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Protection of Freedoms Bill

Part of Resource Extraction (Transparency and Reporting) – in the House of Commons at 7:04 pm on 1st March 2011.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Labour, Blackburn 7:04 pm, 1st March 2011

I will pass lightly over the Hunting Act, if I may. I do not happen to agree with Tony Blair on that point. Although freedom of information requests can be irritating, especially if one is in government, I did not change how I operated as a Minister. It did not mean that I ceased to record my decisions or comments on submissions. As was brought out by the Dacre report, whichever party is in power there is a case for the proper protection of Cabinet discussions and collective responsibility—that issue might need to be reconsidered, because it has not worked out as intended—but I am in no doubt that overall the Freedom of Information Act has been a force for good.

In addition to those two Acts, we passed the Data Protection Act 1998. There had been no provision to protect people’s personal data before I introduced that Act in 1998. We also introduced extraordinarily important freedoms and protections for people who do not happen to have white skin, including in the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 following the Lawrence inquiry.

I am sorry that the Home Secretary is not here, but while we are on the subject of freedoms, I would draw to the House’s attention the extraordinary difficulty that we had in providing freedoms for gay men and women by reducing the age of consent—equalising it at 16. The first attempt, which was an amendment to the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, was defeated in the Lords so strongly that we lost the whole Bill. I then had to introduce a further Bill containing simply a reduction in the age of consent to 16. That, too, was defeated in the Lords, and it was not until we used the Parliament Act that it got through, against vehement Conservative opposition, including from some in this Chamber—to the shame of the Conservative party—and a huge amount in the other place. So let us hear no more nonsense from the Conservative party or the Liberal Democrats suggesting that we in the Labour party failed to balance liberty and order effectively and properly. Yes, we introduced a number of measures on the other side of that equation, but most of those—as far as I can recall, all of them during my period—were actively supported by the Conservative party in opposition.