Debates between Lord Faulks and Baroness Stowell of Beeston during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 22nd May 2024
Media Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stageLords Handsard
Wed 1st Mar 2023

Media Bill

Debate between Lord Faulks and Baroness Stowell of Beeston
Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks
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I am not precisely sure of the figures. Certainly, the ownership of the press is a matter of record. I am not in a position to respond to that. It is perfectly true that it is a relatively minor group of people. I am not sure quite what that has to do with Section 40. We are talking about whether someone can make a complaint adequately and whether that regulator is independent. I ask the Committee to express the view that it is an independent regulator. There is a manifesto commitment. It is time that this provision is repealed. I understand from what I have read in an interview with the shadow Secretary of State that the Labour Party does not intend to amend the current system of press regulation. I look forward to hearing reassurance that this important Bill, including this provision, will be the subject of discussions in the wash-up.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, I will just speak briefly, because I know that we want to get to Front-Bench spokesmen. A lot of detailed arguments have been advanced by those who have tabled amendments in this group and I think they reflect the detailed nature of the measures proposed. I have listened to those arguments and also heard some of the examples of people who have had bad experiences of the media. I sympathise with a lot of what has been said but, when it comes to matters of principle—and I believe that freedom of the press is a matter of principle—I also have the view that there are some circles that cannot be squared.

It is worth us just remembering that, only a couple of months ago, when we were debating foreign power ownership, Lord Ashcroft did a poll which showed that two-thirds of British people do care about freedom of the press. I think we can all agree that people might not always love or approve of everything done in or by the British media, but the principle of a free press, free from government interference, is something that matters to them. I believe it is a principle that serves the public interest and therefore one that Parliament must uphold. For that reason, I cannot support any of the amendments in this group and I will support my noble friend the Minister in resisting them.

Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill

Debate between Lord Faulks and Baroness Stowell of Beeston
Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, Amendments 13 and 35 are in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Stowell and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones.

The Bill has been welcomed across the House and it represents a crucial step forward in regulating the digital market. I pay tribute to the level of engagement that has taken place with Ministers and officials. We have had some excellent and well-informed debates in Grand Committee. However, good though this Bill is, it is capable of improvement. I refer to my interests in the register. I am not a competition lawyer, but I do have experience of judicial review and of the operation of the Human Rights Act. I was also chair of the Independent Review of Administrative Law, which reported a few years ago.

My Amendment 13 is concerned with the use in the Bill of the word “proportionate”. Despite some heavy lobbying of the Government by big tech, the right to appeal against an intervention by the CMA will engage the judicial review test, rather than a merits test, except as to penalty. Later amendments will probe the appeal test further.

The original adjective in the Bill was “appropriate”. The word “proportionate” replaced it at a late stage of the Bill’s progress through the Commons. Why? I am afraid I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer. In Grand Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred to a letter from the Minister about the change. However, it did nothing to allay concerns that the change was a response to lobbying by big tech.

According to one view, it is an innocuous change; indeed, one would expect an intervention to be proportionate. The word also has a reasonable legal pedigree: for example, you can defend yourself against attack providing your response is proportionate to the attack. Whether your response is proportionate will be a question of fact, or for a jury to decide.

Judicial review, however, is not primarily concerned with the facts of a decision but with the process whereby the decision is made. Classically, the courts got involved only if a decision was so unreasonable that no reasonable public body could have reached it. The scope of judicial review has expanded to include challenges based on, for example, irrationality or failure to take into account relevant considerations. There are other grounds, but all are concerned with how the decision is reached rather than whether the court agrees with the factual findings.

Since the enactment of the Human Rights Act, the concept of proportionality has entered the law in relation to judicial review, but only in limited circumstances. I will quote the most recent addition of De Smith’s Judicial Review, as I did in Committee, which is generally regarded as the leading textbook in this area:

“Domestic courts are required to review the proportionality of decisions and enactments in two main categories of case: cases involving prima facie infringements of Convention rights and cases involving EU law”.

There are those who think that proportionality should be the test in all cases of judicial review, but that is not the law.

I cannot immediately see why an appeal in the context of the Bill should involve a convention right, but they have a habit of appearing in all sorts of places. If convention rights are engaged, proportionality comes into the analysis anyway. I understand that the Government consider that an appeal may well involve A1P1—Article 1 of the first protocol of the ECHR—which is concerned with the arbitrary inference with property rights.

To speak of human rights in the context of enormous companies such as Google, Apple or Meta is certainly counterintuitive; I do not think that that is what the framers of the European convention had in mind after the Second World War. Last week, Apple was fined €1.8 billion under the European Union’s regulation on market abuse, and there is an appeal. That perhaps gives us an idea of the context of human rights in this area.

If—and this is a big “if”—the courts consider that the convention is engaged, there will be considerations of proportionality. Amendment 35, which I believe is consequential to Amendment 13, raises precisely the same point in a further context. In choosing to put the word “proportionality” into the legislation, a court might well conclude that Parliament had deliberately used the word to widen the scope of judicial review challenge, even when no convention right is engaged. For my part, that is a risk that I do not think should be taken. Your Lordships’ House is well aware of the expensive and time-consuming nature of appeals, which of course favour larger organisations with a large legal spend. The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, spoke at Second Reading of long and expensive battles and death by lever arch files—although he did not quite put it that way. Large companies have the resources.

A proportionality test is far closer to an appeal on the facts than one based on conventional judicial review principles. The issue as to whether an intervention is proportionate or not gives the court much greater scope for looking at those facts at greater length and greater expense and with a more uncertain outcome. I would therefore much prefer to revert to the word “appropriate”, as was originally in the Bill, which does not carry the same legal charge and does not risk expanding the basis of appeal.

In the Media Bill, criticism has been made of the use of the word “appropriate”, but, as many judges have said before, context is everything, and here it is the right word. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response and explanation behind the change in wording.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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Now that my friend the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, has spoken, I am happy to stand, because I hoped that he would cover all the technical aspects of his amendment, to which I have put my name.

Before I turn to the amendment, at the start of Report it is worth me reminding noble Lords and my noble friends the Ministers of something, because there are an awful lot of amendments in this group and they cover quite a bit of ground. The Communications and Digital Select Committee, which I have the privilege to chair, endorsed the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill as it was introduced in the Commons. We held quite a few hearings on the Bill last year, which came after a long period of campaigning for this legislation, and so it was one that we cared deeply about. Indeed, we applauded the Government for striking the right, careful balance on some difficult issues covered in Part 1 of the Bill, especially the appeals process, the countervailing benefits and the leveraging principle.

National Security Bill

Debate between Lord Faulks and Baroness Stowell of Beeston
Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, I will add a few remarks to what has already been said in the debate. My noble friend Lord Black comprehensively and powerfully set out the case for his amendment, which I support and have added my name to.

I emphasise that, like everyone else, I think, I support the Bill. It may be of interest to noble Lords to know that I signed the Official Secrets Act when I was just 18 years old, on my first day as a junior secretary in the Ministry of Defence. I knew very little about the world that I had entered, but it was impressed upon me from the start that I would be in possession of information that could endanger lives. I learned from an early age about protecting any information that could be weaponised against the UK or our citizens.

I also learned that part of what makes us such a powerful and important nation is our freedoms, especially our free press. I learned that it is critical that we do not do anything that risks journalists not being able legitimately to expose serious failings or wrongdoing by government or public servants, especially when those government failings themselves could threaten the lives and well-being of British citizens.

In Committee, we heard some powerful examples that could be at risk of being exposed in the future, for the reasons that were set out. That is why I believe it is essential that we do not legislate to protect our national security in a way that could stop journalists doing their legitimate job, however inconvenient to Ministers or public servants the results of this sometimes are. Journalists should not be threatened with prison for exposing the truth about ineptitude, incompetence or corruption within government, whoever is in power.

I echo what my noble friend Lord Black and the noble Lord, Lord Marks, said about the commitment of my noble friend the Minister, his ministerial colleagues and officials across Whitehall, who have given time and effort in trying to find a way forward. As the Minister laid out, the Government have come a long way towards addressing the concerns expressed during debates in Committee. Like others, I support all of the amendments that my noble friend tabled on behalf of the Government.

However, as my noble friend Lord Black explained, we need to go a little further and provide greater clarity than the Government’s amendments if we are to avoid a chilling effect on journalism, which could so undermine the public interest. That said, I fear that my noble friend the Minister may be unwilling to accept our amendment. That troubles me, because a Bill on national security and how a new offence could apply to journalism is not one on which I would like to see the House divided.

I can see why the Government might be struggling with the amendment or to come up with something else that provides the clarity that we need. As unthinkable and unlikely as it may be, I suspect that there is a fear within Whitehall that a journalist working for a recognised news publisher could collude with a foreign state seeking to do us harm and use this as a defence to get away with it.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that I want to listen to what my noble friend the Minister says at the end of the debate. It is important that we give him the opportunity to speak very clearly about this. I remind my noble friend that his words at the Dispatch Box are incredibly powerful in legal terms if they are made deliberately with the purpose of ensuring that there is complete clarity and no ambiguity when it comes to the intention of legislation.

If he will not accept this amendment, I want him to be very clear about the explicit limits of this offence. Can he put beyond any doubt that no journalist doing a legitimate job of exposing wrongdoing and failure by the state will be caught by this future Act of Parliament —if that is what it becomes—if they are not working on behalf of a foreign Government or agency? As I said, I want to listen to him, and I urge the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, my noble friend Lord Black and the rest of the House to do the same, because that is what I will do.

Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as the chairman of the Independent Press Standards Organisation. I have also added my name to Amendment 18. I have very little to add to what has already been said by those who have spoken in the debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, has given a very good summary of the ruling of Pepper v Hart, although there first has to be ambiguity for the Minister’s words to have particular effect. None the less, I entirely agree with her that we will listen with great interest, as indeed will the media in general, to what the Minister has to say, to see whether he can give the assurance that is genuinely needed.

All I will add to what noble Lords have said already is that public interest journalism is genuinely under threat. It is very expensive to undertake, and editors can easily be deterred by the possibility of a wild goose chase. It would be an additional impediment to their encouraging proper journalism if they felt that one of their journalists or their publication was in some danger of finding themselves contravening the provisions of this very important Bill, which I also support in all respects. That is why this is a very significant group of amendments. As the noble Lord, Lord Black, said, citing Roosevelt, freedom of expression is fundamental. The press and the recognised publishers reflected in this amendment represent a very significant part of that freedom, and I hope that, in the Minister’s response to this group of amendments, we will get the reassurance that is so badly needed.