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D-Notice Committee

Volume 127: debated on Friday 12 February 1988

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

To ask the Secretary of State of Defence if he will publish in the Official Report the texts of the letter from Mr. Michael Ramsden, vice-chairman, to Sir Clive Whitmore, chairman of the D-Notice Committee, concerning the future of the D-Notice system, and Sir Clive's letter in reply; and if he will make a statement.

The text of the correspondence between Sir Clive Whitmore, chairman of the Defence Press and Broadcasting committee, and Mr. J. M. Ramsden, vice-chairman and leader of the press side, was published on Friday 5 February 1988. It is as follows:

Text of a letter from Sir Clive Whitmore to Mr. J. M. Ramsden, dated 21st January 1988

At the special meeting of the Defence Press and Broadcasting Committee which we held on 21st December to discuss the Government's actions in respect of the BBC 4 programme "My Country Right or Wrong" you made the following statement on behalf of the media members of the Committee:—
"We deplore the Government's resort for the second time this year to legal action in cases where the D Notice procedures have been scrupulously followed by the Press side of the D Notice Committee. The D Notice system rests on mutual trust between Government and media. This trust is now seriously at risk, putting into question the continued relevance of the D Notice Committee. In the light of the injunction against the BBC Radio 4 programme "My Country Right or Wrong" we seek an early statement clarifying the Government's attitude towards the D Notice system."
2. The main point that I wish to make in this reply is that the Government continues to place very great value on the D Notice system. It has served the country well. It has done so because there has been a general recognition on the part of the media, as well as the Government, that publication of certain material could or would prejudice national security and that it is in the national interest to avoid its being made public. The Government continues to hold that view and hopes that the media continue to share it.
3. The Government wishes to continue to operate the D Notice system on the established basis. As your statement above says, its continued value will require trust on both sides. The Government hopes and expects that the media will continue to discuss freely and fully with the Secretary of the DPBC any material within the scope of the D Notices, so that the Secretary can be in a position to provide clear and full advice.
4. The D Notice system deals with information in specific categories, as set out in the D Notices themselves. It is advisory and voluntary. It does not deal with the question of breaches of the duty of confidentiality owed by members and former members of the security and intelligence services to the Crown, a matter which therefore falls outside the remit of th DPBC Secretary. The Government's position, expounded at length in the Peter Wright case, is that members and former members of the security and intelligence services owe a lifelong duty of confidentiality to the Crown, and that the upholding of that duty is essential to the effectiveness of these services and thus to the overall security of the country. If advice on a question in this field is desired, the Treasury Solicitor would always be glad to provide it.
5. The D Notice system will continue only if both the Government and the media regard it as worthwhile in the national interest. Whatever disagreements there have been and may continue to be in other areas, nothing has changed, in the Government's view, with regard to the value of the system. The Government hopes very much that the media will agree with this and will continue to participate in the system.

Text of a letter from Mr. J. M. Ramsden to Sir Clive Whitmore, dated 2 February 1988

Thank you for your letter of January 21, and for your reassurance—which we understand has the backing of the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General — that the Government places great value on the D Notice system. We note that the Government wishes to continue to operate the system "on the established basis", but we have again to express our concern that this may not prove possible while the Government maintains its present course of proceeding against the media in the Courts rather than against those it believes to be in breach of their duty of confidentiality.
We accept the breaches of confidentiality by members and former members of the security and intelligence services should not be matters for the D Notice Committee, but we remind you that the Government's own actions have brought the issue before us. The injunction suppressing the BBC Radio 4 programme "My Country Right or Wrong" is still in force, though the Secretary of the D Notice Committee found nothing in it to prejudice national security; and reports on some activities of the security services which have been published in the past without objection from the 13 Notice Secretary are now the subject of injunctions in the Courts. These and similar inconsistencies on the part of the Government which have threatened the D Notice system and have led us to question our role in its operation. We cannot accept that the duty of confidentiality should become a Government licence to prevent the publication of ma terial which complies with D Notices.
You recognise that the system's "continued value will require trust on both sides". We have to warn you again that this trust will not be forthcoming from the Press side of the Committee if the principle of absolute confidentiality becomes enshrined in any new law with no corresponding recognition of the value of Press freedom.
Yours
J. M. Ramsden
Editor-in-Chief

Text of a letter from Sir Clive Whitmore to Mr. J. M. Ramsden, dated 5 February 1988

Thank you for your letter of 2nd February.
2. I have taken note of the response of the media members of the Defence Press and Broadcasting Committee to my letter of 21st January in which I explained why the Government placed great value on the D Notice system and hoped that the system would continue in being. I have drawn your letter to the attention of those in the Government who are concerned with these matters.