Data Protection Bill [HL] - Commons Amendments

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 14th May 2018.

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Photo of Lord Hunt of Wirral Lord Hunt of Wirral Conservative 5:45 pm, 14th May 2018

I raise fake news as an issue not because it is or is not covered by the amendment but because it must concern us all, particularly as a society.

There are good reasons for rejecting the amendment. It would be an analogue inquiry in an overwhelmingly digital age. It would also—rightly, in my view—be seen as yet another attempt by politicians to meddle in the internal affairs of news media and, ultimately, to muzzle free expression.

This country, which should be a beacon of free expression in a world bedevilled by state censorship, has just fallen from 30th to 40th in the global ranking for free speech, according to a survey conducted by independent minds right across the world. Let that sink in, my Lords: from 30th to 40th. It is shaming. What message are we now to send out? That the free media are enemies of the state? They may be unruly and they may challenge us in ways that make us uncomfortable, but they are not our enemies.

Furthermore, it concerns me that we are playing around with the Salisbury convention. The noble and learned Lord has just spoken about promises. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, pointed out, this amendment flies directly in the face of last year’s Conservative Party manifesto. On page 80, that document said,

“we will not proceed with the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press”.

That was pretty clear. I know that the Labour Party had a euphoric moment after the last general election, almost persuading itself that it had won, but it did not.

I take no comfort from the qualifying words that the noble Baroness has added to her amendment this time around. We are dealing here with profound matters that touch on the very basis of our society and our political philosophy, and the question of whether we truly cherish our freedom of expression and our free media. I suppose ping-pong can be an enjoyable pastime but at some point the views of the elected House must prevail. I have the utmost respect for the noble Baroness and the greatest sympathy for the unacceptable treatment that she and her family, and far too many others, have received from the press. Having said that, I sincerely hope she will not seek to divide the House again on this matter.