Let's have another referendum - on scrapping the House of Lords: RICHARD LITTLEJOHN says he reckons a lot more than 17.4 million would vote to kill off the Upper House

Freedom of speech is under renewed attack, this time from unelected members of the House of Lords. They have hijacked a bill designed to update Britain's data protection laws to launch an outrageous attempt to shackle the Press.

By a slim majority, peers voted this week to compel newspapers who refuse to sign up for state regulation to pay the legal costs of anyone who brings a complaint against them, regardless of merit.

If they succeed, the financial implications could force some smaller, local papers out of business. It would give carte blanche to crooks and fraudsters to bring actions seeking to gag national newspaper investigations into their nefarious activities, secure in the knowledge that even if they lost it wouldn't cost them a penny.

This is precisely the clause which Parliament threw out last year in relation to vexatious libel claims. Now the Lords are trying to smuggle it in under the guise of data protection.

They are also looking to resurrect the second stage of the ludicrous Leveson Inquiry into the Press, which everyone thought was dead and buried.

The last one was little more than a show trial and most of the parallel criminal cases brought against innocent journalists collapsed ignominiously when they came before a jury.

The House of Lords has hijacked a bill designed to update Britain's data protection laws to launch an outrageous attempt to shackle the Press

The House of Lords has hijacked a bill designed to update Britain's data protection laws to launch an outrageous attempt to shackle the Press

None of that has deterred their Lordships from straining to get the circus back on the road. For once, the chamber was packed to the gunnels. Normally, the Lords resembles the bridge of the Mary Celeste, save for a few old sweats slumbering away on the well-upholstered leather benches.

Like many of their colleagues in the Commons, some peers are still smarting from newspaper exposures of wrongdoing by members of the Upper Chamber — everything from expenses fiddling, to coke-snorting and consorting with whores.

So they have seized their chance for revenge by using the Data Protection Bill to punish the Press — a purpose for which it was never designed.

Matthew Hancock, the new Culture Secretary, has promised to resist the Lords and overturn the amendments when the Bill comes back to the Commons.

But with the Government's wafer-thin, DUP-bolstered majority, there is a danger some Tory Brexit saboteurs — who have had a well-deserved hammering in newspapers including the Mail — may vote with Labour and the Lib Dems, who are both committed to stifling free speech.

I'm always wary of writing about the Press, because it can appear to be special pleading. But this isn't newspaper navel-gazing, it goes to the heart of what passes for our democracy.

Unelected peers, along with the opposition parties, are trying to bring the Press under the control of a new state regulator, bankrolled by ex-Formula 1 boss Max Mosley — who has been seeking his revenge on Fleet Street ever since the now-defunct News of the World exposed him for taking part in military-themed S&M orgies with prostitutes.

The regulator, called Impress, is stuffed with embittered failed journalists, Left-wing lobbyists and professional Press-haters.

This is the rabble that a majority of peers and a significant number of MPs think should have the final say in what you read in your daily newspapers.

Unelected peers, along with the opposition parties, are trying to bring the Press under the control of a new state regulator

Unelected peers, along with the opposition parties, are trying to bring the Press under the control of a new state regulator

No self-respecting publication of note has signed up for Impress, preferring to submit voluntarily to an independent regulatory body called IPSO, chaired by a distinguished and scrupulously impartial former Appeal Court judge, who has the power to order front-page corrections and impose fines of up to £1 million.

That clearly isn't good enough for some politicians, who want to control what appears in the Press, largely to spare themselves embarrassment.

Many of them in the Remain camp, especially, blame the Daily Mail and other publications for 'poisoning' the minds of gullible readers and tricking them into voting Leave. Their contempt for the newspaper-buying public knows no bounds.

Freedom of the Press is under unprecedented pressure, not just from politicians, but from self-appointed bigots trying to bully companies into withdrawing advertising from publications of which they disapprove. Virgin Trains' decision to stop selling the Mail is just the latest pathetic piece of politically motivated posturing aimed at appeasing those who want to silence every single opinion they disagree with.

But there's a much bigger picture here.

This isn't just about Press freedom, it's about the way in which we are governed. What the political class still haven't grasped properly about the Brexit vote is that it wasn't just a rejection of the EU, it was a vote of no confidence in the whole rotten shower of them.

It's bad enough when MPs seek to thwart the will of the people. But when unelected peers try to do the same, it's a coup against democracy.

Remoaners in the House of Lords are pledging to stop Brexit by any means possible. Where do these pampered, pompous poltroons get the idea that they have a divine right to sabotage a clear decision taken by 17.4 million people — the largest number ever to vote for anything in Britain?

Remoaners in the House of Lords are pledging to stop Brexit by any means possible, writes Richard Littlejohn 

Remoaners in the House of Lords are pledging to stop Brexit by any means possible, writes Richard Littlejohn 

We voted to free ourselves from an unelected, unaccountable government in Europe. Why should we now have our future decided by an unelected, unaccountable second chamber at home?

The effrontery of peers such as the absurd Andrew Adonis, a self-important quangocrat who has never been elected to anything in his life, is staggering.

So, too, Cheerful Charlie Falconer, one of the architects of this week's Lords offensive against the Press. He owes his entire political career to the fact that he was once Tony Blair's flatmate.

In 1999, when Blair got rid of the hereditaries, there were 610 members of the Lords. Today, there are 800 of them. The crusty old aristos have been replaced by a pretty unsavoury collection of political placemen, has-beens, never-wases, PR spivs and party donors.

An ermine robe is a reward for failure. The Lib Dems may have only 12 MPs (just eight in England) as a result of being roundly rejected at the ballot box. But they've got more than 100 peers in the Lords — all of whom are pledged to overturn the Brexit vote.

They can claim £300 a day tax free simply for turning up, which is about all most of them can be bothered to do.

There are plenty of well-documented examples of noble lords clocking in, claiming their allowance, and then clocking straight out again.

Two of them served jail time for fraud as a result of the expenses scandal. No wonder the Lords want to punish the newspapers which exposed them.

Brexit, when we finally get round to it, has given us the opportunity to forge a brand-new future, to liberate the way this country is governed, to make politicians properly accountable to the people who pay their wages.

Maybe we should begin with a referendum on abolishing the House of Lords once and for all.

If that were to happen, I'd wager that many more than 17.4 million would vote to kill it off. And not before time. It is an anachronism which no longer serves any useful purpose.

Until now, reform of the Lords has always been hampered by the fact that no one seems to be able to decide what should replace it.

Who cares?

Why replace it with anything, especially as these days the courts seem to have assumed the function of the second chamber?

With any luck, in attempting to defy the will of the people over Brexit and cynically seeking to shackle freedom of speech, these arrogant Lords might just have signed their own death warrant.

 

I love, I love, I love my little calendar girls 

Call me male, pale and stale, but that picture of Theresa May and her new female whips at No 10 reminded me of the cast of the movie Calendar Girls, starring Celia Imrie, about the Rylstone and District branch of the Women's Institute.

I can't wait for the calendar, girls.

Call me male, pale and stale, but that picture of Theresa May and her new female whips at No 10 reminded me of the cast of the movie Calendar Girls

Call me male, pale and stale, but that picture of Theresa May and her new female whips at No 10 reminded me of the cast of the movie Calendar Girls

Actress Celia Imrie (pictured) posing in her famous scene from the 2003 film Calendar Girls

Actress Celia Imrie (pictured) posing in her famous scene from the 2003 film Calendar Girls

 

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