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Mr. Robertson: I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman's connection with the Territorial Army. We are very conscious of our responsibilities for the regular reserve and the TA. Some 10 per cent. of our forces in Bosnia come from the TA. If we need to deploy reserves and the TA to Kosovo--although that decision will ultimately be mine, the recommendation will come from the forces--we shall bear all the relevant factors very much in mind.

Mr. Christopher Fraser (Mid-Dorset and North Poole): In the light of this new situation, has the Prime Minister flown out to Kumanovo in Macedonia? If he has not, does he intend to do so?

Mr. Robertson: I was out in Macedonia yesterday. Frankly, the last thing that they need out there are more VIPs descending on them. We can quite effectively send our good wishes to them--and we have, and we will. I know the presence of the Prime Minister in Macedonia was deeply appreciated and had a huge morale-boosting effect not just our troops but on the refugees whom he met. I have gone on a number of visits during this conflict, and--I think--for the very first time in any conflict in which our troops have been engaged, I took Opposition Front Benchers to ensure that our troops knew that not just the Government but the people of this country supported them.

Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester): I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees that the widely felt relief has special significance in garrison towns. I follow the comments of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) in saying that there are already troops

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from Colchester garrison in Macedonia. Indeed, I understand that several hundred more will be going. Does the Secretary of State agree that overstretch will be even more critical? If the short term becomes the long term, as it did in Bosnia, is there not a strong case for encouraging more of our European allies to relieve the pressures in Bosnia, so that British troops are not overstretched throughout the Balkans?

Mr. Robertson: Yes is the answer. We will ensure that all the European countries involved make a contribution. That is why I pay tribute to all those who have been engaged: the American pilots who have flown two thirds of the planes in the air campaign, the large number of NATO European ships in the naval presence and the thousands of European troops. They all have a role to play. The hon. Gentleman's presence as the representative of a garrison town reminds me to do one thing that I should have done a long time ago: pay a tribute to the families of the service personnel involved, who sit at home, worrying and concerned. They are making a huge contribution and a great sacrifice on behalf of the country. They are all hugely important. We think of them all the time. They are very much part and parcel of whatever policy we have for the armed forces.

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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 116 (Northern Ireland Grand Committee (sittings)),

(1) the matter of the consultation document 'Life Long Learning--a new Learning Culture for All' be referred to the Northern Ireland Grand Committee for its consideration;
(2) at the sitting on Thursday 24th June, the Committee shall take questions for oral answer and shall then consider the matter referred to it under paragraph (1) above;
(3) at the conclusion of those proceedings, a Motion for the adjournment of the Committee may be made by a Minister of the Crown, pursuant to Standing Order No. 116(5).--[Mr. Dowd.]

Question agreed to.



Health Food Products

10.53 pm

Valerie Davey (Bristol, West): As sometimes happens in this House, we go from a matter of international magnitude to one of national and local detail.

I am pleased to present the petition of the Health Food Manufacturers Association on behalf of 1,780 petitioners who live in Bristol, West and/or use one of the excellent health food stores in the constituency.

The petition declares:

To lie upon the Table.

9 Jun 1999 : Column 759

Media Standards

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Dowd.]

10.54 pm

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin): I must declare an interest, although I do so with some trepidation in the presence of my hon. Friend the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting. As the Register of Members' Interests shows, I myself am a journalist--a newspaper columnist, nowadays on The Mail on Sunday and the Catholic newspaper Flourish. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept it from me that, on at least one of those newspapers, my own views are not always necessarily the views of the management.

I should start by saying what my speech is not about, for there has been some media interest in that. It is not about outlining a litany of complaints about my own experiences with the media; there is not enough time for that. Regardless, I know the way to the libel courts, and am represented by Davenport Lyons--the legendary "Sue, Grabbit and Runne" of Private Eye fame. Besides, some of those experiences are more hurtful than others.

My last close encounter with the gutter press consisted of a 6 ft-tall young Cuban mulatta, purchased by theNews of the World to say--in colour, on pages 1, 2 and 3--that I was

That is the type of slander that some of us have to put up with.

Neither is my speech about making a case against self-regulation, for Government intervention, for new legislation on privacy, or about anything like that. I am one of the very few surviving opponents of the last attempt at a privacy law--which was piloted by the least plausible advocate of such a thing, the former Member for Winchester, Mr. John Browne.

I have not changed my mind since then about the fact that there is no editor so venal that I should prefer to see a Minister--any Minister of any Government--sitting in that editor's chair, or making his or her editorial decisions. I have visited too many countries where the deadest hand on freedom is that of the censor--the Minister of Information, the proverbial "Minister for Truth"--to wish to see us go even an inch down that road.

It is, moreover, not true that the current arrangements, in the form of the Press Complaints Commission, are a failure. In fact, in the first decade of the PCC's existence, four fifths of all complaints have been resolved bilaterally between newspaper and complainant. While, of course, there can always be improvements--I have some suggestions to make in that regard--our system of self-regulation is currently being studied by many people around the world who are trying to balance the precious, indeed fundamental, freedom of the press with the need to avoid cruel and gratuitous intrusion. Tomorrow, at the Law Society, in Chancery lane, representatives of 20 press councils, from Estonia to Iceland, will be conferring on the best way of reconciling those matters, and will very much use the British experience as a suitable case for study.

Lately, several controversies have clearly generated a great deal of heat. However, there has been more heat than light. In the murk, some people have suggested changes to

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the self-regulatory framework which, while superficially attractive, do not really stand up to scrutiny. Some people, including noble Friends in the other place, seem to favour a "proactive PCC", which could trigger investigations itself, rather than being dependent on an alleged victim of abuse of the code making a complaint. However, that in itself could be an intrusion.

Many people--such as the comedian Harry Enfield, whose honeymoon was crudely interrupted by British tabloid paparazzi; or my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett), whose holiday was similarly marred--despite their justifiable anger, have no wish to prolong their agony or widen the audience for their embarrassment by making a complaint. Moreover, it would clearly represent a type of double jeopardy if the PCC, acting in what it thought was the public good, were to ride unasked to their defence. Regardless, such people could well be on their way to the libel courts, or have others reasons why they do not wish to become a "proactive PCC" cause celebre.

A more engaged PCC more closely in tune with the industry and public attitudes and with a more hands-on chairman would be a good idea. I mean no disrespect to Lord Wakeham when I say that he is rather a figure from another age. Given that, among many other duties, he heads the royal commission investigating the future shape of the upper House of the British Parliament, he must be one of the country's busiest men. It would be preferable to have someone more steeped in the argot of the British press who would have more of a common and political touch, from which the standing of the PCC in the country would benefit.

There is also a case to answer in that some victims of abuse of the code are afraid to register a complaint for fear that the tabloids will vindictively pursue them. The code needs adjusting to make it clear that any such vindictive pursuit of a complainant would seriously exacerbate a newspaper's position and would be the subject of more serious sanction.

Similarly, the code needs to take account of the recidivist behaviour of some newspapers under some editors. It is surely unacceptable for breach after breach of the code to occur, with punishment no more severe than the publication of an adjudication tucked away on page 32 of the paper. The PCC should adopt a "three strikes and you're out" approach. If a newspaper was found on a second occasion in 12 months to have broken the code to which it had voluntarily subscribed, it should be required to publish the adjudication on the front page with an apology from the proprietor and the editor. If a third breach occurred within 12 months--we should remember that each editor is required in their contract of employment to comply with the code--it should be incumbent on the proprietor to dismiss the editor.

The code and the PCC are most seriously falling short of public expectation in what can loosely be described as entrapment. There are all kinds of entrapment for all kinds of purposes. Few would dispute that The Sunday Times was justified in its entrapment of Members of this House found to be accepting cash payments for asking parliamentary questions, or that The Guardian was right to deploy a cod fax to help get to the bottom of who really paid Jonathan Aitken's hotel bill at the Ritz. Not all subterfuge should be frowned on, but there must be a clear and undeniable public interest that overrides most people's natural queasiness about such tactics. Above all,

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there must be no active commissioning of wrong-doing that would not otherwise have taken place. As we shall see, that is by no means always the case.

I shall concentrate on one newspaper--the aforementioned News of the World--and two cases in particular. One involves a minor celebrity who is now a guest of Her Majesty's prison service. The other involves a previously unknown couple, Sue and Bob, the owners of a two-star naturist English boarding house. Many of us must have been intrigued over the years about whether the famously intrepid News of the World investigators really made their excuses and left the scenes of depravity that they were helpfully bringing to our attention. Sue and Bob, armed with audio and visual aids, answered that question, at least as far as the chief crime reporter of the News of the World, Neville Thurlbeck, was concerned. After he had plastered on a double-page spread a story entitled "The guesthouse where all rooms come with en suite pervert", he was unmasked by the couple's videotape as the pervert who badgered, begged and finally bribed Bob and Sue into allowing him to indulge in a rather pathetic act of onanism at the foot of their bed.

Despite the News of the World being caught bang to rights in that case, the PCC refused even to consider the couple's complaint in one of its most spineless failures of the decade. The presence on the board of the PCC of Mr. Phil Hall, the editor of the News of the World, scarcely persuaded those two private citizens that self-regulation would do it for them.

Even more serious is the case of the minor television actor, John Alford, from the series "London's Burning". He is currently serving a prison sentence for supplying2g of cocaine, having been entrapped by the chief investigative editor of the News of the World, Mahzer Mahmood. Mahmood posed, as is his habit, as an Arab prince with a retinue of followers. I know some Arab princes--some are my friends--and Mahzer Mahmood is no Arab prince. He was dismissed by The Sunday Times for dishonesty and for seeking to persuade workmates to behave dishonestly in order to cover up his misdemeanours. Nevertheless, that man is given apparently unlimited budgets to trap a long succession of dupes, from the directors of Newcastle United football club to young and greedy actors such as John Alford.

Mahmood took a suite in the Savoy hotel and dressed in the clothes of a prince of Arabia. For more than two weeks, he seduced Alford, chauffeuring him around in his hired Rolls-Royce and laying before him the mirage of the riches of Croesus, which could be his just for being the prince's friend and appearing at a non-existent festival in the Gulf.

Finally, when he had Alford eating out of his hand, he popped the question and asked if Alford knew where he could get some cocaine. As Alford said in his speech from the dock, he would never have dreamed of making this transaction if his friend, the Arab prince, whom he thought was going to be the making of him, had not asked him to do so. He said, and he was surely right, that the News of the World had manufactured the crime rather than reported it. Mahmood got his story and young Alford got a jail sentence and the ruination of his professional and, who knows, even his personal life.

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Surely the entrapment of people into committing offences is a matter for the criminal law and a matter for the Government to consider seriously. The law was an ass when it imprisoned John Alford, and justice was not done.

Of course, there is a great deal of hypocrisy in the press about the taking of recreational drugs. I could, if I were minded, draw the House's attention to important luminaries of the fourth estate who are no strangers to such illicit substances. There is something especially piquant about Mr. Murdoch's newspapers' resorting to these extraordinary lengths to prove that the most obscure individuals, whom they ludicrously dub as "role models", indulge themselves in this way.

Let me tell the House about Mr. Matthew Freud. I understand that he is now a successful public relations man and friend of the famous. Back in the 1980s, Mr. Freud found himself in the dog house, in front of a judge who fined him £500 and told him he was a "very foolish young man" for supplying 3.19g of a powder containing cocaine.

Mr. Murdoch, nowadays a papal knight, must have discovered the importance of penitence and redemption, at least as it affects his family. The same Mr. Freud is now the consort and live-in lover of Miss Elizabeth Murdoch who will one day inherit the very same News of the World in which princes of the press such as Mahzer Mahmood get high, laying in wait for fools whom they can entrap into supplying them with their powders.

In conclusion, I turn to the latest and arguably the greatest blunder by the tabloids--the sensational splash of seaside pictures of Sophie Rhys-Jones. That gross and tasteless act, in this case by another of Mr. Murdoch's flagships, The Sun, was a good old-fashioned story of personal betrayal, chequebook journalism and grotesque editorial misjudgment.

Far from having a melancholy ending, I believe that the humiliating climbdown by the editor of The Sun, David Yelland, was a triumph of the most important and safest form of sanction against unworthy journalism: the power of the people. The wave of angry public disapproval and the concentrated fire of the more respectable press secured quick and spectacular justice for the blameless Miss Rhys-Jones. People voting with their feet and their pockets against such journalism will always be the way of dragging the rudest red-top papers back out of the gutter.

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