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Lord Monson: My Lords, I previously rose to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, in principle although, even as a mere layman, I felt that as drafted it contained imperfections, omissions and ambiguities. The noble Lord has now vastly improved his proposed new clause. Although, as the Minister argues, it may still not be 100 per cent perfect, it is still preferable to leaving the law as it is. Therefore, if the noble Lord decides to press the amendment to a Division, I shall certainly support him.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, it is necessary that some voice be raised from these Benches. There have been many claims for originality in the defence of the anonymity of persons who have not even been charged. It is traditional to our party to take up such a stance; it is not for want of belief that many in our party would support such a position. As I have heard the criticisms of the amendment, they have been answered point by point. The fact that this is populist stuff and a genuflectionwith a liberal faceto the tabloid press is obvious. My party had better get used to the fact that, with the co-operation of the Official Opposition, the next election will be fought on a competition on who can "bang 'em up" most and who can make heavy petting at 15 illegalwhich is what the Bill does and why, the Opposition seem to think, it cannot be lost.
It is incredible to many members of my partyfew of whom are in the Chamber; a dozen people will have heard the argument but many will be brought to troop, lemming-like, through the Lobbywho know well that without the defence by way of mutual anonymity in highly sensitive cases, the tabloid press and even television will put them to a malign use, to the disadvantage of people who, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, said, may well be innocent. Codes of conduct; practice directions from the Government; or suggestions? What guarantee does the noble Baroness give us that that will produce any change of character in the media? None.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, with the greatest clarity at my disposal, I say that this is not a populist move; neither are we genuflecting towards the tabloid press. Of course I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, said about that. I also heard his exhortation to liberality, but that sits ill when we consider the amendment, because one tenet of our democracy is freedom of the press. That is something that we have always honoured; I had always believed that was dear to the hearts of Liberal Democrats as well. I am sure that it remains so.
The Government's stance represents a proportioned and reasoned response. We have been clear and robust with both ACPO and the media through the complaints council. We have made clear that we have identified a mischief that needs to be cured. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, was right when she said that if self-regulation can work well, efficiently and properly, that is the better course. We agree. We have also made it clear that the Government wish the police and the media to adhere to self-regulation, and that self-regulation is a privilege, not a right. If that privilege is abused, the Government will have to think about what alternative measures may be necessary to bring about compliance with what all sides of the House believe is proper. That is a moderate, proper approach, but it does not lack rigour.
My noble friend Lord Wedderburnhe remains my noble friendcould not be more wrong when he casts aspersions on the honour of this party and the Government. Having had the privilege and joy to deal with this Bill, the Criminal Justice Bill, the Anti-social Behaviour Bill and the Extradition Bill, I can reassure my noble friend that I have seen no lemmings yet, certainly not on our Benches. Our Benches have demonstrated their usual robust independence, as doubtless the Whips will demonstrate, and as my noble friend has demonstrated on occasions too numerous to particularise.
This is a proportionate responsethe noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, is right. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, on his tenacity, but, on this occasion, tenacity to press the amendment is not necessary. In response to the noble Baroness, the flaws that I have identified are real. I try to do that as gently as I can, but the flaws are patent. During the previous debate, I gave every opportunity to take guidance on how to address the matter, but it has not borne the fruit that others seek. I invite the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, not to press his amendment.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, as I listened to the noble Baroness, the explanation by Sir John Falstaff in Verdi's opera "Falstaff", "L'onore!", flashed across my mind. I wish that I could play it over loudspeakers to the Cabinet room at full volume, so that the Cabinet could have some comprehension of what honour really is.
As the noble Baroness recognised, the Liberal Democrat Benches, in co-operation with the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, have worked very hard on the Bill. I pay tribute to her efforts. We have fashioned, in many parts of the Bill, a workable solution to what started off as something totally unworkable and that would have caused huge problems in the criminal justice system where sexual offences were involved. We have improved the Bill, and we have done it in this House.
So, when the Official Opposition are threatened by the Government that the whole Bill, which we have worked so hard to improve, will be lost on this amendment, I understand why they hold their current position. I do not blame them. As I have told noble Lords many times, my family motto is "Ar Bwy Mae'r Bae?""Who can we blame?". In this instance, the blame rests with the Government.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, no such threat has been made. It is for the noble Baroness and her party to decide whether they wish to have the Bill. We have made no threat about the Bill, and it is wrong to suggest that we put it at risk. Each party must choose how it wishes to deal with the matter. We have made plain our policy. The choice has been exercised; please do not blame us.
Baroness Noakes: My Lords, will the Minister agree that her honourable friend in another place made it clear that, if this House sent the Bill back amended again, the amendment would be comprehensively rejected, thereby imperilling the passage of the Bill.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I have made it absolutely clear. We have stated our position and we have said that that position is not going to change. We do not imperil the Bill thereby. We have set and adhered to government policy and it is for Her Majesty's loyal Opposition to decide what they wish to do in response. That is not a matter for us. It is a privilege and joy for the Opposition to decide whether they wish to put the interests of the country first, or other matters.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I always admire the way that the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, presents her case. She does it extremely well. However, we know and the people of this country will know when a threat is a threat and a positive threat was made in this place that the Bill would be lost if this amendment went back to the Commons. I have that in mind. I also have in mind that I cannot, because it has happened so often in these past few weeks, again watch the lemmings go over the cliff. The sight is too sad, so I will spare the Government in this case. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.