Debates between Sir Edward Davey and Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg

There have been 1 exchanges between Sir Edward Davey and Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg

1 Mon 5th March 2018 Data Protection Bill [Lords]
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
2 interactions (3,338 words)

Data Protection Bill [Lords]
Debate between Sir Edward Davey and Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg
Monday 5th March 2018

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Mar 2018, 9:04 p.m.

I find myself in a great deal of agreement with the hon. Member for Keighley (John Grogan), who has put the case for press freedom extremely clearly. I begin by making an essentially ancestral declaration of interest: my father was involved with newspapers for most of his professional life, and I have received by comparison very modest payments from some newspapers for some works that I have provided for them over my time in Parliament.

At the heart of this Bill are three clauses—primarily clauses 168 and 169—that came in from the other place and fundamentally attack the freedom of the press. There is widespread agreement on the need to regulate the digital economy and the ownership of data effectively. There is cross-party agreement on that, and I doubt that there will be a Division this evening. However, the freedom of the press and freedom of speech are absolutely at the heart of our democracy. Members of Parliament should remember that those freedoms will be exercised in a way that does not always provide hagiographies for us. Quite understandably, newspapers will say critical things of people on the Government Benches and of people on the Opposition Benches. Sometimes they will be fair; sometimes they will be unfair. Sometimes we will read something and think that we have made a mistake; sometimes we will read it and know that the newspaper has made a mistake. That is the flotsam and jetsam of political life. For every piece in the Daily Mail that upsets Opposition Members, there will be something in the Daily Mirror or The Guardian that upsets us. That is how political life works, and we surely are not sufficiently of the snowflake generation that we should mind about that. That is how political life must and should go.

When we look at clauses 168 and 169, however, we know from our history that one of the tactics of dictatorial regimes is to have to punitive damages levied on newspapers that do not do what they want—a system whereby if a paper loses a libel action, it is effectively closed down. Why do such regimes do that? They do it so that they can have the pretence of freedom of speech, but with the reality of control. In the 18th and 19th centuries here, libel laws were used to prevent the press from exercising the freedom that we think of as a constitutional birth right. We know that the Americans, when writing the bill of rights to their constitution, made the second amendment a clear statement of freedom of speech. Why? It was in response to the abuses that they thought were taking place in the United Kingdom at that point. They put it in because they were worried about such things as the persecution of John Wilkes and his being sentenced to prison not for what he did, but for what he said. We see that being restored in clauses 168 and 169, with the outrageous, monstrous idea that if a paper prints something that is entirely accurate—every dot and comma is true—but has not bended the knee to officialdom, the fine will be to pay its own costs and the costs of the party about whom it has told the truth.

The hon. Member for Keighley referred to the Daily Mail and the Lawrence affair. That terrifying right-wing newspaper, which I read every day and enjoy, exposed the murderers of Stephen Lawrence in a way that required it to say things about the murderers that, until double jeopardy laws were changed, could never be proved in a court. What if this law had existed then and those people, whom we now know were guilty of murder, had sued the Daily Mail for saying something that was true? What if the Daily Mail had had to pay the costs of murderers? That is what their noble lordships have put into this Bill.

This is more serious on a day-to-day basis than the worst case that I can think of. We know the weakness of our local papers and how they struggle hand to mouth, but how easy would it be, for example, for my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin), who is no longer in his place, to take to court the journal that he does not like because it said inaccurate things about him. It is fair enough for him not to like them, but if an hon. Member took a local paper to court, that local paper would be insolvent, because many of them do not have powerful parents behind them. Many of them—I am thinking of some in my constituency—are run by entrepreneurial individuals trying to make a reasonable living. The threat of having to pay double costs would be sufficient to stop them printing a disagreeable story about us.

That is great. It means that in all Conservative seats, no disagreeable things will be published about Conservatives; and in all Labour seats, the same will be true. Therefore, I will remain the representative of North East Somerset forever and ever—amen, amen, alleluia—and the hon. Member for Keighley remains in Keighley likewise. As it happens, we both think that is fundamentally wrong and an attack on democracy.

Free speech is not there so that Rupert Murdoch, a man I greatly admire, can make a great deal of money; it is not there so that the noble Lord Rothermere can, likewise, make a decent living; it is there because it is the pillar of democracy. If we do not have free speech, how will we expose corrupt Governments, incompetent politicians and—I dare say there are some occasionally—Governments who make mistakes? Councils that get things wrong, errors that are made and dishonesties that are performed, how will they be reported if every one of us can shut down our local newspaper just by saying that we will go to court and the newspaper will have double costs?

The proponents of clauses 168 and 169 will say, “That’s all very well, but there is IMPRESS.” What is the fundamental principle that has prevented newspapers from signing up to IMPRESS? I was one of 13 MPs who voted against the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which allowed this to happen, and I was absolutely right to do so. The principle is that a free press is one that cannot be regulated by the state, and an application to be approved by a regulator approved by a royal charter is regulation by the state. That is not comparable to the judges or other independent organs of the state, because the judges are part of the state—they are simply independent from this place and from the Executive. The whole point of the press is that it is not in any way part of the state. Quite understandably, no serious newspaper of the left or of the right has been willing to bend the knee to IMPRESS, and nor should it.

Let us now turn to IMPRESS, what causes it, what its origins are and who funds it. It is a scandal of our time that their noble lordships have made an amendment that has been pushed and harried through by perhaps one of the most disreputable figures in British public life. I refer, of course, to Mr Max Mosley, who has provided £3 million for IMPRESS and who took a libel action against the News of the World when it said he had indulged in Nazi-themed orgies. The News of the World was wrong: the orgies were not Nazi-themed. They were orgies, but they were German-themed. I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker, for saying those shocking things in front of you, but that is what happened.

The News of the World lost, and it was deemed that Mr Mosley’s privacy had been invaded. Before that, few of us had heard of him, except we knew vaguely of his involvement in Formula 1 and we knew his father had been a Member of Parliament—a Labour Member of Parliament, as it happened—and had then set up the British Union of Fascists.

But we did not know that Mr Max Mosley himself held views—or, he claims, had in the past held views—that no reputable person could possibly hold. Views that are so repellent that, though I read them out because it is important to understand what underpins IMPRESS, I do so with considerable reluctance. Mr Mosley was the authoriser of a leaflet, and because we have stood for Parliament, we all know the importance of a leaflet’s authoriser.

I have the most wonderful agent, Margaret Brewer from Somerset. She was referred to by The Sunday Times as a “flinty rural matron”, and indeed she is. Nothing goes in my leaflets without her approval. People may think I am independent-minded, but I have not a view that has not been approved by Mrs Brewer. We all know how this works. If our agent does not approve it, it does not go in. What did this leaflet say? As I say, this is so appalling that I am reluctant to read it out in Parliament. Under a heading of “Protect your health”, it said:

“There is no medical check on immigration. Tuberculosis, VD and other terrible diseases like leprosy are on the increase. Coloured immigration threatens your children’s health.”

That is the view of the funder of IMPRESS. It is little wonder that our free press does not want to be associated with such a man. It is little wonder that, to its credit, the Labour party has now refused to take any further funding from this man, but IMPRESS has not. IMPRESS has not condemned this man. It has not said it will refuse further funding from the charitable trust he set up purely and specifically to keep IMPRESS running. IMPRESS has done nothing of this kind. It has a reputation of its own, and there is a certain irony in this; its chief executive is a man called Jonathan Heawood, and he tweeted, of all things, that the Daily Mail was “a neo-fascist rag”. Dare I say that he might know a good deal more about neo-fascists than one had thought when that tweet was originally circulated?

We are suggesting, under clauses 168 and 169, that that most precious thing that underpins, protects and gives us our democracy should be sacrificed to the honour of a man who has waged a campaign against freedom of the press because it exposed his perversions. That is the long and short of it. The hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson), the deputy leader of the Labour party and shadow Secretary of State, said that Mr Mosley does not hold those views any more—well, how gracious of him. But how fortunate we are that our free press has exposed those views, so that we know them in the context of the debate we are having today. I say to Opposition Members that any of them who go through the Lobby at a later stage to vote in favour of those clauses are voting to support Max Mosley, his abhorrent views and his money. Those of us who believe in freedom will vote them down.

Sir Edward Davey Portrait Sir Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD) - Hansard
5 Mar 2018, 9:17 p.m.

It is interesting to follow the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg). The House should reflect on his speech. Obviously, he was full of great rhetoric, but for some of us, he was playing the man and not the ball, but the House should discuss the ball—the substance—because that is key. I say to him, in language I know he understands, that veritas is a good defence.

I want to speak about the actual Bill, not amendments made in the other House. This piece of legislation is very welcome. It emanates from the EU, and I am delighted that the Government are implementing it. This regulation was being formed when I was a junior Minister in the then Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and Britain was very supportive of it and was leading on it. Indeed, I served on the Competitiveness Council and formed a like-minded group for growth, on which Britain was leading the way in Europe in developing further the single market in energy and in digital services. It was clear that this regulation was essential for British business, because Britain was leading in digital services and needed this to support our businesses trading across the EU and to give consumers the confidence that this brings. It was a key area for business for Britain, and we pushed it.

It is therefore particularly ironic that we are transposing this regulation into UK law just as we are pulling out of the EU. The legislation before us is excellent; it has cross-party support; and it is a perfect example of why Brexit is a bad idea for the UK. We were highly influential in the conception and birth of this regulation as a member of the EU, but thanks to Brexit, we will not be at the conception and birth of a daughter of this EU regulation. There is bound to be a daughter of the GDPR, given the speed with which these technologies are developing. Inside the EU, the UK fashioned this regulation; we were a rule maker, and we were in control. With Brexit, we will not have a vote, we will be a rule taker, and we will have lost control. There could not be a clearer example of how Brexit will actually weaken Britain’s democracy and sovereignty—the precise reverse of what was promised to the people. Although I welcome this legislation in general, I do fear for the future.

However, I have one massive concern about the Bill. It relates not to what came from the EU, but to what Whitehall has done to the legislation. It used to be called “gold-plating”, but in this case I would call it “dirt-smearing” the regulation. I refer, of course, to the immigration exemption in schedule 2. I am disturbed about that for a number of reasons, some of which other Members have mentioned. However, to get the Minister’s attention, I should say that if the legislation is passed with that exemption, that will put at risk the chances of the UK’s obtaining a data adequacy agreement prior to Brexit—something essential for business and vital for security. The immigration exemption is not allowed under the EU’s regulation; it will be found to be illegal. It is clearly in breach of the EU’s charter of fundamental rights, undermining article 8 on the protection of personal data, article 20 on equality before the law and article 21 on non-discrimination.

Take the central example of what the exemption will mean for citizens from other EU countries—the 3 million here already and those who will come in the years ahead. Does the Minister really expect the Commission and the EU’s Brexit negotiators to turn a blind eye to the theft of data protection rights from EU citizens that the immigration exemption represents? It is a clear and evident breach of faith with the December agreement on EU citizens. There is simply no way that the EU could or should grant the UK a data adequacy agreement if we intend to take data protection rights from its citizens with this measure. That is before Brexit; if we do not secure a data adequacy agreement while we are in the EU, it will be far more difficult and demanding as a third country. The granting of data adequacy for third countries involves a more stringent examination of how national security data is dealt with.

I say candidly to those on the Treasury Bench that if they want their Brexit negotiations to proceed as smoothly as internal Tory party politics allows and to secure the data adequacy agreement that British business desperately needs, they will have to drop that immigration exemption—not water it down, not caveat it, but drop it.

Moreover, the exemption is insulting to freedom, the rule of law and access to justice. What it means, as others have said, is that an individual cannot know why he or she has had their case refused by the Home Office. The Home Office will be under no duty at all to disclose the information in a person’s file and the information used to make the decision. That is an affront to natural justice. In any dispute about how a case has been administered, it is surely self-evident that officials should have to provide that information.

To help Government Back Benchers who care about the rule of law even more, I should say that this affront could affect a British citizen. The administrative mistake might well be that someone has incorrectly been considered not to be British. In the many briefings that we have been given for this debate, there is example after example of British citizens being denied justice, with their very nationality being denied. Only a subject access request by an individual’s lawyer can end up revealing such basic errors of the Home Office.

Let us face it: the Home Office holds the prize for the largest number of mistakes made, week in, week out, by any Department. To take just one example, the Home Office has a shocking 10% error rate on immigration status checks alone. The Conservative party may be happy to take away access to justice and the rule of law from British citizens, but I am not.

Let us look at the impact on fairness. The best way to illustrate how deeply unfair the immigration exemption would be is with a few examples—real life examples, which is to say real people. Let me take some examples from the Law Society brief. It takes the case of Z, a failed asylum seeker attempting to reopen his case:

“The Home Office refused to reopen the case, saying that he had previously left the UK voluntarily and had received a resettlement grant from the Home Office. The SAR revealed that a third person had assumed his identity, and had applied for and secured voluntary return and the grant had subsequently been removed. The file further revealed that there was no cross-checking of signatures, photographs, or fingerprints on the Voluntary Assisted Returns scheme.”

This would have had serious consequences for the individual had the subject access request not revealed the identity theft, but, of course, under this immigration exemption there will be no such right to make that request.

We have talked about issues around domestic violence. We have heard the example of a woman applicant, the victim of domestic violence, who had no knowledge of the immigration applications made for her because her husband had all the papers. A subject access request would be her only path to sorting out her immigration status.

There are many examples showing how unfairly this will work in practice. Another example of Home Office mistakes on identity is the case of a nurse who had been working in the NHS and living lawfully in the UK for many years, but whose application to naturalise as a British citizen was denied because of her alleged poor immigration history. The brief says:

“A SAR was made and it became clear that the Home Office had mixed her up with another Nigerian woman with a slightly similar name and a poor immigration history. Following the SAR, she was able to challenge the Home Office.”

Under this Bill, she would not have been able to do that, and the NHS would have lost a diligent trained nurse.

There are so many other such examples, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I could detain the House longer than you would feel was sensible, so I will not read them out. None the less, I say to Ministers that they exist. If they bothered to read them—I urge them to do so—they would see that these are real people. If this legislation goes through with the immigration exemption, the Ministers on the Front Bench would be responsible for ruining the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people, because they would have given the Home Office—the Executive—too much power, which means that it could not be held to account.