilities, and wish him well.

On the assumption that Wright's main allegations have already appeared in the British press, and noting that the whole book is advertised for import from the United States, is not the attempt to hush it up now a waste of money and effort? Would not that money and effort be better expended in investigating what are, after all, extremely serious allegations, made by somebody who is in a position to know?

I am grateful to the hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I believe that expression has already been given by others in the House today to the importance of the principle that the Government are seeking to uphold. It is a matter to which the Government attach considerable importance and I believe that the public support them.