Christine Jardine: Hacking victims have been betrayed

The Government intends to abandon the second phase of the Leveson inquiry into the behaviour of the Press. Picture: Getty
The Government intends to abandon the second phase of the Leveson inquiry into the behaviour of the Press. Picture: Getty
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The past two weeks at Parliament have been two that very few people, if anybody, would have predicted.

First the Data Protection Bill was propelled to the top of the political agenda by the Government’s breaking of a promise to the victims of hacking.

Christine Jardine is the Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh West

Christine Jardine is the Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh West

Then even more surprising – and worrying – we found ourselves dealing with an attempted murder in a British town with a military grade nerve agent. And the finger of blame was being pointed directly at the Russian Federation.

For a while Brexit seemed not to dominate, except that in both cases it clearly provided the background against which both were being played out.

The attack in Salisbury which, at time of writing, has left three people in hospital in serious conditions, provoked a near united response in the Commons: united in condemning the Russians and united in standing behind the Prime Minister.

Except for Jeremy Corbyn. At times the Labour leader’s own backbenchers seemed to be the most exasperated with his equivocal comments.

The poisoning of Sergei Skirpal and his daughter seemed clearly to highlight the need for the UK to take a firm stance against a regime accused of acting in an extraordinary way on British soil.

My own party, the Liberal Democrats, support the Prime Minister in the steps announced, and is also keen to see the assets of Russians suspected of illegal activities frozen until they can be investigated.

For those of us new to the benches the past week has brought firmly home to us the true weight of responsibility that can come with our role. As Putin attempts to become the puppet master of the world we are at the centre of the UK’s first steps to build a coalition of the willing to put an end to that ambition.

For me that realisation came hard on the heels of an earlier reminder of responsibility when the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Matt Hancock, announced the Government’s intention to abandon the second phase of the Leveson inquiry. As a former journalist I found myself, as I told the Secretary of State, utterly dismayed that the promise to the public, and specifically to victims of the hacking scandal, was being broken.

I dedicated three decades of my life to a career in the media, a profession I believe performs a vital role for democracy in scrutinising and challenging the powerful voices of business and politics.

But that freedom is one that nobody should be allowed to abuse to bully, invade the privacy of, or wrongly accuse members of the public in the way the Leveson inquiry heard that it had. Ironically the legislation at the centre of the controversy is one which, in general terms, also has broad support across the House. Primarily it was prompted by Brexit to write European privacy rules into British law to ensure our continued co-operation with the EU in areas, including defences and security, in a post-Brexit world and to update the existing Data Protection Act (1988).

And with regard to the allegations of Russian involvement in the attack in Salisbury, surely the strongest reminder there could be of the importance of our friends in the EU.

Christine Jardine is the Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh West