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Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation

Volume 710: debated on Thursday 17 March 2022

Before I call the Secretary of State for Justice to make a statement, let me say that I understand that the content of it has been extensively trailed this morning, including through tweets from the Secretary of State’s Department and from the right hon. Member himself. I have made it clear previously that important policy announcements need to be made first to this Chamber, not to the media. I repeat that again today. It is a discourtesy to the House and to the Members, and I expect Ministers to make sure that this does not happen again.

Mr Speaker, forgive the exuberance in communicating at least the trail of this statement. Of course, you are absolutely right, and I will make sure that it does not happen again.

Today, I am setting out the proposals to tackle strategic lawsuits against public participation—the so-called SLAPPs—to end the abuse in UK courts, and of UK laws, by corrupt oligarchs and Putin allies to protect democratic debate and to uphold our fundamental liberties of free speech and a free press.

Let me offer the House a recent illustration of the problem we seek to tackle. Earlier this month, the British journalist Tom Burgis was sued for libel in the High Court by the oligarch-owned mining company ENRC. His book “Kleptopia: How Dirty Money Is Conquering the World” seeks to chart how dirty money is being used around the world, highlighting instances of money laundering, corruption and other wrongdoing.

ENRC did not just bring its claim against Mr Burgis’s publisher, but made multiple claims against him personally, as the author of articles, tweets and podcasts about his book. The High Court dismissed ENRC’s claim at a preliminary stage, on the grounds that the statements it had complained of were not defamatory, and awarded costs to Mr Burgis. It should be said that ENRC has also been under criminal investigation by the Serious Fraud Office, and during that period, ENRC has also brought two separate High Court civil claims against the SFO itself, in 2019 and in 2021.

That is not a one-off case, however, and such cases often do not end well. Certainly, they do not always end in the way the libel suit I mentioned did. I give it as an illustration, but that one-off case is part of a worrying and growing pattern of conduct that we are starting to see, whereby those accused of wrongdoing try to use their deep pockets and the UK courts to financially bully their critics into submission.

I will try to give the House a sense of the scale of the problem. Provisional figures from the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe, CASE, estimates that there were 14 such cases in the UK last year. It is worth pausing to reflect that that is a significant increase from just two in 2020 and one in 2018. This is a relatively recent, but burgeoning, phenomenon. Across Europe, CASE has identified 538 SLAPP cases over the past decade, 26 of them brought in this country, so this is not just a UK problem.

As a matter of plain principle, it is wrong that unscrupulous individuals and corporations are able to exploit our laws and our courts in this jurisdiction with claims designed to muzzle respected journalists, academics and campaigners, explicitly to stop them from shining a light on corruption and links to organised crime. If we think about it for a moment, this is a modern-day struggle between David and Goliath. We have individual journalists, authors and academics on the one hand, pitted against billionaire oligarchs, some of whom bankroll the Kremlin, on the other. We in this House cannot, and will not, allow our courts and our justice system to be used by those kleptocrats to intimidate and harass those who lift the lid on their murky dealings and wrongdoing.

The stark reality of the problem runs far deeper than the relatively small number of cases that will ever reach court. It is fair to say that the high-profile cases that we know about are likely to represent just the tip of the iceberg. This is probably the most important point for the House today: SLAPPs have their most pernicious impact through the pre-action letters and legal pressure applied well before court proceedings are initiated. Understandably, if a researcher or campaigner of relatively modest means finds themselves on the receiving end of such bullying tactics, the risk is that they will back down before a formal case is begun, for fear of the sky-high costs and damages that most working people in this country could not possibly afford to bear.

That is the harm we must guard against—publishers and authors forced to hesitate before publishing properly grounded stories, and legitimate, well-researched investigative reporting reined in, or perhaps not begun in the first place, for fear of the crushing legal costs. The most serious and surreptitious danger in all this is that SLAPPs then have a chilling effect on the transparency that is essential to a healthy democracy.

Of course, the war in Ukraine has highlighted the urgency of tackling what is a recent but none the less growing problem. The same kleptocrats availing themselves of SLAPPs are often found bankrolling President Putin’s war machine. As the Kremlin silences Russia’s independent press and jails critics of its illegal war, in this House and in this country we will stand up for those shining a light on corruption and cronyism.

So today I have set out proposals to reform our libel laws and launched a call for evidence, a copy of which is available in the House, that asks for views on how to make these reforms as targeted and effective as possible. Let me briefly summarise the measures we are taking. First, we will consider whether it is necessary to establish a legal definition in order to create a higher threshold for SLAPP-type cases, and look at whether we need to introduce stronger powers to enable our courts to strike them out earlier as an abuse of process to deal with the risk, the threats and the bullying that these cases involve. Secondly, we will set out for consideration options to strengthen the public interest defence. Thirdly, we will consider limiting legal costs in SLAPP cases, perhaps capping the costs that claimants can receive, to address the issue of the glaring inequality of arms between the parties in these kinds of cases. Fourthly, our proposals allow courts to put restraint orders on repeat litigants and consider the case for a specific requirement for SLAPP claimants to prove malice in libel cases. Fifthly, we will review the wider existing defences in our libel laws to assess whether and how they could and should be reformed to counter the growing threat from SLAPPs. Sixthly, we will look at the regulatory regime. In fairness, I should point out that the Solicitors Regulation Authority recently issued new guidance reminding solicitors of their duty to report misconduct, identifying SLAPPs as an example of litigation for improper purposes. We will assess how that regulation is working and whether it is adequate in the light of the evidence that we have.

This call for evidence is necessary to provide us with the most robust basis on which then to move swiftly to introduce the targeted reforms to deal with the problem at hand. These reforms sit alongside our proposals for a Bill of Rights that will reinforce freedom of speech and freedom of expression. This is a good example of why that Bill of Rights is necessary.

Today in this House we have an opportunity—I hope that hon. Members on both sides will embrace it—to put President Putin and his cronies on notice. We will not allow our courts to be abused to censor those brave enough to call out corruption. We will protect our free press, which is there precisely to hold the powerful to account. We will defend freedom of speech—the liberty that guards all our other freedoms in this country. Our reforms will further strengthen free speech so that those with blood on their hands and those with dirty money in their bank accounts are no longer free to hide in the shadows. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement—and so does everyone on Twitter. It certainly marks a major and welcome shift in Conservative party policy. When the Prime Minister was Mayor of London, he actively encouraged oligarchs to pursue vexatious libel claims through the British courts, and it is good to see some belated recognition today of just how wrong that was.

We are used to double standards from this Government when it comes to Russian dirty money. Senior Ministers, including the Prime Minister himself, partied with Kremlin-linked oligarchs even as their plundered wealth flooded into London. They buried the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia report instead of acting on the threats it exposed to our politics and to our democracy. The reason there has been an increase in this kind of lawsuit—what the Secretary of State called a “glaring inequality of arms”—in this country is that the Conservative party got itself hooked on the Kremlin’s dirty money. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) has worked bravely to expose the Conservatives’ increasing dependency on Kremlin-linked oligarchs. Can the Deputy Prime Minister tell us how many Conservative party donors have used a SLAPP to silence free speech?

These measures, welcome though they are, are too little, too late. Labour called on the Government to fix this problem way back in January. My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) demanded clearer guidance for judges, tougher regulation of law firms, and legislation to control costs so astronomical that no one can afford to stand up to Putin’s bullying billionaires. My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition demanded legislation two years ago.

The Conservatives’ track record is frankly problematic. They ignored the Leveson inquiry when it called for low-cost litigation for claimants and defendants in media cases. Instead, they sided with Putin’s oligarchs against British journalists and campaigners until it was far too late. The Secretary of State says that he wants to end abuses in UK courts by Putin’s cronies, but he is proposing a consultation that does not finish until 19 May. Has he made an estimate of how much these oligarchs will continue to abuse the current skewed system until then, as they attempt to hide their collaboration with the Kremlin? Let us be clear: their money funds Putin’s wars of aggression in Chechnya, Georgia, the Crimea, and now the rest of Ukraine. The Government must act much faster if they want to cripple Putin’s war machine and stop it slaughtering the children of Ukraine-.

The Secretary of State mentions the Solicitors Regulation Authority, but what penalties will be imposed on firms acting in these cases? What is the SRA doing to check that solicitors are doing proper due diligence on oligarch clients and the source of their wealth before helping themselves to a share of it? What action is he taking to stop law firms helping the Russian state to make money that helps to fund Putin’s war machine? Putting Putin “on notice” is not enough—the Government must end this corruption now.

It is a bit surprising, on an issue of such seriousness, that the hon. Gentleman resorted to making the usual partisan political points. Frankly, I think the House can rise above his partisan approach.

The hon. Gentleman says that this is too little, too late. In fact, in January, when he says Labour called for this, Justice Ministers had already made it clear that we were actively working on proposals. Indeed, I made that clear in the House in February. He referred back to 2018, or a couple of years ago. We had one case in 2018. As I said, this is now a burgeoning problem. Frankly, an element of “Captain Hindsight” seems to have crept along the shadow Front Bench.

In relation to the broader points that the hon. Gentleman makes about oligarchs, I set out in the House yesterday the scale and the level of sanctions that we have imposed—indeed, with cross-party support. We have led the way internationally.

The hon. Gentleman did not really make any substantive points about the consultation. [Interruption.] He did not really, actually—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) is chuntering from a sedentary position. He did not really ask me anything—

Order. The hon. Lady should not be chuntering from a sedentary position. She is a very senior Member of the House and she should know better.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I look forward to the hon. Gentleman taking some time to look over the proposals in a slightly more sober way. I hope that, on reflection, he will agree to that, given that some Labour Members, particularly the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne), as well as my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), have shown that this can be done in a cross-party way.

I unreservedly welcome the Deputy Prime Minister’s statement. This has been a seriously cross-party issue. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has taken a terrific part in it, and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) and many others have engaged in it, because it is so important: we are talking about a fundamental defence of free speech. This is going to be difficult but it is also going to be urgent. The one point on which I agree with the Opposition spokesman is that dealing with this will be urgent, because it is not just about oligarchs. We have already debated in this Chamber cases like that of Mohamed Amersi—a disgraceful case brought against a former Member of this House. The timetable is important. I unreservedly welcome to this, but will my right hon. Friend give the House some indication of when he expects legislation to come out of the call for evidence he has announced?

I thank my right hon. Friend. He is absolutely right to pay tribute to the cross-party nature of this, notwithstanding the statement by the Opposition spokesman. That is very important, and he has helped to lead it, as is often the case. He asked about the timetable. As he will see, these are substantive proposals—not a Green Paper but a set of proposals. It is important, with regard to libel, which is there to defend the reputation of decent, upstanding people, that we get this right. It is about testing the evidence so that when we go to legislation, we get this right. After the consultation, I will look for the earliest opportunity and the earliest legislative vehicle. It may end up being a third Session Bill, but he has my reassurance that we are already looking at the appropriate legislative vehicle. It depends how much of this we do in primary legislation. I suspect most of it will require primary legislation.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. I welcome it, and the sentiments behind the proposed changes. For too long, Russian oligarchs have used their ill-gotten wealth to threaten and silence those who would rightfully seek to expose them. We know that the UK is awash with dirty money, whether it is the London laundromat, golden visa schemes or utilising UK law firms to silence journalists and intimidate activists who rightfully call out their unethical behaviour. Vladimir Ashurkov, a Russian political activist who was an executive director of Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said that SLAPP lawsuits were

“acts of hybrid warfare which are used to weaken the UK’s democracy, judicial system and fundamental freedoms”.

Given that we know that Kremlin-linked oligarchs use SLAPP lawsuits to silence criticism and to attempt to control the public narrative, what steps is the UK taking to ensure that we cannot be manipulated to silence free speech, while protecting journalists and political activists? What steps are the Secretary of State and the UK Government taking to name and shame such companies and will specific secondary legislation be proposed to strengthen existing defamation and libel laws?

I thank the hon. Lady for her thoughtful and cogent statement, intervention and set of questions. I point out to her that we are dealing with the tier 1 visa, and the sanctions regime, both in the number of people and entities, plus the scope—I think it is now at $45 billion—demonstrates what we are doing on that front. The substantive proposals are all set out in the call for evidence, which is available in the House. She will find all the answers. I think it will be a combination of things. There are regulatory matters through the SRA regime that we want to look at, particularly around the ethics for solicitors, where there will be elements of perhaps secondary legislation. When we are dealing with libel law and the Defamation Act 2013, it will require changes to primary legislation, but I do not want to pre-empt the outcome of the call for evidence.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to identify what has been a stunningly quick recent phenomenon, bearing in mind the exponential increase in cases in the past year alone. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) for discussing this matter with me when I was in office. We could see this trajectory rising at an alarming rate. The Secretary of State is absolutely right now in his consultation to build on the work we did in the Defamation Act 2013, where we raised thresholds to bring libel cases, and strengthening the public interest defence is absolutely the right way to go. Will he undertake to look not only at this phenomenon, but other areas where we see individuals or groups bringing cases purely on the basis that they wish to get disclosure or information from Government that is designed to make some sort of political or power point, as opposed to wanting the merits of the case dealt with by a court?

I pay tribute to all the work that my right hon. and learned Friend did in his tenure as Justice Secretary. He and I have looked at various things in this House together over many years, and the one thing we have always agreed on is the primacy of free speech. It is not entirely unqualified—libel laws are there for a reason—but he is absolutely right that the quintessential British liberty that guards all the others is freedom of speech and expression. However troubling it may be for politicians to have the journalistic scrutiny, rigour and all that, we understand in our hearts that it is critical to a healthy, vigorous democratic society, and I will certainly look at any other examples that he may wish to raise where we see this kind of legalised bullying through the courts and our jurisdiction.

This is all really good stuff, and I am delighted that we are moving in the right direction. I always want the Justice Secretary to go faster; he can be very slow in delivering what he knows I want him to deliver. The real trouble we have had in this country is that the people of Britain have never known the truth about Russian money, because journalists, broadcasters, sometimes politicians and Governments have been too frightened to go to court because they know that the pockets on the other side are so deep, and they are terrified they will lose their home or their business, or the Government will lose millions of pounds on behalf of the British taxpayer. Can I ask him about the seizure of goods? We will need to seize assets. Take Chelsea football club—we will not be able to sell it on until we have seized it. Will we not need legislation for that, as well, and will he ensure that there is a proper tender for the sale of that, so that it does not go to somebody who is equally dodgy?

Forgive me if I do not get drawn into Chelsea football club, which is outside the scope of what we are discussing in this statement. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman. Since doing BackBench Business debates on Magnitsky in 2012, he and I have always, whatever else we may differ on, made common cause on the need for robust sanctions. He has been one of the leading lights in relation to SLAPPs, and I will certainly look carefully at the important specific points he has made.

I am very impressed by the Deputy Prime Minister’s action, and I thank him. It is a great shame that over recent years, we have allowed a corrupting cottage industry of legalised intimidation and legalised gangsterism to be offered by unscrupulous law firms in this country to some of the most wretched and unscrupulous people on earth. I hope that the senior partners in firms such as Carter-Ruck, CMS, Mishcon and Harbottle & Lewis will consider whether they feel that they have played an entirely negative role in enabling Kremlin neo-fascism. My brief question is that I was bringing forward a private Member’s Bill on this issue so that the tools of abuse—data protection, privacy and libel laws—can be wrapped up in a series of amendments. Should I continue to try to bring forward that private Member’s Bill in the hope that I can help write some clauses that would be of value in an upcoming Bill, or should I offer that in evidence to the consultation process? I am keen for the Bill to be strong, just and transparent.

My hon. Friend should do both. I thank him for his campaigning tenacity on all this. As ever, he is very forensic, as well as tenacious. I make one point. He makes a perfectly reasonable point about legal ethics—as I mentioned, we will look at the SRA regime, which is important—but I want to avoid this being an anti-lawyer push, because the vast majority of legal practitioners are as aghast as us at the abuses we see. Let us have a targeted approach, because we are more likely to be effective at dealing with the real problem that he has been so tenacious and eloquent in highlighting.

I have a daughter who works for a London law firm. I join my colleagues on all sides in saying that speed is of the essence. The fact of the matter is that some of the luxury yachts have already left, and we do not want that to happen in this case. When I was an undergraduate at the London School of Economics, I remember Professor Michael Oakeshott saying that the courts of England, like the Ritz Hotel, are open to everyone. That is the case, so I welcome the measures today. I want them to be speedy, and I want everything we do to make clear where our support is in terms of this terrible invasion of Ukraine.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his long-standing interest in this area and the very constructive points he has made. We need to act swiftly, and I said that in my statement. We also need to recognise that we are constantly balancing the right of honourable people to protect their reputation—libel law has a role to play in this country—with not allowing libel law to be hijacked by those with deep pockets to muzzle the very transparency that we want in this country. That is a balance, and we need to be careful to get that balance right. We also remain a global country with a global outlook, and we want investment into this country. That is crucial and is part of our USP. What we do not want is dirty money or the money of those with blood on their hands. We will move swiftly, but the most important thing is that we do not do this in a knee-jerk way, because when this House does things in a knee-jerk way, we get it wrong and we repent at leisure. Let us move swiftly, but firmly. That is why the call for evidence is about how we shape these reforms, not whether we do them.

My right hon. Friend is right to set out the harm, intimidation and cost bullying that comes even before there is live litigation, as that happens in many libel matters generally. I also welcome him guarding against being anti-lawyer, particularly as he is doing so much work in other areas to undo the historical attacks on lawyers in this country. Thinking about the indispensable free press in this country, it is difficult for us in the UK to comprehend how narrow and limited is the information that Russian people, for example, receive, let alone what they understand can be trusted and impartial. Will he clarify what the Government are doing more widely to promote press freedom?

As ever, my hon. Friend absolutely nails the point. These reforms are targeted at a specific problem, which is recent and burgeoning, and we do not want to conflate that because it might hit other areas and do ancillary or incidental harm and because that is a displacement of our effort and our energies.

My hon. Friend asked more generally about what we are doing around the world. When I was Foreign Secretary, we ramped up the Media Freedom Coalition, which, in my time, we chaired with the Canadians. I am not sure whether it is them or us who currently hold the chairmanship—I think it is the Canadians. We expanded that coalition. The idea was to help with the legislation that countries have to protect free speech and to ensure that, when journalists come under attack, they get legal support. We raised quite a lot of money and we keep working on it. I know that the current Foreign Secretary is enthusiastic and energetic about it.

I, too, welcome the Justice Secretary’s statement. He has well specified the problem and the need for urgency, so I urge maximum speed, although he is right to be cautious about getting the legislation right. There should be a presumption that the public interest test is right. That test is not synonymous with the British state; I hope he would agree with that. Nor is it necessarily, in this complicated world, synonymous only with the UK national interest. Will he ensure that the test takes the widest possible view about what is good for this complicated world, because that matters against the oligarchs?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and makes one of the most important points. If he looks at the call for evidence and the menu of options that we set out, we look at the threshold for bringing SLAPPs and whether there ought to be a new right of public participation. We look at the various defences in defamation law to see whether they are sufficient to deal with this problem. That includes the public defence and the serious harm test of a defamatory statement. We are trying to look at it from every angle. I should add for completeness that we will look at whether we are getting the right balance in terms of being an attractive destination for litigants to want to solve disputes, which is a great USP for the country, and whether we have allowed and given succour to libel tourism in this particularly pernicious area. We will look at all those things and I look forward to his further thoughts in those areas.

I, too, warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. As he said, however, SLAPPs are an international phenomenon that are used across Europe to stifle investigative journalism. Most notorious, perhaps, are the 47 lawsuits that were being brought against Daphne Caruana Galizia at the time of her murder in Malta in 2017. Does he therefore agree that protecting freedom of the press properly will require international action? Can he say what discussions he has had with his counterparts in other jurisdictions to bring about co-ordinated action?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I mentioned the European figures; it is clearly a much broader phenomenon. One of the things that we have looked at is the threshold. To give an illustration of a jurisdiction that we have looked at, in the United States, there needs to be malice, I think, for most libel cases. Under the US constitution, there are a whole series of judicially enforceable rights that are probably stronger than in this country under the European convention on human rights or otherwise in relation to free speech. We will look carefully at the bespoke libel laws that we have and we are mindful of the lessons that we can learn from other jurisdictions.

I welcome the statement and especially the Justice Secretary’s words about it being the tip of the iceberg. I was caught up in the issue when Navalny released his list and I named Abramovich in this House as someone who we needed to look at sanctioning. I then tried to do a follow-up story with a newspaper but, lo and behold, the lawyers got involved and the newspaper never printed it. I wonder how many such stories that shed sunlight on our democracy have been stifled.

The Justice Secretary will know, however, that it is not just oligarchs who do that. For example, Sienna Miller said that she had to stop her case against the News Corp newspapers in December because she could not afford to continue to take the case to court. Will the legislation cover not just the oligarchs who desperately need looking at but anyone who seeks to use the law to silence the truth?

Yes. Whatever other differences we have had over the years, I pay tribute to the hon. Lady’s campaigning tenacity on the issue. I think she is right. Of course, although we have oligarchs and Ukraine in mind, it would need to be something that applied across the board.

As a former journalist, I believe strongly and passionately in freedom of the press. We see all too vividly at the moment how important that is with the incredibly brave journalism coming out of Ukraine, yet that freedom has been increasingly threatened in recent years, so I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Will he reassure journalists and the wider public that he will take whatever steps are necessary to uphold freedom of the press and freedom of speech more widely?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I remember him as a television news presenter, so he has first-hand experience of the issue. He is right that we need to deal with the problem. More broadly, we have seen all sorts of incursions on free speech over recent years. There has been, I think, some collective denial about this. That is partly because, in some areas, if it is an issue that we feel torn about, perhaps people turn a blind eye. We need to redevelop the culture—frankly, the attitude—that we listen and perhaps embrace views that we do not always find comfortable. Freedom of speech is the liberty that guards all the others. That is why, on top of these reforms, our Bill of Rights reforms, which will strengthen and reinforce freedom of speech, are so necessary and timely.

I welcome the statement. As ever on these occasions, the devil will be in the detail, but I share hon. Members’ concern for urgency in disabling the enablers of the oligarchs. It is a war of attrition, but it is not just against journalists; it is also against Government agencies such as the Serious Fraud Office, which ENRC took to court in a SLAPP litigation, as well as an individual who formerly worked for the Serious Fraud Office. When the Justice Secretary is considering the legislation, will he consider creating a protection for such agencies from that sort of litigation, perhaps through a complaints system for anyone who wants to take up an issue with an agency such as the Serious Fraud Office, rather than them going through really expensive litigation that wears down the resources of those agencies to do the job for which we set them up?

The hon. Gentleman makes some valid points. Yes, we will look across the board at the defendants in these SLAPP cases. We in this House, because of the privilege that Parliament affords, have the opportunity and the responsibility to ensure that, come what may, those abuses are not swept under the carpet and that the issues that need to be aired, whether through authors, academics or journalists, are not muzzled.

I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. I was lucky enough to meet Tom Burgis recently, who, alongside other journalists such as Oliver Bullough and others, does an incredible job of highlighting the dirty money, corruption and general economic crime. The other cohort that does that most effectively, and has been involved in every case that I have been involved in in those circumstances, is whistleblowers. Will he, with his Home Office colleagues, seek to put protections and compensation for whistleblowers into a future economic crime Bill? Those people are critical in identifying this stuff and bringing those guilty of it to justice.

My hon. Friend makes good points both on SLAPPs and more widely on whistleblowers. I will make sure we have that angle in mind and speak to our Home Office colleagues on the legislation it is looking at.

I join others in thanking the Secretary of State for his clear commitment to protect our legal rights across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; it is good to hear positive stories coming out of this place. I have long expressed concern that those with money are able to tie legal knots around those with limited funds. Does he believe these proposals go far enough to protect freedom of speech and ensure money does not equate to legal victory?

The hon. Gentleman has been a staunch supporter of our liberties in this House and in the United Kingdom. I hope when he looks at the series of options—there are over 30 pages—he will see that we have covered all the bases, whether it is the threshold for SLAPPs to bring libel claims, the cost protections, or the ability to strike out or have a permission stage to deal at an earlier stage with abusive claims. If we have not, precisely because this is a call for evidence, we will need to look at other areas as well.

It is abhorrent that corrupt elites have sought to suppress legal criticism in this country. Will my right hon. Friend join me in saying this type of litigation has no place in our society? Could he go further and highlight what other steps the Government are taking to crack down on these dodgy elites exploiting our country?

As my hon. Friend will know, we are sanctioning over 100 individuals and entities—I think the sum involved is $45 billion—and the economic crime Bill has come in. I regard the issue we are dealing with today as a forensic target issue. We will move swiftly—I have heard hon. Members calls for that—but it is right that we move on a firm basis, identify and target the problem itself, and that the pendulum does not swing too far the other way. I am confident that we can get the balance right, but we need to test the evidence for the reforms I have put forward and then proceed as swiftly as possible to legislate.