New Clause 15 in the Markets and Competition Bill set the hearts racing of all freedom-loving, free speech enthusiasts. In this afternoon’s Public Bill session, Sally-Ann Hart made the case for her Amendment that would make it illegal for payment providers like PayPal to suspend the bank accounts of organisations whose views they find disagreeable.
The Free Speech Union founded by Toby Young, along with his Daily Sceptic site has enjoyed fame, some fortune, and a record of victories for people bullied out of their jobs by cancellation fanatics. In some quarters, he enjoys a senior position in the political demonology of Britain. His defence of biological reality, or his arguing the case for not locking down the British economy were particularly unforgivable. PayPal, taking upon itself the role of moral and political arbiter, closed his accounts. The disruption to a small but influential organisation was existential.
If her amendment were accepted, it would form part of the Bill and in due course become law. But laws are not made like that. At best, the minister – in this case, Andrew Griffith – needed to express enough support, and indicate there was a good chance of it being rewritten by drafting elves and incorporated into the Bill.
Sally-Ann didn’t get that but the minister undertook to “explore this in the statutory review” in early 2023.
To Guido’s ear, the minister laid out a very considerable landscape of wriggle room. Were Sally-Ann’s the right words in the right place? Was not the Equalities Act the right vehicle for redress? Or perhaps the Financial Ombudsman? What was the role of the FCA – did they have the expertise to adjudicate speech matters? And then, so much evidence was lacking – how prevalent was this harm? Would the form of words achieve the purpose she wanted?
It’s a start. At worst, we can at least follow the drama and see a little of How Things Happen.
Minister Griffith finished by undertaking to meet with the MP and the affected parties. Whatever the outcome, it will be a meeting the minister will remember.