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State Security

Volume 124: debated on Wednesday 9 December 1987

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To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if the Lord Advocate will now authorise Strathclyde police and the procurator fiscal of Glasgow to return to BBC Scotland all tapes, recordings, documents and other material seized from BBC Scotland on Sunday 15 February in relation to the Zircon programme; and if he will make a statement.

No material relating to the programme concerning project Zircon was removed by Strathclyde police from the premises of BBC Scotland, Glasgow, on Sunday 15 February.

What, then, were the supposed reasonable grounds for suspicion that allowed the Special Branch to go into Queen Margaret drive and eject from their beds, at 3 am, senior executives of the BBC? What is the explanation for that now?

The hon. Gentleman must be quite clear that I have to answer on behalf of the Lord Advocate and ensure that the law is properly carried out, enforced and that the correct procedures are involved. I believe that the hon. Gentleman's question goes beyond my sphere of responsibility—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—and I believe that it goes to the root of intelligence matters that are the responsibility of others.

Mr. Brian Barr, the programme maker of distinction who made the Zircon programme, is one of my constituents. For nearly one year he has had a cloud of suspicion hanging over him that he might have been party to undermining the security of our country. He has been harassed by unwilling and embarrassed policemen acting on Government instructions. Legal edicts flew across the Atlantic to harass his colleague, Duncan Campbell, as far away as San Francisco—

The question is, will the Minister have the grace to apologise to Brian Barr, Duncan Campbell and their colleagues for the besmirching of their reputations that this investigation has caused? Now that the Prime Minister—[Interruption.] Now, Mr. Speaker, that the Prime Minister—

Order. I am not answering this question. It is for the Front Bench to answer.

Will the Minister accept that we need a bit of glasnost in this country in relation to official secrecy and do something about that soon?

I should make it clear that on 27 November the Lord Advocate announced that, having considered a number of reports from the procurator fiscal in Glasgow, he had instructed —following consultation with the Attorney-General and having regard in particular to public interest— that no criminal proceedings would be instituted in Scotland—[Interruption]

I believe that that is the information that the hon. Gentleman asks me to confirm this afternoon. I do not consider that any action taken by the Law Officers or the police in this connection has had the effect suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

Does my hon. Friend agree that if security is compromised most people in this country would say that no one is above the law, not even the BBC?

It is obviously the duty of the Lord Advocate to see that the law is properly enforced as it now stands.

Have the Government learnt any lessons from this rather squalid episode? As the Minister either cannot or will not respond to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), will he tell the House which Minister is responsible for this aspect of policy and who will answer the fair question put by my hon. Friend?

This matter has been fully debated and the Lord Advocate is satisfied that the proper procedure for obtaining the search warrant was followed, and that the involvement of the procurator fiscal and the sheriff was in accordance with the established law of Scotland.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the totally unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.