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 McNally Lord McNally Liberal Democrat 5:45 pm, 14th May 2018

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Grade, said, this has been a passionate and, actually, very balanced debate. A number of noble Lords have expressed concern about the amendment before us and have, sort of, made a case against it.

When the noble Lord, Lord Black, came in, struggling on his crutches, I did think: is there no end to which this man will not go to get sympathy from this House? I wish him a speedy recovery.

When introducing the debate, the Minister said first that these amendments have no place in the Bill because it is about data protection and then began to dazzle us with the number of government amendments that pertain to the media. Of course it is perfectly sensible that this matter should be in the Bill.

By the way, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Cavendish, that I did not say I object to journalists but to journalists at the Times. She mentioned the growing power of the ICO in all this, which is something that the press should think hard about. The press have been so busy trying to avoid having a proper regulator for themselves that they find themselves well and truly regulated by a powerful ICO. Where the ICO does not regulate the press, the courts may with some of the judgments that are coming down the track.

As always, the perorations against, as with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, have been about freedom and liberty, as though we on this side are not as passionate in our defence of those. Today’s debate has produced the usual press stories that crop up when either House debates the issue. They always either rubbish one or other of the more popular proponents of reform or carry, as did the Evening Standard just before the Commons debate, such headlines as that from the Commons Culture Minister, Margot James: “We will lose freedom of the press if MPs back new curbs”. It is my belief that the real defenders of press freedom are not the Ministers scrambling to close Leveson down but those of us who want to see a press that is respected and trusted, as well as free.

When the Commons debated our amendment, Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg, the new Erskine May, said rather imperiously that Parliament had every right to renege on promises made by a predecessor. Of course, he is right—we know that, Jacob. However, it is also a long and honourable convention that there is a continuity of responsibility from one Parliament and one Government to another. We saw it last week when the Prime Minister gave a full and unequivocal apology to the Libyan family for Britain’s part in their rendition and subsequent torture, although it did not happen on her watch. The long tradition of continuity of responsibility means that a promise given by one Prime Minister and one Parliament is unlikely to be abandoned by another. There is a double matter of honour when the promise in question was made by a Prime Minister of the party now in power. David Cameron gave such commitments, and the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, gives the House of Commons a way of redeeming that promise while taking into account the passage of time since it was made.

I often find that, when I am indignant having read in the newspaper or seen on TV some summing up or sentence by a judge, my lawyer friends will say, “Ah, but the judge who has heard all the evidence is the best placed to make a balanced judgment on the matter”. In this case, we have the balanced judgment of Sir Brian Leveson himself. Let us remember, after the speeches of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that Sir Brian had all the information they had to make their speeches but came to a different conclusion: that it should go on. As I said when the Leveson letter first came up, here is the third most senior judge in the land taking six pages in a very carefully argued letter to give his views on the inquiry on which he spent a year of his life. Some noble and learned Lords in the House should have a little modesty when challenging his judgment because it is absolutely clear that Leveson 2 should go ahead. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, has already quoted from the letter, so I will not waste time.

The amendment before us is proportionate to the task at hand in addressing issues not yet adequately addressed. It redeems a solemn promise made by our Prime Minister and our Parliament. Jodie Ginsberg, the CEO of Index on Censorship, when briefing against these proposals before the Commons debate, said that she wanted,

“a free, vibrant, independent and troublesome media”.

So do I, and so does the proposer of the amendment. The biggest threat to a free, vibrant, independent and troublesome media is one so held in public contempt because of corrupt and illegal practices that few defenders will come to its aid if press freedom is really threatened.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Cavendish, that, when the Leveson inquiry exposed sins and criminality, the Government of the day could at that time have done anything they liked to the press. What they did was make a strong attempt to create something as far from political control as possible—I was one of the privy counsellors who signed the royal charter. It is absolutely false to claim that the attempt was to create a state-controlled press. That was never on the table and it is not on the table now.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who has been brave in carrying through on Section 40, has said that we will not press it beyond tonight. I am interested to see which bit of legislation will include its repeal and how that will be favoured when it comes back to us. I say to the Minister: this is not the end of Section 40.

Tonight, we are looking for something more. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, have shown, we are looking at something for the victims. The noble Baroness, Lady Cavendish, should note that it is also something for journalists who need protection from being bullied into illegal acts by their employers. Most of all, it is for our own self-respect in keeping a promise made. I urge support for this amendment.