“by honest, straightforward and open means”

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and do

“nothing to intrude into anybody’s private life, grief or distress unless justified by overriding consideration of the public interest”.

There is also a conscience clause in the code of conduct, which says that

“a journalist has the right to refuse an assignment or be identified as the author of an editorial that would break the letter or spirit of the code.”

Where the NUJ is organised, that code has worked.

Some Members will remember when, back in 2006, the Daily Star tried to produce a racist front page, but the workers, backed by their union and Members on both sides of the House, refused to publish it because of the damage it would do to community relations. The code of conduct did not work at News International because the NUJ was cleared out. News International used a loophole in the law. It set up the News International staff association, which was not certified as an independent union by the Government’s certification officer, yet it was still used to argue that there was a pre-existing union agreement, so the NUJ was not recognised. As a result, the journalists were not protected by a union.

We heard the description of the working atmosphere in Wapping—the bullying, the victimisation and the pressure put on journalists to produce material by whatever means. Someone described it as the development of a culture of sewer journalism. The House was warned. In 2004, when the Government were considering the last but one employment Bill, the NUJ briefed us all and urged us to introduce a conscience clause that would enable journalists to be protected when they refused to do anything against the code. That was rejected. I moved the amendment at the time, but it was rejected. The argument made by the previous Government was that it went

“too far in constraining employers.”—[Official Report, 29 March 2004; Vol. 419, c. 1364.]

It was opposed by Members on both sides of the House.

We were warned again by the NUJ, though. It came back in 2009 to present evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. It urged the Committee to reconsider the introduction of a conscience clause that would protect journalists standing up against bullying employers who sought to introduce work or material into their work that was against the code of conduct. The Committee ignored that evidence and request, however, and made no recommendation on it. I urge the Leveson inquiry to examine the introduction of a conscience clause backed by statute to protect journalists who refuse to go into the sewer and use the methods that we have all condemned in these recent debates.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the public largely believe what they read in the newspapers and what they see on the television and internet, and that one of the most important things that can come out of this whole sorry affair is a media that now tell the truth?

John McDonnell: I think that we will arrive at that situation only if we enforce the code of conduct and if journalists and employers know where they stand and that, if they breach the code, journalists can stand up and be protected in law if they refuse to practise the sort of journalism we have seen recently. The Leveson inquiry

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should consider anti-trade union legislation, which has been used to undermine employees’ rights at places such as News International when unions have tried to protect members who have simply stood up for quality and ethical journalism.

6.18 pm

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): There are a number of things that need to be done to restore public confidence in the media and the police, and many right hon. and hon. Members have touched upon them. We need to investigate without fear or favour—indeed, the Government have announced such an investigation—and, as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) said, we need people at the top of their organisations to take responsibility. I shall touch on that in a moment. Finally, we need to underline the important work that the press and the police do, day in, day out, in our constituencies up and down the country—certainly in mine.

I have a particular interest because I lived for a number of years in a country that was a one-party state. The press had no chance to criticise, there was a lack of investigative journalism and, frankly, the newspapers were extremely dull. The police faced operational interference from politicians, they were often corrupt and there was a lack of attention to the needs of ordinary people. Let us reflect, then, on the wonderful things we have in this country and compare them with what many around the world have. It is a matter of pride that we have a press that by and large do an excellent job and police forces that do the same. However, freedoms are hard-won and easily given away.

Along with freedom, as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) so eloquently said earlier, we need responsibility. That is at the heart of this debate. The public know that all of us—politicians, police or press—are not angels. They realise that there are always individuals who will do wrong. However, what I believe they want to see is leaders taking responsibility for their actions and those of the people who work for them. Ultimately, public confidence rests on those in power taking responsibility. That means a number of things that have been reflected on throughout the debate. It means first that the systems in organisations have to be correct; secondly, that the standards and culture of an organisation have to be true; and, thirdly, that integrity is required from those in positions of leadership. I pay tribute to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police for the integrity that he showed this weekend.

I want to reflect a little on how the press could examine themselves from time to time. In my constituency we have of course had the tragedy of Stafford hospital, and recently there was an article in The Sunday Times that was generally well researched and balanced, but for which the headline was “The killing wards”. There was no killing going on there. There was neglect, and there were deaths. The reflection, whether conscious or unconscious, of the film of 20 or 30 years ago about the Cambodian genocide, was very unfortunate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) said earlier, newspapers need to reflect carefully on the headlines they use.

That is why I welcome what is happening now and the investigations. They show that those in positions of leadership are beginning to take up their responsibilities.

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I say “beginning” because only by people taking fully on board their responsibilities as leaders of organisations and, as the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) and others have said, knowing what is going down right at the bottom of their organisations, will the freedoms that we all cherish be preserved.

6.21 pm

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): For many members, there have been many defining points in the past two weeks. For me there were two such moments. One was when we heard about what had happened to the Dowler family, and the second was yesterday when Rupert Murdoch said to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee that he was something along the lines of “fed up” and wanted Prime Ministers to leave him alone. That sent a shiver down my spine, and I am sure that other Members must have found it incredibly uncomfortable as well.

I want to thank my hon. Friends the Members for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) and for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for their tenacity in the past few weeks and for pursuing the matter for many months. I also wish to thank the leader of my party for asking for a judicial inquiry and an inquiry into the police activities, and of course the Prime Minister for agreeing to hold those inquiries.

They say that, sometimes, good comes out of a tragedy, and the good here seems to be that we can now look properly at some of the distasteful and illegal activities carried out by certain sections of our media over a number of years. Many Members alluded to the fact that it is not just News Corporation that has carried out such tactics.

I believe in a free press, as I am sure all Members do. It should be free to investigate and expose wrongdoing, however embarrassing it might be to the individuals in question. What people rightly get upset about is when complete lies are printed in the media and the retraction appears in two lines at the back of the paper, as in the recent case of Mr Chris Jefferies, who was arrested and released by the police in relation to the murder of Joanna Yeates. The media headlines basically had him tried and convicted.

Such vilification also applies to many different ethnic, racial, religious and cultural groups. Often, the media attribute statements or actions to those groups that are complete lies. All that does is encourage bigotry.

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): I am enjoying my hon. Friend’s impassioned speech. Does she join me in thinking that when the worst elements of the media attack people and put forward ideas that they have committed crimes when they actually have not, one of the biggest groups of people who are damaged are the victims of crime?

Yasmin Qureshi: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The lies can often lead to phobias and bigotry against different groups of people. For example, the onslaught on asylum seekers led to an increase in the number of assaults on them, and that level of bigotry also extends to other groups.

The confidence of the public will be restored only when an independent, regulated press complaints body with proper powers comes into being. The powers should

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include the power to call for remedies to put right the harm that has been done. For example, when someone has had their reputation tarnished because lies have been told about them, exemplary damages should be considered. More importantly, an equal amount of space and time should be given to the printing of a retraction as was given to the creation of the original story.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): I am following my hon. Friend’s argument closely, as is the whole House. Does she agree that there are few things in life more utterly scandalous and indefensible than, when the press foully traduce an individual and are proved to have lied, they print an apology on page 64 underneath the gardening tips? Should not the apology be of equal prominence?

Yasmin Qureshi: My hon. Friend has just taken my next sentence from me. I was going to say that if two front pages are given to a story that is a lie, two front pages should be given to the retraction.

We do not expect the media to be politically balanced; nor do I ask for that. What everyone in the House and the country wants is for the media to print the truth, not lies. We do not want to gag the media. We want them to carry out investigative journalism, and to expose wrongdoing. We want them to search and to quest for the truth, but we want them to print the truth as well. This is what the big debate has been about. Over the course of the years we have had examples such as the Watergate scandal, and the media have on many occasions been a force for good. They have held many people, corporations and Governments to account, and it is right that they should do so. No one here is suggesting that when we talk about regulation of the press, we are talking about preventing it from carrying out proper investigations. We are, however, concerned about the despicable and illegal means used to carry out some of the investigations, and about the printing of lies. Like many other Members, I have been following the debate for the past two weeks, and I am glad that there are now going to be investigations. I hope that the commissions will report very soon.

6.27 pm

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): Many hon. Members have referred to the strength of the media, but we should recognise that the corollary of that is the weakness of politicians. Many people want to see an end to the cosy relationship between the media and our most senior politicians. They want to know that the Prime Minister is his own man, or her own woman. We recognise that that cosy relationship has grown up over the past 20 years, but most particularly under the premierships of Mr Blair and the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown). The present Prime Minister has now called time on those arrangements, and he is absolutely correct to do so.

That cosy relationship is not in the British tradition. In fact, it is more of a European tradition. Let me give two quotes to illustrate that assertion. Napoleon said:

“Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.”

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The Duke of Wellington said, “Publish and be damned”. What the public want to see from their Prime Ministers is more of that Duke of Wellington spirit, and I am pleased to see that our Prime Minister gets that. The truth is that it was not The Sun “wot won it”; it was the political arguments that won the case in 1992. It was a conceit on the British public to put the press in such a powerful position.

I am very grateful that the Prime Minister is now setting the direction of greater accountability. The Leader of the Opposition, who is back in his place, mentioned that one of the important issues was for people in positions of power to protect those who are not. He is a powerful man—the leader of the Labour party—so will he use his position as party leader to call for his two predecessors to contribute fully to the inquiry on the media? Will he ask and persuade them to release all the records of their meetings when they were in office as Prime Minister, so that we can get a full and transparent disclosure of this overly cosy relationship?

What the people want is to move away from a culture of deniability to one of accountability in our institutions. It is not sufficient to say that we do or do not have the right governance procedures in place. The public can see that there is a difference between knowing something is wrong, and allowing a culture in which bad things take place without their knowledge; they know they are different, but they know they are both wrong. They know that if we create a culture whereby we put pressure on people to provide results and do not ask them how they got to those results, that is wrong, and we need to change that. The executives in all our institutions in the media need to understand that.

If we can get those two things right, by ending this cosy relationship, as the Prime Minister rightly said today, and by creating a structure in which responsibility and accountability are to the fore, we will have had a good day in Parliament.

6.31 pm

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): Obviously, I will have to truncate my speech greatly. We recognise that there has been a cover-up going on, and we have to look at whether it is too easy in this country to cover things up. I want to consider a couple of other examples of cover-ups, and then look at how the rules for judicial review could be changed. I will try to get it done quickly, so that the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James) can speak.

Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board employs Dr Paul Flynn, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist. From 2002 to 2005, he performed over 100 operations on cancer patients against national guidelines. Concerns about Dr Flynn had been passed since 2003 to Dr John Calvert, the medical director who had hired him. However, Dr Flynn was only prevented from treating cancer patients in May 2005, after six surgeons complained directly about his poor respect of tissues, questionable knowledge of anatomy, lack of appreciation of what is on X-rays, and lack of a realistic surgical approach to cancer.

That is very much like the situation with the News of the World: there is a very serious problem and the management’s response, rather than to put their hands up, is to go for a cover-up. Rather than tell patients that

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they had been operated on by an untrained surgeon, the trust spent over £375,000—the equivalent of 20 nurses’ salaries—on gagging the original whistleblower, Dr Ihab Korashi, who was threatening to contact patients and expose what is a cover-up. Unlike the News International case, in this instance the court hearings were held in secret and held no fear for those who wished to keep the truth from public view.

Dr Korashi had reported his concerns to South Wales police—so we have a similar problem with the police—and the regulator, but the police ignored CPS advice that officers should pursue further lines of inquiry. The sad situation is that his wife, Dr Toulan, who was also a gynaecologist and suffered from cancer, wrote to the trust’s chief executive in March urging them to tell patients and relatives “the truth”. The response of the trust’s lawyers was remarkable. They said that patients would not be informed and served Dr Toulan, while she was in hospital, with an injunction, warning that she could go to prison if it was broken. She died from cancer 10 days ago.

What we have here is an example of a cover-up, and we need to change the rules so that ordinary people can challenge the state and successful companies. News International could have got away with all this if somebody had not taken the chance of taking it to civil proceedings. There are big cost risks associated with that. We also need to review the costs rules, particularly at the permission stage for judicial review, so that people can challenge public authorities without taking major risks.

I will now sit down, so that the hon. Member for Stourbridge can speak.

6.34 pm

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming). Let me make two points. First, some terrible things have happened and I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and his resolve to sort these things out. I am also grateful for his assurance about protecting investigative journalism and the free press. Our free press has unearthed, over time, miscarriages of justice, the misappropriation of public money, and abuse and lawbreaking on a grand scale. I remind hon. Members that a few weeks ago we were in here debating the tragic Winterbourne View case. The BBC Panorama team’s work on that had to involve false documentation, misrepresenting one of their journalists as someone else, and going in to film secretly. How else would we have known about that terrible situation? I am delighted about that.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Margot James: If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will not—the wind-ups start in one minute.

My second point concerns the Culture, Media and Sport Committee session yesterday. There are lessons to learn from the Enron case about wilful blindness and when a company’s leadership could have known, should have known and sometimes chose not to know. I have worked in such environments at times in my career: there was an awful business of senior leadership turning a blind eye and the management thinking they could get away with things. Instead of that, we should have a

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culture in the media in which organisations’ boards and leaders really look to their journalists to abide by the regulations.

6.36 pm

Mr Ivan Lewis (Bury South) (Lab): The gravity of the issues we are debating cannot be overstated. They raise fundamental questions about our society and our democracy. A story-at-all-costs, no-limits culture at one newspaper and almost certainly beyond started as a means of getting private information about public figures and culminated in the tragedy and horror of Milly Dowler’s phone being hacked, with yet more unspeakable suffering for her family. If nothing else, we owe it to them to make sure that that can never happen again. We have seen failures of corporate governance on a scale that continues to beggar belief and an initial police investigation that failed to meet even the most basic standards of professionalism. With the honourable exceptions of my hon. Friends the Members for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) and for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and the former Deputy Prime Minister, politicians have, frankly, been too timid in the pursuit of the truth.

Over the past two and a half weeks, Britain’s newspaper with the largest circulation has been shut down, the BSkyB deal has been abandoned, senior journalists and executives from News International have been arrested and yesterday two Select Committees of this House held evidence sessions that humbled the most powerful media proprietor in the world and forensically examined the issues surrounding the resignation over the weekend of two of the most senior officers at the Metropolitan police. I pay tribute to the Chairs of those Select Committees, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) and the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), who enjoy respect on both sides of the House for the independence and integrity with which they fulfil their responsibilities.

As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said at the beginning of the debate, we welcome the appointment of Judge Leveson and support the terms of reference for his inquiry. The priority for us all has to be to rebuild public confidence and trust in the newspaper industry, police and politicians—three key pillars that determine the nature of our democracy and the character of our country. That will happen only if we learn the big lessons from this scandal. Those guilty of criminal conduct must be brought to justice, a new independent regulatory system must be created for the newspaper industry and new rules on media ownership are needed to ensure that no single private media company can have excessive market and democratic power.

On newspaper regulation, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) is right to highlight that a choice between self-regulation and state regulation is a false choice. We need a system with greater independence, more investigative powers and serious redress, including compensation. A new media framework will have to respond to the challenges of a digital age, which is revolutionising consumer choice and challenging existing business models. As the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster) said, public interest must include not simply plurality but also market power. In future, the application of a fit and proper person test should be as much about corporate governance as about criminal conduct.

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On lessons for the police, we welcome the announcement of the measures in the Home Secretary’s statement on Monday that we had recommended, but we think she should have gone further. She needs to call for immediate openness and transparency across the Met in respect of all dealings between senior officers and members of the press, including those at News International. The urgency of that was reinforced by the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) today. We also need her to review her decision to go forward with elected police and crime commissioners. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) stated, the Mayor of London provides ample evidence of the risk that they pose to independent policing. We need total transparency about the relationship between senior media figures and the police and the same must apply to the relationship between the media and politicians. Only then will people believe that we are acting in the public interest at all times without fear or favour.

The Prime Minister, whom I am pleased to see in his place, has become embroiled in a tangled web entirely of his own making and still appears to be unable to give straight answers to reasonable questions. I wrote to him on 1 March asking a series of questions about his involvement in the BSkyB acquisition, but I am still to receive a satisfactory response. Yesterday, I should have received answers to parliamentary questions on the same issues, but I am still waiting for them. We now know that my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East had a similar experience with the Prime Minister. Is it his policy not to reply to letters that ask him difficult questions? Or perhaps that is the responsibility of his chief of staff.

As regards Andy Coulson, the Prime Minister has said all along that he received no additional information about serious allegations against Mr Coulson, yet today he acknowledged being aware of the article in The New York Times that revealed significant new information. We are also aware that the Deputy Prime Minister raised serious concerns about Mr Coulson directly with the Prime Minister. In the interests of transparency, surely the nature of the Deputy Prime Minister’s concern should now be made public.

The Prime Minister’s introduction to his new ministerial code, which was launched amid great fanfare after the election, promising a more transparent Government, stated:

“We must be…Transparent about what we do and how we do it. Determined to act in the national interest, above improper influence. Mindful of our duty.”

The first section of the code states:

“Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament and the public, refusing to provide information only when disclosure would not be in the public interest”.

If the code is to be worth the paper it is written on, the Prime Minister must lead by example.

I also have questions for the Culture Secretary. When the BSkyB bid was referred to Ofcom by the Business Secretary, why was it referred only on public interest grounds and not on broadcasting standards grounds? Why did he not accept Ofcom’s recommendation to refer the bid to the Competition Commission for an independent inquiry? When I called for that to happen, the Secretary of State said it would not be appropriate

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time and time again, yet last week when he found himself in a corner of his own making, he was quick to get the bid off his desk and into the Competition Commission as quickly as possible.

Mark Reckless: Does the hon. Gentleman not have anything to say about the evidence we heard from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox) about Lord Goldsmith being given a vast array of evidence of criminal behaviour and should questions not be asked about that?

Mr Lewis: The hon. Gentleman is fully aware that the original police investigation was flawed. We now know that we were lied to by executives of News International in the Select Committees of this House. The Press Complaints Commission has accepted that it was lied to by representatives of News International and it is therefore completely disingenuous to hold the previous Government responsible for a failure to act on phone hacking.

Alok Sharma: The facts are clear. The whole House knows that this Prime Minister set up a judicial review and inquiry within a matter of weeks whereas the previous Prime Minister had years to act and did not. Who is showing leadership? I think it is the current Prime Minister.

Mr Lewis: I must acknowledge that the Prime Minister has responded positively during the crisis, every time in response to demands from the Leader of the Opposition, the only leader in this House who has provided true leadership throughout the crisis.

In recent times, we have experienced a global financial crisis and the MPs’ expenses scandal and now public confidence in our newspapers and police has been seriously eroded. We have a solemn duty to understand that business as usual will simply not do. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said, we have no right to claim the mantle of responsibility if we are unwilling to apply that responsibility without fear or favour at every level of society. Let the crisis signal a new beginning where there is no ambiguity that the public interest must always come first.

6.44 pm

The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Jeremy Hunt): We have had excellent speeches this afternoon from the majority of Members, who chose not to be partisan but to try to find a constructive way forward so that we can address the problems. Time is short, but I should like to mention some of the excellent contributions made. I start with the superb contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale). This is the moment for the whole House to recognise his superb chairmanship of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. He is probably the hon. Member who, of all of us, has done the most in recent weeks to restore the reputation of Parliament to its proper place. He made an important contribution; in particular, along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), he urged News International to co-operate in releasing the files that are with Harbottle & Lewis, so that the investigation can proceed to its proper destination.

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Mr Whittingdale: I am almost embarrassed by the Secretary of State’s praise. I would only say that Select Committees operate as a team, and I am fortunate to have a very strong team on our Select Committee.

Mr Hunt: We have more independent Select Committees in this Parliament, thanks to the decisions taken by this Government, and that has been shown to have been absolutely the right thing to do. [Interruption.] Will hon. Members let me proceed, please? My hon. Friend raised the important question of whether politicians should be removed from future decisions on media plurality. There is a difficult tension, because those decisions need to be impartial, and they need to be seen to be impartial. In recent months we have found how very difficult that is, whatever independent reports one gets, and however much we follow independent advice from independent regulators. We need to look at how we get the balance right between the accountability of elected officials and making sure that impartial decisions are seen to be made.

I pay credit to the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who has done an excellent job and produced today an excellent but very disturbing report, which talks of a catalogue of failures by the Metropolitan police. What he said about the importance of Sue Akers having all the support that she needs to deal with this very important investigation is absolutely right. He will be reassured by the letter that he has just received, which he kindly showed to me and the Prime Minister, in which Sue Akers says that she has increased the number of officers and staff on the case to 60; that is one of the biggest investigations in the country, and she is constantly reviewing the support that she needs. The whole House will have been slightly amused by the right hon. Gentleman’s comment that the breach of security in the other Committee yesterday may have been the result of police officers appearing before his Select Committee.

An excellent contribution was made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox). He made a compelling case, and the Prime Minister said to me in the Tea Room shortly afterwards that every time my hon. and learned Friend speaks, the House of Commons gets thousands of pounds-worth of free legal advice. He made a very important point: it appears that in 2006 the Attorney-General may have known about what my hon. and learned Friend described as a vast array of offending material. His case was powerfully backed up by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), who also talked about the potentially inaccurate legal advice given by the Crown Prosecution Service. Those are all things that the inquiry will look into in great detail.

The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) made an important point about understanding, when making any changes to media regulation, that we are in a new media age, and that it is no longer relevant to look at the concentration of power in only one particular platform or type of media; we have to look at how that power extends across different platforms—a point echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), my right hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr Foster) and the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann)—I hope I pronounced that last place correctly.

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Among a number of important points, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark talked about the “fit and proper person” test. I can confirm that Ofcom applies that test continuously and assiduously. It ruled on a company called Bang Media in November 2010. But I accept that one of the lessons of what has happened in recent weeks is the need for more transparency about how the test is applied, so that the public can have confidence in how it operates. Like the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), my right hon. Friend made an important point about the necessity to stamp out completely the whole business of police tip-offs and pay-outs, which has concerned so many people as the issues have arisen.

The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) returned to the question that the Prime Minister addressed continually in his earlier statement about whether there had been discussions about the BSkyB deal. The discussions that the Prime Minister had about the BSkyB deal were irrelevant. They were irrelevant because the person who had the responsibility—[ Interruption. ] If hon. Members will listen, I will answer the question. [ Interruption. ]

Mr Speaker: Order. Members can try to intervene, but the Secretary of State has the floor.

Mr Hunt: They were irrelevant because the person who was making the decision was myself, and I was making it on my own. This was not a matter of collective responsibility. This was a quasi-judicial process. I wish I could take more decisions completely on my own without any reference to the Prime Minister, the Chancellor or other Cabinet colleagues. This is the only such decision I have ever been privileged to make.

Steve McCabe: I do not believe that any discussion that the Prime Minister has is irrelevant. But is the right hon. Gentleman confirming that the Prime Minister did have discussions about BSkyB, and will he tell us who he had them with and what they were about?

Mr Hunt: I will confirm that the Prime Minister had no inappropriate conversations with Rebekah Brooks at any time.

Mr Ivan Lewis: With respect to the Secretary of State, it is never a good idea to contradict the Prime Minister, especially when he is sitting next to you. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Prime Minister publishes all the details of the discussions that took place with regard to BSkyB, so that the House can make a judgment about the transparency and independence of the process?

Mr Hunt: Will the shadow Culture Secretary be good enough to publish all his conversations with News International about the BSkyB deal? The Opposition should show some transparency, following the example that the Government have set.

The right hon. Member for Blackburn made an important point, echoed by a number of hon. Members, that it is possible to find a system of regulation that is independent and that has teeth. It is not an either/or choice between statutory regulation and self-regulation. There are many combinations used in other professions that can be looked at as models. The important thing is the independence of the regulation.

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Mr Straw: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his endorsement of what I was saying about press regulation. May I take him back to an important statement that he made a moment ago, when he said that none of the discussions that the Prime Minister had had about BSkyB were relevant because he himself—the Culture Secretary—was making the decision? Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that this is the first occasion in the course of a six-hour debate when there has been any admission that the Prime Minister had had any discussions whatsoever about BskyB? Would it not be for the House to judge whether those were relevant or not?

Mr Hunt: The Prime Minister has said over and over again that there were no inappropriate discussions.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Hunt: I will make some progress.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) said, any considerations of plurality and revisions to the law on concentration of media ownership need to include the BBC, because it is such a major force in broadcasting. That is something that many of my hon. Friends will—

Sir Gerald Kaufman: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it in order for a speaker at the Government Dispatch Box to say one thing at one moment and two minutes later totally deny that he said it?

Mr Speaker: I am afraid I must say that it is in order, and that it has in fact been happening for hundreds of years.

Mr Hunt: Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) made some very partisan points about the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, but completely failed to mention that the Prime Minister’s chief of staff was acting on the advice of the permanent secretary at No. 10—the most senior permanent secretary in Whitehall. The right hon. Gentleman shared with the House the fact that he was in the Oxford university Labour club with Rupert Murdoch, who was apparently expelled for breaking campaign rules. I am surprised the right hon. Gentleman has not considered referring that to Ofcom under the “fit and proper person” regulations.

The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who has played an important role in the campaign, talked about responsibility for what happens inside corporations —a point echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe. After yesterday’s evidence, many people had questions about how an organisation such as News Corporation could allow such things to happen without the knowledge of the people at the very top. I do not want to prejudge the inquiry, but there are further questions to be answered on that front.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab) Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Hunt: Time is short, and I need to make some progress.

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My right hon. Friend the Member for Bath made an interesting point about the plurality rules in respect of drama and comedy. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson) made a moving speech and said that the ultimate test of our success as a Parliament—a political class—in getting this right will be whether there is justice for the family of Milly Dowler. Many people would agree.

My hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) made an important point about the need for social responsibility in the press. Sadly I did not hear the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley), but I note that he said The Times had supported his leadership bid. In the spirit of transparency I am delighted that he shared that information with the House.

Barry Gardiner rose—

Angela Smith rose—

Mr Hunt: I want to make some progress, because I want to mention all the excellent comments we have heard, including those of the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) about making sure that we do not have the nexus between the police and media organisations that seems to have emerged. Many people feel that it is extremely unhealthy.

We heard good points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma). The right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher) talked about the concentration of media power. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) expressed a view shared by many of my hon. Friends: yes, we need to sort out the problem, but we also need to move on and sort out other problems that are of great concern to our constituents.

We heard excellent contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), for North East Hertfordshire (Oliver Heald), for South Swindon (Mr Buckland), for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), for Bedford (Richard Fuller), for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) and for Stourbridge (Margot James), and the hon. Members for Bassetlaw (John Mann), for Eltham (Clive Efford), for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi). I am sorry that I do not have time to talk about all those contributions.

In conclusion, we all know that there are lessons to be learned, but there has been a huge contrast between the intelligent contributions made by many Members and the attempt by Members on the Opposition Front Bench to secure partisan advantage. The problem was not just ignored by Labour in office, it was made a great deal worse, yet listening to Opposition Front-Bench speakers we could be forgiven for thinking that phone hacking happened only under this Government, when it took place under their Government. We could be forgiven for thinking that Labour politicians had never even heard of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch or Rebekah Brooks, and for believing that it would be inconceivable for an ex-News International employee to work in the office of the leader of the Labour party.

We can all ask ourselves why so little was done, but Opposition Members, too, need to ask those questions. There has not been a spirit of humility. For example,

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there was no recognition of the fact that in yesterday’s evidence, Rupert Murdoch said that the Prime Minister with whom he had the closest friendship—his wife and the Prime Minister’s wife were also friends—was not the current Prime Minister but the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown). It was not just the former Prime Minister, but his predecessor.

Labour Front Benchers fail to understand that when they make partisan attacks, the public will hold them to account for their record—including the Leader of the Opposition, who was a member of the Cabinet that decided to do nothing about phone hacking, and a member of the Government who failed to reform the

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press despite repeated warnings. He criticised the Prime Minister for ignoring warnings, but how many warnings did he himself ignore?

7 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).


Resolved, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Goodwill.)

7 pm

House adjourned.