Data Protection Bill [HL] - Commons Amendments

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 14th May 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Cavendish of Little Venice Baroness Cavendish of Little Venice Conservative 5:00 pm, 14th May 2018

My Lords, I do not think anybody can listen to that description without being worried about the state of the press. There is no point pretending that everything is perfect. As a former and current practising journalist, I would not. I welcome the narrowing of the scope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, has suggested, particularly the exclusion of local newspapers, but I suggest that in recognising the importance of that she has also recognised the significant burden that the kind of wide-ranging inquiry she is proposing would place not only on those papers but on all the others that would be covered by the remaining scope.

The last time I had the temerity to speak in this debate, the noble Lord who spoke after me said that he had heard quite enough from journalists, thank you. Actually, there are very few journalists in this House and, I suggest, very few people who understand just how difficult the task of investigative journalism is. Although the issues we are immediately concerned with in the amendment are about the salacious nature of journalism, I fear that even this amendment would touch on some of the important issues that I, as an investigative journalist, have dealt with.

I won the Paul Foot Award for exposing miscarriages of justice in the courts. As a result of that the Labour Government changed the law, I am pleased to say. I was also involved in the exposure of the Rotherham sex-grooming scandal at the Times with Andrew Norfolk, who was referred to earlier. I believe that Andrew Norfolk’s view about Section 40, as expressed by the Minister, is very important. He is at the front line of investigative journalism and understands what that would actually mean in practice. This should not be just about revenge. If we are going to legislative effectively, we have to think about exactly what we are trying to achieve.

The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, suggested that nothing has changed since his experiences. I suggest that a great deal has changed, and other Members have referred to that. The landscape is different. IPSO is a tougher regulator. I was so disturbed by some of the events in Manchester that I contacted IPSO to find out how it had dealt with them and how many complaints had been made. In fact—I think the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, would agree—only one complaint was made to IPSO about the Daily Star; that complaint was upheld. There may be a problem, as he suggests, in that people could not trust exactly which publication they were talking to but we need to take that into account when we are reflecting on this.

We have heard today and in subsequent readings of the Bill about the significant new powers to be given to the Information Commissioner. I asked the Minister a question, which arose out of my ignorance, and was shocked to hear the scope of the new powers that are being so rapidly extended. We need to reflect on that again. As the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, said earlier, one of the powers the Information Commissioner will get under House of Commons Amendment 109 is to review journalistic application of data protection laws. I would rather wait and see how that pans out. I suggest to the noble Lord that that will put significant pressure on the press.

I do not like public inquiries. They tend to be a last resort for Governments who do not know what to do. They are extremely expensive and work only when they have a specific end in mind.

My real fear about the amendment is that the specific end that many of its supporters have in mind is to reopen precisely the questions and amendments we have been debating and which have been defeated in the House of Commons, in particular those relating to Section 14 of the Crime and Courts Act. If we launched yet another public inquiry, of which the public would not be greatly supportive, we would reopen a series of questions, some of which would go back over old ground. I appreciate the promise of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, to move forward—she is right on that—but we would open the door again to people who are keen to impose enormous costs and burdens upon the major newspaper groups. It would expose those groups to having to pay malicious damages in groundless, malicious lawsuits.

Let me remind noble Lords of the history of this House. When I arrived here I thought it was about defending free speech. I totally accept the concerns that have been raised—I do not believe that everything is perfect—but this amendment is not going to move us forward.