Like many others, I read with interest the Government’s proposals published this morning in response to Lords amendment 62B, and I have to say that they are not entirely without merit. Indeed some of what is contained in the Government’s “consideration of Lords messages” around extending the power of the Information Commissioner is interesting and sensible and could even be considered appropriate. Had those proposals been contained in the original draft of the Data Protection Bill, or even had they been introduced as a Government amendment in Committee, I may have been convinced that they were genuinely held beliefs. However, at the risk of being cynical, I fear that for these proposals to appear now, at this very late stage, it is more about staving off a possible Back-Bench revolt than any great principled belief, because what is on offer is simply too little, too late. Therefore, as we did last week, the Scottish National party will today again give its full support to establishing the second part of the Leveson inquiry and will vote against the Government’s offered concessions this afternoon.
We have always said that individuals should be able to seek redress when they feel they have been the victim of press malpractice and that it benefits each and every one of us in this country to have a media that is both transparent and accountable. The Scottish National party is committed to ensuring that the practices which led to the initial Leveson inquiry never, ever happen again. As I said last week, we have insisted from the outset that if there is to be a second part of the Leveson inquiry the distinct legal context in Scotland must be taken into account and the devolved competences respected. In those circumstances we would be happy to support the setting up of Leveson 2. We are confident that the proposal that has come back from the other place has been fashioned in such a way as to address all of our concerns, and we fully support the setting up of the second part of the Leveson inquiry.
This afternoon, Members will have a second chance to do what we did not do last week: make good on the promise that this House gave to the people of the United Kingdom in 2012, when the then Prime Minister said of the second stage of the inquiry:
“That second stage cannot go ahead until the current criminal proceedings have concluded, but we remain committed to the inquiry as it was first established.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 554, c. 446.]
Earlier today the Secretary of State said that much had changed in the behaviour and culture of the press since the phone-hacking scandal, but surely no reasonable person believes that the circumstances and behaviours of certain sections of the press have changed to such an extent that they need no longer be examined by this inquiry. Like Tom Watson, I read the letter from Figen Murray this morning. If the Secretary of State and other Members feel that this inquiry is no longer relevant, I urge them to read that letter, because the treatment of her family by certain sections of the press following the death of her son Martyn in the Manchester Arena attack last May borders on the unbelievable.
Members need to be aware of how important this is: people in this country have to believe that we in this House are taking this issue seriously. I worry that sections of the press have not travelled as far as we would have wanted them to—and as certain Conservative Members believe they have—since 2012. The setting up of a second Leveson inquiry is not just important and necessary; it will also fulfil a solemn promise made to the people of the UK by their Government, and I urge Members across the House to do the right thing today and support the establishment of a second Leveson inquiry.