Regulation of the press

Written evidence submitted by The Rt Hon The Lord Hunt of Wirral MBE, Chairman, Press Complaints Commission [ROP 001]

I am writing to you, in order to clarify the position as to the attitudes of the lay PCC Commissioners to my plans to set up a new regulatory body, as discussed in my evidence to the committee yesterday. I would be grateful if you would pass this letter to your colleagues on the committee, and also if you would also add it to the published record.

Two different things were happening in early February 2012 which may have become conflated in my exchanges with the Committee yesterday.

One was that concerns were raised by several of the lay Commissioners, in their capacity as members of the PCC board, as to whether, in one or two specific respects, the correct corporate governance procedures were being followed. This is, as you know, a perfectly normal part of the activities of any board of directors, and indeed the Commissioners would have been failing in their duties as directors if they had failed to voice any corporate governance concerns which they had. In my evidence I referred in particular to comments made by one lay Commissioner on 3 February, in which he expressed his obviously strongly held views in particularly forceful terms.

The other thing which was happening was that, in conjunction with the industry, I was considering what proposals to put forward for the establishment of a new regulatory body. Commissioners were first informed of those proposals on 17 February 2012 when I caused a discussion paper to be circulated in advance of a Commission meeting due to be held on 21 February. In that paper I indicated that I would be proposing the creation of a new transitional body which would continue to trade as the PCC in the first instance until such time as Lord Justice Leveson had reported and a new system was set up. I indicated that Commissioners would be asked to agree in principle to the transfer of the assets and staff of the PCC to the newly constituted body, and that Commissioners would also be invited to transfer to this body for the "transitional period", i.e until a new system had been set up and new people appointed to operate it. At the meeting on 21 February the Commission unanimously approved my proposals, and at a further meeting on 7 March they confirmed their agreement in principle to

proceed with those proposals.

There was then some delay in implementing the agreed proposals. That delay was in no way caused by any reluctance of the Commissioners (lay or editorial) who were at all times fully supportive of what I was seeking to achieve. The Commissioners were certainly not resistant to change. The opposite is the case: before my appointment as Chairman they had already taken the lead by appointing a Reform Committee to formulate proposals for reform of the regulatory system. Those proposals in fact formed the basis of those for which I obtained the agreement in principle of the industry on 15 December, and which I then presented in my evidence to Lord Justice Leveson on 30 January.

The implementation of the agreed proposals could not be achieved by the PCC itself. It was for the industry through PressBof to arrange for the formation of the new body to which the PCC would transfer its assets and staff. In that connection PressBof was constrained by the ongoing Leveson Inquiry and the need not to do anything which might be perceived as attempting to pre-empt the Inquiry's conclusions. Draft Articles of Association for the new body, prepared by solicitors instructed by PressBof, were provided to the PCC on 3 May. I then arranged, at the request of the Commissioners, for independent legal advice to be provided to them to ensure that they would be acting in accordance with their duties as directors if they agreed to the proposals, which at that stage included a proposal that I should be the sole member and director of the new company. The independent legal advice was provided to the Commissioners on 15 June. In the ensuing period there was some discussion as to whether it was appropriate for the new body to be a single member/director company, and it was agreed that the better course was to have a board of 3 directors, which I would chair. There was also a change of plan by PressBof, who very sensibly decided that it would be better, rather than forming a new company with the desired structure, simply to amend the Articles of Association of the PCC so as to achieve the same effect.

This was agreed to by the Commissioners at a meeting on 11 July 2012, and implemented shortly thereafter. Throughout the entire process the Commissioners were helpful and constructive in making any suggestions as to the best way forward. I very much regret any impression to the contrary which I may inadvertently have created.

The Commission met today and, in discussing what happened yesterday, they were unanimously of the view that I should write to you in these terms, which I gladly do.

December 2012

Prepared 19th June 2013