21 NOVEMBER 1992, Page 7


WILLIAM REES-MOGG Lord Kilmuir was a sound lawyer, a good Lord Chancellor and an excellent man. His statement in 1956, quoted by Alan Watkins in this week's Observer, seems to destroy the Attorney-General's contention that ministers had no choice but to sign documents advising a judge that, in the public interest, secret papers connected with the Matrix Churchill case should not be disclosed: 'We also propose', said Kil- muir, 'that if medical documents, or indeed other documents, are relevant to the defence in criminal proceedings, Crown privilege should not be claimed.' The Kil- muir doctrine is 30 years old, but seems to have been confirmed by Lord Justice Mann in a 1991 extradition case. Crown privilege should never be used at the risk of convict- ing an innocent man; it should not be claimed, and if claimed it should not be admitted. There is therefore no defence for the four ministers who signed the immunity claim in the Matrix Churchill affair except that they received bad advice from Sir Nicholas Lyell, the Attorney. And there is no defence for Sir Nicholas at all. But for the Judge in the case, ministers might have procured a wrongful conviction. Their motives must be suspect. It has been very embarrassing to the Government for the conflict between the doctrine and practice of arms sales to Iraq to be brought into the Open. But the cover-up is far more shock- ing than the original fact. The action of the four ministers, Michael Heseltine, Kenneth Clarke, Malcolm Rifkind and Tristan Garel-Jones is not criminal, but it is paral- lel to what is a criminal offence, conspiracy to procure a miscarriage of justice. If Robert Maxwell had shredded a document which proved one of his colleagues inno- cent, to avoid embarrassment to himself, that would have been criminal. The differ- ence is important; the ministers had to dis- close their documents to a Judge, and he, against their recommendation, prevented the miscarriage happening. But that was no thanks to them. They must have realised how important the matter was, and how dangerously the Attorney was advising them to behave. Ministers seldom resign nowadays, even in the worst circumstances. But surely the Attorney, who has taken on himself the blame for the whole affair, can- not remain. And what about the Home Secretary? How can he be responsible for law and order when he has, at the lowest, risked causing a miscarriage of justice?

The least discussed question about women priests is what impact they will actually have on the Church of England. Last year I went to Dublin for a conference organised by the Church of Ireland, which has had women priests for some time. A

majority of students in the Irish theological colleges are now women. This is not only because there was a backlog of women who had always wanted to be ordained. In some ways women are now more strongly drawn to the priesthood than men. They see the job of a priest as belonging to the 'caring professions', like medicine, nursing, teach- ing and social work. Married women, whose husbands are in professional jobs, can afford low clerical salaries. From now on the Church of England seems likely to move towards equality in the numbers of women in orders if not to an actual majori- ty. The change, which seems revolutionary now, may soon seem perfectly normal. Yet I doubt this will stop the decline in num- bers of communicants. Certainly in Ameri- ca the Episcopalian Church has continued to lose members rapidly since women became priests. In a period of decline, any change is likely to lose more than it gains. An old tree cannot safely be shaken.

AI was shaving, I heard John Smith arguing in favour of the Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty. He claimed the Government was trying to compete with Taiwan on cost and ought to be competing with Germany on quality. I nearly dropped my shaving brush. I did not imagine anyone still thought of the developing Asian economies as low-cost coolie economies compared with the excellence of Europe. It is a comparison which was out of date 20 years ago, and is grotesque now — rather like suggesting Japan will never export any- thing but rice, silk and cheap toys. The truth is that the Taiwanese economy is stronger than the German. It grows faster 'He gets made redundant and emigrates.' (about three to four times as fast), has higher investment, a better trade balance, and is moving more rapidly into new tech- nologies. The great danger for Europe is that the West Pacific zone is enjoying one of the biggest investment booms in indus- trial history, while Europe and North America are in depression. Japan has also had massive investment but is in financial crisis. This Asian boom is the result of the speed of modern technology transfer, low labour costs, and large inflows of capital. Europe is actually falling back by 5 per cent per year in relative industrial production. Taiwan looks forward to at least a couple of decades of fast growth. By contrast Europe, and particularly the Europe of the Exchange Rate Mechanism, is charac- terised by high currency values, high costs, low growth, middle-aged technology and industries becoming less competitive. Cars and chemicals are Germany's great strength. They are not the industrial wares of the future. Europe has not yet grasped the full challenge of Asia in world trade, or the opportunity. John Smith is lagging behind even the European perception of the world economy and its future.

Do children, exposed to television, par- ents, teachers and friends, think the world is in as big a mess as it seems to many of the rest of us? I have been discussing this with my youngest daughter, Annunziata, to try to find out what such a world looks like to a 13-year-old. She divides the world's politicians into the large majority whom she regards as ineffective, and a small minority who are wicked. She believes that `we do not live in a good world' and gives the Chinese occupation of Tibet, short life expectancy in Africa — in Sierra Leone it is only 35 — and the war in Yugoslavia as examples of evils. She does admire the Dalai Lama — as I do — and Mother Teresa, though she has no desire to follow in her footsteps. She thinks the Pope is 'wrong about birth control in starving countries, but right about abortion'. She likes her local Member of Parliament, Peter Brooke: he 'seems a nice person rather than a horrible politician'. Asked to think of some way in which the world has got better she replied, 'The Russians are not communist any more, but they are all starving instead.' I was prompted to this conversation by a recent Broadcasting Standards Council visit to discuss modern television with students in Greenwich. They had a similar attitude of dry realism. With George Bush and Margaret Thatcher, the old realists have gone out of world govern- ment, but I suspect the students of the 1990s will reject the sentimentality which they now perceive in their elders.