Culture Secretary Calls For Lords to Stop IP Bill ‘Hijack’ Over Press Regulation

Culture Secretary Karen Bradley has called on the House of Lords to stop blocking the Investigatory Powers Bill which she said this morning was “a matter of national security” that was being “hijacked” over press regulation. 

Speaking in Culture Media and Sport topical questions this morning, the Culture Secretary said: “May I make the point that the Investigatory Powers Bill, which is an incredibly important part of our law enforcement around data protection, is currently being hijacked and prevented from making progress and receiving Royal Assent because of press regulation? It is important that we get that matter of national security on the statute book to protect us all.”

Yesterday, Lords defied the Government for a second time this week by sending amendments to the IP Bill which would introduce punitive court costs against newspapers, crippling in particular for local papers, back to the Commons. The amendments will be considered on 15 November.  

During the debate, Lords expressed concern about the consequences of stalling the IP Bill over the unrelated matter of press regulation. Speaking on behalf of the Government, Earl Howe said: “I am the first to acknowledge that the issue of press regulation is a vitally important one. It deserves the fullest consideration, consultation and debate, but the Bill is vitally important as well. It will provide our law enforcement and security and intelligence agencies with the powers that they need to keep us all safe.

“I contend strongly that this Bill is simply not the place to try to regulate the press. Given the events of yesterday and the new consultation, which is the right way to approach the issue of press self-regulation, I invite noble Lords not to insist on the amendments that have been tabled and not to delay further the passage of this vital and world-leading legislation, which is essential to the safety and security of us all.”

Speaking in the debate, Lord Pannick said: “It is quite indefensible to hold up this vital Bill when the issue about which the noble Baroness is concerned – perhaps rightly – is the subject of active consultation.”  

Earlier in the week, MPs decisively voted down the amendments in a strong display of support for a free press welcomed by the industry and the News Media Association. That followed the Culture Secretary’s announcement of a 10-week consultation on the Leveson Inquiry and its implementation. 

Speaking passionately about the importance of a free press, Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP for North East Somerset,  attacked the amendments. He said:  “The regional press and local newspapers will simply not be able to print stories that are critical of almost anybody. Perhaps MPs do not want any critical stories to be printed about them.

“We would be able to bully the local papers in our constituencies by saying, ‘We will bring a court action against you, and, by the way, we think that you might have been hacking our telephone,’ and they would risk double costs.

Ed Vaizey, MP for Didcot and Wantage, said: “It is precisely the regional newspapers which could be hit by this measure. A small claim, one in the tens of thousands of pounds rather than in the hundreds of thousands, can still cause them immense financial damage.”

MP for Tonbridge and Malling Tom Tugendhat said he could not support the amendment, adding: “It would be bad for the regional press and for a free press, and it would therefore be bad for our democracy and for us.”

Matt Warman, MP for Boston and Skegness, said: “The chilling effect of the proposals in section 40 would have a hugely negative impact across not only the national media but the regional and local media. Over hundreds of years, we have seen the good that a vibrant, boisterous and scabrous press can do, as other Members have said, and we need to preserve that.”

In an earlier debate following an oral statement to Parliament on a consultation seeking views on Section 40 costs sanctions and Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry, Karen Bradley confirmed in reponse to questions from MPs that the potential impact of the costs sanctions on local and regional newspapers would be taken into account, as well as the significant changes to the media landscape in recent years and the rise of online giants.

MP for Newark Robert Jenrick said: “My local, family-owned newspaper, the Newark Advertiser, knows what it is like to be vexatiously sued by a politician. When Harold Laski sued the newspaper to try to ruin a local family, the Parlbys, he lost. That is now one of the leading cases in this area of law.

“Of course, had these rules been in place, the family would still have been ruined and my local newspaper would still have been put out of business. ​In the consultation, will the Secretary of State pay particular attention to local newspapers and, above all, to independent titles such as the Newark Advertiser?”

MP for Maldon John Whittingdale said: “Will she confirm that in considering how best to proceed, she will take account of the significant deterioration in the economic health of traditional media, which has taken place even since Leveson and is still leading to the closure of titles at both national and local level? Will she bear in mind that the real media giants of today, such as Facebook and Google, are outside the scope of legislation and regulation altogether?”

MP for Shipley Philip Davies said: “Will the Secretary of State bear most in mind the weakening and poor health of local and national newspapers, as set out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), and make sure that they will always be protected in being able to expose people in authority?

“They should be protected from rich bullies who, by the very threat of legal action against them, may force newspapers not to print stories that would be in the public interest. Not doing that may suit many people in this House, but it would do a gross disservice to the public at large.”

MP for South Dorset Richard Drax said: “Local newspapers, which had nothing to do with the scandal that occurred in a very small majority of the major newspapers, fear that if they have to pay costs despite even winning their case, they will have to close down and they will not be able to challenge those who should be challenged.”