Parliament: Freedom of Speech and the Rule of Law - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:37 am on 23rd May 2019.

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Photo of Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Chair, Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct 11:37 am, 23rd May 2019

My Lords, it will be obvious to all that the impetus for this debate, its essential backdrop, was the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, in the Chamber on 25 October last year, naming Philip Green under parliamentary privilege as the subject of an anonymity order issued by the court two days earlier.

I should make plain at the outset that my central objective in this debate is not to criticise the noble Lord, Lord Hain—although inevitably I will need to persuade your Lordships that he acted wrongly before I can hope to ask the House to change its procedures. To that end, I will have to spell out why I regard his statement as a misuse—indeed, I would suggest, a clear abuse—of privilege.

Still less do I seek to have the noble Lord, Lord Hain, disciplined. Indeed, as to that, while several complaints were made against him by members of the public, as well as by Philip Green’s solicitors, the Commissioner for Standards rightly recognised that the only complaint within her jurisdiction was an alleged breach of the noble Lord’s obligation to declare his role as global and governmental adviser to the law firm Gordon Dadds, which was acting for the Daily Telegraph in the litigation. Against that complaint, the noble Lord had a complete defence: he had no idea that Gordon Dadds was involved in the litigation. He would have known had he looked at the court judgment, because the solicitors’ name was prominently shown there—but he did not. Whether, overall, that is to his credit I leave to others. To set oneself up as a one-person or one-Peer court of final appeal over a fully considered Court of Appeal judgment without even reading the judgment might be thought a touch presumptuous. Indeed, the noble Lord in his evidence to the commissioner went further and said that he did not think it would have made any difference even if he had read the judgment—a judgment that had granted a short interim injunction pending a speedy trial of the issue so as not to pre-empt the final decision on the merits of anonymity.