Digital Economy Bill - Committee (4th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:30 pm on 8th February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Low of Dalston Lord Low of Dalston Crossbench 10:30 pm, 8th February 2017

My Lords, I support the amendments because they provide the Government with yet another opportunity to deliver on their commitments to the victims of press abuse and bring this critical access-to-justice measure into force.

Amendment 233F would not bring Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act into force in full, as we have heard. That is regrettable but it is as much as can be done within the scope of the Bill. However, it will demonstrate to the Government that this matter is not going to go away, and that people like the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, will keep bringing back amendments such as this back and seeking to insert them into any Bill into which they can plausibly be inserted until the Government keep their promises to the victims of press abuse.

It is now almost four years since a cross-party agreement was reached and Section 40 was enacted by Parliament. This House, as the noble Baroness reminded us, voted for it again as an amendment to the Investigatory Powers Bill before Christmas. The press lobby believes that by intimidating the Government with the threat of negative headlines and causing maximum delay, it can prevent it coming into effect. I support the amendment because I do not believe that people such as Mr Murdoch are sovereign and because I do not believe that the Government should override the will of Parliament to placate the interests of newspaper owners.

The consultation that the Government have launched, which has recently ended, is offensive to the victims of press abuse, whose evidence was accepted by Lord Justice Leveson, and should be offensive to Parliament, which enacted this measure in 2013. The former Prime Minister David Cameron, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, has again reminded us, undertook to implement Leveson’s recommendations unless they were “manifestly bonkers”. Retrospective consultations to undermine the recommendations of a public inquiry whose recommendations were not manifestly bonkers, as well as the will of Parliament, are an affront to any understanding of what is meant by “good governance”. It is no wonder that the consultation exercise is facing a legal challenge.

I hope that the Government will keep their promises and implement Section 40 without delay, and I hope that they are under no illusion about the strength of feeling on all sides of the House on this matter. There may not be too many people here at this hour to demonstrate that, but the Government should make no mistake: it is the case. I attended a meeting the other evening where constructive proposals were discussed that seemed to some of us to have the makings of a settlement between those pressing for the implementation of Section 40 and the newspaper editors. Surely the Government should be trying to broker such an agreement instead of just sitting on their hands. Until they do, as I say, amendments such as this will keep coming back.