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Investigatory Powers Bill

Volume 776: debated on Wednesday 16 November 2016

Commons Amendments

Motion A

Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendments 15B, 15C, 338B, 339B and 339C, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reasons 15D, 15E, 338C, 339D and 339E.

Commons Reasons

15D: Because it is inappropriate to extend civil liability in respect of the interception of communications.

15E: Because it would not be appropriate to make such provision before the conclusion of the public consultation on press regulation.

338C: Because it is consequential on Lords Amendment No. 339B to which the Commons disagree.

339D: Because it is inappropriate for the new clauses that would be inserted by Lords Amendments Nos. 15B and 15C to come into force before the other provisions of the Bill relating to interception.

339E: Because it is consequential on Lords Amendments Nos. 15B and 15C to which the Commons disagree.

My Lords, I will not detain the House for long. I want merely to note my gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, for choosing not to press her amendments on press regulation again today. Her efforts and those of her supporters have successfully raised the profile of this issue and made a clear signal of her intent. She can rest assured that this has not gone unnoticed by the Government. I say that with due emphasis: the proof of it lies in the public consultation on this issue announced by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. That consultation provides, in my submission, the right means for interested individuals and groups—including, I trust, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, and other noble Lords—to have their say. It is a serious consultation, designed to take the process forward in a considered fashion. The Government have committed to respond promptly, following its conclusion.

Therefore, in moving this Motion, I hope that noble Lords who supported the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, at earlier stages will recognise that their efforts and their arguments on these matters have not been wasted. I beg to move.

My Lords, the Commons has spoken and we must, as usual, bow the knee, even if it took us twice to get round to it this time. I take some consolation from what the Minister said, because at least the consultation document is something concrete which has an end date. However, we know that Governments can take an awfully long time after the end date of consultations deciding and announcing what they are going to do, and the present situation is very unsatisfactory. Section 40 sits there in the ether, with nobody knowing whether it is in or out, and we get rumours in the papers about the Government’s purported attitude. This is not how this matter should be dealt with; it should be dealt with quickly.

If anyone thinks there is no problem now with the press post-IPSO, they should read the coverage of what has happened to poor Prince Harry and his girlfriend. With the privacy issues involved in that, do they really feel that this shows—although there are, no doubt, two sides to the case—that the press has put its badnesses from the past behind it? I submit that they should not. This is a matter that requires urgent treatment—although I agree, not in the Bill.

My Lords, I should like to acknowledge the thoughtful contributions to debate on the amendments in my name and that of my noble friend Lady O’Neill, both on Report and at Third Reading. These amendments aimed to hold the Government to account over their failure to commence Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, a key element of the post-Leveson inquiry cross-party agreement. The vote on Report, on what was only the second day back after the Recess, was passed with a majority of 102. I am told that this was the joint fourth highest majority in the House this Parliament. I was very grateful, in particular, to noble Lords on the Conservative Benches who either voted content or spoke in support of what we seek to achieve. The size of this majority made the Government take note and I welcome that acknowledgement by the Minister today.

Just before the Lords reasons were debated in the other place, the Government, perhaps fearing a rebellion among their own MPs, attempted to head this off by announcing a sudden and short consultation on whether to commence Section 40 at all. The idea of a consultation is somewhat astonishing for three reasons. First, Section 40 was enacted by Parliament three and a half years ago, and there was no doubt then that the Government would do anything other than follow the normal constitutional practice of commencing a law passed by Parliament, especially since the terms of Section 40 were part of a formal agreement signed by the three party leaders at the time.

Secondly, the consultation will consider whether the Government should cancel the promised Leveson part 2. Part 2, as has already been agreed, is intended to look into allegations of police corruption and corporate press cover-up underpinning the hacking scandal, the reporting of Hillsborough, why police and public officials were convicted of taking bribes from newspapers, police co-operation over scores of controversial convictions and much more.

Thirdly, two important conclusions of the Leveson report were that the era of political deal-making between politicians and the press must end, and that the Government should have no future influence over press regulation. My concern is that this cross-Parliament agreement may have been turned on its head by a consultation which has to consider whether to listen to the press lobby or listen to the ordinary victims of press abuse, who are relying on Parliament to give them the protection they need. This is relevant to noble Lords’ contributions to this consultation.

In the Commons, the Government suffered something of a rebellion, with a number of Conservative Members speaking out for Section 40, but they still sent the Bill back to us. On 2 November we asked the Commons to think again and they did so yesterday. The impression given by some in the other place was that I was raising this issue to protect celebrity victims of press intrusion or their families. Of course, celebrities, the Royal Family and our judiciary are entitled to a degree of protection from an intrusive tabloid press but, like the newspapers, many celebrities have expensive lawyers to protect them. I am pleased, therefore, that what I heard in debate was concern mainly for the vast majority of victims of press intrusion who are ordinary members of society, usually previously unknown, who do not have access to the remedy they need to protect themselves from unethical and unlawful newspaper conduct. People such as the Dowler family, Christopher Jefferies and the McCanns—I have met these and many more—whose privacy has been invaded and against whom huge injustices have been perpetrated, all in the interest of selling newspapers.

I may be unelected but I seem nevertheless to represent a constituency of vulnerable people whose stories are not being heard by some of those who, although elected, seem to prefer to defend big media. I am not seeking to punish; I am waiting for the regulatory change that the Leveson inquiry showed is needed, as well as a culture change that would require the press to tell the truth if it is in the public interest and has been obtained by legal means. I emphasise that “of interest to the public” is not the same as “of public interest”.

The feeling expressed eloquently by the Minister is that this is the wrong Bill for this amendment. Respecting the important work that has been done on the Bill and its crucial purpose in protecting us all, I do not intend to divide the House. I can hope and be reassured that the Government will show your Lordships’ House and procedural propriety equivalent respect by commencing laws that have received Royal Assent. I thank the Minister for his courteous response and thank many other noble Lords who have given me huge personal support and encouragement during this debate. I intend to return to this matter on a more suitable Bill in the future.

During the consultation period, I urge the Government to take note of the serious concerns expressed by your Lordships and to find a way to listen to the voices of ordinary people who will not have the resources at their disposal that will be deployed by big corporations. Discerning the truth should not be difficult; however, the loudest voices may not be the most valuable ones to listen to.

My Lords, I am pleased that my noble friend has taken the stance she has. She speaks of the constituency who feel that they have been treated unfairly by the press. I think we all recognise that. However, there is another constituency—those of us who have benefited from the work of a strong, independent, investigative journalistic cadre. I speak as a former chairman of the Guardian newspaper. Many of the stories that the Guardian has covered, which I believe deeply are to the benefit of its readers and society, may not have been written in the way they were had Section 40 been activated.

I see what has been written about Sir Philip Green by Oliver Shah in the Sunday Times as an example of journalism that would have been chilled by the impact of this section. This section is a charter for the venomous and the vexatious, the pernicious and the provocative, the scurrilous and the spiteful. I am grateful and pleased that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has launched a public consultation so that we can again look at the advisability of applying a presumption in favour of the claimant, which will simply encourage the worst of litigation without achieving the justice that so many in this House seek.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister, who has in part repeated what he said the last time we considered these issues. I raise again my concern that this public consultation is not, as he describes it, a serious consultation. I explained last time that Cabinet Office guidelines—I appreciate there are no rules, laws or regulations about it—say that consultations should be for 12 weeks; this consultation is for 10 weeks. Consultations should not run over a holiday period; this consultation includes Christmas and new year. Why does it not follow Cabinet Office guidelines?

I do not share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Myners. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, I emphasise that the majority in this House voted for her original amendment, and I am sure it will not be long before this House has another opportunity to vote to force the Government to implement the provisions of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 that protect innocent victims from unreasonable and unnecessary press intrusion. The Government should know that we on these Benches will support such a vote.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said that a majority in this House supported the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, in her amendment, but there is an even bigger majority in this House for ensuring that the Bill becomes law. We are now dealing with a very serious threat, a very serious situation, in which the provisions in the Investigatory Powers Bill are important. As your Lordships know, if the Bill does not make progress now, with the sunset clause on the present arrangements we would be naked in having no provision in law to govern the working of investigatory powers. There is absolutely no doubt that the noble Baroness has done the right thing. We could not possibly go on with this and provoke that risk at this time. Whatever the merits of these amendments—and I have not gone deeply into their merits—there is no doubt that I speak for the overwhelming majority in this House when I say that the Bill has got to become an Act soon so that we have proper provisions in place to defend our country and our citizens against the risks they might otherwise face.

I express my gratitude for the responsible attitude the noble Baroness has taken in this respect. I know how deeply she feels about the amendment she put forward. Of course, there is good journalism and less good journalism. I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Myners, in his place. It is possible to distinguish between what he was talking about and the feeling in respect of Section 40. I particularly want to emphasise the Minister’s words—that this is to be a genuine consultation; in other words, I take it that the Government have not yet made up their mind on this question and therefore, it will be worth while for anyone who has a point of view to express it. Even though the consultation period is slightly shorter than before, it is over Christmas and the New Year, which is perhaps the best time to generate good feelings.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, on pressing this issue over a lengthy period with such determination and vigour. I ought to set out our position. There is inevitably a strong feeling that the Government are seeking a means to go back on the cross-party agreement, the undertakings given to victims and their commitment to implement Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. In the Commons yesterday, the Solicitor-General rather gave the game away when he said that the consultation will ask whether Section 40 should be fully commenced, repealed or kept under review. Many fear that the consultation will prove to be a sham. Governments do not suddenly decide to hold a consultation on repealing recent legislation that has not yet been implemented unless that is something they would be happy to do. I suggest that the Minister knows that only too well. I suspect he may well choose to deny that, but the proof of the pudding will be in the outcome of this hastily organised consultation.

The question today is about the stance to take on the Government’s Motion. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, has indicated her position—at least, the Minister has done it for her—and it is one with which we agree. Two matters in particular need to be considered. One is the impact on the progress of the Bill. In our most recent discussion of this issue, the Government sought to argue that carrying the amendments concerned could place national security at risk, because it would delay the implementation of the Bill when there is a deadline, in a few weeks’ time, by which it needs to be passed. However, the Government destroyed their argument about a risk to national security by taking longer than they needed over scheduling consideration of our amendments in the Commons. If the Government seriously thought that national security was being put at risk, they would have had the Lords’ amendments considered by the Commons much sooner than they did. However, we are now that much closer to the deadline. Since we support the Bill we do not wish to start raising credible doubts over whether it will become an Act within the required timescale.

The second matter concerns the role of this House. This is usually described as inviting the Commons, the elected House, where deemed appropriate, to think again about aspects of or gaps in proposed legislation. We have done that twice in respect of the issue we are considering again today, and the Commons has twice declined to accept our view. This House has carried out its role and its responsibility.

In view of that, while we will continue to pursue this matter and the Government’s actions, like the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, we do not believe that we should continue to do so through the medium of insisting on the amendments to the Bill that have previously been carried.

My Lords, I am grateful for the contributions made from all quarters of the House. I will comment briefly on the consultation.

The consultation is a serious effort to canvas opinion. This is a difficult issue. There is no consensus around Section 40 implementation. We want to find a model for self-regulation that has broad support and works in practice. As well as having a responsibility to the victims, the Government have a responsibility to make sure that we have, as the noble Lord, Lord Myners, has correctly put it, a vibrant and sustainable press, particularly at the local level. We want to gather the evidence through a proper process, better to understand the potential impacts and explore options for next steps.

I and the Government believe that a consultation period of 10 weeks is appropriate and right. This is enough time to enable those who want to comment to do so, and we look forward to that process commencing.

Motion agreed.