“the origins and content of this Bill owe more to short-term considerations than to a mature assessment of enduring constitutional principles or sustained public demand.”

I think their lordships were right. I will now give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and then to the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long), who is slightly my hon. Friend.

Mark Durkan: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. Earlier, he indicated to the Minister that he assumed that the resolution provided for under the amendment would be moved at the start of a Parliament on the basis that any Government worth their salt would do it then. Can he tell us what he believes any Opposition worth their salt would do in relation to such a resolution? Would not the scenario that he is arguing for, of a Government doing that at the start of a Parliament, mean that the very unedifying spectacle that we have seen in this Parliament of a Government fixing the term to suit themselves would happen in every Parliament?

Chris Bryant: I suppose it is true that every Opposition will always want to take an opportunity to have an early general election. The nature of opposition means wanting to become the Government, so the Opposition would want the chance to have a general election. I think that is the drift of what my hon. Friend said. As I have said, I think we would have a better piece of legislation if we had had pre-legislative scrutiny and had been able to sit around a table, not just with the main parties but with the smaller, minority parties too.

Naomi Long: On the issue of fixing, would it not appear to be more of a fix if the Bill affected only one Parliament in which we happen to have a coalition and then fell into abeyance and had to be resurrected for future Parliaments than if the system were changed to introduce fixed-term Parliaments on a permanent basis, thereby requiring future Governments to rescind that decision if they wanted to change it?

13 July 2011 : Column 373

Chris Bryant: No, I do not accept that, because the experience over the rather sad course of this Bill has been that there has been no consultation with the Opposition about a major constitutional change. The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) said earlier that the system has lasted for 300 years, but I do not think it has been a good system or that it has been perfect for the British constitution, because it has on occasion allowed too much power for a Prime Minister to call a general election at his or her—well, very rarely at her—convenience. In that regard, it is better that we should proceed in a different direction. For us the key issue is whether a term should be four or five years.

Mr Charles Walker: No system is perfect, but we have had a fairly dynamic democracy over the past 350 years and by fixing parliamentary terms we will lose some of that dynamism.

Chris Bryant: I have sympathy with that argument, but I also think that this is one of the changes towards a fixed-term Parliament that would assist in that and would be another part of the steady progress of parliamentary evolution to which he referred.

Mr Cash: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there are really interesting historical analogies? I am thinking of the vote of 311 to 310 that led to Lady Thatcher’s becoming Prime Minister and of the debate after Munich on 10 May 1940. If we had had fixed-term Parliaments at those times, the whole thing would have been completely undermined despite the fact that the country was in uproar and wanted change. That would have been the case with a fixed-term Parliament of the kind that he wants as well as with one of five years.

Chris Bryant: No, I disagree, but we will come to that issue when we debate the second set of amendments about the measures concerning early general election. We have some disagreements with the Government, as the hon. Gentleman knows, but that is a matter for us to debate later.

4 pm

One of the other problems that I have with the way the Bill is drafted and why we support the amendments that have come from their lordships is that I do not think anybody ever sat down and thought, “We have elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. Do we want to align them with the elections here, or do we want to make sure that they fall on a different date?” That would have been going to constitutional first principles. What we have ended up with is adjusting the election dates for all those other assemblies. We have allowed them, in effect, to decide when their next elections will be, extending to five years, yet it may be that we have an early general election, so they will not need to go to five-year terms. We are tinkering on the back of a fag packet and that is not a good way of proceeding in relation to the constitution.

Mr MacNeil: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Chris Bryant: If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will not, as I am keen to conclude my remarks.

13 July 2011 : Column 374

The Minister asked whether both Houses should decide. That goes to the heart of the matter. Yes, we believe that both Houses should decide, but if the Minister had wanted to change that, he could have tabled an amendment in lieu of the Lords amendment, which could have said that just as in the provisions on an early general election, there would be a vote in one House—this House. There could have been a vote in this House on whether it was a fixed-term Parliament. The Government’s response tries to bind a future Parliament in an inappropriate way. I think that is a mistake, so we will support the Lords amendment.

Mr Syms: It is this House that determines who the Government are. This is the majority House. As we know, the upper House is a hereditary or semi-hereditary Chamber. Even under the proposals for election, it will not be the majority House. It is therefore proper and responsible that this Chamber should determine whether there should be a fixed-term Parliament. That is not the business of the upper House. The decision has to be made in this House.

The only question to debate is whether it is the Prime Minister who makes the decision or the House. Historically, it has been the Prime Minister. We have had a constitutional change. I am a conservative with a small c and I do not generally like change, but one has to acknowledge the fact that in order to command a majority in the House, the measure is part of the deal. That is a good reason for doing it. If that was not part of the deal, one would not necessarily be in government and doing many other good things for the country under our programme.

We all know that Prime Ministers lose the confidence of the House. There are occasions when Prime Ministers are challenged, and one of the things that bolsters unpopular Prime Ministers is the threat of Dissolution. It is up to them. They can throw the cards up in the air and call a Dissolution, even if they lose the confidence of their own party. That has always been one reason why Prime Ministers have stayed in Downing street when there was good reason for moving them out and having a vote of no confidence in a political party.

The other factor, which is one of the different features of modern politics, is that there are now more parties in the House—we have the Greens in this Parliament—more of a fracture in the current political system and more regional parties. It will probably be more difficult in the longer term for a party always to be confident of a majority in the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) is right. Coalitions may be more a part of the future than some of us who prefer majority government would like to think.

The Government’s position is tailored to that situation, so I will support what they are doing today. Circumstances have changed, and if one has to make a decision, it is better that political parties and the usual channels in the House determine a Dissolution than an unpopular Prime Minister who may have a different agenda from others in the Chamber.

Mark Durkan: I am delighted to be able to agree with the thrust of the remarks of the hon. Member for Poole (Mr Syms) in relation to the key effect of the Lords amendments, which would extend the power of the House of Lords as it now stands and in whatever future shape it takes, by making sure that the upper House was

13 July 2011 : Column 375

in a position of dual control with this House on whether there was a fixed-term Parliament. We know from sentiments already expressed in that House—echoed many times in this House—that there is opposition to serious proposals on Lords reform, and in those circumstances I would certainly not indulge any extension of their powers or ability to trespass on the primacy of this House, which is exactly what the amendments would do.

A number of weeks ago the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) rightly lampooned the democratic credentials of the other Chamber, and yet now he wants to extend its control over the democratic proprieties of this Chamber and over whether there is certainty on when there will be a general election. I fully agree with him that those of us who believe in fixed-term Parliaments face a predicament with the Bill, because many of us believe that four years is the natural term for a Parliament. It was the natural term that this Parliament chose for the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments, and it was right that they were comfortable with it, but because Parliament is opting for five years, those assemblies will also have to shift to five years, which I do not believe is the natural rhythm for fixed terms.

Nevertheless, it would be a bit much for someone like me to use the fact that I believe in four-year terms, in addition to believing in fixed-term Parliaments, to vote for rupturing the nature of the Bill. As someone who is proudly in the Irish Labour tradition, I have great regard for Jim Larkin, who once said that the purpose of politics was to keep narrowing the gap between what is and what ought to be. I believe in fixed-term Parliaments. Unfortunately, the only choice we now have is five-year terms. In future, I hope that other parties will be elected with a mandate to alter that fixed term to four years and that future Parliaments will do that, but I believe that we will reach that stage quicker by voting for fixed-term Parliaments now and amending the length of the term in future. If instead we get to the meaningless point of having a Bill that is a fixed-term Parliaments Bill only in name, rather like the two-hour dry cleaners that tells customers to come back next Tuesday because “two-hour dry cleaners” is just the name of the shop, that Bill will not fulfil its purpose in any real way.

In relation to the amendments, there is a curious idea that both Chambers would decide on whether there would be a fixed term, but there is uncertainty on when those resolutions would be laid and who would lay them. The references to the Prime Minister in some of the amendments relate only to moving the date of an election back by up to two months, and I think that some people have misread that and think that it means that the resolution would have to come from the Prime Minister, but it would not. It seems that we would be left with a curious situation in which anyone could seek at any time to move such a resolution in either Chamber and create various difficulties that would simply add to the political mess and to the uncertainty on whether we have fixed terms.

I also agree with the hon. Member for Rhondda in his criticism of the Bill’s provenance and the fact that it came about not to fix the term of Parliament, but to fix this Government. It was intended to create a fixed-term Government and a fix for this Parliament. For that reason it is wrong and it is bad. However, the amendments would have the effect of prescribing legislation that

13 July 2011 : Column 376

would have every Parliament begin with a Government using their majority to fix the term in a way that suited them. He said that any Government worth their salt would do that early on in the term, and presuming that an Opposition worth their salt would oppose it, we are left asking what the point would be and what such legislation would achieve, other than an unedifying procedure each time a recently elected Government appear to fix the terms on which they will govern which the Opposition resist. The whole idea of a fixed-term Parliament Bill is to ensure that there is no political speculation or contention on those issues. Looking at the nature of some of the other clauses and amendments, I do not believe that the Prime Minister is ceding as much power as some hon. Members have said.

This is an unusual and uncomfortable experience for me, but I concur with the Government on these Lords amendments. Unfortunately, on this occasion I have to disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda while fully agreeing with his basic, continuing underlying criticism of some of the background to the Bill.

Mr Shepherd: I agree with a lot of the points made by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). I am conscious that this a Bill to fix a Parliament: that is the purpose behind it, plain and simple. The difficulty that the House of Lords faced and that we face in this House—it is the reason I voted against the Bill on Second Reading and otherwise—is the incoherence of the constitutional change that these amendments, to some extent, address.

We are embarked on almost reckless constitutional change with no overall coherent view of what we want. I know what I want, and I rather suspect that the hon. Member for Foyle knows what he wants—a democratically elected, accountable House of Lords. That raises all sorts of subsidiary questions as to which has primacy and which does not. We have here a fix, without any view as to what the constitution is going to be, that has involved nothing other than the coalition partners bringing forward a Bill that contains certain propositions that do not relate. I appreciate that we have had all the debates about four years as opposed to five years and the rhythm of the process. We have had the AV referendum, which was again unrelated to how the constitution was going to look.

That is why the Lords tabled these amendments. In a sense, they are not serious amendments—serious in the sense of how they prick this process and bring in a wider consideration of what the constitution should be, to whom is it accountable, and how we make these changes. Essentially, this fixed-term Parliament proposal is “back of the envelope”. Do we really want a five-year fixed term when we might have had only four years? I think that that was the position of the Labour party in its manifesto, and the position of the Liberal Democrats. The joyous thing about it is that we did not have a view, other than against, in our election manifesto.

Mr Harper: I want to pick my hon. Friend up on his point that this has been done on the back of a fag packet.

Mr Shepherd: I did not say that—I said an envelope.

Mr Harper: Yes, forgive me—it was the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) who said it was a fag packet. This Bill was introduced in July last year. It was

13 July 2011 : Column 377

fully debated in this House and in the other place, and it is now almost a year later. One cannot in any sense agree with my hon. Friend’s proposition that the parliamentary debate on and scrutiny of this Bill has not been thorough and well thought through.

Mr Shepherd: I am sorry, but my point was not as the Minister so kindly describes it. My point was that we are talking about a constitution. The problem for everyone, not only in this Chamber but out there too—the people—is what are the forms and proper norms by which we should conduct our business, electorally or otherwise.

Now these piecemeal bits are coming forward whereby the Lords make the absurd proposition that it should have a role, as an unelected House, in determining when an election should be. That is clearly absurd, and to that extent I am sympathetic to the Government. However, I am very opposed to a five-year Parliament. There has been no testing on that. A parliamentary majority in this House will now determine that we have a new form of constitution that the hon. Member for Foyle is apparently happy about on the basis that it is only temporary and we might have a different, and therefore proper and better, version at a later stage. We have to deal with where we are here and now. We want a proper constitution, I would argue. I think that that is the position of the Labour party. I know that a good many Government Members also want a constitution that stands the test of time. No one from outside has really been invited into the supposed consultation.

The Deputy Prime Minister has not even come to argue for his position. That truly trivialises the whole process. I have gone on about that before. However much I am thrilled with the presence of the Minister, it is absurd that those who make these propositions cannot come here and argue for them.

4.15 pm

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly about this matter, but he is drifting from the point of the Lords amendments. I know that he is setting the context, but that context is getting a little too wide. I would like him to narrow his speech back to the amendments.

Mr Shepherd: I am trying to use the amendments to explain and understand what the Lords are doing. I appreciate that I may be going too wide, and I am sorry if that is so, but that is the purpose behind what I am doing. It is in that context that I am going to vote for the Lords amendments. They are absurd; there is no question about that in my mind. It is absolutely absurd that the Lords, who are not democratically elected, should be setting out such amendments. The very writing of the amendments is extraordinary for a place that we are told is full of very intellectual and clever complacents. It is extraordinary that they should even be looking into this. However, I did not open this discussion; the coalition opened it, and it did not do so in a rational or reasonable way. I am trying to find an argument to support the amendment so that I can vote against what is an improper process. It is as simple as that, Madam Deputy Speaker.

13 July 2011 : Column 378

I want those on the Government Front Bench to understand my point. They are careering on. They held an AV referendum, but apropos of what—whether one was for it or agin it? I know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that AV is not on the amendment paper.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he is out of order. He is making points directly to his party. I would appreciate it if he kept to the amendments before us and did not range far and wide. There are other Members still to speak and other amendments still to cover. I know that he knows he is out of order because he keeps telling me that he is. I have been very generous to him, but it stops now. Please come back to the amendments.

Mr Shepherd: I am obliged for the courteous and pleasant way in which that was said. Mirror, mirror on the wall, I know that I am—[ Laughter. ]

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): I apologise for missing the beginning of the hon. Gentleman’s speech. I wonder whether I may risk leading him astray. How does he think a fixed five-year term for this House stands alongside the proposals for a 15-year term for some peers in the other place?

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr Shepherd) and I can both guess whether he should go down that line. I think the answer is that he should not. Can he please come back to the amendments?

Mr Shepherd: Of course, Madam Deputy Speaker. There was no way that I was going to rise to that fly. We will get back to the substance of the matter.

These are ridiculous proposals from the House of Lords—on that I agree. To that extent I am with the body of the House, which, I hope, feels that this is almost an impertinence. That impertinence is qualified, of course, by the fact that the Lords are the second Chamber, and that as it stands—other than in matters of money, as I understand it—they have all the rights of a second Chamber to make or change legislation. They are wrong to table the amendment, but they are right in the spirit of it. I hope that it is in order to suggest such a thing. My proposition is that they are right in the spirit of it because it is the only way in which they can attack this matter.

I hope that this cheerful Chamber will look askance at the Minister and his colleague, the Deputy Leader of the House, who are sitting on the Front Bench and trying to seduce us into thinking that there is some immaculate constitutional conception behind the Bill. There is not. It is the raw politics of “We want to be there for five years, in the hope that something turns up at the end of the fifth year”. That is what it is about, and we know it. I urge the House to vote for the Lords amendment, and damn them.

Mr Charles Walker: Fixed-term Parliaments: constitutional vandalism.

Mr Cash: This was not in our manifesto. The people who voted for us certainly did not vote for fixed-term Parliaments.

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In 1940, as I have said, the Government won the vote in May, but the public would not countenance that Government remaining in power for another day. That was what got rid of Neville Chamberlain, and Leo Amery said:

“In the name of God, go.”—[Official Report, 7 May 1940; Vol. 360, c. 1150.]

Mr Shepherd: Quoting Cromwell.

Mr Cash: There was a similar example in the Cromwellian period. There are great events taking place in the world today, and the whole question of the sustainability of government ultimately depends on the continuing will of the people as a whole. The idea of fixed-term Parliaments is intrinsically wrong, because it defies the gravity of the views of the public at large. If the public were to turn against fixed-term Parliaments, under the Bill they could not succeed because fixed-term Parliaments would have been entrenched by statute, which would be upheld by the judiciary. That is fundamentally an attack on our sovereignty and the sovereignty of the people of this country. That is why I object so strongly to the whole idea of fixed-term Parliaments, whether of five years or four. It is unconstitutional, wrong and prevents the people from being able to demand a general election irrespective of the views of a Prime Minister or a coalition that is cobbled together despite the views expressed in the respective manifestos.

Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1.

The House divided:

Ayes 312, Noes 243.

Division No. 326]

[4.23 pm


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Bray, Angie

Brine, Mr Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, Paul

Burt, Lorely

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Chishti, Rehman

Clappison, Mr James

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Durkan, Mark

Edwards, Jonathan

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, Michael

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mr Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Mr Roger

Garnier, Mr Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Damian

Greening, Justine

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Mr Mike

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, Mr Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Johnson, Gareth

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kennedy, rh Mr Charles

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Long, Naomi

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Lucas, Caroline

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Main, Mrs Anne

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Karl

McCrea, Dr William

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Mensch, Louise

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Ottaway, Richard

Paice, rh Mr James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simmonds, Mark

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Teather, Sarah

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Weir, Mr Mike

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Hywel

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wilson, Sammy

Wishart, Pete

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Simon

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr Shailesh Vara and

Jeremy Wright


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Ashworth, Jon

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Bell, Sir Stuart

Benn, rh Hilary

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bone, Mr Peter

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, rh Mr Gordon

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Cash, Mr William

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Mrs Jenny

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Tony

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Mr Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

Davies, Philip

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Havard, Mr Dai

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Ian

MacShane, rh Mr Denis

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonnell, Dr Alasdair

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Michael, rh Alun

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Seabeck, Alison

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Shepherd, Mr Richard

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Mr Andrew

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, Valerie

Walker, Mr Charles

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Wicks, rh Malcolm

Williamson, Chris

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wood, Mike

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Noes:

Phil Wilson and

Mr David Hamilton

Question accordingly agreed to.

13 July 2011 : Column 380

13 July 2011 : Column 381

13 July 2011 : Column 382

13 July 2011 : Column 383

Lords amendment 1 disagreed to.

Lords amendment 2 disagreed to.

Lords amendment 3 agreed to.

Mr Harper: I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 4.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): With this we may take Lords amendments 5 to 8.

Mr Harper: These amendments were moved in the other place and I want the House to agree to them, but I shall take a little time to explain why. One of them is particularly significant, because it replaces clause 2 with a completely new clause 2. Hon. Members will remember from our earlier debates that clause 2 is particularly significant because it contains all the provisions for early elections, in the context either of two thirds of the House choosing to hold one or of a vote of no confidence. It is therefore worth explaining to the House what we are proposing.

Lords amendment 4 deals with the powers in the Bill for the Prime Minister to alter the date of an election in an emergency—[ Interruption. ]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but I am finding it rather difficult to hear him, because there are a lot of private

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conversations going on. I ask Members to listen to the Minister. The sooner we deal with this business, the sooner we can move on to the next.

Mr Harper: I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Lords amendment 4 leaves out the “earlier or” provision. When we considered the Bill originally, it contained provisions for the Prime Minister to vary the date of an election, by moving it either forward or back by two months. In our debates in the Commons, many Members identified instances in which moving the date back would make sense, such as the outbreak of foot and mouth in 2001, but no one could think of any good reasons for moving an election to an earlier date. Similar points were made in the other place and amendments were tabled to remove the provision to move an election to an earlier date. We think that that is sensible. If there were a general consensus that we needed to hold an election at an earlier date, we could of course use the provisions in clause 2 and the House could vote to enable that to happen. The power to move an election forward therefore seems unnecessary, and Lords amendment 4 deals with that.

Lords amendment 5 also deals with clause 1(5) of the Bill. The Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee recommended that, when seeking to vary the date of an election under the power in clause 1(5), a Prime Minister should lay a statement before both Houses setting out the reasons for proposing the variance of the date. The Government accept that that recommendation would enhance the transparency of the exercise of that power, and the amendment would implement the Committee’s recommendation.

Lords amendment 6 is the most significant in the group. It was supported by the Government in the other place, and it was tabled following consultation with two former Speakers of this House: the noble Baroness Boothroyd and the noble Lord Martin of Springburn. It also had support from Labour Back Benchers and from Cross Benchers. It is significant because it substitutes an alternative version of clause 2, setting out the exact forms of motions of confidence and no confidence for the purposes of the Bill. The amendment retains the original architecture of the clause, and the two triggers for an early general election—namely, that the House may vote for an early Dissolution with the support of two thirds of all Members, and that a vote of no confidence may ultimately trigger and early general election.

We had much debate of an important topic at an earlier stage of the Bill and earlier today when my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr Shepherd) suggested that what we were doing was changing the constitution. It is worth reminding the House that following a vote of no confidence in a Government, there is currently a dual convention—that the Prime Minister either resigns or calls a general election. That dual convention was set out in a recent book of Professor Vernon Bogdanor, who Members who have attended these debates will remember was my tutor. On many occasions, Professor Bogdanor has been quoted against me; he and I have not always agreed. In this particular case, I am pleased to be able to quote him in support of my arguments.

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4.45 pm

In his book, Professor Bogdanor sets out the view that the no-confidence votes of January and October 1924 are examples of the dual convention, which is supported by the revised clause 2. He says:

“In the past, a no confidence vote would lead to a dissolution only if there was no viable alternative government within Parliament. Otherwise, the Prime Minister would resign, and the alternative government would take office.”

As we know, the vote of no confidence in the Baldwin Government of January 1924 led to the formation of the MacDonald Government without a fresh election taking place. In his book, Professor Bogdanor also cites what happened when the October 1924 no-confidence motion took place, stating:

“George V, before granting what would be the third dissolution in two years, inquired, through his Private Secretary, of the two opposition leaders, Baldwin and Asquith, whether they were prepared to form an alternative government. Only after receiving a negative answer and only when it was clear that no alternative government was available did George V agree to a dissolution”.

Those events show the importance of allowing time to seek alternatives before resolving to call an election. That was the point that my hon. Friends the Members for Stone (Mr Cash) and for Aldridge-Brownhills were making in the debate on the earlier group of amendments. It explains why there was a 14-day period in the original clause 2 and why it is important that the same 14-day period remains in the newer clause 2.

Mr Cash: This 14-day period is simply a ruse, cobbled together by moving various Ministers around, in order simply to keep the existing Government in power. If a Government have a confidence motion and lose it by a majority of one, that is it—as happened with Lady Thatcher when a motion was passed by 311 to 310. That was the end of it; then a general election, leading to another Government, took place. That is how the system should function—the rest of it just cobbled together, as I say, for the sake of keeping a coalition moving under all circumstances. I am sure that the Prime Minister’s tutor, Vernon Bogdanor—also the Minister’s tutor—could have explained all that to him.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): I think we get the point.

Mr Harper: My hon. Friend is simply not right. We have had this debate before. It is important because it relates to the revised clause 2, brought about by one of the Lords amendments, which refers to a 14-day period. I know that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) supported it strongly when we debated it in Committee and on Report. Indeed, the Opposition supported our proposition when we voted against an amendment that I believe my hon. Friends had tabled.

Two alternatives can take place. I know this 1924 example goes back a bit, but it is one of the scenarios that can happen. Of course, that did not happen in 1979, but that was because we were at the tail-end of a Parliament, so the general election took place. If a vote of confidence were lost early in a Parliament, the situation I described could occur.

Another important issue came up here and in the other place when the rationale for clause 2 was debated. The 14-day period is not mandatory; it is the maximum

13 July 2011 : Column 386

period that can apply. If the Government had lost a vote of confidence and there were a general consensus that the country should move immediately to a general election, there would be nothing to stop the Government putting down a motion for an early Dissolution. A vote on it could happen and the general election could be triggered immediately. I am not sure that that argument came out strongly in the other place; that is why it is worth putting it on the record.

We listened carefully to the concerns expressed in the other place about clause 2. We also conducted meetings with the two former Speakers, as I mentioned. We listened and made the amendment. Opposition Members will be pleased that the amendment has been made. The hon. Member for Rhondda said that as we were abolishing the Prime Minister’s right to dissolve Parliament, and placing that right in the hands of Parliament, it would be better to state in the Bill, in clear language, what constitutes a motion of no confidence, so that there can be no doubt.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): Will the Minister explain a couple of things? First, is there another example in legislation of a motion being laid down for Parliament to follow, or is it an innovation? Secondly, who will determine whether the motion has been passed in the correct form? Will it be a matter for the courts?

Mr Harper: Let me develop my argument, and I will cover the points raised by my hon. Friend. The concern in the other place about the original drafting of clause 2 was raised particularly by the two former Speakers, who felt that not having specific motions laid down, and requiring the Speaker to certify that votes of no confidence had been lost, would draw the Speaker into controversy. This House and the other place were happy that there was no issue about privilege and the courts trespassing into decisions of the House, but it was felt that there was a risk of the Speaker being drawn into controversy. The Government accepted the other place’s view that the language of the motion should be set out clearly.

Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise to the Minister and to you, but given the seriousness of the matter I wish to raise I must do so urgently. The Guardian newspaper has just issued a statement saying:

“The prime minister’s account of why he failed to act on the information we passed his office in February 2010 is highly misleading.”

Have you had notice of an urgent response from the Prime Minister so that he can put the matter right at the Dispatch Box?

Madam Deputy Speaker: Comments that are made outside the House are not the responsibility of the Chair. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that there is a question of privilege, I would advise him that he must write to the Speaker. It is not a matter for me now.

Mr Harper: I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The new version of clause 2 set out in the amendment spells out the exact wording of motions of no confidence, motions of confidence, and motions for an early Dissolution. Whether the conditions have been met would therefore be plain for everyone to see, and it would be clear from

13 July 2011 : Column 387


Votes and Proceedings

and the


, and the Speaker would not need to be drawn into certifying whether the motions had been passed. That was the reason why the amendment was supported by the former Speakers, the Opposition and the other place. The amendment delivers what we had originally intended—that the power to trigger an early Dissolution should lie with this House—but adds clarity and does not risk drawing the Speaker into controversy.

Amendments 7 and 8 are very important, especially for those Members who represent parts of the United Kingdom with devolved legislatures. When the Bill left this House, I told Members that we were in discussions with the parties in the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly about how to deal with the coincidence of elections in 2015. I wrote to the Presiding Officers of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly on 17 February, and proposed that if they passed a resolution with the support of at least two thirds of their Members, ensuring that there was consensus across the parties, we would agree to legislate to move the dates of the 2015 Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly general elections up to one year later. The Scottish Parliament passed a unanimous motion on 3 March confirming that it wished the UK Government to bring forward a provision to defer the 2015 election to 5 May 2016, and a similar motion was passed by the Welsh Assembly on 16 March.

We have said that if the House accepts the amendments, in the longer term we will conduct a detailed assessment—this issue arose during the debate on the earlier group of amendments—of the implications of the two sets of elections coinciding at a later date. Once we have conducted that assessment, if we think that there is a case for changing the cycle of elections, we will carry out a public consultation in Scotland and Wales on whether the devolved legislatures should be subject to permanent five-year terms.

Mr Cash: Does the Minister not agree that, whether we adopted the original proposals in the Bill or the proposals of the former Speakers and others, the matter would be justiciable? The Speaker would indeed be drawn into controversy, but there would also be a risk of the whole question being adjudicated by the courts.

Mr Harper: We debated the issues of privilege, justiciability and whether the courts would seek to intervene in these matters at length in Committee and on Report, and they were also debated in the other place. I think that the general view was that the risk of intervention by the courts was very slight. It did not seem to concern Members of either House, although I accept that my hon. Friend still has concerns about it.

Mr Cash rose—

Mr Harper: I will take one more intervention.

Mr Cash: The Clerk of the House, in his careful consideration of the issue, took the view, very strongly, that it would lead to justiciability. That is not just the view of one humble Back Bencher; it is also the view of the Clerk of the House, to whom fulsome tributes were paid yesterday for his wise advice.

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Mr Harper: I recognise that. The Government set out our reasons for disagreeing with that view, and I believe that their case was accepted by Members of both Houses. We have already debated the matter at length, and I do not think that there is a feeling that we should resurrect that debate now.

In Northern Ireland, there will be consultation with the Northern Ireland Executive and all the political parties, which will begin when the Northern Ireland Office has received reports from both the chief electoral officer and the Electoral Commission on the May 2011 polls, which involved three combined elections. The chief electoral officer’s report has just been received and is being examined by officials, and the report of the Electoral Commission is expected to be received shortly.

Given that the amendments were accepted in the other place and there was a fair degree of consensus, I urge Members to agree with the Lords.

Chris Bryant: I broadly agree with what the Government have said. I would point out, however, that the Government, and the Minister himself, have developed a rather irritating habit of opposing measures at this end of the building and then agreeing with them at the other end. That is bad for the way in which we conduct our business in this House. It applies particularly to the replacement for clause 2, in Lords amendment 6. All the changes in these amendments were contained in amendments that we tabled at this end of the building—

Mr Harper rose—

Chris Bryant: I will not give way to the Minister, I am afraid.

The Minister chose to oppose the amendments in this House, and then accept them in the other Chamber.

Mr Harper rose—

Chris Bryant: I am not going to give way to the Minister. He has spoken plenty.

This is the second occasion on which the Minister has done that today. This morning he tabled a written ministerial statement that basically consisted of an amendment that he voted against during our debates on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. I wish he would stop doing it.

All I will say to the Minister about the improved clause 2 is that part of it, the “two-thirds majority” provision, remains foolhardy. Requiring a special majority to secure something constitutes a complete change in the practices of the House. It is also completely unnecessary, because it is almost inconceivable that on any occasion on which the Government tabled a motion for an early general election, the Opposition would not agree with it. There would always be a two-thirds majority. Let me say to Liberal Democrat Members who may think that that would protect them if the Prime Minister opted for an early general election before the planned date for the next general election, that it will do no such thing.

Lords amendment 4 agreed to.

Lords amendments 5 to 8 agreed to.

Lords amendment 9 disagreed to.

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Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83H), That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendments;

That Mr Mark Harper, Mr Philip Dunne, Chris Bryant, Jonathan Reynolds and Mr Mark Williams be members of the Committee;

That Mr Mark Harper be the Chair of the Committee;

That three be the quorum of the Committee.

That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Mr Goodwill.)

Question agreed to.

Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords .

5 pm

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I now have to announce the results of Divisions deferred from a previous day. On the question relating to the Equality Act work on ships, the Ayes were 316 and the Noes were 233, so the Ayes have it. On the question relating to the Equality Act duties on public authorities, the Ayes were 316 and the Noes were 230, so the Ayes have it.

[The Division list s are publishe d at the end of today’ s debates.]

13 July 2011 : Column 390

Opposition Day

[19th Allotted Day—Half Day]

Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation Bid for BSkyB

5.2 pm

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House believes that it is in the public interest for Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation to withdraw their bid for BSkyB.

The motion stands in my name and those of right hon. and hon. Members across the House: the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, the leader of the Scottish National party, the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party, the leader of Plaid Cymru and the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). I thank them all for joining me in tabling this motion. I also thank those Conservative Members who have set out their support for the motion in advance of the debate.

It is unusual, to put it mildly, for a motion in this House to succeed before the debate on it begins, but this is no ordinary motion, and this is no ordinary day. Make no mistake: the decision made by News Corporation was not the decision it wanted to make. It may have been announced before this debate, but it would not have happened without it. Above all, this is a victory for people: the good, decent people of Britain, outraged by the betrayal of trust by parts of our newspaper industry, who have spoken out up and down this country, and who have contacted Members across this House and told us of their concerns. The will of Parliament was clear, the will of the public was clear, and now Britain’s most powerful media owner has had to bend to that will.

This debate is an opportunity to understand how we got here and where we go from here. I will speak briefly, to allow others to speak in what has been a curtailed debate. The terrible revelations of the last week have shaken us all. They have caused immense pain and heartache to bereaved families, as they learned that their most private moments were stolen from them to sell newspapers. As each day has gone by, I am sure all of us will have felt the same: surely it cannot get any worse than this. But it has: the phone of Milly Dowler, the victims of 7/7, the families of our war dead, and the personal details of our former Prime Minister. And we are told that there is worse to come. These revelations have uncovered a pattern of sustained criminality that is breathtaking, and they have called into question our faith in the police’s capacity fully to investigate wrongdoing.

There are many things that we need to do to put these wrongs right. We have done one of them today. This was a time for the House of Commons to give voice to the views and feelings of the British public about the integrity of our media, which should be at the centre of our democracy. The principles at stake go to the heart of the country we believe in. They are about whether we allow power to be exercised without responsibility, about

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whether the responsibility we need goes right to the top of our society, and about the truth that no corporate interest should be able to write the law or be above the law.

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the point that I put to the Prime Minister earlier, which is that it would be incongruous to have terms of reference for this particular inquiry—most of the terms of reference having been announced—that exclude the sound and visual medium? We talk of “the media” generally, but most of the argument turns on the question of the word “press” and newspapers. Should the definition not be extended?

Edward Miliband: I am sure that that point will be considered, but what I say to the hon. Gentleman is that the abuses that we have seen are in our newspaper industry, and we want this inquiry to get on and concentrate on where there have been abuses. It will, of course, examine cross-media ownership, and I think it is right for it to do so.

This debate is also about the relationship between private power and the power of people, given voice by this Parliament. We need strong entrepreneurial businesses in this country, but we need them to show responsibility, and in these highly unusual circumstances it was right that Parliament intervened. The case was clear about why the stakes were so high in this bid—I will say something about that—about why the revelations of the recent past comprehensively undermine this bid, and about why the motion was necessary. I will deal with those points briefly.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman talks about the “recent past”. As a new Member, I see that this goes back to 2003. We had deeply concerning reports from the Information Commissioner in 2006, so why was action not taken before 2010? Why was this not dealt with?

Edward Miliband: All of us accept our share of responsibility for not having spoken out more on these issues. The question is: what is to be done now? Is this House going to take action? Are we going to work together to deal with these issues?

Let me start by talking about why the stakes in this case were so high. News Corp was bidding for 100% control of BSkyB. This would have represented a major change for our public life in any circumstances, let alone those that we now face. It would have given News Corp unfettered control of one of the two largest broadcasters in Britain, as well as the 40% control of the newspaper market that it already owned. This was not some incidental change, but a major departure. The revelations of recent weeks went to the core of this bid. They suggest that people at News International have concealed and dissembled in an attempt to hide the truth about what had been done, including from this House of Commons.

Mr Chuka Umunna (Streatham) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, given the revelations and the differences in the information that has been provided to this House, it is right and proper for Rebekah Brooks,

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James Murdoch and Rupert Murdoch to answer the call from the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport to give evidence to this House next Tuesday?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about this, because those people are key figures in the newspaper industry, and indeed the whole media industry in Britain, and they should not be above the Select Committee. It is absolutely right—I am sure that this view will be shared in all parts of this House—for them to come before the Select Committee.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con) rose

Edward Miliband: I am going to make progress, but I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Christopher Pincher: Was the right hon. Gentleman saying those things to Rupert Murdoch when he was eating his canapés three weeks ago?

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): Let me say to the hon. Gentleman, who is new to this House, that this is an opportunity for the House of Commons to speak with one voice on these issues. That is what we should do today.

I was about to say that the issues we are discussing are about the integrity of people working at News International. The Chair of this House’s Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport says that he was misled, the head of the Press Complaints Commission says that she was lied to by News International, James Murdoch has admitted serious wrongdoing in the company, and there are now, of course, allegations that News International knew that phone hacking was widespread as long ago as 2007.

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): On the subject of the individuals to whom my right hon. Friend just referred, one thing that shocked many people as much as anything was the fact that on Sunday and Monday, when Rupert Murdoch arrived, he said that his No. 1 priority was Rebekah Brooks—not the Dowlers, not the families of the victims of 7/7, and not the families of dead servicemen. Rebekah Brooks was his No. 1 priority. Does that not show why he has a complete responsibility to come to this House and answer its questions?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend is entirely right. Throughout this process Mr Murdoch has seemed to show no recognition of the scale of abuse of the trust of the people of this country, whom he claims daily in his newspapers to represent and whose voice he claims to understand. My hon. Friend is totally right.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about the workers who will be losing their jobs in this whole debacle? While the Rebekahs of this world refuse to move on, those at the bottom end of the pay chain will have no choice about losing their jobs.

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend is right: the cruel irony of the closing of the News of the World is that the one person who we know was responsible, in the sense that she was in charge when Milly Dowler’s phone was hacked, was the one person not to lose her job as a result of the decisions that were made.

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Let me make some progress. Even though we do not yet know what charges may be laid and against whom, it is apparent that there are serious questions to be answered about alleged criminal activity perpetrated by people in News International. Sky is a respected broadcaster under diverse ownership, and we did not want Sky taken over by a company under such a cloud.

Let me explain why the motion was necessary; I see that the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport is in his place. For months the Government have argued that they could rely on assurances given to them by an organisation about which there was mounting evidence of serious wrongdoing. Last Wednesday the Prime Minister told me there was no alternative to the Culture Secretary’s process, and that nothing could be done. Five days later the Culture Secretary changed direction, a decision I welcome, and referred the bid to the Competition Commission. That decision—hon. Members should understand that this is why the motion was necessary—would have ended up back on the Secretary of State’s desk before the end of the criminal process. He would then have needed to make a decision about the bid without all the relevant factors having been considered. That is why we tabled this motion.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the motion was necessary, and he will note that Scottish National party Members were signatories to the motion and support him in his endeavours. He is also right to stress that cross-party unity is important in all this, but will he accept and acknowledge that he perhaps got the tone wrong today at Prime Minister’s questions? The public do not want to see this argy-bargy between the two main parties. All parties in the House must work together on this issue.

Edward Miliband: I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s advice, but I do not necessarily agree with it on this occasion.

We tabled this motion because the issue would have ended up back on the Secretary of State’s desk.

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con) rose

Edward Miliband: I am going to make some progress.

Let me talk more generally about the issues we face. We want a free press. We want an independent press. We want the kind of journalism that does that profession proud and makes the rest of us think. The vast majority of journalists are decent people, with a vital role to play in our public life, but the best way to protect them, and to protect the integrity of our press, is to root out the kind of journalism that has left us all sickened. We all have a responsibility to get to the bottom of this scandal and ensure that something like that can never happen again. That is why I welcome the inquiry that has been announced today, and the comprehensive nature of that inquiry.

Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) (Con) rose

Edward Miliband: I am not going to give way.

We have to address all the issues that we face for the future. On the relationship between the press and politicians, let me be clear. There is nothing wrong with politicians

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engaging with the media, and Members across all parts of the House will continue to do so. What matters is not whether those relationships exist but whether they stifle either the ability of the press to speak out against political leaders or the ability of political leaders to speak up.

Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Edward Miliband: I am not going to give way. [ Interruption. ] We have very little time for the debate and many hon. Members want to speak. I want to give them proper time to speak.

As I was saying, this is about whether those relationships are conducted in a transparent way. That is why all Members of the House—I hope that this answers hon. Members’ questions—should be available to appear before Lord Leveson’s inquiry. On cross-media ownership, the inquiry will need to think long and hard about the dangers of the excessive concentration of power in too few hands. Most importantly, we must protect people from the culture that allowed all those events to happen.

Lastly, there is a difficult issue for the House: the painful truth is that all of us have, for far too long, been in thrall to some sections of the media, including News International. For too long, when these things happened we just shrugged our shoulders and said, “That’s the way it is,”—but no longer. The events of the past seven days have opened all our eyes and given us the chance to say, “It doesn’t have to be like this.”

I want, before I finish, to pay tribute to the people who made this possible, and to Back Benchers across the House for their courage in speaking out. I pay tribute particularly to my hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) for their tireless and brave work on these issues. I pay tribute to Members on the Government side, such as the hon. Members for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) and for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames), who spoke out about BSkyB in last week’s emergency debate, and to the Select Committees and their Chairs on both sides of the House. I also want to pay tribute to you, Mr Speaker, for the seriousness with which you have taken Parliament’s role on this issue.

This is a victory for Parliament. This House has been criticised in recent years for being timid, irrelevant and out of touch. Today Parliament has shown an ability to speak out without fear or favour, to speak to our great traditions, and to show that we can hold power to account and that nobody is above the law. To paraphrase the late Lord Denning, be ye ever so high, the people are above you. This House—all Members and all parties—have given voice to the people and have said to Rupert Murdoch, “Abandon your bid.” The country wanted this: it wanted its voice to be heard, and today it has been heard.

5.18 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young) May I begin—[Hon. Members: “Where’s Cameron?”] May I begin by welcoming the tone of the Leader of the Opposition’s speech, which I very much hope will set the tone of our debate this evening? In response to the sedentary interventions from the Opposition, may I say that it is entirely appropriate that the Leader of the House should speak during this

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debate given that today represents a victory for Parliament and for those whom we represent. As events have overtaken the motion and as this is a short debate I propose, like the Leader of the Opposition, to make a brief contribution.

Despite the fact that the police investigation is under way and that the public inquiry announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is soon to be up and running, we are still hearing shocking allegations by the day. We are hearing allegations that personal details of members of the royal family were handed over to newspapers for profit, that the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), whom I welcome this evening, had his details blagged by another News International title and that victims of terrorism also had their phones hacked into and their privacy invaded. As both the nature of the malpractice and the scope of the newspapers involved widens, it is right that the police continue to follow their inquiries and the evidence wherever it takes them.

It was simply unrealistic to expect the public and politicians to separate all this from News Corporation’s proposed takeover of BSkyB. That is why both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister were right when they said earlier this week that News Corporation should withdraw its bid. Any hon. Member who was running the company right now, with all its problems, difficulties and the mess it is in would want to get their house in order first, before thinking about the next corporate move. That is why it was entirely right for News Corporation to withdraw its bid today. The whole House will welcome that decision.

I want to pick up a point that the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) made towards the end of his remarks. Today has proved that those commentators who have in the past written this place off were completely wrong. We have seen the tenacity of Back Benchers. The hon. Members for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) and for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), my hon. Friends and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) have been in the forefront of a relentless campaign for the truth, and they have revealed that the House is able not only to reflect the public mood, but to be a champion of its causes.

I also pay tribute to the forensic scrutiny of Select Committees—those chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith). They have vindicated the decision to make the Select Committees more independent of the Executive. The Chamber, which some had argued was losing its relevance and power, has in fact been leading the public debate over the past fortnight, with the Standing Order No. 24 debate, statements and Select Committee hearings all being televised live.

No one can say today, as they did two years ago, that Parliament is irrelevant. Yes, we have learned the hard way how easy it is to lose the trust of our constituents, but having proved itself an effective champion of the people on this issue, the House has the opportunity not only to regain the initiative, but to restore public confidence in Parliament at the same time.

Several hon. Members rose

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Sir George Young: I give way to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley).

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I thank the Leader of the House for giving way. As the saga unfolds and acquires a greater international component, what powers will the inquiry have to ensure that the international aspects of the story can be properly investigated so that the House is seen to have teeth and to be able not only to clean up the mess here, but to set an international standard?

Sir George Young: The prime focus of the inquiry that we have announced should be getting things right in this country, but I have no doubt that as we make progress there will be interest on an international scale in the way we take matters forward.

Given the news that broke this afternoon, it is right that the House can now focus its attention on the wider concerns that the public feel—allegations of widespread law-breaking by parts of the press, alleged corruption on the part of the police, and the years of inaction from politicians.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is unprecedented for a motion to be sponsored by six Opposition party leaders in the House of Commons and supported by Members on the Government Benches too? The Prime Minister said that he wishes there to be a cross-party approach. Bearing that in mind, does the right hon. Gentleman regret the fact that discussions that took place last night excluded the parties of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

Sir George Young: My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister addressed that question in the statement this afternoon. We have published draft terms of reference. We are consulting the devolved Administrations. They will have an opportunity to make an impact on the terms of reference.

There is a proper, large-scale and well-resourced police investigation which has all the powers it needs to bring those responsible to justice.

Mr Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House give way?

Sir George Young: For one final moment.

Mr Reed: There is no doubt that the depths of the scandal have yet to be fully revealed. Many people, among them Carl Bernstein, have compared it to Watergate. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that comparison?

Sir George Young: It makes sense to allow the inquiry to take place before we pronounce a verdict on whether there is comparability with what happened in America, but the way that we have responded was the right way to respond, rather than to indulge in the sort of cover-up that happened over the Atlantic.

The House is clear that justice should be done. The Government are doing everything we can to make that happen. All Members will remember the scandal over parliamentary expenses that engulfed the House two years ago, almost to the day. Illegality and gross misconduct by a few, cover-ups and a lack of transparency, and the failure of self-regulation were a toxic mix that led to a

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dramatic change in how Parliament was perceived by the public, with the reputation of the majority tarnished by the actions of a minority.

I see parallels between what happened to us and what is now happening to another important pillar of any democracy, namely a free press. While there are parallels, there are also lessons. As with expenses, the right approach to the current situation is to reach political agreement on the right way forward, to ensure much greater transparency and to move away from self-regulation to independent regulation without impeding the media’s ability to fulfil its democratic role.

Mr Cash: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Sir George Young: I will make progress, as many Members wish to speak. The police investigation, the inquiry that the Prime Minister launched today and the ongoing inquiries being carried out by Select Committees must now be allowed to get on with their crucial work.

Mr Cash: On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: I hope that it is a point of order.

Mr Cash: We have been told that there are published terms of reference and it would be helpful to have access to them. We do not know where they are and have not been told what they are.

Mr Speaker: That is a very important point, but it suffers from the disadvantage of not being a point of order.

Sir George Young: My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in his statement this afternoon that the draft terms of reference would be placed in the Library.

This country has a rich tradition of a lively and free press, which must continue. We have been fortunate to have a strong and robust police force, which now must prove itself beyond reproach. Finally, although some outside this country may disagree, we are fortunate to have a House of Commons that is independent of Government, and the fact that Parliament has proved itself effective in resolving the issue is a tribute to how the House has addressed the matter.

5.26 pm

Mr Gordon Brown (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (Lab): It is a bit like the old days for me, with the Government on the run, the Opposition in pursuit and a headline in The Sun saying, “Brown wrong”, another example of my very close relationship with News International. It is like the old days, but with one exception: if I had not come to the House when I was Prime Minister, in a debate in which the Prime Minister has been implicated, I hesitate to think what hon. Members would have said—[ Interruption. ]

Much has already happened today outside the House, with the announcements by BSkyB and the subsequent announcement by Ofcom only a few minutes ago that it is now examining whether News Corporation is a fit and proper person or organisation for the 38% of BSkyB that it still holds. When there have been great

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occasions and great questions of moral concern, it has been this House that has spoken for Britain, and over the next few months this House must show that it can rise to the challenge. With the exception of decisions on peace and war, there is no matter of greater importance than the basic liberties of our citizens. Each generation has to reconcile for its times the freedom of the individual with the freedom of the press and balance two great rights, the right of the public to information and the right of the individual to privacy.

Mr Graham Stuart: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Brown: I want to set out the facts for the House and will be happy take any interventions after.

In nearly 30 years as a Member of this House, in opposition and in government, I have never sought to propose or impose any restrictions on the freedom of the press. At all times I have defended their right to expose any wrongdoing wherever it is found and to speak truth to power however uncomfortable it is, and indeed was at times for me. Although I will today make proposals for reform and comment on each point that the Prime Minister made earlier in the House, it is my judgment that we should reform but never undermine something so fundamental to our ordered liberty as our twin commitments to the freedom of the individual and to a free press.

I rise to speak not about myself, but for those who cannot defend themselves: the grieving families of our brave war dead; the courageous survivors of 7/7; the many other dignified, but now outraged, victims of crime and; most recently, and perhaps worst of all, the victims of the violation of the rights of a missing and murdered child. Many, many wholly innocent men, women and children who, at their darkest hour, at their most vulnerable moment in their lives, with no one and nowhere to turn to, found their properly private lives, their private losses, their private sorrows treated as the public property of News International—their private, innermost feelings and their private tears bought and sold by News International for commercial gain.

Amassed against these guiltless victims and against a succession of other victims of crime whose names I know about and have seen, and have yet to be made public, was the systematic use of base and unlawful methods—new crimes with new names: blagging, hacking, Trojans to break into computers and not just phones. It was not the misconduct of a few rogues or a few freelancers but, I have to say, lawbreaking often on an industrial scale, at its worst dependent on links with the British criminal underworld.

Mr Graham Stuart rose

Mr Brown: I will set out my case and then I will answer questions.

This is the only way—[ Interruption. ]

Mr Speaker: Order. I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman. Mr Stuart, I am going to say it to you once and once only: you are far too excitable. Be quiet and calm down—[ Interruption. ] Order. If you cannot—do not shake your head at me—then leave the Chamber.

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Mr Brown: This is the only way to describe the behaviour of those at News International who took the freedom of the press as a licence for abuse, who cynically manipulated our support of that vital freedom as their justification, and who then callously used the defence of a free press as the banner under which they marched in step, as I say, with members of the criminal underworld. This nexus—this criminal-media nexus—was claiming to be on the side of the law-abiding citizen but was in fact standing side by side with criminals against our citizens. Others have said that in its behaviour towards those without a voice of their own, News International descended from the gutter to the sewers. The tragedy is that it let the rats out of the sewers.

When I became Prime Minister in 2007, I, with everyone else, had no knowledge of this systematic criminality within News International. I also did what any holder of the great office I held would do. With our armed forces at war in two theatres, and with my own sense of the need for a renewed national purpose, I wanted to unite the country, not divide it; to bring people on board, not to pick fights with them; and to strive to create the broadest coalition of churches and others across our nation in support of our nation’s best interests, and not wilfully to set out to make an enemy of anyone. I therefore believe it was right, in what is often called the Prime Minister’s honeymoon, however brief it turned out to be for me—and for my successor—to seek to build bridges with members of the public and the press and to strive to construct the widest coalition of understanding for our policies and purposes. I would be surprised if I am unique in politics in hoping for the best of relationships with our media.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Brown: Let me say, Mr Speaker, that I am about to set out some facts for this House, and I hope that once I have done so I will be able to give way to Members.

In the month that I started at No. 10, there were already issues of state involving News International—a decision that the Government had to make on a Competition Commission inquiry into the recently acquired stake that brought its ownership of ITV up to 16.8%. It was for the Government to decide on any referral to the competition authority, and the Government approached this with no bias against BSkyB. However, after examining in some detail BSkyB’s activities, the Government, on the advice of the relevant authorities, found a case to answer and announced the strongest remedy possible—a referral to the competition authority, which went on to rule that BSkyB’s share purchase in ITV was not in the public interest. So far from siding with the News International interest, the Government stood up for the public interest by making the referral. While we correctly gave it time to sell its shares, its shares had to be sold.

Next was the proposed Ofcom review into the onward sale of BSkyB sporting and other programmes, and the claims of its competitors that it had priced BT, Virgin and other cable companies out of the market. The public interest was in my view served by due investigation. We did not support the News International interest, but stood up for what in our view was the public interest. The Ofcom recommendation, which News International still opposes today, demanded that there be fair competition.

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It is no secret that the 2009 McTaggart lecture given by Mr James Murdoch, which included his cold assertion that profit not standards was what mattered in the media, underpinned an ever more aggressive News International and BSkyB agenda under his and Mrs Brooks’s leadership that was brutal in its simplicity. Their aim was to cut the BBC licence fee, to force BBC online to charge for its content, for the BBC to sell off its commercial activities, to open up more national sporting events to bids from BSkyB and move them away from the BBC, to open up the cable and satellite infrastructure market, and to reduce the power of their regulator, Ofcom. I rejected those policies.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD) rose—

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con) rose—

Mr Brown: I will give way after I have set out my evidence.

Those policies were clearly in News International’s interests, but were plainly not in the British people’s interests.

The truth is there in Government records for everyone to see. I am happy to volunteer to come before any inquiry, because nothing was given: there were no private deals, no tacit understandings, no behind-the-scenes arrangements and no post-dated promises. I doubt whether anyone in this House will be surprised to hear that the relationship between News International and the Labour Administration whom I led was, in all its years from start to finish, neither cosy nor comfortable.

I think that if people reflected on events as early as the summer of 2007, with the portrayal of me in The Sun as the betrayer of Britain, they would see them as somewhat absurd proof of an over-close and over-friendly relationship. Headlines such as “Brown killed my son”, which made me out to be the murderer of soldiers who were actually killed by our enemy, the Taliban, could hardly be a reflection of a deep warmth from News International towards me. The front-page portrayal of me as “Dr Evil” the day after the generally accepted success of the G20 was hardly confirmation of The Sun’s friendship and support as the world battled with the threat of a great depression.

It has been said that the relationship between News International and the Government of the day changed only because in 2009 News International suddenly decided to oppose Labour formally. I say that the relationship with News International was always difficult because Labour had opposed its self-interested agenda.

I have compiled for my own benefit a note of all the big policy matters affecting the media that arose in my time as Prime Minister. That note also demonstrates in detail the strange coincidence of how News International and the then Conservative Opposition came to share almost exactly the same media policy. It was so close that it was often expressed in almost exactly the same words. On the future of the licence fee, on BBC online, on the right of the public to see free of charge the maximum possible number of national sporting events, on the future of the BBC’s commercial arm, and on the integrity of Ofcom, we stood up for what we believed to be the public interest, but that was made difficult when the Opposition invariably reclassified the public interest as the News International interest. It is for the commission

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of inquiry to examine not just the promises of the then Opposition, but the many early decisions of this Government on these matters.

During the last year of our Government, information became public to suggest that the hacking of phones, and indeed of computers, went far beyond one rogue reporter and one rogue newspaper. In February 2010, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee reported that the number of victims was more than the handful that had been claimed. It said it was inconceivable that no one else at News International other than those convicted was in the know. News International, it said, was guilty of “deliberate obfuscation”. But already, in August 2009, Assistant Commissioner Yates of Scotland Yard had taken only eight hours—less time, I may say, than he spent dining with the people he should have been investigating—to reject pre-emptively a further police inquiry. Even the proposal that an outside police force take over the Scotland Yard inquiry had been rejected.

Having seen the Select Committee report, I immediately asked the head of the civil service to agree that we set up a judicial inquiry. Far from the so-called cosy relationship alleged with News International, which would have meant doing nothing, my answer to what appeared to be News International’s abuse of press freedom was a full judge-led inquiry to meet growing public concern.

Let me summarise the formal advice contained in a memorandum to me rejecting such an inquiry: that, while there were some new facts and there was a media culture permissive of unlawful activities and deliberate obfuscation by News International, the Select Committee did not believe that the practices were still continuing, and thus they did not meet the test of urgent public concern; that time had elapsed and evidence may have been destroyed; that the News of the World and individuals had already been punished by their resignations and jail terms; that there was no evidence of systemic failure in the police, and anyway all their decisions had been checked with the Crown Prosecution Service; and that targeting the News of the World could be deemed to be politically motivated, because it was too close to the general election and would inevitably raise questions over the motivation and urgency of an inquiry.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Brown: I think that for the benefit of the future debates on the matter and the inquiry, this information is relevant.

The memorandum stated that if an appeal was made against a judicial inquiry, such a challenge might succeed, and that there was not only no case for a judicial-led inquiry, but not a strong case for either a non-judicial inquiry or even a reference to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, or even for asking the police to reopen their inquiry.

Mr Graham Stuart: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I ask whether there is any time limit in this debate, and—

Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman will resume his seat. If there were a time limit it would be announced;

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when there is, it will be. That is the end of the matter. It is a totally bogus point of order, as the hon. Gentleman knows.

Mr Brown: I notice that the hon. Gentleman asks for a time limit; perhaps what he ought to do is listen to the facts.

If we do not act now on what we now know, and if we do not act forcefully and with clarity, friends around the world who admire our liberties will ask what kind of country we—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. I apologise for having to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman.

Earlier today the Prime Minister said it; the Leader of the Opposition has said it; the Leader of the House has said it—a new tone, a new mood. [Interruption.] Order. The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) will be quiet. There will be interventions when the Member who has the floor takes them, and not before. Members will observe basic courtesies and listen quietly and with respect to speakers. That is the end of it. Mr Stuart, if you are not prepared to do so, leave the Chamber. We can manage without you.

Mr Brown: If we do not act now as a House of Commons, knowing what we now know, and act forcefully and with clarity, friends around the world who admire our liberties as a country will now ask what kind of country we have become. A crime has been committed against innocent members of the public; a complaint has been made to the police and no satisfaction has been given. Even when the police have had someone’s name as a likely victim, they were neither telling them nor taking action. No action from the head of the first police inquiry, Andy Hayman, whose next job just happened to be at News International; no action from his successor, who had overall responsibility for two inquiries—Mulcaire and Abelard, or what is called Southern Investigations—each with vast but unexamined archives exposing criminality on a huge scale. Inspector Yates has redefined for us the meaning of an inquiry. He not only failed to ask any of the right questions but, as became clear yesterday, he failed even to ask any of the basic questions.

I deeply regret my inability to do then what I wanted to do—to overturn the advice of all the authorities and set up a judicial inquiry. I can say for the record that, as I left office, I talked to the leader of the Liberal party and warned him that a Coulson problem would emerge, and I did so directly, and not through an intermediary who might not remember to pass on the message. At the same time, I handed him, in person, our proposal for a commission into the media, and in summer last year, I wrote to the head of the civil service to point out that the previous advice against the judicial inquiry had clearly since been overtaken by the new evidence.

I am afraid that the House must examine more recent, more damning and more alarming evidence. Because of what happened to my children, whose privacy at all times I have tried to protect, I have been sent, I have been offered, and I have had thrust upon me a great deal of evidence that is relevant to this debate, which is now for the police to examine. It is right for the House to know that the damage done in the past 10 years to innocent lives was avoidable. As early as the winter of

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2002, senior police officers at Scotland Yard met the now chief executive of News International and informed her of serious malpractice on the part of her newspaper staff and criminals undertaking surveillance on their behalf. The new investigation will no doubt uncover why no action was taken within News International and what lay behind the subsequent promotion of that junior editor concerned.

In that context, and again, because of what happened to my family, I have been made aware of an additional and previously unexamined stream of orders by one of the editors at News International, Mr Alex Marunchak, to hack and to intrude—a man who was subsequently promoted to be a full editor of a regional edition of the News of the World. As we now know, a cover-up can be more damning than the original crime, and the decision of the News International chairman to pay, without reference to his board, some victims sums of around £500,000, may now be seen as the buying of silence. Given his statements to this House, that must now be the subject of full parliamentary, as well as police, scrutiny.

The freedom of the press in this country was built through the countless acts of fearless people who had done no wrong, and yet had to make huge sacrifices. Today, the freedom of the press can best be assured by full disclosure and reparation by those who know that they have done wrong. First, for the future, the press media itself should immediately press for a new Press Complaints Commission. We need one that is proactive, not passive; one that is less about protecting the press from the public, and more about properly processing the complaints of the public against the press; and one that is wholly independent, so that it can differentiate, and be seen to differentiate, between the abuse of power as a result of self-interest and what we really need, which is the pursuit of truth in the public interest.

We need to put an end to the violation of rights, but also to ensure the righting of wrongs. Secondly, therefore, News International papers, and every other responsible paper, should in future be obliged to publish—not on page 35 or 27, but on page 1—apologies to all individuals whose rights have been infringed. Perhaps in future we will know the naming and shaming of criminals inside the media by the name of one of the saddest victims, as happened with Sarah’s law. That would require News International to practise what it has so self-righteously preached to other people.

Thirdly, we must do all in our power to prevent the subversion of our basic rights again. We must therefore be ready to discuss limits to the undue concentration of ownership in the media as a whole. I must say to the Prime Minister, in response to the statement he made earlier today, that I believe that he will have to widen the remit of the commission of inquiry, so that we are sure that it will examine not just the police and general ethics, but all the evidence of the abuse of surveillance techniques and technologies, as a result of which we saw the undermining of our civil liberties.

In the long and winding evolution of our rights and freedoms, the people of this country have always been at risk from huge concentrations of power. Traditionally, they have seen the freedom of the press as a force for their freedom, but when our country’s biggest media organisation has itself become an unchallengeable concentration of power, as it was until today; when it is

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has held in contempt not only basic standards of legality, but basic standards of decency, too; when it has replaced freedom with licence; when it has wielded power without ever being elected to do so; and when it has regarded itself not only as above the law, but as above the elected institutions of our country, all concerned people in this House should be able to see that what should be our greatest defence against the abuse of power had itself become an intolerable abuser of power.

History will also show that a press will not long remain free in any country unless it is also responsible. If the irresponsibility that has characterised News International is not to define the public view of the media as a whole and if continued irresponsibility is not to force Parliament to take ever stronger measures to protect the public from the press, we will need far more than the closure of a newspaper one week and the withdrawal of a bid the next.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Brown: I give way.

Hon. Members: Hear, hear!

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, as are many other Government Members. Before he finishes with this high moral tone, will he tell us something about Messrs Whelan and McBride?

Mr Brown: I find it strange that when I am giving to the House new evidence of criminal wrongdoing, the Conservative party, instead of listening, want to shout down the speaker. On reflection, when we are talking about people who have been abused as a result of the infringement of their liberties, the Conservative party will think it better to hear the evidence before jumping to conclusions.

Mr Graham Stuart: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Brown: Of course I will give way.

Mr Stuart: I am so grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He said that he was not aware of systematic abuses of the law by News International. May I put it to him that from near the beginning of the previous Government, News International executives, in conjunction with Members of the then Government, conspired to smear Lord Ashcroft and they illegally—[Interruption.] Labour Members think that there is one law for them and another law for others. They illegally blagged bank accounts in order to try to undermine Her Majesty’s Opposition. He knew about it then. Why was nothing done?

Mr Brown: I am surprised that this debate, which started with our desire to protect the lives of innocent children, should end up with the Conservative party more interested in defending Lord Ashcroft. I would have thought that, if the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) knew that there were so many abuses at News International at the time, he would have advised the then Leader of the Opposition not to employ Mr Andy Coulson.

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Nadhim Zahawi: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. It is nice to see him in the Chamber, Mr Speaker. I have listened carefully to him—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must be heard.

Nadhim Zahawi: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I have listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman as he has so eloquently outlined for us his bravery in standing up to Murdoch. Does he regret that the previous Government held a slumber party for Elisabeth Murdoch and Rebekah Wade, as she was known then, at Chequers?

Mr Brown: The hon. Gentleman started by implying that I have not been in the House much. I have come to a debate on the future of the media on an issue in which the Prime Minister of this country is implicated and has questions to answer. [Hon. Members: “Where is he?] I repeat to the House that had I, as Prime Minister, not attended a debate on a problem that was partly my responsibility, Conservative Members would have been up in arms.

Alun Cairns: It was said earlier that if these inquiries are to succeed, the tone needs to be right. Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that he has contributed to that tone in the way he has provided his evidence today?

Mr Brown: Yes, because what I have sought to do is give the facts about the infringement of civil liberties, about the relationships between News International and the Government and about those instances where News International and the public interest diverge. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will ask the leader of the Conservative party and Prime Minister to do exactly the same on every single issue that I have raised, because it is going to be a matter of concern for the whole country, not just this month, but in many months to come: what are the precise relationships on individual policy issues between the Government of the day and one of the biggest corporations of the country? I make no apologies for setting out the record of our Government in our relationships with News International, and I hope that Members on the other side of the House will ask their leader to set out what happened in the relationship between his party and News International.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Brown: I will finally take one more question, because Mr Speaker will never call me again.

Charlie Elphicke: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. As a parent myself, I share the disgust at the invasion of his privacy, and I agree with him that the police have serious questions to answer. Nevertheless, criminality was disclosed in the Culture, Media and Sport Committee report in 2003 and by the Information Commissioner in 2006. As a new Member, I ask him: why was nothing done?

Mr Brown: I have set out the record of my desire to have a judicial inquiry. It was opposed by the police, opposed by the Home Office and opposed by the civil service, and it was not supported by the Select Committee of the day. However, if the hon. Gentleman felt that it

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was right in 2003 that there should have been an inquiry into the media, why at no point, even until last week, did the Conservative party ever support an inquiry into the media in this country?

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Brown: I am so tempted to take further interventions, but I would lose my chance ever to speak again, so I must bring my remarks to a conclusion.

Ofcom—this is incredibly significant—has this afternoon announced that it is now going to apply the “fit and proper” test to the remaining holdings of News International in BSkyB. This is a further useful step, but we must now have three things: a sustained and rigorous process of investigation and disclosure; a fairer distribution of media power in our country which will eventually restore the public faith in a media that are fully and genuinely free; and, as a result of what we now know, robust measures, akin to those that I have described this afternoon, to ensure that the lethal combination of illegality, collusion and cover-up that we now know has prevailed for a whole decade can never happen again.

5.58 pm

Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): It is not often, I expect, that I shall sign a motion in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. On this particular occasion I thought it right to do so. I commend the Leader of the Opposition on his approach, which is that we must tackle these appalling matters on a cross-party basis. I have always tried to do that in the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which I am proud to chair, and I think that we have succeeded. I will merely say that I am sorry that the Leader of the Opposition’s predecessor did not choose the same approach this afternoon.

I believe that the atmosphere at present has become so poisoned by the stream of appalling revelations that it would have been quite wrong for the News Corporation bid to acquire the whole of BSkyB to go ahead. We still do not know—we still have not even begun to know—the full extent of what has been going on in the newsroom at the News of the World, in the higher levels of News Corporation or, possibly, outside that, in other organisations, but clearly there were already question marks about the “fit and proper” test for News Corporation’s bid. The important thing is that we should obtain answers to questions very rapidly. There is an ongoing police inquiry, which needs to be concluded as fast as possible; there is the judicial inquiry that the Prime Minister has rightly set, which I fear will take much longer; and then there is my Select Committee, which has asked Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks to appear before it next Tuesday. We have not yet received a response. The Select Committee will meet tomorrow morning, and if we have not received a reply by then, we might well wish to return to the House to ask it to use the powers available to it to ensure that witnesses attend.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): There is an assumption that, once the News of the World ceases to trade, the victims of phone hacking will still have legal redress and that there will be a compensation fund for them. I doubt that that is the case, however. Is that something that the Committee could look at?

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Mr Whittingdale: It might be more appropriate for the judicial inquiry to look at that matter, as it essentially involves a point of law, but I entirely share my hon. Friend’s concern that the victims should have access to proper compensation when wrong has clearly been done to them.

The Committee decided that we wanted to hear from Rebekah Brooks because she is the chief executive of News International, and from James Murdoch because he was until recently the chairman of News International in this country. We have also asked Rupert Murdoch to appear, because he is essentially synonymous with News Corporation. He has considerable achievements to his name. He pioneered the use of new technology in the newspaper industry, which transformed it, and he took the brave decision to launch BSkyB, which changed the whole face of British television. It is the case, however, that he will now be forever tarred with the revelations that have come out over the past few months about what has happened in his papers.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): As the hon. Gentleman knows, I was his predecessor as Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. As he also knows, we asked Rebekah Brooks—then Rebekah Wade—to give evidence to the Committee, with Andy Coulson, at that time. She admitted with clarity that she had been involved in paying money to the police. Andy Coulson said that that had been done only within the law, which was an unbelievable lie because it is impossible for a newspaper to pay money to the police within the law. When the hon. Gentleman has Rebekah Brooks and the other people from News International before him, I advise him to take a long spoon with him, because of the way in which they will try to lie and cheat their way out of the predicament that they are in.

Mr Speaker: Order. Interventions must be brief.

Mr Whittingdale: I recall vividly the evidence given by Rebekah Brooks to the Committee when the right hon. Gentleman was its Chairman. It included matters that he rightly says might turn out to be criminal, and I am certain that the judicial inquiry will want to examine them. I have no doubt that some of my colleagues on the Select Committee, who are extremely robust on these matters, might well wish to ask questions about those matters as well, should they have the chance to do so.

In regard to the takeover of BSkyB—which is, after all, the matter that we are supposed to be debating this afternoon—it has always been the case that there are more stringent tests for the acquisition of a media company in this country. That is right; it is a reflection of the power of the media that they should be subject to greater tests. I would like to take this opportunity to commend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt), who has been utterly scrupulous in his handling of this matter. I believe that he has acted on the basis of independent advice at every stage, and it is difficult to find fault with the way in which he has conducted himself.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Speaking as a former competition Minister, may I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept that it was open to the Secretary of State to make a choice to stick with his original conclusion that

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he was minded to refer the matter to the Competition Commission? Had he done that, we could have been saved a lot of trouble.

Mr Whittingdale: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State acted on the basis of the advice that he received from Ofcom. The original advice was that he should refer the bid, but Ofcom then came back and said that the undertakings being given by News Corporation were sufficient and that there was no longer a need to do so. At every stage, he has acted on the advice of the independent regulator.

I want to say a few words about BSkyB, which has been an extraordinarily successful company. It has pioneered choice in television and introduced the personal video recorder, high-definition television and 3D television. It has recently passed the 10 million home mark. It has been incredibly successful. It is right that its ownership should be subject to very close scrutiny. I would also like to commend it on its most recent announcement of £600 million of annual investment in UK content, which will do a tremendous amount of good.

The test that my right hon. Friend the Culture Secretary put up to be examined was that of plurality. That is about Sky News. It is worth saying that throughout this saga, Sky News has displayed the same objectivity and independence in its coverage of matters concerning its parent company—or the company that sought to become its parent company—as it has in other matters.

Mr Cash: We heard earlier about the published terms of reference set out by the Prime Minister. We got them from the Library and they refer to a

“judge-led inquiry into phone hacking”—

but it is confined to the press. Would my hon. Friend, having been consulted and with his Committee meeting tomorrow, agree to look into these terms of reference? Does he agree that sound and visual media journalism has to be included to make the inquiry fully comprehensive?

Mr Whittingdale: I have not yet heard any suggestion that similar activities have been undertaken by television or radio companies, but, should that be uncovered, I have no doubt that the judge would request a broadening of the terms of reference to include it. The important thing is that the judge should follow the evidence wherever it leads. As I understand it, that is the undertaking that the Prime Minister gave.

Some have expressed the concern that Sky News might go the way of Fox News. Fox News is very successful, but I do not believe that it would ever succeed in this country. We have an entirely different climate. Nevertheless, that was the key issue under consideration when we examined plurality. However, the revelations over the course of the last two weeks have raised a much more serious issue—the “fit and proper” test and whether or not News Corporation meets it, not just in respect of its 100% ownership, but now in respect of its 39% ownership of BSkyB. That is something that Ofcom will want to consider, but I believe that Ofcom is correct in saying that it should act on the basis of evidence rather than allegation. These matters need to be pursued to the very end. We need to discover the truth, and if it turns out that very senior executives in News Corporation are involved in, or had

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knowledge of, what has been going on, that will raise questions about the fit and proper test. I have no doubt that Ofcom will pursue them.

It might take years for us to find the full extent of what has been happening and to get to the truth, but if that is what it takes, that is what we must do. This episode must never be allowed to recur. We need to find out the full extent of it. We will try to begin to uncover some of the truth on Tuesday, if those people are willing to appear before us, but this judicial inquiry and the police inquiry must find the truth.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. In view of the level of interest expressed, from now on there will be a four-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions.

6.8 pm

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): I wish to concentrate briefly on an issue that, in the understandable outrage over the phone-hacking scandal, has been largely overlooked, at least until it was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), the former Prime Minister, earlier this afternoon. That issue is the extent to which the current Government’s policy has been influenced by News Corp interests.

The sorry saga of the BSkyB takeover bid has already been well documented, but other Government policies could also have been written in Wapping. The first was the announcement last summer that the Government would not implement the recommendations of Labour’s Davies report into listed sporting events. Sport is one of the biggest money spinners for Sky and there remains real public concern about the lack of sport, particularly of test cricket, on free-to-view television. When the Leader of the House responds, I would like him to tell us when the Government intend to implement Davies’s modest and sensible proposals in full.

The second example is when the Government abandoned Labour’s proposals for regional news consortia, funded by a protected element of the licence fee, in order to secure the future of high-quality, impartial regional news and news in the nations on ITV. James Murdoch hated this idea; I know because he told me so in one of the many rows we had. One of the first decisions the current Secretary of State took when he came into office was to scrap these regional news consortia, in spite of the fact that they were already well down the road to implementation and had the full support of the industry and the public.

The third area, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath has already referred, is the Government’s assault on the BBC through the biggest cut in funding in its history, leaving the corporation having to cut its programme funding by a massive 25%.

We should not be surprised by any of this. All that one needs to do is read James Murdoch’s chilling speech at the Edinburgh TV festival in 2009, in which he called for the BBC to be “cut down to size” and for Ofcom to be “neutered or scrapped”. What did the then Leader of the Opposition do in response? He added Ofcom to his list of quangos for the chop.

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Returning briefly to the now dead News Corporation-BSkyB takeover, we know from the Business Secretary’s unofficial spokesman Lord Oakeshott that the Business Secretary would have referred the bid to the Competition Commission. Why did the Culture Secretary change the Business Secretary’s policy and bend over backwards to help News Corporation avoid a long and costly inquiry? His approach in this regard has been extraordinary.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Bradshaw: He has repeatedly tried to hide behind the argument that he has a quasi-judicial role. Had he exercised that, he would have followed Ofcom’s original recommendation and referred the bid in full to the Competition Commission. Is it not the case that there has always been a plurality problem? We thought there was a plurality problem; the Business Secretary thought there was a plurality problem; Ofcom thought there was a plurality problem; every serious media analyst in the country thought there was a plurality problem. The only people who did not think there was a plurality problem were News Corporation and the Government.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Bradshaw: To dispel any suspicion—[Hon. Members: “Give way!”] No, I will not give way. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to give way, it is up to him.

Mr Bradshaw: I give way to the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Jeremy Hunt): Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that it was on the basis of Ofcom’s independent advice that the media merger should go ahead that I made that recommendation to the House? On Monday morning, I wrote back to Ofcom to ask whether it stood by that advice, as a result of which the bid ended up being referred to the Competition Commission.

Mr Bradshaw: We will discover that when all the papers are published, which is my next point. However, what happened came only after the Secretary of State intervened on behalf of News International in a negotiation with Ofcom.

To dispel any suspicion in the House and among the British people that the Government acted under pressure from News Corporation, the Government must now disclose the details of all meetings, discussions and communications involving Ministers, officials and representatives of News Corporation, or their representatives. That must include details of the now infamous back-door visit to Downing street straight after the election, and the Prime Minister’s Christmas dinner with James Murdoch and Brooks in Oxfordshire.

May I finish with some friendly advice to the Government? The information will come out. It is far better for the Government to put it voluntarily into the public domain now than to have it prised out by freedom of information requests or by the forthcoming judicial inquiry. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath has said, it is rarely the initial mistake, incompetence or bad judgment that is fatal, but the cover-up.

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6.13 pm

Mr Don Foster (Bath) (LD): The Leader of the Opposition was right to begin his remarks by saying that what has happened today is a victory for the British people. It was the British people who were horrified by the Milly Dowler affair, and by the hacking of the communications of the families of victims of 7/7 and of Afghanistan. The Leader of the Opposition was right to say that the British public forced the political parties to unite in the motion before us, and to put pressure on Rupert Murdoch in relation to the takeover.

I congratulate the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the House on the tone of their speeches and for seeking to avoid partisan remarks. As the whole House knows, for the past 30 years there have been significant failures by Governments of both major parties to stand up to the media in this country. What has happened today as Murdoch has backed down, probably only temporarily, is a victory for the British people. However, the Prime Minister was right to say that it is not the end of the matter: we must continue with the thorough police investigation to root out wrongdoing and bring those who have committed crimes to justice.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, although my intervention will give him injury time. I want to pray in aid a point made by his right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes). The Information Commissioner’s analysis shows that we should worry more about the Mail newspapers than about Murdoch. Ten years ago, when my mother was recovering from a stroke, a reporter from The Mail on Sunday went into her house without knocking on the door to try to extract information from me.

Mr Foster: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The report to which he refers was published in 2006, when his party was in power. It alleged that 305 journalists were acting illegally, and no action was taken.

We could become involved in party political stuff. I could point out that it is amazing that the former Prime Minister, who gave us that list of things that he did as Prime Minister, failed to make any mention of what his party did in government when he was merely the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Critical actions are necessary. The Press Complaints Commission has been drinking in the last chance saloon for far too long. It is ridiculous that papers such as the Daily Express and the Daily Star can walk away from it, and that only people who have been directly affected by a judgment can get it to investigate. That must be changed.

It is also ludicrous that there is so little clarity about how the “fit and proper person” test should be conducted. I asked the Secretary of State about that on Monday, and I asked the Prime Minister about it today. It is true that the British public wanted to know not just whether Murdoch’s was a fit and proper organisation to take over yet more shares, but it was not made clear whether the test could take place on the basis of its current 39% shareholding. I am delighted that Ofcom is now investigating that, but the law is still confused about the issue.

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The law is also confused about plurality—the issue of who should own our media to ensure that it contains multiple voices. Surely by now the House recognises that, in the modern era of communication, it is not just news and current affairs that determine how we think about ourselves and the world. That can also be done by drama, comedy and many other means.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): I suggested to the Secretary of State in March that there was a case for wider application of automatic triggers for referral to the Competition Commission. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government should consider that?

Mr Foster: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is so much that needs to be sorted out.

Rupert Murdoch has dropped his bid for the time being, but who knows when he will return via another bid? The British public will never forgive us if we take our eye off the ball. The inquiries must go ahead, and the revisions to law must go ahead, so that we can have a decent press in this country in which journalists—the majority—who carry out the fearless inquiries that we want, but do it legally, are allowed to continue to do so.

It is a disgrace that when Rupert Murdoch closed the News of the World , a large number of journalists who had done absolutely nothing wrong lost their jobs, while the person in charge, Rebekah Brooks, kept hers. When Rupert Murdoch arrived in this country, she was the person whom he described as the key issue for him. That is the most disgraceful thing that has happened in the last week.