So far, so good. Let us delve a little deeper into the 1,987 pages, however, and the waters get murkier. For instance, I am still not at all clear about what happens to publications that choose not to sign up to the new body. What would the future hold for them under the proposed new regime? It would be pretty chilling if, despite obeying the laws of the land—and working perfectly acceptably—they were to be bullied and penalised, perhaps to the point of having to close down. It is a very

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important question, because as much as people talk about the desirability of a new press code and regulatory system backed by statute, I am not sure that we have thought through all the consequences. Obviously, the goal must be to get everyone signed up, but the “What if?” question still remains.

Richard Drax: My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does she, like me, fear that if we go down this road, at some time in the future one party, for one reason or another, will introduce more legislation because it suits it at the time?

Angie Bray: I agree that that must be the fear, although I certainly hope that such a proposal would not come from our party.

Then there is the question of who regulates the new regulatory body and who does the appointing. This is where I really depart from the opinion of Lord Justice Leveson. In my view, it would be ridiculous to make a virtue of keeping politicians away from the controls only to put Ofcom in charge. As the Prime Minister said in his initial response to the report last Thursday, the most senior positions at Ofcom are filled by Government appointment, and it is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that the current chief executive is a well-known former Labour party apparatchik. Lord Justice Leveson is rather vague about who appoints to the appointments board. He suggests the possibility of cross-political-party appointments. Surely, again, this would be putting political influence far too close to the centre. My overriding impression is that all roads seem to lead to some kind of political involvement; that is the only logical conclusion that we have been presented with.

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): Does my hon. Friend share my concern that Lord Justice Leveson does not understand that primary legislation can be changed through statutory instrument and believes that it can be changed only through more primary legislation? On the basis of those concerns, I welcome the Prime Minister’s determination not to take this route.

Angie Bray: It would seem that that Lord Leveson has not fully understood that or has not, with the wealth of stuff that he has been dealing with, given it enough thought.

Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that what Lord Leveson does seem to entertain, though, is the point that the editors code may have to be routinely changed as a result of passing legislation in this House?

Angie Bray: Indeed. The validating process would happen every two years, which means that there could be opportunities to tweak the code at every stage.

Let me turn to the competition that is facing our newspaper industry—the digital media. Last week, my question to the Prime Minister was about a level playing field. Should we not be giving more thought to this as increasing numbers of people get their news from all kinds of social media that are well beyond a regulated code of practice of any sort? It is like the wild west out there. This competition is doing serious damage to our

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newspaper industry, and readership is falling year on year. Most young people carry their news on their phones and do not feel even the slightest need to stop and buy a newspaper.

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): My hon. Friend mentions the wild west of the internet and the wrongdoing by many of the national newspapers. She will be aware that in his report Lord Leveson says that regional newspapers are a force for good and blame-free in this whole process. Does she agree that we must be careful not to do anything that is too onerous for regional newspapers, because they are already struggling to survive, and it would be dangerous if we added to that problem?

Angie Bray: I certainly agree that local newspapers play an incredibly important part in all our communities, and we do not want to see anything that undermines them at a time when they are struggling to survive. I have to say, however, that that argument equally goes for our national newspapers, because in 10 years’ time there could be hardly any left.

It is extraordinary that Lord Justice Leveson has devoted a mere 12 pages of his enormous report to the impact of the internet on how we get our news. What planet is he living on, dare I ask? As Hugo Rifkind put it in an excellent article in The Times last Friday:

“What matters today is content,”

not who delivers it. Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations might have worked 20 years ago, but we face an altogether different challenge in today’s world.

There must also be concern about the report’s recommendations on journalists and data protection. If we start down a road of restricting journalistic investigations, requiring them to acquire only data that will actually be used in their eventual report and to provide a detailed account of what they expect to find before they even start, many investigations simply will not happen. Equally, we should be wary of removing the protection that journalists currently offer to their sources. This needs far more consideration.

The Prime Minister is right to be cautious before rushing to judgment. Frankly, I am amazed that the leader of the Labour party was so quick to demand that this report be accepted, in his own words, “in its entirety”. The leader of the Liberal Democrats was scarcely more credible. I simply cannot believe that they would have been able to absorb the entire report by the time they spoke in the Chamber last week and master fully not only the specifics, but the likely consequences of the proposals. In my view they both demonstrated an irresponsible, knee-jerk reaction and poor political leadership.

This is a massively complicated report and it requires proper, detailed consideration. Too much haste and getting the response wrong could jeopardise the very underpinning of our democratic freedoms. Those innocent victims of illegal activities by journalists deserve to see change for the better, but we would all be victims if our essential press freedoms were undermined.

7.11 pm

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): There has been a great deal of debate this evening about the rule of law and how it could have held national newspapers to account. I want to talk about what happens when

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the culture, ethics and standards of the media are used against a community that cannot fight back, which is what happened in Bridgend.

The ethics of the press at their worst impacted on the county borough in which I live. There was intrusion into people’s lives at the most painful and difficult of times. There was a link built between the community of the county borough of Bridgend and suicide, which meant that anyone who lived there was tainted by a threat and a risk of living with suicide. Virtually the first question that young people who went for university or job interviews were asked was, “Are you all right? Are you going to commit suicide if you move away from Bridgend?” People who were considering moving their factories to the county borough said, “I don’t know—our people aren’t very happy about moving to Bridgend. It’s not a very safe place to live.”

The dead were maligned in the most awful way and families who were trying to cope with the sudden grief caused by the death of someone they loved and whom they had no idea was struggling with life suddenly found that person traduced in the most painful and awful way.

The intrusion into people’s lives was such that friends, neighbours and family could not go to talk to those who had lost someone, because there was a mass of press outside their front door. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray) finds it funny, but children who were on their way to school were being stopped and offered sweets for quotes about those who had died.

There was inaccurate reporting—a “suicide death cult” was supposed to have gripped Bridgend. I said to one of the editors who sat on the Press Complaints Commission, “You know that’s a lie. Why are you running with this story?” He replied, “That’s your fault. You didn’t come up with a better line for us and we needed a line to sell the story and the papers.” They knew it was a lie, but they still carried the story.

It was well known that the grief and the trauma caused by that reporting had the potential to have an impact on those involved in the deaths. There was a risk of social contagion and I believe that we saw that effect in Bridgend. The excessive coverage of the methods used by those who died impacted tremendously on my community.

There has been a lot of talk today about the Press Complaints Commission and how weak and ineffective it has been, but, within the bounds of its capability, it served my community well, and I will always say that. It came to Bridgend and met the people. I think it was fairly shocked at the level of anger and at the fact that nobody had even heard of the PCC and did not know that it was an option to go to it. It was shocked at how frustrated the community was that an honest and decent story about the losses they were facing was not being told. What the PCC did—I know that those people affected across Bridgend will be eternally grateful for this—was introduce desist notices, whereby people were able to say, “We do not wish to be contacted.”

A family who had lost a child were among the first people who came to my office. Their child had died some years earlier—not during the time of the so-called cluster in Bridgend—and they told me how, even then, they feared answering telephone calls late at night, because it might be one of the magazines offering them

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£250 for the story of the death of their child and how it had impacted on their lives. Such intrusion went on and on, but the desist notices stopped it. They would not have had that from Ofcom, because it cannot interfere until after a programme has been broadcast. My community has been devastated by letters from broadcast media that want to tell the story. They have thrown families back to 2007 and 2008 and left them deeply traumatised and fearful of those stories being aired again.

Another area of the PCC that I must commend and that we must not lose is its educational role. It has taken on a huge responsibility by going to schools of journalism and news rooms and talking about the impact of suicide reporting. Whatever regulation comes in, I would not want to lose that educational role.

With the help of the PCC, I, along with eminent professors of suicide studies, met editors to explain to them the impact of their reporting. They admitted that, often, what drove the most excessive reporting was the fact that, to sell their papers, they had to keep hyping the story and making it bigger and more dramatic. The culture, ethics and standards fall apart as a result of that desperate desire to get the extra sale and new story that will make people buy one paper and not another. We have to do something about that, so that honesty and decency return to reporting.

I am concerned about the failure to look at social networking issues. Many of the families saw photographs that they had never seen before of the people they had lost—their family members—when they went out to buy a pint of milk or a loaf of bread. There, on the front page of a national newspaper, was a photograph of their child that had been taken off Facebook. One of the most horrific stories was about the content of one person’s Facebook page. That person was maligned in the most awful way because of fantasy stuff that had been written on their Facebook page. We must do something about the ownership of the contents of Facebook pages, including photographs, so that they cannot be taken and possessed by national newspapers and reproduced.

Websites must be looked at and must be contained. The website of one national newspaper had a section that said, “Click here for slideshow of the dead”. When one clicked on it, the photographs of everyone who had died were shown on a loop. In fairness to the editor, he was horrified when I told him about it and he immediately had it taken down. He had not known about it, as there is often a split between the print editor and whoever edits the online version, and we must ensure that responsibility runs across those areas. Finally, I appreciate that Leveson did not look at YouTube, but there have been some horrific statements and stories in newspapers that have come from it.

I agree with Leveson about the conscience clause. A number of newspaper reporters contacted me privately to tell me that they were appalled at the stories that they were being pressured to write. It was a case of, “Write the story and keep your job.” They wanted an opportunity to opt out of writing those stories.

The Secretary of State, who has left the Chamber, was educated in Bridgend. I hope that when looking at this matter, she remembers the people she grew up with and what they have suffered from unregulated media.

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7.22 pm

Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon), who has told harrowing tales from her constituency.

There is agreement across the House that the Press Complaints Commission has failed and that there has to be something better. The dispute is not about whether things should carry on as they are, but about how things should change. Many Members have referred to the failure of the self-regulatory model for the press, but I question that. I do not think that we have a self-regulatory model. The PCC is not a regulator. Lord Leveson addresses that point in the summary of his findings:

“The fundamental problem is that the PCC, despite having held itself out as a regulator, and thereby raising expectations, is not actually a regulator at all. In reality it is a complaints handling body.”

That means that there is still an opportunity to look seriously at what real independent self-regulation would mean. The industry has a window of opportunity to do that and to present it to the House in a credible way.

There is no requirement that all newspapers, even national newspapers, are members of the PCC; it does not have the power to fine people for breaches of its code; and, crucially, as other Members have said, it has no powers of investigation. I believe that that is at the heart of the series of crises that have affected the newspaper industry for far too long. We saw that particularly strongly in the investigation by the Investigation Commissioner, Operation Motorman, which looked at the practices of the press in illegally accessing personal and confidential information, including through phone hacking. That information was published in 2006, with an update report in 2007. It suggested that 305 journalists, from a variety of national newspapers, had been in receipt of information that had been obtained illegally. Nothing was done about that.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a deep interest in this subject. Why does he think that no action was taken in relation to the Information Commissioner’s report? That has always puzzled me.

Damian Collins: That is a very good point which Lord Leveson tries to address in his report. It ends up being a game of no one being responsible. The PCC is not an investigative body, so it stood back and said, “Where’s the beef? Where’s the evidence to prove your allegations?” The Information Commissioner does not have the right to launch any further investigations or prosecutions, so no one was held responsible. That is why the new body has to have the power to seize such a report, go into the relevant organisations and investigate the matter.

There was no lack of information about criminality or information being obtained illegally; the failure was that no one acted on that information. The Information Commissioner’s report was largely ignored, as was the 2010 report by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which also suggested that there was widespread knowledge of illegal practices within the media.

The police knew in 2002 that the News of the World had hacked Milly Dowler’s phone. We know from information that was produced for the Culture, Media

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and Sport Committee in this Parliament that Surrey police discussed that with executives at the

News of the World

at the time. It was illegal, so why did the police not prosecute them or take action against them? Nothing was done about it. Evidence produced by the Select Committee’s inquiry demonstrates that senior executives and legal managers within News International understood that phone hacking was widespread and not related to a single reporter. Again, nothing was done about it.

The questions that were asked in that case are similar to those asked in the debate between the PCC and the Information Commissioner: “Where is the real evidence? What should we do?” There was no incentive or reason to do anything and there was no external pressure to push for a conclusion. That is why it is crucial to have an independent body with powers of investigation in the media and the power to fine.

I believe that the police got off lightly in the Leveson report. Lord Leveson skirts over the issue in the summary. One part reads a bit like the “Yes Minister” irregular verb game: “I give off-the-record briefings; you leak; he has been prosecuted under the Data Protection Act 1998.” Lord Leveson suggests helpfully that off-the-record briefings should be redefined as “non-reportable” briefings to clear up the distinction. On leaks, he suggests that police officers should perhaps have less access to the police’s computer system. That is woefully inadequate. A number of people raised the concern that if one called the police in certain situations, the News of the World turned up before the police. There was a ready trade in information between them. Lord Leveson does not go into that in anywhere near enough detail.

Mr Watson: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. May I draw his attention to a very late submission to the Leveson inquiry from Detective Chief Superintendent Surtees, which appeared on the website this week? He states that in July 2009, he argued internally that there was enough intelligence to warrant reopening the investigation into phone hacking. The hon. Gentleman will know that at no point was that raised with the Culture, Media and Sport Committee during its inquiry. That might be something that he and the Committee want to look at.

Damian Collins: I will certainly take a close look at that. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point.

There are dangers in the statutory underpinning of regulation. I agree with what the Prime Minister said last week. I have concerns about elements of the Leveson report and would like to see how the media can bring forward plans for a robust system of investigation.

If there is a system of regulation underpinned by Ofcom, the ultimate sanction will be what it always is with Ofcom: the withdrawing of a licence. That is the ultimate sanction that Ofcom has in the broadcast industry, and it has withdrawn the licence of a broadcaster. I think that we would find it difficult to see the chairman of Ofcom, who is appointed by a Secretary of State, or its chief executive being given the power to withdraw the printing rights of a national newspaper. It may be difficult to envisage the circumstances where that might happen, but the idea makes me slightly uncomfortable.

Like the Secretary of State, my professional experience is in the advertising industry, which has what it calls self-regulation through the Advertising Standards Authority.

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That model is seen as very successful, but it is underpinned by statute. That has not prevented many lobbying organisations from routinely pressing for changes to the advertising code and the practices of the advertising industry. It has not prevented Parliament from deciding to ban certain types of advertising, such as adverts for smoking, because it thinks that the standards being practised by the industry are not sufficient to protect the public. There are lobbying groups that are concerned about the advertising of fast food and about the portrayal of women in advertising. I do not want to get into whether those debates are serious and should be considered, but they are matters on which Parliament may seek to intervene to change the advertising code and the industry’s practices. Lord Leveson raises some concerns about whether, as a result of legislation, there may be similar pressure from Parliament for changes to occur.

In his summary to the report Leveson states that

“consideration should also be given to Code amendments which, while fully protecting freedom of speech and the freedom of the press, would equip that body—”

the new regulator—

“with the power to intervene in cases of allegedly discriminatory reporting, and in so doing reflect the spirit of equalities legislation.”

That could mean that for future or existing legislation there could be a requirement on the regulator to reinterpret the editorial code. As a result of that underpinning by statute we could have a creep of changes to the editorial code and practices—whether it was delivered by Ofcom or a new body—which would put pressures and new obligations on the independent body that currently do not exist.

It is not clear that Lord Leveson understands how far that could go and he gives an example in his report:

“Those representing women’s and minority groups—”

it could apply to a number of groups—

“would be entitled to retort that if the Code as currently worded creates the kind of legalistic difficulties which have just been outlined, then the solution is a straightforward one: simply amend the Code. The force of this point is noted, but it should be considered in depth by any future regulator, rather than by this inquiry.”

That is not desperately helpful; it suggests that although he is creating something, he does not understand the full extent of where it might go or the full consequences of the changes that might be introduced. We should pause to reflect on that as there is some cause for concern about what direction it may ultimately take.

I believe that we should consider the advertising model and its consequences as an example of something that is independent yet underpinned by statute, and the changes that could come from that. Lord Leveson set out in his report some of the concerns about the potential impact of the legislation. The challenge remains for the newspaper industry to come up with a robust model of non-statutory regulation through which it can put its own house in order and demonstrate that it has robustness, the ability to inquire and investigate, and to fine people who fall foul of its code of practice. If it refuses to do that, of course Parliament will have the right to consider what further action should be taken. I am, however, concerned about that being underpinned by Ofcom or any regulator, and its being forced on the industry at that point.

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7.32 pm

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I draw the attention of Members to my declaration of interests, which includes writing a column for The Independent every Saturday, and having received a settlement from the News of the World for the hacking of my phone.

It is perhaps an irony that most members of the public are quite sceptical about everything they read in a newspaper and equally sceptical about anything they hear Members of Parliament saying, so our talking about what has been written in newspapers will probably induce the height of scepticism among ordinary members of the public.

I want to follow on briefly from comments made by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins). He made some good points, and I entirely agree with his remarks about Lord Justice Leveson’s comments on the police, in which I think he showed himself to be painfully naive. I believe that the paying of police officers for information is routine not only in the Metropolitan police but in many other parts of the country. One has only to look at the number of stories of where the press have turned up before anybody else to see that that can only be because of some tip-off from the police which, I am almost certain, is done not for the public interest but for financial gain.

I also think that Lord Justice Leveson has no power, because of the 1689 provisions, to decide whether anybody had lied to Parliament. I still believe that Mr Yates lied to Parliament in the evidence he gave to two Select Committees, and that when Lord Justice Leveson one day comes to the second part of his inquiry, he will have to address those issues.

I thought the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe was confused when he seemed to be saying that the Advertising Standards Authority, which has self-regulation that is backed up by statute, was a rather good model. He then seemed to say that he had doubts. It was almost as if he was trying to persuade himself to have doubts about something and, if I am honest, that was rather the feeling I got from the Secretary of State.

Damian Collins rose

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con) rose

Chris Bryant: I will give way to the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe, but I will not be able to give way to the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless).

Damian Collins: My point is that I have concerns about how the ASA model works, because we can see how through self-regulation, underpinned by Ofcom, there is still an ability to influence and change the advertising code through external pressure, rather than through decisions made purely by the industry.

Chris Bryant: External pressure comes from the public; it is not that politicians are desperate to write elements of any code of conduct for the press. Anybody who wants to characterise any argument in this House as being in favour of politicians wanting to tell newspapers what they can or cannot write does a disservice to the argument. To be fair, the hon. Gentleman was not

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doing that, but like the Secretary of State he was trying desperately to find an argument for supporting the Prime Minister. I gently suggest to the hon. Gentleman that on this point it might be better to leave that alone.

In truth, we have been here before. We could replace all those in this Chamber with those who were here in 1947 for the royal commission, or in 1962—[Interruption.] I am sure my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) was not here in 1947, although I think she was here last time around. In 1973 there was Sir Kenneth Younger’s committee on privacy, and 1974 saw the royal commission set up under Professor Oliver McGregor, who went on to chair the organisation that was set up. There were two Calcutt reports.

Fascinatingly, in our last round of discussions on 21 June 1990, David Waddington rose from the Government Benches and said:

“It is now up to the press to take up the challenge…presented to it. I am confident that the response will be a positive one.”—[Official Report, 21 June 1990; Vol. 174, c. 1126.]

And here we are all over again. If anything, it is slightly worse, because changes in the digital economy have made it possible for the media to do things that they could not possibly have done back in 1990 although they would doubtless have loved to.

Victims of crime have once again had their lives turned into a commodity. That is the real immorality here. Abigail Witchalls was a victim of crime. In April 2005 she was attacked, rendered paralysed from the neck downwards, and month after month the press decided to invade her privacy. Sometimes, there was perhaps a contravention of the law, such as when 20 journalists were camped out in her garden and refused to leave. Perhaps it was an invasion of privacy to take aerial photographs of the building being built in her parents’ garden to accommodate her. Perhaps she could have gone to the law, but why should someone have to go to law, which is a very expensive process, simply to have degree of privacy after having been a victim of crime?

My personal interest in this issue started because of what happened at Soham. Someone with whom I was at theological college, Tim Alban Jones, was the vicar of Soham, and his experience during that time was that the press would not leave the victims of crime alone. It is not just that the families of the two girls who were murdered had their phones hacked; every person in the village had their door knocked. People were turned into a commodity, and that is the problem.

Whole communities have been traduced. I referred earlier to Hillsborough. The families of 96 people who had lies written about them in The Sun did not have the opportunity to go to the law to find redress. It is not that criminality was involved; the information had not been secured illegally and there was no opportunity to seek claims for libel because the class of people was too large to be specific. No individuals had been named. Those who argue that everything dealt with in Leveson has been criminal activity that should have been better policed are missing the point.

We must bear in mind that the part of the Leveson inquiry published so far is just the dodgy stuff, not the criminal stuff. Lord Justice Leveson has had to circumvent the criminal stuff to ensure that prosecutions can go

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ahead unprejudiced and unhindered, including those on phone hacking, the suborning of police officers, conspiracy, cover-up and all the rest. Some worrying developments are still going on.

Mark Reckless: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Chris Bryant: I will not give way, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.

The first worrying development is the lack of News International management standards committee co-operation with the Metropolitan police since May this year, which smacks of the Plimsoll strategy. As soon as the water starts lapping a little bit higher, senior News International and News Corporation management chuck somebody else overboard—a newspaper and an editor. The companies provided material on some of their journalists as long as they could ensure that the ship floated and the proprietor’s feet did not get wet. Given what Lord Leveson has said about management at News Corporation, I suspect that charges will be brought against senior directors, possibly including James and Rupert Murdoch as parts of the body corporate.

However, there is a mystery I do not understand. I understand—from two well placed people inside News International—that in 2005, The Sun and the New York Post, which are both News Corporation newspapers, paid a substantial sum to a serving member of the US armed forces in the US for a photograph of Saddam Hussein. A much larger amount was then paid via a specially set up account in the UK to that same member of the US armed forces. It is difficult to see how those who wrote the story in the UK and US, and the editors of the American newspaper and the British newspaper, could possibly pretend that they did not know how that material was obtained and that criminality was involved in the process of securing the photo. For that matter, they could not possibly pretend not to know that the laptop on which the information and the photograph were kept was destroyed; I believe it was destroyed so as to destroy the evidence of the criminality.

I therefore urge the management standards committee to provide all e-mails that relate to this matter—and particularly to the photograph of Saddam Hussein—from Rupert Murdoch to News International staff as a matter of urgency. Otherwise, people in this country will conclude that News International still does not get it, and that it is still refusing co-operate fully with the police.

Mr Watson: I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the register—I have written a book on corruption at News International.

Is my hon. Friend aware of allegations that the chief executive of News International has given assurances to journalists facing arrest that, if they go to jail, they will be given their jobs back? If that is the case, does he agree that the company has learned nothing about corporate social responsibility?

Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Broadly, one point that Lord Justice Leveson hints at in his report is that corporate governance at News International is sadly lacking. It would only be logical for journalists who currently work at News International to believe that what my hon. Friend says will happen will happen because that is what happened before;

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people were given very large payouts on the understanding that they would plead guilty and have a tidy life when they came out of prison.

I want just a few things out of the inquiry. Of course, we have a press that will sometimes be raucous and wild, and do naughty things, but it should be one that informs, educates and entertains. We do not need snobbery about vulgarity, because we need many different kinds of press. However, I also want redress and reparation not just for defamation or invasion of privacy, but in respect of material that is fundamentally inaccurate. Lord Justice Leveson points to hundreds of cases in which the story was based on no fact whatever—it was quite simply untrue. Individuals should have the opportunity to seek redress.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con) rose

Chris Bryant: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I have very little time remaining and I am not sure for how much of the debate he has been in the Chamber.

Glyn Davies: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; I have been in the Chamber for only an hour, but I am getting a feel for it.

All hon. Members agree with everything the hon. Gentleman says. I just cannot see why we need a statutory background to deliver what he wants. The organisation that Leveson has recommended seems to do that.

Chris Bryant: One problem is that the self-regulation we have had for years was part of the problem. The PCC ended up having to pay damages to a journalist because the chairman said they were selling lies about the nature of what happened at the News of the World. The problem with the PCC was that it had no power to investigate or to enforce redress. It could never ensure that a correction was made the same size and given the same prominence as the original publication. Those are precisely the powers that everybody accepts the new body needs. I do not see how it can enjoy those powers unless they are granted to it in statute.

Many myths have been perpetrated, including that no legislation has affected the press since 1695. Loads of legislation affects the press; legislation passed in the past 15 years includes reference to the press. The Secretary of State’s argument was that, if the industry does not act, there should be law. That suggested to me that this is not a matter of principle for her. She has accepted that she may have to enact in order to act, in which case the Government should get on with it. Otherwise, people will conclude that the only point of principle for the Secretary of State is that she wants political support from newspapers come the next general election.

7.45 pm

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): It is a privilege to speak in this debate on this important topic.

Why does the inquiry matter so much when, as Ofcom suggests, papers and magazines account for only 11% of news and current affairs consumption, and when the news cycle is such that the fact that Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant got out on Twitter much quicker than it could have got out in a newspaper? The point is that the news cycle of investigative

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journalism and in-depth analysis means that the press is at the forefront of holding politicians, Executives and the establishment to account, which is why such journalism deserves a special place in the media spectrum.

I agree with Lord Justice Leveson’s overriding principle that the freedom of the press should be maintained. I do not agree that we need to legislate for the Secretary of State to have such a duty, as the hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) suggested. I agree with the self-regulation principle. I share the sympathies of hon. Members on both sides of the House who agree to some extent with the Prime Minister that we need to think very carefully about crossing that Rubicon, as he described it last week.

Sir Brian Leveson says in part K, chapter 5.47 that the threat to legislate must be credible. It has not been credible before. He suggests that that is the only reason why the proposals of Lord Black of Brentwood have progressed as far as they have. I would put it a different way. I would say that the threat of legislation has been made several times, which has led to the evolution of press self-regulation since it began in the late ’40s.

I referred earlier to a simple, three-clause Bill that refers to article 10 of the European convention on human rights but which leaves out the criteria of independence on the basis of not interfering in the operation of the media. However, Sir Brian Leveson says that Parliament must legislate for the criteria of independence. That Bill, which might have been simple at first, is already starting to grow.

Lord Justice Leveson also declines to give a definition of public interest, but the phrase is used extensively in the report. If Parliament is pressed down the statutory route, Parliament would have to consider that definition as part of the criteria for independence when setting up the body.

The report gets into the balance of ethics and privacy—it deals with balancing the public interest in the freedom of speech with the public interest in the rights of privacy. Sir Brian says that that is one of the key points, but that is an understatement. I am concerned that members of the public, including victims—including people affected by the Hillsborough disaster—believe that statutory underpinning is the answer to all previous problems. I do not think that statutory underpinning would necessarily solve the problems that people have experienced, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) said.

Sir Brian Leveson refers to extant changes in the code. One of his first recommendations for the regulatory body is that it should undertake a thorough review of the code. I tried to intervene on the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman)—she is unfortunately no longer in the Chamber. In evidence to the Leveson inquiry, she suggested that the code is fine and does not need changing. Are we adopting the entire principles and thoughts behind the Leveson inquiry, or are we, on a more careful reading—I have not got through all the report yet and have read only certain sections—beginning to see problems that we need to discuss in more detail, such as the report’s interpretation of how the press and legislation will work? Sir Brian Leveson says that the incentive to join the regime would be the existence of the tribunal route. I understand why

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that would be an incentive, but one wonders whether the Defamation Bill, which is currently before Parliament, could provide a route towards securing the same ends.

What if we cannot agree? What if not all the press sign up to a new body? Sir Brian refers to needing all national publishers to agree, and that if they do not, then Ofcom should become the regulator. Potentially, we have the same situation we had when Northern and Shell walked away from the Press Complaints Commission. If Northern and Shell or any other publisher walked away, the default recommendation in the Leveson report is for Ofcom to regulate the press. That would be a huge step backwards, and part of the slippery slope which many hon. Members are concerned about venturing on to.

There is an appropriate concern about access to justice. I do not agree with Sir Brian Leveson’s recommendations for excessive costs and penalty damages for publishers who do not subscribe to the code. In fact, he is trying to implement Sir Rupert Jackson’s comments on the qualified one-way costs shifting system. That is something we need to think about and more proposals need to come forward. If somebody went to the potential new body, which was not subscribed to by a particular publisher, one could imagine a situation where the regulator said, “Actually, you are absolutely right, that would have failed our tests and we will help you take on the publisher in court.” I can see something like that happening to ensure that people have access to justice.

I have other concerns. The issue relating to the Data Protection Act is a problem for people protecting their sources or for public interest use. Sir Brian Leveson suggests that the names of people should not be disclosed, or that we should not try to identify potential criminals. Frankly, if that was the case for TV, we would shut down the “Crimewatch” programme overnight. The press work with the police to flush out criminals and potential suspects, and to help get the public involved in the search on crime, and the report puts that at risk.

There have been two references to the potential extent of third-party complaints. I am concerned about one particular part of the report, which suggests that the code be amended to have a duty to ensure compliance with Government legislation on the wording of stories. Again, that strays from where we need to be.

A member of the House of Lords would apparently be able serve on the independent board, but an MP or a member of the Government would not.

Chris Bryant: Is it not therefore slightly odd that everybody is now saying that the PCC is independent, despite the fact that it is chaired by Lord Hunt, who takes the Conservative Whip in the House of Lords?

Dr Coffey: My next point is that Sir Brian insists that there will be no involvement of political parties. My concern is that that reinforces the prejudice that to have ever been involved in politics is somehow to be not interested in public service. I know I am taking a different view from a lot of other people. I am not suggesting that a serving MP or a serving Lord should be on any regulatory body, but I am concerned that politics is again being traduced in an unsatisfactory way. Thatis just an example of some of the minor things to which my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) referred—about trying to

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change the name of briefings and what they could be called. Frankly, that section of the report did not deserve the ink that was wasted on it.

On the problems the report will solve and the problems it will create, we have recently debated, and debated several times, the terrible incident of Hillsborough. There were two other incidents in the late ’80s that forced a change so that we moved away from the Press Council to the creation of the Press Complaints Commission. Not many people will recall that on 9 May 1989, a report from the ombudsman was printed on page 2 of The Sun. Of course, that was not enough. Today, the PCC rules would enable something of equal prominence to be printed, and the ombudsman adjudication at the time indicated that the headline should not have appeared. One concern is that we may start to give false hope to people who have been maligned by the press.

Alun Cairns: How does my hon. Friend reconcile the want of victims for solutions with the inconsistencies of the report, which does not extend to digital media?

Dr Coffey: My hon. Friend makes a useful point about digital media. I think somebody suggested that we should begin to look at how we regulate the internet. That is a challenge, even if we think only of closing down access to sites.

Returning to the Hillsborough incident, I do not want people to get false hope that all of a sudden journalists will not produce stories that they do not like. The same could be true of the situation in Bridgend. The PCC did good work on that, and the Government at the time said, “Yes, there was some good stuff.” We should have learned a bit more.

Damian Collins: Does my hon. Friend agree that the biggest steps forward in monitoring what is reasonable in, say, social media have been taken by the courts, not by any regulatory process?

Dr Coffey: That is a fair point. Of course, we all accept that the status quo is not good enough, but there is a great nervousness about the effect of statutory underpinning and the slippery slope. It seems that statutory underpinning is what the overwhelming majority of MPs want, and I hope we will persuade people that it is not right. If the statute is introduced and in a few years’ time it is not working, the argument will be that we need more regulations or that they need tightening up. I wonder where it will stop. It seems to me that what the victims really want is a more robust law on privacy and for a code of ethics to be enforced. Perhaps that is the question that should be consuming us.

This has been a good debate, but there are not enough hours to interrogate the report in the depth that it requires.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): To accommodate more Members, the time limit is being reduced to eight minutes.

7.57 pm

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to follow some of the speeches. I agree wholeheartedly that we have some of the best media in the world. They can be funny, incisive and often

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illuminating—that has never been in doubt. However, the circumstances that led to the Leveson inquiry being set up involved some absolutely appalling things happening to innocent people, including people who had never sought to be in the public eye—that, also, has never been in doubt.

What Lord Justice Leveson proposes is reasonable and proportionate. It is self-regulation that means self-regulation, rather than what we have now, which is self-regulation that effectively means no regulation. It builds on practice that exists elsewhere, such as the Irish system, and, with reference to the proposal to offer incentives to encourage papers to sign up by adjusting the damages awarded should a dispute end up in litigation, it uses the same formula found in this country’s civil procedure rules that govern all civil litigation in England and Wales.

Supporting Leveson is not about being anti-journalist or anti-media; I reject that assertion entirely. Some of my favourite media sources are those that feature very different politics from mine. I like reading The Spectator and Guido Fawkes’s blog. I find them entertaining because they are witty and well written, and they do not simply mirror my own politics back at me. We want a lively press. The idea that stories on MPs’ expenses or other official wrongdoing would not have been featured because of a Leveson-style system of regulation has to be utterly false. We want a press that investigates abuses of power, but does so without abusing their own power in the process.

The Leveson report is about acknowledging that we have a serious problem with media accountability in the UK; that we have known about these problems for decades and never dealt with them; and that now we have a chance to do the right thing for the benefit of everyone. Why does self-regulation need to be guaranteed by statute? Because for more than 70 years, as we have heard, despite seven different attempts, the old system has failed. Without the necessary robustness provided by statute to the new system, it will simply fall back under the control of vested interests and give us the miserable failure we have at the moment. As Michael Portillo said last week, the moment we take away the proposal to underpin self-regulation with statute, we make sure self-regulation will never properly happen. One of the clearest things we can deduce from the evidence given to Leveson is that this was never about one or two rogue reporters; the report talks about widespread abuse of power.

The report is not about everyone; there are some commendable journalists and newspapers—it is particularly gratifying that regional and local press have been mentioned in this debate. However, as the report says, this is about

“Too many stories in too many newspapers”

that

“were the subject of complaints from too many people, with too little in the way of titles taking responsibility, or considering the consequences for the individuals involved.”

Many objectors have made the point that it is for the criminal law to deal with such matters and that access to the legal system is what really matters, but aside from the fact that we have just cut back enormously on legal aid, Leveson makes it expressly clear that, first, it was only by a quirk of good fortune that the criminal law has been able to deal with the worst cases of phone hacking, because Glen Mulcaire kept such meticulous

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notes that could be used in evidence; and secondly, and most crucially, that the criminal law would not have helped with the harassment, intimidation and other nefarious treatment of the victims who gave evidence, not least the Dowler family. We would have to have hearts of stone not to acknowledge what that family had to put up with. It is not good enough to fail to address this problem.

One of the more reasonable objections is that, given social media and the internet, regulating newspapers when they are in historic decline might not be the best thing to do. I thought the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) dealt with those points rather well. Just because it might be harder to ask online media to self-regulate, that is not an excuse to give newspapers the green light to carry on as they are. We should not underestimate the power and influence of newspapers. What they write carries an authority far greater than even the most popular blog or Twitter account. In addition, although the debate about Leveson has rightly focused on whether to initiate proper self-regulation, there are a number of other relevant proposals in the report. I am pleased to see the issue of media ownership come up and the acknowledgement that inappropriate concentrations of ownership could occur without the competition laws being initiated. I am less keen on the idea of requiring disclosure every time contact is made between a politician and a journalist. That seems a little over the top. Similarly, the points dealing with data protection do not seem entirely right at the minute. However, all these things can be considered further before we implement the proposals.

We have before us a sensible and measured report in response to a serious problem. No one wants state control of the media, but for too long in this country we have been closer to a situation in which there is media control of the state. Concentrations of power, when people believe they are not accountable to anyone, always end badly, whether it is trade unions in the 1970s or the bankers in 2008. It is our job as politicians to navigate away from that without going too far in the other direction. We have before us a report that shows us the way to do that. Let us show some leadership. Let us not think short term. Let us for once do the right thing. I commend the Leveson report to the House.

8.2 pm

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood): This issue first came to my attention on 7 September 2010, at one of the first meetings of the Select Committee on Home Affairs that I attended. Into that meeting came the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and the Assistant Metropolitan Police Commissioner, John Yates, following an article in The New York Times and an Adjournment debate that the hon. Gentleman had secured. Ever since then I have focused to a degree on the role of the prosecution authorities. I was struck by a quotation in The New York Times that said:

“A vast number of unique voicemail numbers belonging to high-profile individuals (politicians, celebrities) have been identified as being accessed without authority. These may be…subject of a wider investigation”.

That was in a file note of 30 May 2006, from Carmen Dowd, who was one of the top six people at the Crown Prosecution Service and running the case, to Lord Macdonald, then

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head of the CPS, and Lord Goldsmith, then Attorney-General. Ever since then I have asked myself, “Why was nothing done by the CPS about this issue?”

John Yates explained at that Committee meeting that, at least in his view, the Met investigation was limited throughout by the interpretation of the law given by the CPS. The issue is that section 1(1) of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 says:

“It shall be an offence for a person intentionally and without lawful authority to intercept, at any place in the United Kingdom, any communication in the course of its transmission”.

That appears to be the basis on which Carmen Dowd advised the police—as she clearly did throughout—that they needed to prove that the interception of the communication happened before the intended recipient picked up that communication or message. It appears that that high hurdle limited the police investigation, and the police have made much of that throughout.

However, if we look further, we see that section 2(7) of the 2000 Act says that

“the times while a communication is being transmitted…shall be taken to include any time when the system by means of which the communication is being, or has been, transmitted is used for storing it in a manner that enables the intended recipient to collect it or otherwise to have access to it.”

That provision, on the face of the legislation, clearly extends the period of transmission to include the time when a voicemail is being stored and the recipient might be ringing in, to listen either for the first time or repeatedly. I have therefore never really understood, like anyone else who has read the law properly, the basis of this narrow interpretation—there is a 2002 case involving NTL, but it related to an e-mail system that could not even store messages after they had been collected and it hardly takes precedence over what is so clearly on the face of the legislation.

Having heard Mr Yates and being aware of the Adjournment debate of the hon. Member for Rhondda and what he said subsequently, the Home Affairs Committee wrote to the then Director of Public Prosecutions, who wrote back to us in October 2010 saying that

“the approach…taken to section 1(1) of RIPA in the prosecution of Clive Goodman and Glen Mulcaire”

was that

“to prove the criminal offence of interception the prosecution must prove that the actual message was intercepted prior to it being accessed by the intended recipient…David Perry QC had approached the case on that basis at the time.”

That is why we see, with the royal household, there was a sting operation, in order to prove that the messages were being intercepted prior to the intended recipient picking them up—by telling the intended recipient not to pick them up until the police had checked whether the suspects had intercepted it.

We then have a series of pieces of evidence—we have 170 pages in the report on the CPS, on the police and on all how these issues went. I do not believe that there will be a part two to this inquiry. Frankly, I think that is partly why Leveson has gone as far as he has—by including those 170 pages—and, subject to the criminal prosecutions, given as much information as he has been able to. I have been tabbing up the areas in the report where it seems that that narrow interpretation of the law was given and sustained by the CPS and David Perry QC.

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Chris Bryant: But it is also clear that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, in the charges presented against Mulcaire and Goodman, never relied on whether the messages had been intercepted before the intended recipient saw them, so I am not convinced—as Lord Justice Leveson is not convinced—of that argument.

Mark Reckless: As Lord Justice Leveson says, the July 2009 review by the DPP was not assisted by the failure to examine witness statements and exhibits from the prosecution. I asked the CPS for the witness statements from prosecution and it did not provide them, so I had to submit a freedom of information request, and it still has not provided them. However, I spoke earlier to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), who was clear. He said that when he was one of the victims—in counts 16 to 20 of the indictment—a police key focus in interviewing and preparing his witness statement was on whether those messages had been listened to before he picked them up. He gave clear evidence to them, saying that he went into his voicemail and discovered that a number of those messages had already been listened to by someone else before he picked them up. That is partly why he felt he was picked: in order to give proof on the narrow basis of the legal advice that the CPS clearly—and, I believe, David Perry—was saying the police had to follow.

We also have the conference on 21 August 2006. The only proper, full note of that seems to have been taken by the police—Detective Chief Superintendent Williams, in charge of the investigation, is clear that the narrow interpretation was given. We also can say that, at most, the advice was nuanced. Carmen Dowd, who was from the CPS and who had throughout taken the narrow view, was actually in that meeting. David Perry was there, and although he was not contradicting the advice given by his instructing solicitor throughout, even on his own evidence he said it was tenable to take either the wide or the narrow view—despite the legislation being clear.

David Perry has another problem. He prepared a note on 14 July saying:

“We did enquire of the police at a conference whether there was any evidence that the editor of the News of the World was involved in the Goodman-Mulcaire offences. We were told that there was not (and we never saw any such evidence). We also enquired whether there was any evidence connecting Mulcaire to other News of the World journalists. Again, we were told that there was not (and we never saw any such evidence.”

The Director of Public Prosecutions said that David Perry had given him a personal assurance in a face-to-face meeting that that was the case, and that he clearly recalled saying those things. However, when Mr Perry gave evidence under oath to the Leveson inquiry, he said:

“I don’t think I would like to say that I necessarily expressed it in precisely those terms, but I was concerned to discover whether this went further than just the particular individuals with which we were concerned and I think I was conscious in my own mind that the question had to be whether it was journalists to the extent of the editor.”

That was much weaker than the assurance that had previously been given to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Leveson suggests that David Perry might have said that in July 2009 because he was advising in a rush overnight, but the fact is that the DPP showed—or it

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was shown on the DPP’s behalf—and that his draft letter to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee was put before David Perry on 30 July, and he again confirmed that the narrow interpretation had been made. That letter was then supplied to the CMS Committee and used again to inform the DPP’s commitment to the Home Affairs Committee in October 2010. So that was then a question of misleading Parliament. On 3 November, junior counsel repeated that same basis when looking at the DPP’s letter and going to reconfirm this to the Committee once more.

Given all these issues, Clarke in charge of this said that the uncertainty of the legal advice limited the investigation, and that we have to give credit.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order.

8.11 pm

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): I want to talk about costs in libel, privacy and other proceedings against the press. This is not an ancillary issue, either in itself or in the context of providing an effective self-regulatory system, according to Lord Justice Leveson. It will require fresh legislation to correct the current state of the law and to give effect to the whole Leveson framework. That is something that Leveson has said, and that the Government have conceded as well.

Prior to the enactment of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, it was possible for persons grievously wronged by the press to sue using conditional fee—no win, no fee—agreements. The McCanns, the Dowlers and Christopher Jefferies used them. On the back of spurious attacks on personal injury claimaints, the Government legislated in part 2 of the LASPO Act to remove the protection from such claimants in bringing libel or privacy claims. They claimed that they were following the recommendations in Lord Justice Jackson’s report on civil litigation costs, but they were not.

Under the LASPO Act, no win, no fee is available only if the claimant’s solicitor receives their costs from the claimant’s damages, up to 25% thereof, but the damages in libel cases are now quite low—perhaps £10,000 or £20,000—and it is not possible to run a libel case on £2,000 or £4,000. Even if it were, no claimant would risk bankruptcy, as it is no longer possible since after-the-event insurance premiums became non-recoverable to insure against losing a case and paying the defendant newspapers astronomical costs.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Could not the independent regulator give good advice to people who have clearly been wronged and, with it, some assistance with getting recompense for the hurt that they have suffered? Going to court is so expensive for normal people, and it would be really good if the independent regulator could do something to put that right.

Mr Slaughter: That is what Lord Justice Leveson recommends, in a rather more organised way, but he says that it must be underpinned by statute.

Going back to my previous point, I want to quote Sally Dowler, who said:

“At the outset we made clear that if we had to pay the lawyers, we could not afford to bring a claim; or if we had any risk of having to pay the other side’s costs, we couldn’t take the chance. If

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the proposed changes had been in place at that time we would not have made a claim. Simple as that, the News of the World would have won, because we could not afford to take them on.”

Lord Justice Jackson said that the losing claimant should be given protection in costs—so-called qualified one-way costs shifting—but the Government ignored him. The result of that has been summed up by Lord Justice Leveson, on page 1507 of his report:

“In the absence of some mechanism for cost free, expeditious access to justice, in my view, the failure to adopt the proposals suggested by Jackson LJ in relation to costs shifting will put access to justice in this type of case in real jeopardy, turning the clock back to the time when, in reality, only the very wealthy could pursue claims such as these…An arbitral arm of a new regulator could provide such a mechanism”—

this relates to the point made by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart)—

“ which would benefit the public and equally be cost effective for the press”.

Those matters were discussed at length in proceedings on LASPO in both Houses. Victims of phone hacking, including Lord Prescott, raised the plight of all the victims and received this response from Lord McNally:

“I cannot imagine that the kind of issues that the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, has raised tonight will not be dealt with fully in that Defamation Bill.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 27 March 2012; Vol. 736, c. 1332.]

Yet nothing was in the Defamation Bill when it was published. On its Second Reading in this House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) quoted Lord McNally’s promise, and added:

“Yet I do not see those issues being dealt with anywhere in the Bill. If the Government do not bring forward proposals to address this deficiency in Committee, we will have to do so.”—[Official Report, 12 June 2012; Vol. 546, c. 196.]

Indeed, that is exactly what we did. In Committee, we offered a variety of means for restoring the position of the claimants, but each of them was rejected by the Government, using what became a mantra that was repeated at all stages of the Bill, and that has been repeated today by the Secretary of State—namely, that the Government would look at the rules on costs protection for defamation and privacy proceedings when the defamation reforms came into effect. I am going to ask the Minister what exactly that means.

First, however, let me read out what Lord Justice Leveson says about costs. This is in paragraphs 68 to 72 of the executive summary:

“The need for incentives, however, coupled with the equally important imperative of providing an improved route to justice for individuals, has led me to recommend the provision of an arbitration service that is recognised and could be taken into account by the courts as an essential component of the system…Such a system (if recognised by the court) would then make it possible to provide an incentive in relation to the costs of civil litigation. The normal rule is that the loser pays the legal costs incurred by the winner but costs recovered are never all the costs incurred and litigation is expensive not only for the loser but frequently for the winner as well. If, by declining to be a part of a regulatory system, a publisher has deprived a claimant of access to a quick, fair, low cost arbitration of the type I have proposed, the Civil Procedure Rules (governing civil litigation) could permit the court to deprive that publisher of its costs of litigation in privacy, defamation and other media cases, even if it had been successful. After all, its success could have been achieved far more cheaply for everyone. These incentives form an integral part of the recommendation, as without them it is difficult, given past practice and statements

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that have been made as recently as this summer, to see what would lead some in the industry to be willing to become part of what would be genuinely independent regulation. It also leads to what some will describe as the most controversial part of my recommendations. In order to give effect to the incentives that I have outlined, it is essential that there should be legislation to underpin the independent self-regulatory system and facilitate its recognition in legal processes.”

He then goes on to explain, as mentioned by other Members, what the legislation would achieve and what its purpose was. The third of his three reasons is that

“it would validate its standards code and the arbitral system sufficient to justify the benefits in law that would flow to those who subscribed”.

What that means is that, as far as Lord Justice Leveson is concerned, the costs issue is at the heart of his principles and legislation is needed for it to take effect.

I was unable to intervene on the Secretary of State, so I would like the Minister to address in his winding-up speech the question of what type of legislation—primary or secondary—the Government envisage introducing to deal with the costs issue, which they have been promising for about two years, ever since the misguided legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders proposals first came about. If the legislative principle is ceded in the process—as my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) said—there will of course be some legislation relating to regulation of the press and here is a clear example, or a central example, according to Lord Justice Leveson, providing the entry to the entire regulatory system—it is the incentive given by the arbitral system and by the cost penalties that will lead to the whole self-regulatory body operating.

If that is ceded, what problem do the Government have in ceding the concept of legislation on the other two points that Lord Justice Leveson made? The first of those is

“to protect the freedom of the press”

and the second is to

“provide an independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body and reassure the public that the basic requirements of independence and effectiveness were met”.

At the end of the day, that is all that Opposition Members—and, indeed, from what I have heard today, many Government Members, too—are asking for. The Government are setting up straw men in order to knock the proposals down. They are colluding with the proprietors of newspapers who are talking in the most arrant and nonsensical terms about what the implications of this will be. I believe that dealing with the costs route will justify the proposals that Lord Justice Leveson has made.


8.21 pm

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter), whose remarks about the carrot and the stick in relation to costs were well made. There is no doubt in my mind that in order to incentivise the major titles and the print media to join a new regulator, there have to be proper incentives—with members enjoying an advantage over non-members in terms of civil actions and not having to pay aggravated damages.

Along with some other Members, I sat on the Joint Committee on privacy and super-injunctions, which issued its report some months ago. In common with my

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hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) and the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), I often found myself in a minority on that Committee. There were many divisions and, as we have heard, the final recommendations were the subject of much debate. I found myself in a minority, for example, because of my strong advocacy of a statute of privacy, which I still believe this country needs and which it is incumbent on this Parliament to introduce.

At that stage, I was still thinking carefully about the merits of some form of statutory intervention or underpinning for the print media. I am persuaded now, however, that some form of underpinning is necessary. I do not come to this issue as someone who is an instinctive regulator. I do not support knee-jerk reactions when it comes to the passage of legislation in this House, but I do view the situation now as so serious that only some form of underpinning will do.

I am often accused of being optimistic in my politics to the point of being quixotic, but when it comes to the ability of the major titles of the print media to agree, first, to the principles of Leveson and, secondly, to a mechanism that will deliver them, I am afraid that my optimism leaves me.

Much has been said about the context in which the Leveson inquiry commenced. Some would say that it was based on a very narrow set of circumstances, but that is belied by the wide terms of reference set out at the beginning of the inquiry. We can see from the title that it is “An inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press”, but it is important to remind ourselves in this debate of what the aim of the inquiry was. Part 1 of the terms of reference state that it was to make recommendations

“for a new and more effective policy and regulation regime which supports the integrity and freedom of the press, the plurality of the media and its independence, including from Government, while encouraging the highest ethical and professional standards”.

That part of the terms of reference is extremely important, because the scene was set for a wide-ranging examination of not just telephone hacking or bribery but the entire regulatory regime that has applied so far.

It is agreed in all parts of the House that so-called self-regulation has failed. Indeed, I would go further and say that I agree with Lord Justice Leveson that the Press Complaints Commission was not a regulator as we know it. It was not independent; it did not have powers to summon parties to produce documents or provide sworn evidence; it could not deal with complaints from third parties, or indeed with issues that were not subjects of complaints. Its remit was narrow, and its status was compromised. If we are to embark on a new course, it will be regulation in the proper sense of the word for the very first time.

Those who argue against any form of statutory intervention say that they do not want the work of our free press to be inhibited by statute. Of course I agree with that, but on closer examination, it would be wholly wrong to say that the work of our journalists is in some way uninhibited now. It is already hedged by statute, whether it be rules about reporting when it comes to contempt of court or, for example, provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 relating to journalistic material that restricts police powers of search. We have existing defamation statutes that allow the defence of responsible journalism that is in the public

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interest. The Human Rights Act 1998 itself enjoins the courts to have specific regard to the relevant code of conduct when dealing with privacy cases.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Is not the difference that the press has specific protections in law rather than laws that apply, with a specific penal effect, to the press alone? That is a very important difference.

Mr Buckland: I take my hon. Friend’s point about the boundaries that are being set. My point, however, is that there is a parallel between existing statute and what I believe is being proposed. I do not view statutory underpinning as somehow creating an entirely new set of constraints within which journalists will have to work. This is not, in my opinion, analogous to the difference between prescribed rights and general liberties that may be defined by their boundaries. My hon. Friend and I often agree about the distinction between different types of law and the tension that exists between them, but I do not believe that we will end up in that situation.

George Eustice: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is wrong for the press to support statutory regulation when it protects their commercial interests and oppose it when it protects the interests of civil society?

Mr Buckland: I think that the Homer Simpson approach that we often observe—the contradictory approach that is taken to so many issues—is worrying, and demonstrates an inconsistency. I simply ask those who say that existing laws provide adequate protection for members of the public why we allowed ourselves to get into a position in which, in effect, a culture of impunity existed in certain parts of our print media. I think that Lord Justice Leveson deals very comprehensively with the reality of the law as it stands.

As I have said, the press operate within a framework, but when play is made of the criminal law, the context within which that law operates is far too often ignored by those who cite it. First, when it comes to criminal complaints there needs to be a victim and some form of complaint, which will come about either when the complainant goes to the police or when the police themselves have some intelligence or information about an alleged crime.

The problem in the context of, for example, telephone hacking or bribery is that very often the victims do not realise that they are victims for many years. That was certainly true in the case of some of the victims of telephone hacking, who became aware of the emergence of private and sensitive information into the public domain via the newspapers, and then began to suspect even their families and friends of having breached a confidence before realising, or being told about, the grim reality. The same can be said of bribery: those who have lost out as a result of it will not necessarily know of the wrongdoing at the time, and may not know of it for many years.

There are issues relating to the way in which evidence can be gathered. We know, and rightly stress, the importance of exemptions when it comes to journalistic material. Also, the police will naturally prioritise the individual offences, such as violence and dishonesty, while the issues raised in this inquiry have in recent times dropped low

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down the list of priorities. As Lord Leveson says, the mere fact that we now have lengthy investigations into telephone hacking and bribery does not necessarily mean that the police have always been able to conduct such inquiries. In fact, the co-operation of News International has made all the difference in that respect.

Much has been said about defamation. Like the Versace hotel, the law of defamation is open to all, but it is too expensive, and we as parliamentarians must support the ordinary person to get cheap and effective redress of any grievance through a robust independent regulatory system, which must be underpinned by statute.

8.30 pm

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): The mantra “press freedom” has become quite meaningless, as everyone is for press freedom, just as everyone is for mum and apple pie. All Members on all sides of the Leveson argument say they are for press freedom. Indeed, all of us can rightfully say that, because we are, indeed, all for press freedom. It has become a bit like patriotism, however, in that it is the last refuge of the scoundrel. We have to break the argument down and recognise that the wallpaper of press freedom must be examined.

The Secretary of State rightly said in opening the debate that the status quo is no longer an option. She was echoing the words of the Prime Minister, who said in July:

“I accept we can’t say it is the last chance saloon all over again. We’ve done that.”

We must try to give some life to this process. The press have had their last chance. They have had their drinks at the bar. It is now time to get them to face up to their responsibilities in ensuring we have a truly fair press. We must do that for all our sakes, but, most importantly, for their sake.

The Press Complaints Commission is a dismal failure, which is largely why we are debating this subject tonight. The tragic stories we have all heard—the Milly Dowler story and all the abuse stories—are just the tip of the iceberg, as there were years and years of build-up to Leveson. That was largely because the PCC failed to keep its house in order.

We in this House are really just fighting over the embers. Newspapers are becoming ever less important to this nation. My children will never buy a newspaper. They will get their news on handheld devices, and it will be tailored for them—they might want news about arts or music, and they will determine whether they receive political news. The press have in some sense already had their last chance, as they have lost their future audience because newspapers have, to a large degree, become discredited. Parliament and the nation at large should recognise that we have a duty to help to fix that.

Many Members have wrongly asserted that regulation is about we politicians having a say in the content of news journalism. There is a huge difference between regulation of content and regulation of process and behaviour, however. If we regulate the behaviour of journalists and the process they go through to get their stories, that will lead to better content, which will no longer be of the scurrilous nature of the worst examples we have actually had. Lord Leveson said:

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“let me say this very clearly. Not a single witness proposed that either Government or politicians…should be involved in the regulation of the press. Neither would I make any such proposal.”

We should recognise that the regulation issue is not about our having a say on content; I do not mind what the press write about and what they decide they are going to write, but it is up to them to ensure that the content of what they write and how they get that content is proper and informed, and is not about trampling over people’s rights. We have had example after example of how the press have ignored that. We therefore need some sort of system in place that allows for proper regulation of behaviour, not regulation of content. That is a vital and important distinction, and I welcome the fact that talks are taking place between the two Front-Bench teams. I hope that they lead to agreement, because this should not be a party political issue. This should be something that this House can agree on entirely.

There are many areas in the Leveson inquiry with which I am disappointed. I believe that Leveson could have done much more on the daily papers outside London. The Northern Ireland newspaper editors were wheeled in, given a couple of hours in front of him and then wheeled out again. Many of us had written to Leveson prior to that, inquiring about suggestions and allegations about hacking in newsrooms in Belfast, but none of that was investigated. I am disappointed about that, because it should have been part of his investigation. I still await a response from Lord Leveson on the matters about which I wrote to him.

However, we have to take seriously the words of the former editor of the Belfast Telegraph. I am not the paper’s greatest fan and I am not its favourite character, but I believe that Ed Curran hit the nail on the head today when he wrote in a feature column:

“The newspaper industry has really no alternative but to…agreeing a totally independent regulatory body in which editors will have minimal or no say at all. Their role will be downgraded to offering advice, if asked for, in the adjudication of complaints but the days of having a direct say in decision-making”—

and in the punishment—

are gone.”

It is too late: the press can no longer be left alone to mark their own homework or to set their own punishment.

8.37 pm

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): There has been a lot of praise of Lord Justice Leveson today, and I am afraid that I am going slightly to divert from that, because to some extent prolixity has been mistaken for virtue. Verbosity is possibly part of the problem of his report, which not only goes on for much too long, but fundamentally has missed the bus. I say that because it was not set up to deal with the internet. Indeed, Lord Leveson says on page 169 that

“most blogs are read by very few people. Indeed, most blogs are rarely read as news or factual, but as opinion and must be considered as such.”

However, we discover from Saturday’s Financial Times, a very good source of information and not one that has been involved with any of these problems, that 82% of the UK population receive news online, compared with 54% who receive it from newspapers. So the report is about regulating yesterday rather than dealing with tomorrow; it should make King Canute feel proud,

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because at least he was going to deal with the tide that was coming in, rather than a tide that had receded some years before.

I am delighted to say that Lord Justice Leveson has used online content himself; it was reported in The Sunday Times that he was caught by a spoof on Wikipedia and said that The Independent was founded by one Brett Straub, who apparently is a Californian student and had no association with the founding of The Independent. So, on the one hand, not much notice is taken of the internet, but, on the other, it has actually been used in putting together this report of almost 2,000 pages.

I listened with great interest to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley), who said that we should always be very cautious when people say that the status quo is not an option as self-evidently the status quo is always an option. As a Conservative, I would often like the status quo ante, but I shall not dwell on that point. A good deal of the report accepts the status quo. On page 1496, Lord Justice Leveson states that

“I do not recommend that any change is necessary to the substantive criminal law.”

On page 1508, on the civil law, he says that he does not want to go over the ground of the Defamation Bill, because that has already been dealt with, and on privacy he says:

“It does not appear that legislative intervention will do other than generate…litigation”.

On defining the public interest in law, he states that:

“I do not recommend a statutory definition.”

In the criminal law and the civil law, we will maintain that terrible thing, that awful spectre, the status quo. That is rather encouraging because it means that the law of the land is working and has been doing its job.

Mr Buckland rose

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Of course I will give way to my hon. and learned Friend.

Mr Buckland: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for the elevation he has given me. Does not his point have to be succeeded by a second point? Lord Justice Leveson says that regulation is necessary to cover areas of complaint that do not neatly fit into heads of damage or criminality, such as accuracy, at which the press are not always terribly good.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am very concerned by my hon. Friend’s suggestion. If we are to legislate for accuracy, I hate to think what that might do to this House or to politicians and the speeches they make in election campaigns.

More important than the fact that the report suggests no changes to the criminal and civil law is the underlying risk to freedom of expression it contains. Let me start with page 1512 and the subject of the possibility of aggravated, exemplary and restitutionary damages. They have been used in some other countries in the world as a means of crushing opposition. When people say things that the Government of the day do not like, the Government bring complaints or actions for damages, sometimes against individual politicians, and bankrupt them. They are then no longer able to criticise the Government.

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Although it sounds very fair when we are talking about the hard, sad or disgraceful cases we have heard about in this debate, none the less we should allow newspapers to refuse to fit neatly into some regulatory system thought up by a Government-appointed bureaucrat or risk those fundamental freedoms we have been fortunate enough to have for many centuries.

That brings me to the appointment of the first appointment panel. Who is to appoint the panel? We hear that it will be made up of distinguished public servants with experience of senior appointments. We are actually going back to a 1950s view of the establishment. Perhaps I should welcome that, because I might have fitted very nicely into a 1950s vision of the establishment, but I am surprised that this House by and large wishes to see that return. The report suggests that appointment should take place in

“an independent, fair and open way”—

like the appointment of the new Governor of the Bank of England, I am tempted to say, although I thought it was an excellent appointment. It was advertised for the first time, lots of good and qualified people applied and then the Chancellor appointed who he wanted to in the first place. It was a very good appointment, but this reference to a “fair and open way” should make us deeply suspicious.

The key matter—the nub of all this, which brings it all back under state control—is the role of the recognition body. Under Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals, the recognition body is, unfortunately, under the control of a Government appointee. It is a Government quango where the chairman is appointed by a Secretary of State. That is difficult because that recognition body will have the right of first recognition in saying whether a particular set of regulators will be suitable—there could be more than one—and on the second anniversary and every subsequent third anniversary, it will be able to say whether the statutory tests have been met.

Now what if one of those regulatory bodies did not meet the requirements for equality and diversity that Lord Justice Leveson is so keen on? What if it dared to appoint someone from UKIP who might live in Rotherham, for example, to one of its panels to be an investigator? Do we then find that the checking body, Ofcom, would disapprove that body and, by effect if not by immediate law, would be able to choose the detail of the way in which the press was regulated?

There is another concern—that people will seek advice. By their very nature they will go to the recognition body and say, “This is what we propose. Is it all right if we do this? Will you allow us to continue when we come to our next review?” So there is an insidious power in that recognition body which will undermine the freedom of the press and will assert political correctness throughout the land.

Mr Buckland: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: It is a privilege to give way.

Mr Buckland: It is an attractive and seductive argument that my hon. Friend sets out, but in many other walks of life—for example, my profession, the medical profession and the judiciary—there are over-arching bodies of statute that do the job of verification that he is so concerned about. They are independent. Why should not the proposed press regulatory body work?

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Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am not particularly concerned that my doctor is an agent of the state who is going to take out my tonsils because he thinks that that may progress political correctness in some way. A doctor is completely and utterly different from a journalist writing freely, criticising boldly something that has become the perceived wisdom of the nation at large. That is a liberty that should be precious to us. It is an absolute one that we have in the House.

Is it not interesting that we give ourselves that absolute liberty—that absolute liberty under the Bill of Rights that nothing said in this House can be challenged in any court or tribunal? The press are an aid and a boost to that of our fellow subjects to do the same—to question the wisdom of the great and the good, of those fine panjandrums who are going to form the appointments panel.

Finally, I question the naiveté of Lord Justice Leveson, who says that there is no foundation in the suggestion that it is easier to amend an existing Act than to bring in a new one. Anybody who knows how this place works or who looks at the history of legislation coming through will be aware of this point. Let us take, for example, the Great Reform Bills. In 1832 there were riots to get reform through; in 1867 it was a much simpler process. Every time an Act is put on to the statute book it is simpler to develop it further and move it forward. That ignores the ability to use statutory instruments, which are a part of most legislation, if not all of recent years, and statutory instruments can be put through on a negative resolution of the House and hardly further debated at all.

By creating statutory control we will find that the recognition body has extremely large powers to intervene and enforce its will by stealth, and that legislation will be amendable in future, to the great risk of our liberties.

8.48 pm

Mr Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab): This has been broadly a good debate. It has been reasonable and thoughtful, and is perhaps even beginning to eke out something of a consensus. Unlike the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), I think that owes a great deal to the patently balanced, thorough, well documented, comprehensive and eminently sensible report produced by Lord Justice Leveson.

There are four basic responses to the report. Two can be dismissed out of hand. One is that we keep the status quo. Nobody—of course I exclude the hon. Member for North East Somerset and the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley)—who supports that view will be taken seriously because, after the experience of the past several years, it is an indefensible position. The other is that we should introduce statutory regulation of the press, which no one who is taken seriously is advocating, and certainly not Leveson, even though what we have at the moment can scarcely be defended on grounds of freedom of the press. We know that it has involved untrammelled license to victimise the vulnerable and powerless, the phone hacking of 900 people identified by the police so far, corruption and bribery of public officials, wholly unjustified lampooning of the fans at Hillsborough, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice at News International and wrongful character assassination of an arrested person in a murder inquiry—and those are just a few examples.

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That leaves two other responses, which I think are the real issue and have formed the centrepiece of this debate. One is self-regulation via a beefed-up version of the Hunt-Black proposals, which is Leveson-compliant but without any statutory underpinning. The other is a Leveson-type framework that includes statutory underpinning. I think—there seems to be fairly widespread agreement on this—that there need to be arguments about the identity of the fall-back regulator and, in particular, the need to protect fully investigative journalism in the public interest.

There are clearly several problems with the former option, put forward by Lords Hunt and Black. First, are editors really as united and committed to reform as their public statements suggest and, therefore, would the proposed framework be stable and durable? Secondly, there is Leveson’s own objection that this option does not pass the independence test. The governance of the press should certainly be free of machinations by the state. We all agree absolutely on that, but the press should equally be free of machinations by self-interested and over-mighty press barons. In that context, I think that there must be doubt about whether an industry funding body that funds the whole scheme, is responsible for regulations and sanctions and appoints editors and five publisher members to the complaints arm can remotely be considered independent. I think that it is highly significant that Lords Hunt and Black, when taking views from the national and regional press, made no effort to find the views of pressure groups or victims. I think that they need to be reminded that this is not about finding a new level of equilibrium within the power structure of the press industry. Rather, it is about establishing a change in the balance of power and rights between the press and their victims.

Thirdly, there are real doubts about the practicality of the Hunt-Black proposals. What happens if an editor or proprietor refuses to join up? What happens if at some future point they decide to walk away, as Richard Desmond did from the PCC? What happens if they strongly dispute a judgment of the self-regulatory body? Do we really believe that the latter would pursue them through the courts with the necessary toughness and perseverance? Do we really believe that a self-regulatory body overseen by industry funding would be as proactive in pursuing abuses, upholding standards and imposing sanctions as the public now demand?

Fourthly, the real argument against the Hunt-Black proposals is that there is surely now overwhelming and unimpeachable evidence that self-regulation of the press does not work. It has been said repeatedly today that over the past 70 years there have been seven inquiries, including three royal commissions, into the feral behaviour of the press, and every time we have been told that lessons have been learned, tighter self-regulation will ensue and abuses will be stopped, yet nothing changes and it gets worse. Many hon. Members have drawn attention to David Mellor’s remark in 1991 that the press were drinking in the last chance saloon, yet as we have seen from the appalling misfeasance of the past decade, each time their reaction has been to call for another round.

As a result, some degree of statutory underpinning of press governance must now be inevitable. Of course, there can be questions about the details. The Government object to Ofcom as a fall-back regulator. There may be a need for a new sui generis body—perhaps called the

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press trust, if that is not a contradiction in terms—with appointment in accordance with the Nolan principles and subject to confirmation hearings by a Select Committee of this House. There is a case for modifying other elements of the Leveson framework. More protection is needed for the media when they are performing their proper function of holding the powerful to account. There needs to be a rebalancing of the burden of proof in the libel laws, which currently over-protect the very rich in their access to the courts.

There are also unresolved issues over media plurality. It cannot be a fair and balanced press when one proprietor, Murdoch, still controls 34% of the market. No one proprietor should own more than one daily and one Sunday. Nor do we have a fair, balanced press reflecting the diversity of opinion in the country when ownership is determined almost entirely by wealth. I conclude that Britain will be a better place if the central thrust of Leveson is accepted, including statutory underpinning.

8.56 pm

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): It is privilege to speak in this debate and to follow the right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher).

I will go back to basics, if I may. I believe, as I think everyone in this House believes, that freedom of the press is a vital cornerstone of our freedom in this country. There is no doubt about that. I do not need to remind Members that millions of people have died to protect our freedom and our democracy, and as I say, a cornerstone of that democracy is a free press. If we start to legislate on ethical issues, we are potentially heading down the road to repression.

As a journalist for 17 years, I have unfortunately seen one or two instances of unethical behaviour, such as someone being asked to ring the friend of a celebrity claiming to be somebody else and then putting a story in the newspaper that was completely untrue or grossly exaggerated. This was not—I repeat not—the honourable way for any newspaper to behave, but it was, as has been pointed out, a cultural thing. I do not believe that regulation is needed to tackle cultural problems. That is a very heavy mace to wield at such problems.

Having said that, for the majority of my journalistic time it was a privilege to work with men and women of high integrity who worked with the facts and went to great lengths to ensure accuracy and balance—none more so than those at BBC South Today, based in Southampton, which is still led by the most able and honourable Lee Desty.

Sadly, due to some serious breaches in the trust that we impart to our journalists across the country, we now face calls on both sides of the House for legislation. Leveson suggests a regulator free of the press and Government that will watch and arbitrate, delivering swift and fair redress. I have no problem with that, with one glaring exception—the call to underpin it, which sounds like building terminology, with legislation. That is a big red line that I cannot and will not cross. Either we have a free press or we do not. We simply cannot compromise on a matter as important as this. The so-called statutory underpinning would inevitably challenge the crucial independence that I believe in, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) so ably identified, it would be insidious over a period of time.

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Mr Straw: If everything that the hon. Gentleman says is correct, why then has he not heard the same complaint by British newspaper owners about the system of statutory underpinning that operates for their newspapers in the Republic of Ireland?

Richard Drax: We have a very long and proud history in the United Kingdom and we should not follow other people, because their ways of doing things are not always the best. Our system has worked and served us over hundreds of years.

Legislation would be needed and it would be passed in this place by us, but I am sorry to say that I do not trust us on this issue. That would be nail 1 in a coffin marked “Free Press.” Nail 2 would be the appointment of Ofcom to oversee an independent regulator. Ofcom’s members are appointed by Government. Nail 3 would be the unintended consequences of legislation. In the short time I have been in this House, I have seen such unintended consequences. It would be a lawyers’ charter. They would challenge every move and every word of the free press in this country. It would lead to chaos.

Is this a path that we really want to take? I do not think it is. I must say that I am astonished at the number of Government and Opposition Members who seem to want to muzzle—I would use that expression—our media and genuinely hope that there is no element of revenge in their motive. Do not get me wrong: I feel for the victims, like we all do, but anger is not a valid excuse for legislation.

Oscar Wilde was right when he said:

“In the old days men had the rack. Now they have the press.”

That rack, however, must hold us all to account. No one is above the law, but let us not forget that some in this House and the other place thought they were. The expenses scandal, cash for questions, cash for peerages, the sexed-up dossier—the list goes on and on.

The pain caused to innocent victims by what Lord Leveson calls a

“recklessness in prioritising sensational stories”

is completely indefensible, but we must not forget, as we have heard so many times today, that there are already laws in place to deal with these non-ethical issues. Phone hacking is a criminal offence, and so too is libel. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset has highlighted other areas in which laws currently exist. Even now, cases are progressing through the courts because redress is in place, and let us not forget, either, that a national newspaper has closed.

In my view, politicians have no right or licence to interfere with the press. That would make us judge and jury. What worries me most is that what some might deem as light-touch regulation could become something far more insidious in the hands of politicians in the future.

Winston Churchill described the press as

“the unsleeping guardian of every other right that free men prize”.

I like that. Do we want to lose our legitimacy as a democracy? The US has reacted in horror at what is being proposed. The freedom of its press is enshrined in the constitution as the first amendment, which must give pause for thought, and our most able Foreign Secretary has said that a controlled press here would undermine our attempts to preach free speech to oppressive regimes wherever they may be.

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Mr Straw: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Richard Drax: I want to finish—I almost have—and have already allowed the right hon. Gentleman to interject.

Non-statutory self-regulation is the only answer and I urge all those in the newspaper industry to step up to the plate for our democracy’s sake and for what should be, and is in most cases, an honourable profession.

9.3 pm

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Listening to many hon. Members talk about the number of issues involved, I am reminded of Fagin’s song, “Reviewing the Situation”: as he entertains each scenario, he ends up thinking it out again. I note that the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax), in sidestepping the obvious example of statutory underpinning in Ireland, said that we should not follow other countries, but then went on to cite the United States of America and the first amendment to the constitution.

I want to make it clear that I support Leveson’s key essential recommendation for the need for statutory underpinning. I do so, however, with reluctance rather than relish, because, as many hon. Members have said, Parliament should be very slow to move into the area of regulating the press and creating another scenario.

Richard Drax: If the hon. Gentleman is reluctant, why does he want to do it?

Mark Durkan: I will now explain that. I wanted to say straight up where I come from on this matter.

We all know why the Leveson inquiry was set up. There was support for it from all parts of the House. People wanted something to be done by the Government and by Parliament. There was public outcry about the scale of the violations and abuse that were becoming more and more apparent. The political process had been in denial about that for too long. It had bought the corporate and editorial denials from the various media firms, which said either that there was no wrongdoing or that it was done only by rogue reporters. A very different story emerged.

It is clear to many in the public that the rampant criminality and abuse that were taking place and the culture of impunity might be related to the concentration of ownership and to the fact that key media owners ended up with ranking political influence, with leaders of the main parties currying their favour in various ways. When other parts of the media saw the titles in the stables of those media owners getting away with that behaviour, bad journalistic practices became the going rate and it was all too easy for others to give in to the temptation to follow.

Those in politics moved to draw a line with Leveson. It now seems as though the Prime Minister, having established Leveson, wants to sidestep a key recommendation. I am not among those who say that everything that Leveson recommends is right and that we should do it all. I do not say that we should have the whole of Leveson and nothing but Leveson. However, on the essential issue of how we should address the clear failure to date of self-regulation by the press, I think that we have to take heed of Leveson’s key recommendation and, as a Parliament, take care in how

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we legislate to that effect. There are many dangers, difficulties and questions. I do not pretend that it would be simple to legislate competently and safely in this area, but it is our binding responsibility to do so. We cannot just duck these issues and say, “We are on the side of the free press, so we will not bring in any mild, measured legislation that would help to underpin the independent regulation of the press.”

The Press Council of Ireland now has a statutory basis for its code of conduct and its conciliation and disciplinary procedures in the Defamation Act 2009. The press ombudsman in Ireland is able to secure prompt and prominent retractions, clarifications and apologies when people want them. That scheme has given the press a good means of arbitrating and resolving a lot of complaints and allegations against them that people would otherwise have had to take through the courts, if they could afford it. The press in Ireland have largely opted in to the scheme.

The Irish editors of the UK-derived titles have variously said that the process in Ireland is very independent, that there is no censorship or sense of censorship, and that there is no state interference or insinuation of state interference. That comes from the Irish editors of the very UK titles that are fulminating against this proposal and this model.

I recognise that the Irish provisions are slightly qualified, and perhaps more than the people and the press would have wanted. However, that is because the Republic has Bunreacht na hÉireann, the written constitution, under which the Oireachtas is forbidden from conferring privilege on any group or person. Part of the way in which the system works in Ireland is to allow the courts to take account of how the press have used those other means. Therefore, somebody who is dissatisfied may bring a case that challenges the constitutionality of the system. Let us be clear: any future constitutionality challenge that relates to this provision in Ireland will not be that the freedom of the press has been breached or the free press threatened in any way. It will be that the system of statutory underpinned regulation is conferring privilege on some organs of the press.

I have said that I do not accept all the Leveson report, and there are obviously issues about its potential implications on the protection of sources and the notion of contact disclosure and declaration. Some of the odd stuff about briefings and leakings reminds me of party meetings years ago when Seamus Mallon used to say that if something came from him it was a leak but if it came from John Hume it was a briefing. That was our rule and I am reminded of it when I read parts of the Leveson report.

Many people have referred to the obvious remark about the last-chance saloon, and we are told yet again that there cannot be any more last chances. One gets the impression, however, that when the Prime Minister and the Culture Secretary meet newspaper editors tomorrow, it will essentially be, “This is the latest of the last-chance saloons.” Indeed, it now seems to take on the look of a lock-in involving the Government.

When the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) was complaining about these proposals, he said that the danger in future would be that the regulatory system will be subject to the prejudices of the Government of the day. It is, however, the Government of the day who are going to meet the press tomorrow and who say

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that they will come up with press standards in our time. After weeks of consultation with editors they are going to come back with a document for new improved self-regulation. Although it will be outsourced by the editors, however, let us be clear that the industry will commission this so-called independent regulation. I have heard Conservative Members ask who will appoint the panel under statutory, underpinned independent regulation, but they have not asked who will make those appointments and be involved in the independent consultation if it is done the way the press—the owners—want it done.

None of us should exaggerate the import of what Leveson has recommended. It is not a vaccination or inoculation against any recurrence of the sort of disease we have seen with the press, or its ugly and serious symptoms, and those who say it will prevent such abuse see too much in what is a safe, measured and sound recommendation. Neither, however, is it a toxic prescription that will in future see the media trapped in some sort of politically correct quarantine in the way suggested by Conservative Members. Once there is one piece of legislation, the sky will not automatically fall in and a cascade of subsequent legislation trammel the press or undermine press freedom.

We must take care in how we legislate, and be clear and remind ourselves why we are legislating at each stage of the Bill. We must be clear who will legislate and whether the matter will be considered in Committee or, because we regard touching on press freedom as constitutionally sensitive, in a Committee of the whole House. In that case, why are current negotiations taking place only between the main parties, some of which contributed to the problem and the public perceptions that exist in the first place? I remind the House that negotiations on the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 involved all parties, and at times the smaller parties helped to move discussions on to some practical outcome.

9.13 pm

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): A free press, warts and all, is a fundamental requirement of a liberal democracy. In the immortal words of one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, James Madison, it is better to leave a few noxious branches on the tree of press freedom than

“by pruning them away, to injure the vigor of those yielding the proper fruits.”

Someone else with a view on the subject was Enoch Powell who was quoted in The Guardian in December 1984 as saying:

“For a politician to complain about the press is like a ship’s captain complaining about the sea.”

Speeches this afternoon and evening have been mostly about national newspapers, but those who were present for the opening speeches will recall that I intervened on both the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and the Shadow Secretary of State. I sought their confirmation that the issues that confront the House and the nation relate to national newspapers, and that the local press, with its thousands of honest, hard-working journalists, should not be blamed for the sins of those working on the nationals.

From what I have said, the House will recognise that I do not want regulation of the press. My fear is not that this Government will use the legislation to undermine

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and stifle a truly free press, but that a subsequent one could do so. Our national newspapers collectively have become a disgrace. Once proudly defined as the fourth estate, they are now more akin to a sink estate—although perhaps “sink” is too high up the drainage system.

However, I would like a press law—it should also apply to radio and television—to restrict media ownership to people who hold British passports and who reside permanently in the United Kingdom, and whose names appear on the electoral roll. People living overseas should not be allowed to own and control Britain’s media.

Next September will be the 50th anniversary of me joining my local newspaper, the Essex County Standard, as a junior reporter. It is still published on a Friday, but its circulation is nothing to what it was 50 years ago, and the population of the town has virtually doubled. In those days, it was rare to find a household that did not have the newspaper. That is true of newspapers around the country.

There was also a Tuesday paper—the Colchester Gazette—which converted to a five-nights-a-week paper, published Monday to Friday, in 1970 and became the Evening Gazette. A couple of years ago, it started publishing in the morning as the Colchester Daily Gazette. Those newspapers were once owned by a local family company, as most of the nation’s weekly newspapers were. They were written, edited, published and printed locally. Today, Colchester’s papers are edited in Basildon and printed in Oxford—they are part of the Newsquest group, the UK headquarters of which is in Weybridge, Surrey. Newsquest is owned by Gannett, a company based in Tysons Corner, Virginia, USA.

In 1969, after working on two other local newspapers elsewhere in Essex, including a period as editor of the Maldon and Burnham Standard, I headed for Fleet street, where, over a four-year period, I worked as a sub-editor on the London Evening News and the London Evening Standard, with brief periods in between on the fledgling newly acquired Murdoch Sun and the News of the World. I should stress that I worked as a sports sub on the News of the World.

I bring to the debate my experience working both on local newspapers and in Fleet street, although it was all a long time ago. I refer to Britain’s local newspapers in the context that they operate in local communities in different parts of the UK. However, 200 are ultimately American-owned. Would a non-American be allowed to own American newspapers? The Australian-born Rupert Murdoch, who is now an American citizen, answers that question. Newsquest UK has some 200 newspapers with a weekly circulation topping 10 million. It is a major player in the nation’s newspaper industry, but, to the best of my knowledge, it is not involved in the newspaper scandals that led to the Leveson inquiry.

I regret that the high standards of national journalism and newspapers of 40-plus years ago have been dumbed down thanks to the negative, unethical influence of the Murdochs’ The Sun, whose lowering of press standards and morals has afflicted much of the national press. The things that have been going on would never have happened or been tolerated in years gone by in the pre-Murdoch era, when people trusted our newspapers. Local newspapers have suffered a decline in the high standards of yesteryear, but they should not be considered

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in the same way as national newspapers. I therefore will not support legislation should that option be put before the House in due course.

I hope newspapers voluntarily agree to one thing. I wrote to Lord Justice Leveson to suggest that, when a newspaper publishes a letter with a name and address that are subsequently shown to be fictitious, the aggrieved person should be granted the right to have a rebuttal letter published along with an apology. I have been the victim of several such letters penned by a Tory activist in Colchester as part of a Tory dirty tricks campaign against me.

9.18 pm

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): A free press is one of the essential attributes of a free and open society, and one of the principal means by which other powerful institutions are subject to the transparency and scrutiny on which a plural democracy depends. At its best, the press can fearlessly speak truth unto power, expose and campaign against injustice and hypocrisy, and entertain and enlighten. In those countries where there is no free press and the Government control the media, such freedoms are a huge aspiration of campaigners for democracy and human rights. However, at its worst, as revealed in all 1,987 pages of Lord Justice Leveson’s report, the press has a dark side—of illegal tapping of phone calls, e-mails and texts; and of destroying people’s lives and reputations in the most irresponsible way. The strong message from the Leveson report is that such great freedom in society must be balanced by a more responsible attitude too, with journalism more aware of its obligations to those failed by standards, which in some cases fell well below what society would call acceptable.

The other strong purpose we can discern from the report is to ensure that it is the industry itself, rather than Parliament, the Executive or the judiciary, that should have the primary responsibility of regulating itself, but in a way that learns the lessons from the inadequacies of the Press Complaints Commission, which neither had the clout nor the sanctions to hold the profession to account when required to do so. Such a new regulator must be underpinned by statute.

Lord Justice Leveson has produced a clever and balanced set of recommendations to put in place an enhanced scheme of self-regulation. They will create a powerful press board that is independent from both the industry and the Government, but is underpinned by statute so that its functions and role can be ratified by parliamentarians in a similar way to the model used in Ireland, and with financial incentives to encourage as many publications as possible to join the board. The board would have the power to instruct remedies for breach of the new code and to correct the record in public for individuals or groups of people affected. It would not, however, have the power to prevent or inhibit publication of material. That would rightly remain within the ambit of the courts in limited circumstances. It would be able to receive and investigate complaints from individuals, but also to examine issues on its own initiative, with proper powers over the compulsion of evidence and with the power to fine up to 1% of turnover, or to a maximum of £1 million.

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There are some in this debate who claim that any statutory encroachment on the media is tantamount to state control, but that is far from the case. Parliament has already enacted a series of judicially enforceable and recognisable positive rights in law through the Human Rights Act 1998. Section 12 applies the convention to actions relating to the press. As the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier), the former Solicitor-General who is no longer in his place, said in his remarks, article 10 of the European convention on human rights provides for freedom of expression, namely the freedom to hold opinions, and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authorities and regardless of frontiers, subject to certain conditions prescribed by law. Lord Justice Leveson calls on Parliament to bolster those freedoms derived from the Council of Europe by legislating specifically for freedom of the press in statute—hardly a revolutionary act.

In Scotland, regulation of the press that are based there is a devolved matter under the devolution settlement. The law on defamation has important differences, which derive from its different historical origins. Scotland’s First Minister—heavily criticised, I have to say, by the report—has said he will seek advice from a commission chaired by a Scottish judge on the implications of the report for regulation of the press in Scotland, and on those matters of Scots law that affect the media and that come within the jurisdiction of the Scottish Parliament.

In the case involving my constituents, the Watson family, I hope to show that simply adopting different regulatory machinery and separate standards for press regulation would merely cause additional grief and complications for people such as the Watson family, who have attempted to secure justice in relation to publications that not only circulate in Scotland, but throughout the United Kingdom. I do not see the benefit to Scottish society of a separate form of regulatory framework. The case for shared regulation across the United Kingdom is by contrast strong, and is centred on the needs of the complainant.

In the time I have left, I would like to acquaint the House with some of the details of the horrific injustices that my constituents have endured for the last 21 years—and which they were happy that Members of this House, wider society and Lord Justice Leveson himself heard when they gave evidence to the inquiry. My constituent’s daughter was brutally murdered in cold blood in 1991. A major newspaper in Scotland—The Herald—published three columns by a columnist called Jack McLean. Marie Claire—a publication circulating throughout the United Kingdom, but not originating in Scotland—also made remarks about the Watsons’ murdered daughter Diane, which caused the family such distress that their son Alan committed suicide. The Herald published the final column by Mr McLean on the day that their son was laid to rest in his grave.

Lord Justice Leveson finds the behaviour of some of these publications to be absolutely outrageous. Where I take issue with the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley), who spoke earlier, is that he assumed that the criminal and civil law created redress. However, in her evidence to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, Margaret Watson quite rightly pointed out that the law of defamation does not apply to the dead, so the family of someone who has been

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defamed cannot sue in the courts for defamation. The criminal law had not been broken either, but the hurt and grief felt by that family have endured for 21 years.

We as parliamentarians have a right to protect freedom of the press, but we have a right to speak up for our constituents. They demand justice; they demand an end to irresponsible media; they demand action; and they demand that Leveson’s recommendations be implemented in full.

9.26 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) has given us a salutary reminder of why we are here, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon).

It is important in these debates to listen to the practitioners as well—all the practitioners, not just the editors. There is nobody keener than the National Union of Journalists to protect its members’ ability to do their job. That is why it recommended the Irish system in its submission to Leveson, on the basis that it worked well, despite the NUJ’s earlier reservations. The NUJ ensured that Leveson was aware that the Irish system was underpinned by statute, but it was important to acknowledge that the Irish system recognises the union as a key stakeholder in designing the architecture and implementing the system.

I want to deal with changing the culture. As part of the inquiry, Leveson looked at the issue of a conscience clause and said in recommendation 47, on the advice of the NUJ, that the matter should be considered seriously by the editors. The background to this is that there has been a code of conduct since 1936—it was developed by the NUJ—to set the standards for journalists in the performance of their role. It included a commitment that journalists

“do nothing that would intrude into anybody’s private life, grief or distress unless justified by…public interest.”

It also gave a commitment to ensure prompt correction of any inaccuracies. The NUJ set up an ethics panel, to which people could go to seek redress. For decades it largely worked. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) reminded us of when it worked, when editors worked with the union to ensure that it did. He mentioned Cudlipp, but there was also Harry Evans and Rees-Mogg, whose descendant is not in the Chamber at the moment.

The system worked until roughly the mid-1960s, when a different culture was established in the industry. Unfortunately, it was a culture of bullying and intimidation in news rooms. It undermined the implementation of the code of practice—and yes, it is not unrelated to the introduction of Rupert Murdoch’s News International on to the journalism scene in this country. From then on, it was NUJ policy to lobby this House to introduce protection for its members—for all journalists—through a conscience clause in their contracts of employment, so that a journalist could refuse to undertake any instruction that was unethical and went against the journalism code of conduct, but also against what eventually became the PCC code of conduct. That was backed up by a Select Committee recommendation in 1993 that a conscience clause should be introduced. The recommendation was opposed by all the editors. They refused to consider the

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matter or even to open a debate on it. On five occasions over the past 10 years, I have tabled amendments to employment legislation to introduce at least some consideration of a conscience clause, but they have been rejected following lobbying by the editors and the proprietors.

The Leveson inquiry received evidence across the piece about the culture of bullying. It has not gone away; indeed, it has got worse: many journalists had to submit their evidence anonymously for fear of victimisation. However, some very brave people did stand up. The general secretary of the NUJ, Michelle Stanistreet, presented her evidence, for example. I want to read the House a quote from the evidence to the inquiry from Matt Driscoll, who has been incredibly brave. Speaking about the use of unethical practices, he said:

“At the time I felt uneasy about such methods.”

He was referring to blagging. He went on: