Data Protection Bill [HL] - Commons Amendments

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 14th May 2018.

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Photo of Lord Prescott Lord Prescott Labour 4:45 pm, 14th May 2018

I am sorry for my earlier intervention. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, was a Labour Member.

I declare an interest: I have twice been a victim of this. I do not have the clever words of the lawyers who constantly dominate this debate but we are talking about credibility, about a promise and about a Parliament that has agreed an action but is now about to reject it. That is a very important issue for both Houses to face. I say to the Minister that I support the noble Baroness’s amendment on a second inquiry. Indeed, I am pleased to see that Lord Leveson himself did so when the Government consulted him on it. To that extent, this is a political decision—a very political decision—that the Government have made.

I have three questions; I know that time is limited and I do not want to delay the House. My first question is based on my experience. I think that a second inquiry is necessary and should not just be into the events of the time. I do not think that things have changed, even with the so-called independent press body. We need to ask ourselves, what did the royal charter mean? When it was presented to the Commons, when I was still a Member there, we were told that the matter would be taken out of the political field—that it will be dealt with in a royal charter, we can all agree it together and there will be no division. Well, there is certainly division now, and it is still under the Queen’s charter. I ask the Minister: did they discuss this with the Privy Council or the Queen? We have actively involved her in a deliberate breach of a decision between the two Houses. We are, in that sense, divided. It is very political and on political lines, although it is all the opposition parties in the other place that have actually agreed on this. Did the Government consult the Queen on this? I was always told that you do not involve the Queen in the politics; that is why we use a royal charter. Well, by God, we have certainly involved her now, and we are divided. What is the position? Has she been advised about it and does she agree it? Is there any obligation to talk to her, and did the Government do so?

My second question concerns my interest as someone who was phone-hacked. I went to the courts and it was denied by everybody—by the press body, the police, the public prosecutor—so I had to win my case on the grounds of human rights, European human rights. I had to get it established that the hacking of my phone was a breach of my human rights. Since then, everybody has been telling me: “That is now the past; things have changed and you don’t have to worry. We can just get on with the business and not have a second enquiry”. Then, along comes the Sunday Times and Mr Witherow, its editor. We know from recent announcements in ongoing court cases that a man called John Ford was hired to commit criminal acts against individuals, including me and the Prime Minister at that time, Gordon Brown. It is clear from his statements, his bank accounts, his personal effects and the solicitors that we were all hacked and the victims of criminal acts by this Mr John Ford, who has made it absolutely clear everywhere that he was employed by Mr Witherow.

Now, of course, you might play around with the word “employed”, but he was paying him for 20 years. He might have been a separate investigator, but he was committing criminal acts and breaching the human rights of everyone involved. That has been announced in public statements by Mr John Ford. Indeed it was Mr Witherow who, when asked about the Leveson inquiry, when Gordon Brown was challenging him about things that happened then, said there was no truth in it. Well, Mr Witherow, you appear to be a liar. I know those are strong words used here, but you did not tell the truth, you did pay the money and you did commit criminal acts against people and breach their human rights. That, surely, in any democracy is wrong. Leveson showed it was wrong; he even pointed it out. We just ignored his recommendations. We are not entitled to do that, in my view. You can force the issue if you like and talk about the powers, telling us that we can disagree on day one but not on day two. You can say that as much as you like. There are very important issues involved here about the human rights of individuals. I am not talking about the real victims who have been betrayed by the Government, due to a manoeuvre with the Irish. But leave that aside—we can all have our opinions about that.

My third and final question is on something that I have never understood, although I have asked about it in every debate here. If the argument is about having these press regulations as recommended by Leveson, or most of them, why is it that they accuse us of a threat against democracy? They say that if editors are forced to register with government then that is the biggest threat to democracy. But I will ask again, although I never get an answer: why is it that every one of these newspapers registers in Ireland? The accountability in Ireland is controlled by a Minister in its Government but I think nobody is suggesting that there is no democratic accountability in Ireland. If the same newspapers can sign up for the same kind of accountability under a form of state regulation in Ireland, why can they not do it here? Perhaps they cannot do it here because of what they can get away with under a Government doing what they are at the moment.

Remember that there have been seven full inquiries into the press and they have always recommended a regulatory framework. That has always been defeated and it looks as if it will be defeated again. No doubt it will help among the press with me being just a politician. Perhaps it helps what they print if they have a Government supporting their issue. It might influence their opinion. For my mind, the issue is in the three questions that I have posed in all these debates. Why in Ireland? Why are they are at it again since Leveson, using illegal, criminal acts to breach the human rights of people? That is what the accusation was about and nothing has been done about it, except to protect them even further. As for the Queen, I would be interested to hear if it was talked over with her.