We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Commons Amendment

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 13th November 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Mallalieu Baroness Mallalieu Labour 6:00 pm, 13th November 2003

My Lords, I rise to support every word just spoken by my noble friend Lord Corbett, and to reassure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, that I have not got cold feet since the last occasion on which we discussed this matter. I am sorry about the approach that has been taken by both the Front Benches opposite because the principle is clear and I do not think that either of the proposed amendments will cover the full position.

I can quite understand that no government would want to be seen either by the press or by the public as trying to stifle proper public knowledge and discussion, but no one in this House or anywhere else could argue that self-regulation has worked effectively. As my noble friend has just pointed out, which of us would put money on even sabre-rattling in a measure such as this producing any better effect? The reality is that sex and well-known people sell newspapers. The temptation will always be there and usually people will give in to it in order to print the story.

If we go along the line of, in a sense, taking a small bite at this, as is suggested in the amendments from both the Front Benches opposite, we shall still be left with the very considerable difficulty that now arises in almost every case involving either someone well known or something notorious. I speak of the applications that are made before the trial can even begin to try to deal with the prejudicial publicity which has taken place. As we know, the tip-off starts—perhaps sometimes it is given by the police themselves; who knows?—before anyone even arrives at the door and knocks on it to arrest or question the suspect.

It is said that we should restrict ourselves in order that there can be publicity which may bring forward other complainants. Over the past few years, in that area we have seen a number of miscarriages and potential miscarriages of justice where, by publicising, people have in a sense been trawling—the police particularly—for additional evidence to back up cases which they know to be lacking in strength. Those who are attracted to come forward may, in some cases, be genuine complainants—but there may also be those seeking attention.

I do not accept the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. His amendment seems to me to be second best. If he moves it later, as he said he will, I shall support it, but only if the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, is either not pressed or fails. We are in danger of letting go an opportunity which will not come again in the near future, and certainly will not come again until other people's reputations have been destroyed, jobs lost and untold distress caused to people who should not have suffered.