The House of Lords yesterday voted, by a majority of 252 to 213, to restore a “Leveson 2” amendment to the Data Protection Bill. The amendment was proposed by the respected cross bench peer Baroness Hollins.
The amendment requires the Secretary of State to establish a public inquiry into allegations of data protection breaches committed by national news publishers and other media organisations (but excluding local and regional publishers). By the amendment the terms of reference of the Inquiry must include
a. to inquire into the extent of unlawful or improper conduct by or on behalf of national news publishers and other organisations within the media in respect of personal data;
b. to inquire into the extent of corporate governance and management failures and the role, if any, of politicians, public servants and others in relation to failures to investigate wrongdoing at media organisations within the scope of the inquiry;
c. to review the protections and provisions around media coverage of individuals subject to police inquiries, including the policy and practice of naming suspects of crime prior to any relevant charge or conviction;
d. to investigate the dissemination of information and news, including false news stories, by social media organisations using personal data;
e. to consider the adequacy of the current regulatory arrangements and the resources, powers and approach of the Information Commissioner and any other relevant authorities in relation to
i. the news publishing industry (except in relation to entities regulated by Ofcom) across all platforms and in the light of experience since 2012;
ii. social media companies;
f. to make such recommendations as appear to the inquiry to be appropriate for the purpose of ensuring that the privacy rights of individuals are balanced with the right to freedom of expression, while supporting the integrity and freedom of the press, and its independence (including independence from Government), and encouraging the highest ethical and professional standards;
The amendment replaced a previous Lords amendment rejected by the House of Commons last week by a majority of 9 – after the DUP supported the Government on the basis of a promise a “review” in Northern Ireland.
There were speeches in favour of the amendment from Labour peers (including Lords Falconer and Prescott), Lib Dems (Lord Paddick) and cross benchers (including Lord Kerslake) On the division, the amendment was supported by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and a majority of cross bench peers (43-23). Three Tories rebelled.
The debate was reported in balanced way in the Guardian and the Financial Times. The Daily Mail, predictably, described it as a “fresh assault on press freedom” (reporting only the speeches against by Lord Black and Baroness Cavendish). The Telegraph described the vote as “constitutionally improper“.
The briefing produced in support of the amendment by the campaigning group Hacked Off can be found here [pdf]. None of the opponents of the amendment in the House of Lords or in the press have engaged with the arguments which are there set out in favour of Leveson 2.
The Government is under serious pressure to pass the Data Protection Bill because, under EU law the GDPR (whose provisions it supplements) comes into force on 25 May 2018.
The amendment will today, return to the House of Commons at 2pm today for a fresh vote when the Government will attempt to reverse the Lords vote.