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Government Information: Leaks

Volume 706: debated on Thursday 11 December 2008


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether Home Office representations to the Metropolitan Police concerning recent leaks included the suggestion that national security had been compromised.

My Lords, as the Home Secretary made clear in her Statement in the other place on 4 December, the Cabinet Office requested the assistance of the Metropolitan Police Service in investigating a series of leaks. The reasons for that request, which include reference to national security, are set out in a letter which the Cabinet Office sent to the police, a copy of which was put into the Libraries of both Houses this morning.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply, and indeed for the papers to which he has referred and which he made available earlier this morning. Is it in order for me to study what he has said, and indeed the papers which he has made available, so that I may reflect further on this matter?

My Lords, I am more than happy to take on board and accept that suggestion. It might be useful for the knowledge of the House if I were to read the relevant aspects of the letter that relate to the noble Lord’s Question. The letter says:

“We are in no doubt there has been considerable damage to national security already as a result of some of these leaks and we are concerned that the potential for future damage is significant”.

The other sentence of some interest is:

“You will not be surprised to hear that we are also concerned that there must be risk to information about sensitive operations which, if leaked, could give rise to grave damage”.

That was from a letter from the Director of Security and Intelligence at the Cabinet Office to Robert Quick of the Metropolitan Police.

My Lords, is my noble friend as astonished and appalled as I am at the words of the right honourable David Davis, when he was interviewed by the BBC on 28 November about the Damian Green case? Speaking about similar material which he had received when he was shadow Home Secretary and about decisions on whether to make it public, he said:

“In about half the cases we decide not because we think there are reasons perhaps of national security or military or terrorism reasons not to put things in the public domain”.

In other words, it is considered all right for a shadow Front-Bench spokesperson to judge what to do with information, irrespective of the propriety of the source. Does the Minister agree that this is a deeply flawed practice in a democracy with a professional and politically neutral Civil Service?

My Lords, as a Minister there is a limit to what it is appropriate for me to comment on. It is a line which all Ministers should be careful not to cross. However, I understand that that was a direct quotation and it seems to add considerable weight to the argument that there were leaks to be investigated, which is why the Metropolitan Police Service was asked to investigate.

My Lords, given the damage that was done to the interests of investors and banks, will the Minister explain why the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury has not invited the Metropolitan Police to look into the leaks which have occurred there in respect of the bank bale-outs and Northern Rock?

My Lords, the Home Office has no responsibility for the banking industry. I understand that the question was asked of me as the Government, but the reality is that this House and the other place have been concerned about issues which are the subject of this investigation.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Home Office and the police are directly bound by the Human Rights Act to balance the right to respect for personal privacy against other compelling interests such as national security? Will he also confirm that although Parliament is exempt from the Human Rights Act, the UK has an obligation under the convention to ensure that the officials of Parliament comply with the right to personal privacy balanced in the way that I have suggested?

My Lords, it would be a brave Minister who would challenge the noble Lord on the Human Rights Act, and I would not seek to do it. The answer is that I am not absolutely sure. I am positive that the noble Lord knows far more about the subject than me, but I will check and, if necessary, write to him.

My Lords, last Thursday, when repeating a Statement made in the other place, the noble Lord, Lord West, said that the civil servant at the centre of this controversy had been in post for three years, but had been leaking consistently for the past two and a half years. A question that was not asked then, which I am sure every Member of this House would wish to have answered, is: were those leaks in all cases to Members or Parliament or to a Member of Parliament? I am not asking for names, but I am asking whether there were other recipients of those leaks.

My Lords, it is important to understand that the Metropolitan Police Service was invited to conduct an inquiry into leaks. The number of leaks is unknown. The leaks were to persons unknown and were made by persons who were not at that stage known. The inquiry is still ongoing. The Government have no direct influence on it and should not have. Therefore, we await the report of the Metropolitan Police. Then we will know. Until then, no Member of this House, including me, has any knowledge of the evidence being uncovered or the people being investigated.

My Lords, we understand that a report has been required from Ian Johnson of the British Transport Police. Will the Minister make sure that this House receives a copy of that report once it is published? When is it expected to be available?

My Lords, that inquiry was put in place by the Acting Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. The report is to go to him within 14 days, which on my arithmetic makes it due in approximately one week’s time. One suspects that the acting commissioner would not have announced it in the way that he did had he not expected to make the conclusions of that inquiry public. But that is a matter for the Metropolitan Police and not for the Home Office.

My Lords, if I heard my noble friend correctly, his supplementary answer seemed to confirm that some of the leaks touched on national security, which is a point that has been in doubt. The noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, quoted Mr Davis. The quote seemed to imply that Mr Davis was aware of a history of leaking which compromised national security. Will my noble friend comment on that?

My Lords, the self-denying ordinance of commenting on issues which people make statements about on this inquiry without total knowledge is one I am going to try to stay with. However, there is no doubt that Mr Davis is an informed source because he declared himself to be the person who was in receipt of this information in his capacity before he was replaced some months ago. In essence, all the comments will add nothing to the inquiry until we get the results. The inquiry is being conducted in accordance with the law by the Metropolitan Police Service. We have no role to play in that aspect until we have received that report and the Crown Prosecution Service has decided where it should go.