My Lords, it is with regret that I return to my initiative one more time. I suggest that we do have time to consider it and I will speak to my Amendments E1, F1 and G1.
The issue at the heart of these debates remains simple: there was a widespread criminal conspiracy involving, it now turns out, more than one newspaper group. It lasted, and was covered up, for many years. It was combined with unexplained failures in police and prosecution action and allegations of political involvement in a cover-up. As a result, there was a public inquiry—the Leveson inquiry—and in 2013 a cross-party agreement was signed, committing Her Majesty’s Government to implementing its recommendations. As a result of that agreement, this House withdrew cross-party amendments to the Enterprise Bill and the Defamation Bill.
The Government have reneged on that agreement by not commencing Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. When my amendments went to the other place yesterday, I was heartened to see several Conservative MPs speak in favour of the commencement of Section 40 and of these amendments. That gives me reason to hope that if noble Lords ask the House of Commons to think again—which is our right, our role and, on this occasion, I suggest, our duty—it will do so.
Having listened to criticism of the drafting and the effects of the earlier amendments, I am proposing a slightly different approach in Lords Amendments 15B, 15C, 338B, 339B and 339C. The amendments I am asking noble Lords to send back today are improved, I suggest, for the benefit of the Government in three ways.
First, the amendments can no longer be accused of impinging in any way on other provisions in the Bill, and I am assured that they are in scope. This was a concern of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, on Monday. The compromise proposed is a new version of the Clause 8 statutory tort to follow Clause 8 which is directed to phone and email hacking alone.
There was also a criticism that the amendments did not in practice apply to new phone hacking claims because the cost rules applied only to actions under the new statutory tort. That led some to question whether it was proportionate to seek to amend the Bill at all. That has now been corrected with the extra words in paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of the second new clause.
In the commencement clause, in Amendment 339C there is a sunset clause of six years. It has been nearly six years since the hacking scandal broke, five and a half years since the Leveson inquiry was set up and four years since it reported, so six years should be enough time for the Government to implement the inquiry report and that of part 2, which I am certain must proceed and, indeed, to complete their consideration of the consultation announced yesterday.
I would like to say something about that new consultation. I would like to give the Government the benefit of the doubt, but my worry is that the consultation proposal amounts to Ministers saying that they will rerun the Leveson public inquiry with politicians sitting in the judge’s chair in private, perhaps asking questions that they alone have chosen and considering the responses in private. My fear is that Her Majesty’s Government will eventually respond to those responses, back the responses that have come from the industry, as in the past, and conclude that Lord Justice Leveson got it wrong.
We must remember that all sides at Leveson and the report agreed that politicians must not take sides in press regulation, because they tend to side with the press, and should not be involved in press regulation because it creates unhealthy links between the press and those it should be holding to account. Cross-party agreement provided for that separation. The consultation may have been designed to calm the waters, and perhaps big media are cheering, but for victims it is having the opposite effect because this is the one area where any government initiative, however well intended, is anti-policy and counterproductive.
These amendments say to Her Majesty’s Government, “If you are going to risk a consultation that will expose you to extraordinary pressure from big media, while you do so please at least protect some small measure of access to justice for victims”. That is what these very limited amendments do. I hope noble Lords will support them.