UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 60-iv

House of LORDS

HOUSE OF COMMONS

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE

JOINT COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RIGHTS

 

 

THE treatment OF ASYLUM SEEKERS

 

 

Monday 22 january 2007

MR ROBIN ESSER, MR PETER HILL, MR ALAN TRAVIS, and MR TIM TOULMIN

Evidence heard in Public Questions 233 - 369

 

 

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Joint Committee on Human Rights

on Monday 22 January 2007

Members present:

Mr Andrew Dismore, in the Chair

 

Fraser of Carmyllie L

Lester of Herne Hill, L

Plant of Highfield, L

Onslow, E

Stern, B

 

Mr Douglas Carswell

Nia Griffith

Dr Evan Harris

________________

 

Memoranda submitted by Daily Mail, Daily Express, Press Complaints Commission

Examination of Witnesses

 

Witnesses: Mr Robin Esser, Executive Managing Editor, Daily Mail, Mr Peter Hill, Editor, Daily Express, Mr Alan Travis, Home Affairs Editor, The Guardian, and Mr Tim Toulmin, Director, Press Complaints Commission, gave evidence.

Q233 Chairman: Welcome this afternoon to our evidence session and continuing inquiry into the treatment of asylum seekers. We are being broadcast and recorded. Our witnesses today are Alan Travis, the Home Affairs Editor of The Guardian; Peter Hill, the Editor of the Daily Express; Robin Esser, Executive Managing Editor of the Daily Mail and Tim Toulmin, Director of the Press Complaints Commission, in place of Sir Christopher Meyer, who I understand had an operation the other day.

Mr Toulmin: You have me instead, I am afraid.

Q234 Chairman: I should make clear from the start that this inquiry is not into asylum policy and migration policy, which is a matter for the Home Affairs Committee; but we are looking at the way asylum seekers are treated by the system. We have received a lot of evidence about media coverage of asylum seekers, and we believe it is important to hear from all sides, and give an opportunity to the press in particular to respond to the critics who submitted evidence to us. Everyone is entitled to a fair hearing, including the media, but nobody is on trial today. It is an opportunity, we think, for a genuine engagement, hopefully constructively, on these very difficult issues. The evidence we have had from the media, both the written evidence and any transcript from today's hearings, will be published as an annex to our report. I would like to correct a couple of points. In the Express on 3 January there was an article by Patrick O'Flynn referring to our inquiry in part. I should make it clear that we will be asking questions, but we are not pushing any view. We have yet to come to a view. Our views will be set out in our report, which will only be produced after we have heard and analysed all the evidence from all parties submitting evidence to us. Contrary to what the article may suggest, the Daily Express and any other paper is not at risk of being hauled up before the European Court of Human Rights, by Cherie Blair or Matrix Chambers or anybody else, whether on legal aid or in any other way, because the newspapers are not public bodies, which is a prerequisite for being brought before the European Court of Human Rights. Newspapers benefit from the protection of Article 10(1) of the European Convention which protects freedom of speech, and this Committee has been very hot all along on being against censorship and in favour of free speech. Lord Lester may wish to say something about that later on as he has done many cases on behalf of the media, defending them from possible attacks like that. We would also like to make it clear that we regard immigration policy as a legitimate issue for robust debate and reporting and hope no-one would suggest otherwise. I hope everyone would agree that it is important to ensure the debate is conducted in a way that is both accessible to readers of newspapers and also well-informed and accurate, using correct terminology, which I hope is something we can all accept, even if we have different opinions on the subject matter itself. Before going to the questions, I would like to ask the witnesses if anyone wants to make a brief opening statement. Mr Hill, what do you see as the role of an editor being in this context?

Mr Hill: I think we should speak for our readers and for the people of Britain in the way that we see it. The way that we see it is possibly not the way that you appear to see it. You said that there is no threat to newspapers from European legislation, but if that is the case why are we talking about human rights in this context if it is not to stifle the debate?

Q235 Chairman: It is not a question of stifling debate. That is not what we are here to talk about. We want to talk about the role of newspapers and the way they report things, and we will develop that line during our questioning, and will put one or two specific points to you. It is important that we clarify the role of editorial policy, and you have given us points on that. I do not know whether Robin would like to add to that.

Mr Esser: As we are facing probably the greatest demographic change in this nation since the Norman invasion, we certainly feel that the public needs to be fully informed of the situation with asylum seekers and those who fail the asylum-seeker qualifications. Our main criticisms have not been directed towards asylum seekers per se but towards the system, which we feel has been very unfair to genuine asylum seekers. If the system was better organised and we knew and the Government knew what the numbers were and treated asylum seekers in a quicker, more rapid way, I think that would go a long way to preserving their human rights.

Mr Travis: I think the role of an editor of a newspaper in this country in respect of this question is to present a fair and accurate picture of the country as it exists, as asylum seekers' lives exist, and the problem facing the country exists. It is part of the role of an editor to reflect the views of their readers, but I think that has to be based on an accurate picture and not the misleading picture that is being painted. I think that especially in the last five years there has been something of a lull, it is said, in media coverage of asylum seekers, and yet in this year alone, the last three weeks, there have been 87 different articles in the national press, tabloid and so-called quality, referring to asylum seekers. This is a lull. Over a year about 2,500 articles were carried by our national press about asylum seekers in the last year, and I think overwhelmingly those are negative and hostile in tone, and the cumulative effect of that has a role in fuelling public opinion beyond merely reflecting it.

Mr Hill: You must ask yourselves as a committee why there are so many headlines, and in particular why there are so many what you would describe as negative headlines. The reason is that asylum and the broader immigration system is a complete shambles. Anyone can walk into the country now. There was a report only last week in which the Home Office had admitted that the immigration system was so undermanned that people were simply being waved through. This is a nonsense of a situation and, as Robin has said, I think it makes life very, very difficult for genuine asylum seekers, which the Daily Express has always supported; and we have always accepted that people should be given sanctuary in this country if they are in genuine danger of torture, or worse, or persecution. We have always supported that. What we cannot support is the unrestricted entry to this country of hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom hate this country - people who want to destroy this country, people who want to become suicide bombers - there is an enormous amount of crime also for which, I am afraid, asylum seekers are responsible. Many of the headlines that I see have been chosen by the United Nations magazine Refugee relate to simple factual matters of crime - murder and all kinds of crime.

Q236 Chairman: As I said at the beginning, we are not looking at treading on the Home Office's territory in terms of looking at asylum seekers.

Mr Hill: But you have to understand that is why we have so many negative headlines, because so many negative things happen.

Q237 Chairman: We are not talking about asylum and immigration policies; we are talking about how individual human-beings are treated. That is what we are interested in in the context of this Committee. Robin, can I ask you about language? Do you regard the use of language and precision of language in describing these issues as important or do you regard it some of the terms as interchangeable?

Mr Esser: We regard it as very important, and we always try not to be inflammatory and to use the terms as recommended by the PCC. All our people know about this, and of course there are occasional lapses because people are not perfect; but we think that it is important not to be inflammatory, although a great many of the headlines, as Peter rightly says, come out of court cases where people have been found guilty of criminal acts and the judge himself has said something which appertains to the case. Certainly, on occasions, a judge has recommended deportation, and once you start talking about deportation of immigrants, of asylum seekers, you might well find that hostile, but it is a fact.

Q238 Chairman: Have you ever published any letters from asylum seekers in your letters column?

Mr Esser: We have not had very many, but I would imagine the answer is "yes" - but we print millions of letters over two or three years. Certainly we publish letters from organisations that assist asylum seekers, and our letters column is a broad church.

Q239 Chairman: I am pleased to hear that, and I am pleased about your assurance about individual asylum seekers. Part of the problem is sometimes you end up looking in a representative way rather than at the individuals concerned. Perhaps I can ask the same question to Peter. Have you ever published letters from asylum seekers?

Mr Hill: I do not know. I could not say one way or the other. I know I am always very careful to publish letters from people who rite in opposition to things that we might have said. I am always perfectly willing to put the contrary point of view. I would never shrink from that.

Mr Travis: We certainly not only publish letters from asylum seekers, but have interviewed them and talked about why they have come to Britain and what conditions they are living in in Britain. We also talk to people who are threatened by asylum seekers and who protest about say putting an accommodation centre in their neighbourhood. We have talked to people directly and reported their views and we print letters by them. We believe that the way to understand readers - to understand the nature of what is going on about this debate is to reflect all those views and no merely provide a partial picture. In terms of language, if I may pick up the Chairman's point, it is interesting that one of the reasons why there was so much controversy over the question of not using the term "illegal immigrant" or "bogus asylum seeker" was an attempt at that time to try and resurrect the idea of an asylum seeker being someone who had to come to this country, in neutral terms, and whose case for asylum had not yet been judged, and who would not know whether they were a genuine refugee or maybe an economic migrant posing as an asylum seeker, or were indeed a bogus asylum seeker in that sense, until their claim had been resolved by the Immigration Service or by the courts. I think it is a great shame, but there has been a complete collapse in meaning in the term "asylum seeker" and it is now a term of abuse. When Article 19 of the Human Rights group looked at media coverage in the Sangatte period, they found 51 different labels to refer to asylum seekers, and at one time the Home Office produced a leaflet describing in very careful terms what an asylum seeker was, what a refugee was, what an illegal entrant was, what an over-stayer was, what an immigrant was - because a dictionary definition of an immigrant is someone who comes to a country to stay for longer-term settlement as opposed to an economic migrant or a short-term person. I think that the idea of an asylum seeker has completely collapsed and we need in some way to change the name or find some way of restoring its meaning.

Q240 Chairman: Do you think "asylum seeker" has become a surrogate for racist abuse?

Mr Travis: I certainly think the discourse about asylum between 2004 and 2005, and now about economic migrants from eastern Europe, has become a synonym, a way for some newspaper commentators to talk about race in a way which they think is more acceptable.

Q241 Chairman: Can I ask Peter and Robin: have you met asylum seekers personally yourselves?

Mr Hill: I have not. I have met representatives of the Romanian Government on a similar and associated topic but I have not met any asylum seekers - or I do not think so.

Mr Esser: I have, yes. I live in a community that is fairly mixed and I have met several asylum seekers, that is to say people who have succeed in obtaining refuge in this country. I have also had the privilege of meeting one or two who have not.

Mr Hill: Personally, just going back to the previous point about terminology, the word "asylum seeker" is a bit of an odd one because what we are really talking about is the system of sanctuary - people who come to this country and are fleeing persecution and genuine threats are effectively seeking sanctuary, in the way that people once sought the sanctuary of the church. As I understand it, they have to be able to prove that they are under that kind of threat; but I am afraid the way that the system - and I think it is a laughable word anyway because there is not a system - works, people are not having to prove anything and are really not subject to any kind of real test. Even when their claims are rejected, as we saw last week, the claims of 500 people whose claims for sanctuary were rejected are now having their claims heard again because the Government failed to deport them from the country. The whole thing is an absolute shambles, and a fiasco; and this is reflected in the way that some newspapers cover this issue, because it is an issue that greatly troubles the people of this country.

Q242 Chairman: That is a point you have made already. Do you think you have any responsibility towards asylum seekers yourself, in terms of you or your newspaper?

Mr Hill: I think we have a duty to be fair to the people, and I think we are fair to people. I think we are very, very fair to people who come to this country in genuine need.

Q243 Chairman: Do you think your coverage has exacerbated what the PCC referred to in a memo of 23 October, a press release, as hostility and fear towards asylum seekers?

Mr Hill: Whether it has or it has not, I think that we must cover issues that we believe are important to our readers and to the people of this country, and not to shrink from them.

Q244 Chairman: Even the violent attacks we have seen.

Mr Hill: I do not think in any way we are responsible for violent attacks, no more than we are responsible for football hooliganism.

Q245 Nia Griffiths: Peter, you quite rightly wish to criticise Government policy, and we on this Committee would uphold the freedom of speech and your absolute right to do that. Can I refer you to an article that appeared in the Express in August 2004, you talked about Britain's asylum policy. The article makes a lot of sense; you talk about the asylum policy of spreading people about having certain detrimental effects, and it is a perfectly legitimate article. It then seems very unfortunate that you chose the heading "Asylum Seekers Spreading AIDS across Britain" when in fact it is the policy that you are talking about. That is the issue where it seems that the Government's wish and duty, if you like, to try to discourage any incitement to violence against a group, would have to ask you the question: does that heading incite violence against a group? That is the issue we are talking about; we are not talking about curtailing people by law because we are not into preventing freedom of the press; but we are saying that a title like that, which is completely at odds with the actual article itself, has a very negotiate impact.

Mr Hill: Well, you will have to come and advise me on my headline writing in future, I can see! The point is, was the headline a truthful headline? There is a great deal of evidence that tells you that there has been an enormous increase in the incidence of AIDS and other illnesses, like TB, that have arrived in this country with people from abroad. I do not think that can be disputed. It is very wrong of people to suggest that we cannot be truthful in our headlines. We must be able to be truthful in our headlines, whether the facts are unpalatable or otherwise. We cannot tailor our headlines to fit news as you would wish it to be.

Q246 Nia Griffiths: I think we are talking here about incitement to commit violence against a whole group, whereas perhaps you are dealing with a very small percentage of a large group.

Mr Hill: We do not approve of violence. We do not approve of extremism, but I think the failure of Government and of responsible people in general to address this issue of immigration is driving many, many respectable people into the arms of extremist parties because the recognised parties will not address these issues; they would rather not address these issues.

Q247 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I should declare my own personal interest. I have had the privilege of acting for The Times, The Sunday Times and The Guardian, using Article 10 of the European Convention to strengthen press freedom against unnecessary restriction. I have not had the privilege of representing the Express or the Mail. I would like to see what common ground there is about the press and then ask you questions about how to portray the situation. I imagine you would all agree the right of free speech is fundamental.

Mr Hill: Yes.

Q248 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I imagine you would all agree that it is not absolute.

Mr Hill: Well, we can see it is not absolute because there are quite a number of laws that prevent it from being absolute.

Q249 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I am asking about the principle. In principle, whatever the laws may say, there are basic rights of freedom -----

Mr Hill: I agree that there are responsibilities that go with the right of free speech, yes.

Q250 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: We all agree that the only restrictions placed on free speech are those that are no more than necessary in a democracy.

Mr Hill: Quite.

Q251 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: That requires a fair balance to be struck and maintained between the right to free speech on the one hand and competing rights and interests on the other.

Mr Hill: Agreed.

Q252 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I am sure you know that this Committee in all its reports has espoused exactly the principles I have just tried to summarise. You have probably read our reports.

Mr Hill: I cannot say that I have read them all, I am afraid.

Q253 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: You will know, I am sure, as a responsible editor of a national newspaper, that this Committee has consistently espoused those principles. I am sure you know that, as a responsible editor, do you not?

Mr Hill: Yes, I am sure you have - although I am not sure the evidence you have heard has always been particularly truthful because, for instance, I have got - you recently heard evidence from someone called Jago Russell, who was the policy officer of an organisation called Liberty. Mr Jago Russell told this Committee - and you did not challenge it - "There is the Daily Express comment that refugees are flooding into the UK like ants. That kind of language reminds you of what happened in Rwanda, the Hutu power and the Tutsi described as cockroaches." Mr Russell claimed that this was a comment by the Daily Express, and you did not challenge that because you did not ask to see the article. In fact this was not a comment by the Daily Express; this was a comment by a British Transport Police spokesman after a night in which 74 illegal immigrants had been caught by the British Transport Police. This was his comment and it was merely reported in the Daily Express. He said: "This was the most illegal immigrants we have ever caught in one go. They were like ants crawling from an ant hill." We simply did not make that comment ourselves; we reported that comment, as we must, because we are reporters.

Q254 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Thank you for telling us that, and I am sure we will take that into account. I was not asking you about what a witness told us. I was asking you about your understanding of the work of our Committee, and I think you have agreed that as far as you are aware our Committee has always, in all our reports, made clear the principles we have just summarised.

Mr Hill: I am concerned about references to human rights legislation in relation to this particular issue.

Q255 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I will come to that, I promise. At the moment I am just dealing with free speech.

Mr Hill: Well, that is my concern.

Q256 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I understand that. You accepted fairly that you have duties and responsibilities as an editor of a national newspaper to be accurate, to avoid unnecessary emotive language, to avoid stirring up prejudice and hostility against groups of vulnerable people. I think that is the burden of what you said to us.

Mr Hill: No, I did not say that -----

Q257 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Tell us how you put it.

Mr Hill: I did not say I should avoid use of emotive language because if a subject is an emotive subject, I see no reason why I should not use emotive language.

Q258 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Very well. Your headline on 3 January was: "How the liberal elite is trying to gag us on the asylum racket".

Mr Hill: Yes.

Q259 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Then you suggested that this Committee is attempting to gag you.

Mr Hill: That is what I have believed.

Q260 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: What is the basis of your belief that we are trying to gag you?

Mr Hill: Because you are discussing the idea that in some way the way the press refer to asylum seekers could infringe their human rights - or am I mistaken?

Q261 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: You think that because we are trying to examine the problem of asylum and the contribution made by the press -----

Mr Hill: In that way.

Q262 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: In the public understanding of the problems, that that is an attempt by this Committee, a Left-dominated committee, to censor or gag you. Is that your understanding?

Mr Hill: That certainly was my understanding, but I am delighted to be reassured.

Q263 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Very well. I think I can reassure you on behalf of the Committee that we have no such intention.

Mr Hill: Thank you. Good.

Q264 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I am sure you will report our agreement with this in your newspapers, so that the public are left in no doubt that this is not some kind of Charles I censorious committee. What I would like you to tell us now is how you think your responsibilities should be discharged in striking that fair balance between your fundamental right to inform your readers of matters of fundamental concern about what you see as failed asylum policy and the abuse of the asylum system on the one hand, and being fair to a very vulnerable minority of people who are fleeing political persecution, which, as I understand it, you accept is a justification for their being admitted to this country, if they can prove they are victims. How do you secure that balance in the instructions that you give to people who write your headlines or the news reporters or otherwise, to ensure that you are fair to this highly vulnerable group of people, in your editorial responsibilities? How do you do that?

Mr Hill: I think all my journalists are well aware that I do like the newspaper to be fair, and certainly to be truthful; but we have to report what we see. Quite frankly, there is not an awful lot of positive news on this particular subject. I am afraid most of the news is of a very negative nature.

Q265 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: What kind of advice, guidance or instructions do you give your staff about how to handle these very sensitive problems fairly in accordance with your responsibilities?

Mr Hill: Well, all my staff are perfectly well aware of the Press Complaints commission and its rules and guidance. They know perfectly well, and I constantly reinforce this message, that we must be truthful in what we say.

Q266 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Have you ever had to say to one of your staff, "I really think that is most unfair to asylum seekers and I think we are in danger of exaggerating and whipping up prejudice, and I really think you should now be more balanced in the way you report or comment on this"?

Mr Hill: I often discuss with my staff both the way they write their reports and the way they write their headlines on all manner of subjects - on everything.

Q267 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: You have not answered my question. Have you ever had to exercise some kind of pretty strong guidance and discipline because you felt your staff -----

Mr Hill: No.

Q268 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: You have not. Mr Esser, I do not want to prolong this, but broadly speaking is there any disagreement about principles between us, or do you accept the way I tried to express the fundamental right to free speech, the exceptions, the fair balance and the need to exercise responsibility by the press.

Mr Esser: No, there is no area of disagreement. We believe in those principles and we try every day to make sure that we stick by them.

Q269 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: What mechanism or guidance do you have to ensure that that is done in practice by your staff?

Mr Esser: The first thing, I think, is to abandon the idea that journalists are brought up to rush out and write inflammatory stories; they are not; they are trained to report what has gone on in a straightforward manner. They are trained to produce the facts. The comment column, and The Daily Mail's opinion about matters, is expressed in a separate and different way. As Peter has rightly said, we stick by the principles and the excellent guidance note that the PCC produced on asylum seekers and terminology and attitudes, and all our journalists carry in their wallet a pocket-sized version of the code. The idea that they are running around looking for inflammatory things to say about asylum seekers is wrong.

Q270 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I follow that, but one of you said you see it as your role to speak for the people of Britain, but I hope - and please correct me - you are not saying by that that the people who are not from Britain but are genuine victims of political persecution in unspeakable countries abroad, should not be spoken for as well as the people of this country.

Mr Esser: That is an absolutely fair point, but I do not think we try and speak for the people of Britain. What we try to do is inform our readers and reflect the views of our readers, and many of our readers write to us about asylum seekers and similar matters, expressing sometimes fears and sometimes approvals. We consistently say, as Peter does in the Express, that this country has a great tradition of asylum granting; and long may that continue.

Q271 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: How do you avoid the danger of stereotyping, of making sweeping generalisations about groups of people that are not fair to individuals within the group? You know what I mean! You can make stereotypes about women or black people or Jews or Muslims - all kinds of people. How do you avoid the obvious elementary danger that powerful generalisations are made which in fact stir up prejudices? How do you do that in practice, or maybe you think you should not do that -----

Mr Esser: It is very difficult. We do of course pick out individual examples of people who have succeeded, and run major features on them. The difficulty you express is the difficulty that, for instance, Government expresses. The Government talks about asylum seekers; it does not talk about individuals; it talks about asylum seekers and immigrants. The Government is a system of generalisations.

Q272 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Would it be helpful if the PCC, represented here today, gave rather clearer and more positive guidance - I do not say regulation, but I say guidance - on how to handle these difficult, sensitive issues and produce some kind of further discussion document? At the moment what they have done is very short and some would say primitive on the subject. Would you think any more help from them would be a good idea?

Mr Esser: I think the PCC constantly reviews the code and its guidance. One of the strengths of self-regulation is the lightness of regulation. That is something of which I approve, as a believer in freedom of expression and the freedom of the press and so forth.

Q273 Chairman: Just to put the record straight, we have the ants article in front of us. The headline is: "Refugees are flooding into the UK 'like ants' ...."

Mr Esser: Yes.

Q274 Chairman: Paragraph 1: "Hordes of immigrants pour from Channel Tunnel trains like ants from an ant hill as the tide of asylum seekers into Britain continues to rise." Paragraph 7 is a quote from the BTP spokesman who said: "This is the most illegal immigrants we have ever caught in one go. They were like ants pouring from an ant hill."

Mr Esser: That is correct, yes, but I wanted to draw the distinction between a report of what someone else said, and the suggestion from Mr Jago Russell that this was an inflammatory comment by the Daily Express, which it was not of course.

Chairman: Just a minute; the purpose of this hearing is to hear both sides of the story, and we will form our own views, having heard from Mr Russell and having heard your view as well.

Q275 Dr Harris: Just on that point, though, clearly we have heard what you said and we have the original article to check -----

Mr Hill: Yes, I am glad you have the article.

Q276 Dr Harris: We are not liable to be misled without checking the original source, but that British Transport policeman who was talking about illegal immigrants said - he was talking about how they came out of the lorry once the container was opened.

Mr Hill: Yes.

Q277 Dr Harris: Your headline says: "Refugees are flooding into the UK 'like ants'" - not "illegal immigrants coming out of a container like ants from an ant hill". Do you accept there is a difference between refugees and illegal immigrants?

Mr Hill: I can see what would happen there. I can see that the sub-editor could not get the expression "illegal immigrants" in the headline because it is very, very long - and, yes, that probably has resulted in the wrong term possibly in the headline, yes. I can see that.

Dr Harris: I think that is what Mr Russell was referring to, and I am glad we have now reached agreement that that was the problem because refugees are people who are genuine and have been granted asylum, and they would feel a bit upset, I suspect, to be considered to be flooding in the first place, and being described as an image that is not human.

Q278 Mr Carswell: A question for Mr Hill and Mr Esser: Do you think that the political establishment has dealt with the public policy challenges posed by asylum and immigration effectively, and do you sometimes get the feeling that in your newspapers you are asking the sort of questions and raising the issues that the political establishment would frankly you rather did not talk about?

Mr Hill: I think for a very long time the Daily Express in particular was vilified by the liberal media and in particular the BBC for raising these matters about immigration and asylum, and indeed also about the associated matter of the policy of multi-culturalism. I think now everyone - or informed opinion now accepts that the policy of multi-culturalism in which people have been encouraged to set up almost separate states, almost with their own walls and certainly their own rules and behaviour, quite contrary to British behaviour - that that policy has been completely discredited. For a long time the Daily Express was the only newspaper that was raising these matters. As I say, I think these matters ought to be discussed because they are matters of enormous importance for the future of our country, and they should be discussed openly and robustly.

Mr Esser: It is certainly true that many of the stories we have raised about the shambles are uncomfortable for the Government. I believe an all-party House of Commons committee eventually confessed that they were, and a former Home Secretary said - it was a bit of an echo of the Daily Express - that this country was swamped with immigrants of all kinds, including asylum seekers - not really a phrase that was as moderate as perhaps it should have been. Of course the Government is embarrassed and of course the thing is a shambles; and of course that does add to our readers' and the general public's worry about asylum seekers, and that must eventually produce added hostility, where it should not.

Q279 Mr Carswell: Given the rise of political extremism in Europe - we had Pim Fortuyn in Holland, where the political elite refused to address questions of asylum and multiculturalism; Jean-Marie le Pen in France, who was runner-up in the last set of presidential elections in France - do you think there is a danger of political extremism if we do not have a political establishment and a press openly discussing and debating these issues? Do you think there is a danger that if perhaps we were to ever use human rights law and legislation to stifle debate it could lead to the rise of political extremism?

Mr Hill: I think there is evidence that political extremism is already on the increase in this country. You have only to look at some of our local authorities where extremists are now contesting seats and winning seats. There is a grave danger, if the political elite fails to address these issues, that extremism will increase because people who care deeply about these will have nowhere else to go. They will have nowhere to turn.

Mr Travis: Can I just comment on that? I think there are three parties dancing this particular unsavoury tango here. You have the politicians, the public and the media locked in a rather unsavoury vicious circle. Newspapers such as Mr Hill's and Mr Esser's claim they reflect the views of their readers; politicians faced that media barrage in one particular heightened period in 2003. Over a 31-day period the Daily Express ran no less than 22 front-page lead stories on the subject of asylum based mostly on guesstimates from unofficial sources. In this situation, newspapers both fuel that political prejudice and fuel that extremism. Recent Mori research in this area showed that Daily Express readers think that 21 per cent of the British population are immigrants. The Daily Mail readers say it is about 19 per cent. Guardian readers say it is about 11 per cent. We are all actually exaggerating. It is only 7 per cent. Even FT readers, who seem to be the "best informed in the country", as their slogan goes, got somewhere near at 6 or 7 per cent. We have all exaggerated this problem in that respect, so it becomes fuelled. The idea that this is some kind of balanced, accurate reflection of public opinion on this subject is belied by the fact that Mr Hill's newspapers in the past printed manifestly false stories - fantasy land. We had from the Daily Star: "Asylum seekers have stolen nine donkeys from Greenwich Royal Parks and eaten them." It is supposedly based upon fact, you know - and police saying they think they killed them and ate them - and the only quote from the police in the story is, "we are totally baffled over what happened to the donkeys". The idea that they were seized by asylum seekers rather belies the idea that this is some kind of responsible, grown‑up ‑‑‑‑‑

Mr Hill: Has anybody ever found the donkeys? By the way, there have been far more articles in The Guardian about Big Brother!

Mr Travis: Can I finish my evidence, please? It is correct to say that the problems and breakdown in the asylum system have created a political space in which this media campaign is rooted and can flourish, and without a managerial and efficient asylum system in this country - and we have a history now of 12 years of mismanagement and problems - will only continue to fuel such a campaign and provide the basis for it. These stories are not written without a grain of truth in them mostly. They are rooted in factual reporting. That is only a negative view of the situation, but I think that while there are 400,000 plus people living illegally in this country, and whilst that situation remains unresolved, then such media coverage will continue.

Q280 Mr Carswell: Building on the question of reflecting public opinion, I have a further couple of questions. Looking around the Committee I note that not every member is necessarily elected or has a direct democratic mandate. How many people actually buy your newspaper every day, Mr Esser and Mr Hill; and do you think that puts you more in touch with public opinion than perhaps some people?

Mr Esser: In the case of the Daily Mail, 2.5 million people buy it every day, and it is read by at least 5 million people. It is obviously not demographically representative of the whole nation, but it does at least give us a constituency which has a voice.

Mr Hill: Getting on for a million people buy the Daily Express and probably about 3 million readers. I would not personally claim to be any better informed than Members of Parliament. They meet their constituents and I meet the readers. I would not lay claim to have any special knowledge, and I do not think the fact that that number of readers reads the newspaper gives me any particular power over anyone, and I am not here on an ego trip - no.

Q281 Mr Carswell: At the time that the Human Rights Act was passed, did you ever envisage being asked to come before this sort of committee and asked to justify press freedom and how you sub-edit your newspaper and the contents of your letters page in this way, in the context of the European Convention on Human Rights?

Mr Hill: Personally, I think the Convention on Human Rights has no bearing on what we do in our country. We of the Daily Express believe that we are a nation state, and we should be able to run our own affairs; and certainly we believe very, very strongly, that the Human Rights Act should be repealed as soon as possible because it is a travesty. It is a nonsense that our country - that our own laws should be abused in this way.

Q282 Mr Carswell: I was keen to hear from Mr Esser and Mr Travis.

Mr Esser: Once it appeared, yes. I joined newspapers because they are free and because I believe in them being a plank of democracy, and I am always prepared to defend freedom of the press at a dinner party or in front of a committee.

Mr Travis: It is quite justified for the Committee to examine media coverage of asylum seekers.

Chairman: We are not here to debate the pros and cons of the Human Rights Act.

Q283 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I think you were saying that the Human Rights Act was of negative value.

Mr Hill: Yes.

Q284 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: But are you aware that for the last thirty years the only weapon we have had, as newspapers and lawyers, to enlarge free speech in this country, was to use the European Human Rights Convention in the absence of any legal instrument which gave us a positive right, and so generations of people like me have sought to persuade British judges and, if necessary had to go to Strasbourg, because we did not have a policy of human rights. When the Human Rights Act came in, section 12 was written in especially to give priority to free speech - you are younger than I am and you may not be aware -----

Mr Hill: I am aware of that, but that came along and that was used, fine; but I think we would have done something else if it had not been there. We would still have established the freedom of the press in our country, one way or the other. I am sure of it.

Q285 Earl of Onslow: As somebody who has had a little dig by a Conservative colleague about not being elected at all - I am here because my ancestor got rather drunk -----

Mr Hill: It is all right; I was not elected either!

Q286 Earl of Onslow: Mr Esser, we have covered the ants story. What people I think are worried about is that some of the headlines - and there is a Daily Mail one I have in front of me which says, "Thousands of suspected bogus asylum seekers will be entitled to have their free housing benefits reinstated", which refers to a ruling that refused asylum seekers could make a fresh claim if they adduce new evidence - that it is the particularisation of one or two cases which is bringing odium on a group of people who are not entitled to have that odium heaped upon them. I go along with you one hundred per cent on the chaos of the immigration system; it has obviously failed to function as it should. I do not think there is any argument about that. Equally, I do not agree with you over the Human Rights Act because unfortunately Parliament is not doing what old-fashioned libertarians like me say it should be doing, which is protecting Englishmen's liberties; so we have to have some outside judicially enforced defence of our liberties. That is something about which I am pro and very, very keen to preserve. However, I am worried that the particularisation of people can bring odium on a group of people unfairly, and stir up hatred and trouble. Would you like to comment on that?

Mr Esser: That is an absolutely fair observation. I would argue that that particular story, which I imagine was some time ago, did a disservice to genuine people who are here having been granted asylum, because the housing benefits are all eaten up by people who should not be here, then they have an even greater problem in claiming what is their right.

Q287 Chairman: 10th November last year.

Mr Esser: You can certainly make a case that by exposing the number of people who are abusing the system, you are helping those people who are in genuine need of asylum.

Q288 Earl of Onslow: I think it is terribly easy, if I may say so, for people like you and me, who, by our own efforts, live extremely comfortable and decent and good lives - some of these people are oppressed beyond peradventure when they arrive here, and those we have got to protect. I think that would be agreed by everybody. How do you stop the particular question degenerating into -----

Mr Hill: The way you do that is to clean up the asylum system so that it is the genuine people who get in, and the people who are not genuine that are excluded. At the moment that palpably does not happen because a very large proportion of people who come under the aegis of asylum are not genuine asylum seekers. No real attempt is made to separate them and no attempt is ever made, or very rarely made, to deport those who fail the test. I believe only a quarter of those whose cases are rejected ever get to be deported from the country, so the whole thing is in disrepute and discredited. It is very difficult. It is obvious why people have a dim view of asylum seeking in general, because in general it is a very, very poor system. To go back to the other business, you are quite right that the reporting of individual cases might have an unfortunate effect of giving people a generally negative impression, but I also believe that readers are capable of telling the difference between a story that is about a lot of people and a story that is about an individual. We have to give them credit for that. I certainly do not believe that readers of the Daily Express are prejudiced against foreigners in general. I recently helped a woman who has got a very small charity that helps people in Malawi. We carried one article in the Daily Express, and my readers sent in 20,000 to this woman, just a very small individual charity. I do think that this shows that my readers are not by nature prejudiced against other people; they are perfectly willing to help other people, but what they want is for the system to be fair and genuine, and it is not; and that is what you have to sort out.

Q289 Earl of Onslow: I am very pleased that you acknowledge that there is a possibility of the one story damning everybody else, and that is the sort of thing we as a Committee have been trying to dig for and look for, and see if in some way the tension on the individuals can be lowered but on the Government can be heightened. In other words, the failure of the system which I think everybody admits, from the Home Secretary downwards, is something that has to be put right - I would agree with you - but one has not therefore got to attack the individuals unless they are self-evidently crooks who ought to be banged up, and that is a different thing altogether.

Mr Hill: Agreed.

Q290 Chairman: Can I put a couple of your headlines to you to do with your point about terrorism? I do not think anyone would accuse me of being soft on terrorist issues, and indeed I have been quoted in both your newspapers on the issue of Muslim extremism, but there are two headlines in the Daily Express: "Bombers are all spongeing asylum seekers." That gives the impression -----

Mr Hill: May I interrupt you? That is a court case that is going on right now and I think it would be very, very wrong of us to comment on that case, because I certainly would not want to be responsible for prejudicing anybody's trial, and I am not prepared to discuss it.

Q291 Chairman: We will not go on with that. Another one says separately: "One in four terrorists are suspected asylum seekers." I do not know whether or not that is the same story, but clearly they could not both be accurate, could they?

Mr Hill: Well, I do not know if it is the same story.

Q292 Chairman: You have two separate headlines. Without going into detail, by definition, looking at them, they are mutually exclusive.

Mr Hill: The first one I am assured was a headline specifically about that case.

Q293 Chairman: That is the current case.

Mr Hill: That is the one that we do not want to discuss.

Q294 Chairman: Fair enough!

Mr Hill: I do not think we should discuss it because if this is a public hearing -----

Q295 Chairman: That is fine, if it is sub judice.

Mr Hill: The other one, as far as I know, was a more general story. I do not know.

Chairman: The point I was going to make was the impression given by the headlines, but we will not discuss it.

Q296 Dr Harris: I need to declare my interest in that I buy the Daily Mail every day and read it. It does not win me any sympathy from Mr Hill, and I suspect not even from Mr Esser; but I am one of your readers.

Mr Hill: I am sure he is very grateful!

Q297 Dr Harris: I do want to raise some of the questions about the headlines. Firstly, how do you know who is a genuine asylum seeker? How do your readers know when you refer to genuine asylum seekers and the collection of terms you used, fairly enough, for non-genuine - "bogus", "failed"?

Mr Esser: Failed.

Q298 Dr Harris: Or bogus or non-genuine or mere economic migrants - how do your readers distinguish between those two when they see an asylum seeker family move in down the street?

Mr Esser: With boring regularity we repeat the phrase that we welcome genuine asylum seekers and that this country has a tradition of doing so and granting asylum to those who need it.

Mr Esser: With boring regularity we repeat the case that we welcome genuine asylum seekers and that this country has a tradition of doing so and of granting asylum to those who need it. We must have said that at least 100 times. Beyond that, you read the stories. This Committee tends to talk only about headlines. Headlines are written usually in the space of about five minutes, five minutes after the newspaper is supposed to have gone to bed, by people who pick out something which is supposed to attract readers to read the story. Headlines should not be considered on their own.

Q299 Dr Harris: I accept that point but I do want my question pursued. How do you know what is genuine? When you use a term like, "We welcome genuine asylum seekers" who are you referring to in a way that they can be identified?

Mr Esser: Those that succeed in getting asylum.

Q300 Dr Harris: They are refugees, are they not, because they have asylum? Everyone, pre-getting refugee status, is an asylum seeker.

Mr Esser: Correct.

Q301 Dr Harris: I am not talking about refugees now; I am talking about asylum seekers who are genuine and asylum seekers who are not. How do you distinguish between the two?

Mr Esser: That is a decision that comes eventually after they have been here rather a long time, waiting for the so-called system which does not work. The majority of stories we write about people who are not genuine asylum seekers stem from the courts, from these people having committed some form of crime.

Q302 Dr Harris: Are children ever bogus asylum seekers? That is, the children who come with their parents who make a claim and are therefore dependent. Are they ever bogus or non-genuine, or are they a third category and it is not their fault?

Mr Esser: We would never describe a child as a bogus, failed or genuine asylum seeker. We do not do that as far as I know. If we have done that, it is a mistake. We do make mistakes occasionally, not as many as many other newspapers but we do.

Q303 Dr Harris: I was not going to cite a case because it is the one that was referred to as sub judice. The point I am trying to make is that there are people who make asylum claims who are just unsuccessful. They have a good case. Zimbabweans, for example, which your newspapers have supported from time to time, are not getting asylum but you have not, I believe rightly, accused them of being bogus or economic migrants. They have just been unsuccessful in persuading the authorities that they have a genuine fear of a risk of persecution on their return. There are genuine ones who get refugee status. There might be genuine ones who do not but they are not trying to pull a fast one. Then there are people somewhere in between and there are people who are clearly trying to kid the system, who are pretending. It is quite complicated. The problem I would like your reaction to is: if there are asylum seekers in the area and your readers see headlines that say, "Most asylum seekers are not genuine. We support genuine asylum seekers", what are they supposed to think about the people down the road who have moved in when they do not know the details of their case? Do you accept it is a problem?

Mr Esser: It is a problem. It would be wrong to assume that the only information people get is from newspapers. They get information from all sorts of areas and in the case you mention probably from the neighbours. It is perhaps better to get your information from a newspaper which has tried to be responsible and fair than from gossip. It should not be underestimated that a lot of people get their knowledge from their next door neighbours, the people down the street, the people in the local shop or the people on the market stall. That can be and is quite often much more inaccurate and pejorative than the information they may get from their newspaper.

Q304 Dr Harris: Mr Hill, in your very helpful memorandum, which we are grateful for because it does set out your position at some length, you talk about your paper's longstanding campaign of hatred against the BNP. That is on record. If the BNP go around saying that gypsies are going to leech on us, would you resent it and react to that and say, "That is outrageous, typical BNP quasi-racism or racism"?

Mr Hill: I do my very best not to give any publicity to the BNP or anything they say because I believe the more oxygen they get in that way the worse things are. I tend not to give them a platform in The Daily Express unless I am obliged to.

Q305 Dr Harris: The reason I ask that 1n is that on 20 January 2004 a headline in The Daily Express says, "Gypsy invasion will add to our problems ... and theirs" and the first line says: "The Roma gypsies of Eastern Europe are heading to Britain to leech on us." It may be there is evidence for that. I am not arguing about the accuracy. I am arguing about how that might be perceived because that is one of the issues we have. We are not saying you should not be allowed to write your views; it is just a question of the tone. Do you understand that that might be used by an extremist to fight a political campaign on racial grounds against gypsies?

Mr Hill: It is possible, yes.

Q306 Dr Harris: You say in the same article, "The neo-Nazi BNP is no doubt rubbing its hands in glee at the thought of the political capital it can make out of smouldering resentment."

Mr Hill: If the government were to address the issue responsibly and sensibly, this would not happen so it would not become an issue. The fact of the matter is that the government has failed to address these matters. The government said that there would be only between 5,000 and 13,000 arrivals from Eastern Europe. There were 600,000. It is not just the government; it is the political elite simply wilfully failing to address these matters, so yes, the language does get to be rather emotive but it is quite understandable because of the wilful refusal of government to ----

Q307 Dr Harris: I am trying to meet you half way. Would you accept that there is a risk of using language like "Gypsies are heading to Britain to leech on us", even if they did not come, that the damage might be done to people here perceived as leeches who did? You add to that ingredient because your readers would not rush out and hate people on their own. If you add the fact that there are extremists seeking to take advantage of that sort of language for those people who are willing to act on that sort of language, do you accept there is an issue around language like that?

Mr Hill: I cannot tailor the newspaper on the basis that some extremist might take one word or a number of words from it any more than I can tailor the headlines to meet with your approval. I can only do what I see as being the right thing at the time for that particular newspaper in response to that particular situation. I cannot keep thinking: goodness me, I cannot say this in case the BNP seize on it. I cannot run a newspaper like that.

Dr Harris: I could have said that there are people out there who might have their views reinforced by what you say without the intervention of a third party like the BNP. Would you still accept that there is not a need to be careful in language like that, particularly when there are 1.6 million gypsies here, which was another of your headlines?

Q308 Chairman: It was a Sun headline.

Mr Hill: I do not edit The Sun.

Q309 Dr Harris: You say that you were challenged in your interview with The Independent about some of your reporting on this. The quote is: "Of course it is a legitimate story..." - this was about rural areas being made a misery by gypsies - "he insists, as were, he believes, Express reports that as many as 1.6 million gypsies were on the way from Eastern Europe following the enlargement of the European Union. It may not have happened, but it was a genuine fear at the time, he argues."

Mr Hill: It was a fear at the time.

Q310 Dr Harris: If there was a genuine fear of black people or Jews, is that sufficient in itself to justify reporting in emotive language, which is what you are quite good at, those sorts of fears, or do you think there is a clear category distinction that can be made between blacks and Jews on the one hand and gypsies and asylum seekers on the other?

Mr Hill: I do not think anybody would want a huge influx of any particular people, whether they be Jews, Moslems, Eskimos or anything else, because what we are talking about is the effect on the resources of our country and on its culture. If there are huge, sudden influxes of people it will have a negative effect on our own culture and on our resources, housing, health and all the other things.

Q311 Dr Harris: Even if they are nurses coming to prop up our health service? That would be a positive effect of an influx of people.

Mr Hill: That would never happen because the government would never do anything so sensible.

Q312 Dr Harris: I would love to take you up on HIV and TV but I would like to deal with this question of crime because it is something that you helpfully put in your memorandum. Is it your view, your opinion or your evidence based view that in terms of things like motoring offences asylum seekers used correctly as people claiming asylum, not refugees and not illegal immigrants, are more likely than the general population of the same age to commit serious motoring offences?

Mr Hill: I would not put it that way, but I think there has been a large number of cases that we have seen of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants committing serious motoring offences like driving without insurance in particular. We shall never know the numbers because the government does not keep a check on the number of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants who are involved in crime at all. No statistics are kept.

Q313 Dr Harris: If there are half a million people in this category there are bound to be some people with serious motoring offences. There are bound to be some people who save other people's lives in acts of great heroism and charity.

Mr Hill: I have not come across them. I would report it if I had.

Q314 Dr Harris: Is it enough to say that because there are instances it is reasonable to say that they are asylum seekers doing it? I would like to draw the same analogy with drawing attention to the race of someone who commits or is alleged to have committed an offence. Do you see any parallel between those situations?

Mr Hill: Yes. I think it is perfectly legitimate to draw attention to it. If you have a situation, which I think is admitted, that there are huge numbers of illegal immigrants and enormous numbers of people seeking asylum without justification, I think it is perfectly reasonable to draw attention to this, yes.

Q315 Dr Harris: Even if it is not relevant in the individual case?

Mr Hill: How do you mean?

Q316 Dr Harris: If the fact that they were an asylum seeker was not relevant to their offence or the race of someone might not be relevant to the offence they are accused of, if it is genuinely considered not appropriate to say the race of someone in a court case, unless it is relevant.

Mr Hill: Unless it is relevant, yes.

Q317 Dr Harris: Would you say that this has been a useful exchange or has it stifled debate?

Mr Hill: I welcome it, which is why I agreed to come here.

Chairman: Something like 40 per cent of the nurses and 25 per cent of the doctors in the NHS were not born in the UK.

Q318 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: You talked about how the policy of multiculturalism has failed.

Mr Hill: Yes.

Q319 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: What do you mean by "the policy of multiculturalism"?

Mr Hill: Multiculturalism as opposed to multiracialism. I am perfectly in favour of a multiracial Britain. It has added enormously to our culture. Multiculturalism, as I understand it, is that policy of encouraging people to form groups of their own interest or religion and not in any way to want to assimilate into the society into which they have joined. People like Trevor Philips and various others have now accepted that this is a failed and discredited policy because it leads to separatism, discord and ghettoisation. I am absolutely against that. Multiracialism I am absolutely in favour of.

Q320 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I understand what you say and I agree with you but I want to get this absolutely clear. Looking at the common ground, because I think it is a useful thing to do, we both agree do we not that the right policy is one which seeks equality of opportunity on individual merit?

Mr Hill: Yes.

Q321 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Which respects cultural diversity in the sense that we do not seek to turn everybody into the stereotyped view of an Englishman, whatever that is. We expect diversity in our nation.

Mr Hill: And welcome it.

Q322 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Provided that diversity is not bought at a price of oppression or that people seek to impose their own views in a way that violates basic rights and freedoms. For example, stopping you from expressing your views because they are not politically correct or stopping Salman Rushdie from publishing a novel or anything of that kind. Broadly speaking as I hear you, is that what you mean when you oppose what you call a policy of multiculturalism?

Mr Hill: Yes. I am absolutely in favour of the enormous, rich diversity that we have in our country.

Q323 Earl of Onslow: You said 600,000 people were coming in from Eastern Europe. We accept that figure. Is that not a completely different issue from asylum seeking? That is a policy which has arisen from treaty obligations which we have agreed. When you say that, it clouds if anything the asylum and the refugee debate from outside. I lay aside whether it was right or wrong but if you take those two and merge them you help the muddle rather than separating the issue into getting the asylum issue sorted out. If any of us can sort that out everybody benefits. Would you like to comment?

Mr Hill: If the number of asylum seekers were reasonable, I would agree with you. Particularly in the early part of this new century, there has been such a vast number of people claiming asylum. Goodness knows how many that is. It has become part of a wider question of all kinds of immigration. If you were talking of relatively small numbers of asylum seekers it would not be an issue at all. It is the scale of it.

Q324 Earl of Onslow: I accept it is the scale. If I remember rightly, the Prime Minister was asked at the last general election how many there were. He categorically refused to answer because he did not know. We desperately badly want racial peace in this country. We want harmony if we can possibly have it, so we can go on insulting each other in the normal, bog standard, British way which we have all grown to love. If you lump two problems into one and make them worse that tends, to my way of thinking, towards not concentrating on the really serious problem which is the asylum problem rather than the immigration figures from Eastern Europe.

Mr Hill: It is all a problem. That is the point, because of the enormous scale. If immigration was at a reasonable level and if asylum seeking was at a reasonable level, I certainly would not have a quibble against it at all. The fact of the matter is that it is uncontrolled. Both of these processes seem to have no control whatsoever exercised over them by the authorities or by the government and that is what is wrong with this. That is why they tend to be lumped together.

Mr Travis: I did not recognise at all the volume that Mr Hill describes. It must be news to him that the number of asylum seekers claiming asylum in this country has more than halved in the last three or four years and I think in the last year the figures show 25,000 claimed asylum, the lowest level since about the early 1990s.

Mr Hill: I did talk about the first years of the century.

Mr Travis: I am talking about the year 2000, which is the first year of this century. Those numbers have fallen. I am glad to hear though that Mr Hill does foresee a point in the future when he is willing to support refugees coming to this country in that he said if we could show that people were genuine refugees coming to this country he would support them coming here and would maybe write more positively about them.

Mr Hill: Provided it is a reasonable number, yes.

Mr Travis: I am glad to tell you that this day has arrived. We have, for example, the United Nations High Commission Refugees Resettlement Programme under which up to 1,000 refugees nominated by the UNHCR are amongst the twice displaced people, perhaps the most oppressed, vulnerable refugees currently on the planet. Unfortunately, due to the atmosphere of hostility to them in this country, no more than four or five local authorities have been prepared to put up their hands and say they are willing to take as many as 60 or 70 in major towns of 250,000 or 300,000.

Mr Hill: Most local authorities have been so inundated with other asylum seekers and other immigrants that they are incapable and do not have the resources to cope with any more. That is in itself an enormous problem.

Mr Travis: I am disappointed to hear that.

Q325 Baroness Stern: We have talked a lot about negative coverage. I want to ask you a question about positive coverage, about human stories, stories of people seeking asylum, some of them with horrendous stories who are living very difficult lives. There was a story about that in The Guardian on 18 December and in the Scottish press we see a lot of very positive stories about asylum seekers who are not allowed to work so they do very good things instead, they win awards and they help people. In your view, would it be a good idea if there were more stories like this? If you do think it would be a good idea, do you think someone is failing to communicate with you that there are such stories and could something be done to rectify that?

Mr Hill: There are a lot of Scottish asylum seekers in Parliament and we are always pretty positive about them.

Q326 Chairman: That is quite flippant. Baroness Stern is asking you a serious question.

Mr Hill: I know. I am sorry. I could not resist.

Q327 Baroness Stern: Could I have an answer to the slightly broader conception of asylum seekers?

Mr Hill: You are very welcome to call me and if you get any of those stories I will look at them and I am quite willing to publish them. Absolutely. You tell me.

Q328 Baroness Stern: Nobody ever puts any your way? None of the organisations or groups? Nobody has ever put such stories your way?

Mr Hill: I do not recall it anyway.

Q329 Chairman: You would be prepared to publish them if they did?

Mr Hill: If they were interesting, yes. We publish many positive things about people who have come to this country and many great success stories.

Mr Esser: We would welcome such stories and indeed we have published some. It would be a very good idea if those organisations who exist to help asylum seekers told us about them instead of writing letters of complaint, often on spurious matters. They could forget the arguments about terminology in the odd headline and tell us some good, positive stories. The Daily Mail is full of positive stories. We like positive stories.

Mr Travis: We find no shortage of stories about asylum seekers being presented to The Guardian. We sometimes suggest that they should maybe go and tell their stories to The Daily Express and The Daily Mail.

Q330 Chairman: Would you publish any negative stories about asylum seekers?

Mr Travis: Yes, we certainly do. We report court cases which involve individuals but perhaps we do not necessarily draw the same inferences from them as the gentlemen to my right here.

Q331 Baroness Stern: Would you say, "I think it is time that we had a bit of balance so let us go and explore this story that is clearly positive"; or would you need somebody to really come to you and say, "Come on. The time has come"?

Mr Hill: The nature of news is that it tends not to be very positive. If you remember, there was a man called Martin Lewis - and still is, for all I know - who wanted the newspapers to be filled with good news but I am afraid the world is not like that. Good news to some extent is no news. Nothing happened today. That was fine but there is not really anything in that, is there?

Q332 Baroness Stern: There are so many negative stories that it might be really newsworthy and surprising to your readers if there was a nice, positive one.

Mr Hill: You are always welcome to telephone me if you hear of such a story and I shall consider it.

Mr Esser: It is interesting that, as has been demonstrated today, there are very differing newspapers. There are ten national newspapers and we are all obviously in competition with each other, particularly The Guardian. Despite this very broad approach, none of the newspapers finds a huge fund of positive stories. It would be a very good idea if the agencies put their minds to it. It is called positive PR, I think.

Q333 Nia Griffith: We have heard from the CRE, Oxfam and Liberty that the local, regional press is a lot more positive in their portrayal of asylum seekers. Have you noticed in any way a difference between national and local press?

Mr Toulmin: I am aware of the fact that various regional newspapers have been singled out for particular praise through receiving awards for their coverage of asylum seekers and issues to do with immigration. The complaints trend that we see does tend to concern national newspapers. The regional, local press is a very large part of what the PCC's remit extends to and we would be in a position to see if there was a general concern about the regional press. In any case, the numbers of specific complaints about the national press, considering how many articles are published - Alan said at the beginning that there were 2,500 articles about asylum seekers in the national press only last year - go to show that the number of complaints does not reveal a huge groundswell of concern about them from people against the national press, given that they can complain about issues to do with accuracy, privacy, intrusion, discrimination about individuals and so on.

Q334 Nia Griffith: In terms of looking at things like the local, regional press, can you suggest any reasons why they are so positive in their coverage?

Mr Toulmin: That is a matter for individual editors, I suppose. The type of content does vary obviously from regional, local press and national press. They would probably stay close to their readers. If they write a story about an asylum seeker, there is quite a high likelihood that their readers will know who this person is, for instance, so there might be a degree more of relevance than in the national audience.

Q335 Chairman: Do you think there is a problem, talking about asylum seekers, that that effectively reads across to the legal migrants who may be here with a work permit or even second and third generation migrant families, in the way that people may not be able to distinguish between an asylum seeker family, an asylum seeker individual or a failed asylum seeker or indeed somebody else who perhaps has a dark skin?

Mr Hill: Why are we talking about people with dark skin? We are not talking about people with dark skin in particular. I am certainly not talking about people with different coloured skin. I do not believe it does have an effect, no. There are established groups in this country who have been here for generations and people are perfectly happy about that.

Q336 Chairman: Some organisations like the CRE, the National Union of Journalists, Oxfam and the PCC have published guidelines to try and promote the accurate reporting and unbiased reporting of asylum seekers and refugee issues with correct terminology, distinguishing between asylum seekers, refugees, illegal immigrants and migrant workers. How do you ensure they are put into effect?

Mr Hill: It is quite difficult, I agree, and perhaps we should make more effort to do so. I would go along with that.

Q337 Chairman: Have any of your journalists complained to you that they feel they have been asked to write stories that they do not think are appropriate?

Mr Hill: No.

Q338 Chairman: Mr Esser?

Mr Esser: Certainly not.

Q339 Chairman: The reason I raise that is that I had a phone call last week from a member of the editorial staff, not on one of your papers but another tabloid, who said he wanted to speak to me off the record rather than the other way round, which was a novel experience.

Mr Hill: There is no such thing as off the record. Do be careful.

Q340 Chairman: I know that. I am going to respect it from his point of view anyway. He was complaining to me that he felt sometimes he was under pressure and other journalists had complained to him as a member of the editorial staff that they were under pressure to report on these sorts of stories negatively, using language and terminology that they felt was not appropriate.

Mr Hill: I would never put any of my journalists under pressure to write something they did not want to write.

Q341 Chairman: Mr Esser, how do you ensure that the guidelines are put into effect?

Mr Esser: We attempt to ensure that the guidelines are followed by constantly reminding our people what the guidelines are. The senior editors who oversee the copy and so on are very well aware of it, as of course is the editor. Inevitably the odd slip gets in the paper because people are working under huge pressures of time, but generally speaking we do keep to the guidelines. We are proud of our record of doing so and that is certainly always our intention. I echo Peter's view on our journalists. No journalist on The Daily Mail is ever told to write a story in a particular way.

Q342 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Mr Toulmin, I am a very strong believer in self-regulation and the work of the PCC, as I think you know. I think you also know that in the Human Rights Act special importance is given to self-regulation in section 12. When I look at your code of practice however, it seems to me to be something that needs further consideration. I would like to draw your attention to what I have in mind. Nothing I am saying now is to suggest changes in the law; I am talking about self-regulation and the role of the PCC. In paragraph 12 of your code, you talk about discrimination. The PCC says that the press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation et cetera. It does not talk about groups; it talks about a particular individual. Would it not be a good idea for the PCC to consider the kind of thing that the Earl of Onslow was talking about, the demonising of whole groups of people because of their group categorisation and stereotyping, as well as attacking an individual because they are black or an asylum seeker and so on? Would it not be better to widen the code in that respect and then give some rather more practical guidance in consultation with the editors - we have heard three editors today - about exactly how in practice to avoid the risk of unnecessary attacks upon whole groups of people because of their group characteristics?

Mr Toulmin: Without getting into a great lecture about the structure of the PCC, it is probably worth pointing out that the PCC itself is an independent body to which the press has submitted, so that is self-regulation in a way. The PCC itself does not write the code. There is a separate committee of editors that writes the code of practice. They charge the independent PCC with enforcing it. It is a very timely suggestion because representations are currently being invited by that committee to make suggestions about how the code might be improved. That committee has considered the point about clause 12 and whether it should extend to groups of people many times before. The code at its heart is meant to be a document that protects individuals against the overweening freedom of the press that you described at the beginning of your remarks. The PCC is a manifestation of the press recognising that freedom must be limited. When it comes to the issue of clause 12 and discrimination that committee - and I would be delighted to be here if you could make a suggestion about how to get over this difficulty - has not come up with a form of words that protects their right to freedom of expression, including the rights to make jokes about groups of people, for instance, whilst at the same time addressing the issue with which you are concerned. It has been said that one person's insult in this context is another person's joke and so on. You would be expecting the Commission to be making rather subjective judgments, sometimes on matters of taste, fairness and so on about groups when the philosophical basis of this document is about protecting named individuals where I think we have some considerable success. You raise a point that is made frequently. I am not saying that we have a satisfactory answer to it because I do not think we do necessarily, but there is this process whereby suggestions can be made to that body that reviews the code on an annual basis.

Q343 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I do not quite understand the problem about clause 12 as you describe it. I agree it is not for you to decide but it is for the editors when they look at this again. Is it not an extraordinary idea that you limit the focus to prejudice against me as an individual, because I am a Jew, rather than prejudice against me as one of 200,000 Jews? Surely newspapers need to be given concrete, practical guidance that they ought not to stigmatise, for example, Jews on the basis of group characteristics unnecessarily. No editor here would disagree with what I have said. No one would say, "We see it as our responsibility and right to stigmatise Jews in this country on the basis of group characteristics." While you are thinking about the answer to that, look at what you say in the public interest at the bottom. Your definition of the public interest is extraordinarily narrow if you look at it. It does not recognise, as for example does the European Human Rights Convention or the Human Rights Act or any body of principle that I know, that there are other public interest considerations to be weighed in the balance in responsible reporting and editorialising other than the very narrow list there. Is that something that might be reconsidered in the context of the discussion we are having today, the definition of the public interest?

Mr Toulmin: On that point, it is often misunderstood what that box relates to. It is not an exhaustive list. It says "includes but is not confined to" that following list. The public interest could include a broad range of issues upon which the Commission as an independent body would make a common sense decision. If there are specific issues that you have in mind where there is a glaring omission of something that is in human rights legislation, I think we should hear about it in any context, this context or any other. If I may come back to discrimination to deal with your example and others, we have had some success in dealing with this issue in recent years and reducing therefore the number of complaints about discrimination by taking complaints and talking to suitable groups of people, interest groups and so on, coaching them about how the code can be used. One of the things we have seen is that those types of objections about groups are generally better dealt with under clause one, accuracy, which applies to groups of people obviously because it does not refer to an individual. People can complain to us if there is a general point of inaccuracy which we find is an effective way of dealing with the types of complaints that people would initially think may amount to discrimination. It is the reporting base that they consider to be unfair because it is based on or the article relies on something that is either inaccurate or misleading.

Q344 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Are you saying that if a newspaper indulged in over broad racial stereotyping, for example, that would fall within clause one?

Mr Toulmin: I believe it may well do, yes, but I also believe there is a certain piece of legislation that would apply if you are racially discriminated against.

Q345 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I am talking about speech, not discrimination. I am talking about the abuse of free speech through racial stereotyping. Do you think that falls within clause one rather than clause 12?

Mr Toulmin: There is a very strong chance that it would.

Q346 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Would it not be a good idea to spell it out because it is such a serious issue and an important part of the public interest that there should not be unnecessary racial stereotyping of groups of people in a pejorative sense?

Mr Toulmin: In addition to this code, there is an entire book which brings together our own rulings under it, which is available not just to the industry but more broadly, which goes into some of those details. More broadly than that, there is a whole load of reasons themselves. If there is an example of the PCC not being able to deal with an issue because of the code, there is a procedure by which the code can be changed. If you have particular examples in mind, we would be very pleased to see them, to see where the problem lies.

Q347 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I do not think you have the drift of what I am searching for. I am talking about the very busy editor, sub-editor or journalist who needs guidance from you by self-regulation, not by the heavy hand of law. What I am suggesting to you is not that they go through your case law or some large book but that in the code or some practical guidance there are the principles that I am sure you know the late, lamented Hugo Young brilliantly described about 30 years ago in his seminal document. Should not some of that be translated into half a page so that there can be guidance on it?

Mr Toulmin: It would be based on particular examples of where the press was having difficulty. If they exist, we will look into it but if you are saying should that emerge from a vacuum and there are not any specific examples it would be more difficult to make a case. Of course we are prepared to look at anything.

Q348 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Do you think that the PCC's compliance mechanisms are sufficient to deal with the kinds of problems this Committee is concerned with or would you welcome something a little more strong and effective?

Mr Toulmin: The discussion has shown the difficulty in separating out the treatment of individuals and the broader public policy issues. On the issue of the treatment of individuals, the PCC does have its structure which is flexible, its code which is accessible and its work it does with groups of people, telling them how to complain, getting decent resolutions quickly with no charge and so on, which can change practice of newspapers and there are many examples more broadly in the industry. There is a record of achievement there. That is not to say that we are n any way perfect. We do listen to recommendations and suggestions from any group and any individual. I am sure the Committee would have some.

Q349 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Is there any code of practice that you are aware of that covers these issues, not yours but from newspapers or media organisations, which we should know about, which you would commend as being particularly good in this area?

Mr Toulmin: There are various pressure groups that work with the media on asylum, refugees and there is a media project as well. There is the work done by the Commission for Racial Equality. There is a lot of interest in this area and a log of dialogue. Doubtless you have had submissions from all of those people.

Q350 Chairman: The code of practice is published after discussion by a committee of editors?

Mr Toulmin: Yes.

Q351 Chairman: Is the same process applied to the PCC guidance notes as well?

Mr Toulmin: The position with regard to guidance notes is slightly different because they usually arise when the PCC itself on the back of trends in complaints or indeed representations from particular interest groups shows some issue where the code could require some amplification. The Commission will be proactive in drawing together the terms of that but, because it talks about the code and there is a separate committee that deals with the review of the code, those guidance notes do have to be notified to that committee to ensure that what we are saying is compliant, but it is our initiative.

Q352 Chairman: Notified to them for approval or just notified to them?

Mr Toulmin: It is notified to them. They do not veto it. What we say has to be compliant with the code so technically I suppose, if it ever arose as an issue and we said something wildly at odds with clause one, they could come back and say, "That is not what we meant when we phrased this" but that has not ever arisen because we strive to get the point over.

Q353 Chairman: Mr Hill, you are a member of the PCC?

Mr Hill: I am.

Q354 Chairman: Are you a member of the committee that does this?

Mr Hill: No.

Q355 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: In the letter written about the editors' code of practice committee what was ruled out was the very question I was asking you, which was whether the code should deal with discrimination and prejudice against ethnic groups rather than only individuals. The view taken by the editors in their wisdom was that it should not deal with groups because that violates free speech. When you were saying that the committee was covered at least by clause one, that is not apparently the view of the editors. I am mentioning this now because this Committee might come to the conclusion that the view expressed by the editors here is too narrow and therefore it needs to be dealt with, not necessarily today, but speaking for myself I personally would like this issue to be dealt with, perhaps in writing afterwards because on the face of it what is said here is rather surprising.

Mr Toulmin: I am not suggesting that my answer would address all your concerns. It is certainly not the same thing as changing the code on discrimination to make it applicable to groups as well as individuals. We found a lot of the concerns that were brought to us from people who initially phrased their complaint in terms of being discriminatory about groups of people can make a successful complaint on clause one because the thing they are taking exception to is based on something that is either misleading or distorting. I am certainly not suggesting that that equates with what you were suggesting before.

Q356 Baroness Stern: Could you tell us how often, say, last year you wrote to editors to remind them of your guidance on refugees and asylum seekers and could you give us one or two examples of the sort of thing that prompted to you to write to them and remind them?

Mr Toulmin: Thank you for that because that gives me an opportunity to draw attention to an area of our work that is proactive. There is this note which you have seen. Lord Lester thinks it is narrow and there may be scope to look at it under review as well. We commission an agency to scan the whole of the British press, not just the national but the regional and local as well, looking at this phrase. Last year there were 14 examples in the whole of the press out of however many hundreds of thousands of articles there were. Some of them were quoting Members of Parliament in debate and editors felt a bit cross that we had written to them when that was the situation. On other occasions, because we require a response from an editor to justify their use of this phrase, it is a very simple mistake. Perhaps a new journalist has come in or a trainee does not realise that it exists and therefore as a result they must reissue the guidance and so on. The answer to your question is 14. In each case we had a reply from the editor - I have a list if you want to know who they were - and an undertaking about what action would be taken to make sure that the terms of the note would be complied with.

Chairman: It would be helpful if you could let us have the list.

Q357 Dr Harris: Is the term "illegal asylum seeker"?

Mr Toulmin: That is right.

Q358 Dr Harris: It would not pick up the use of the term "refugee" instead of asylum seeker incorrectly?

Mr Toulmin: No, it would not, but we do ask the agency to scan for "illegal asylum seeker" which was the phrase that caused particular consternation. There was some work done by the Liberal Democrats, the Shadow Secretary of State, that initially brought that particular problem to our attention, that that phrase was still being used.

Q359 Chairman: What about interchangeability of other groups like "asylum seekers"?

Mr Toulmin: That would require a judgment by the person doing the scanning, to know whether it was incorrect. It might be a little more complicated. Because "illegal asylum seeker" is always going to be wrong, we scan for that.

Q360 Dr Harris: It is always going to be inaccurate but the term "illegal asylum seeker" does not create the problems of classification, because that makes people think there are illegal asylum seekers whereas if you call asylum seekers illegal immigrants that is far worse in terms of the effect it has on people's opinions. That is where there is merit in going further to be proactive and look at this.

Mr Toulmin: There may be all sorts of areas we can look into. If you just did a scan for "illegal immigrant" you would get a large number of cases where it was legitimately used. Then there would have to be a value judgment by someone to decide where it was illegitimately used. That might present some difficulties. One of the things we do when we go about the country and host open days and so on with all sorts of different interest groups is to tell people how to complain and what they can complain about. If there was a very straightforward issue where there was confusion on that basis they could complain.

Q361 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: You said in your written evidence to us that the current system of regulation works well and that it has not been necessary to issue rulings about asylum seeker complaints for some time. I wonder whether you could reconsider that statement in the light of the discussion today, because on the face of it that seems to me to be - I am sorry to put it like this - a bit complacent.

Mr Toulmin: I do not think it was meant to be complacent. It was just a statement of the fact that the complaints we have had before us have not required the Commission's sanction of a published, critical note of adjudication. Most of our work is conducted in the area of conciliation. The PCC primarily is a dispute resolution service, about undertakings, future conduct, corrections, apologies, tagging internal records, retraining of journalists who have been errant and so on. I am not suggesting that we have not had complaints that have raised possible breaches of the code since then. The point is that they have been satisfactorily resolved directly after our intervention. We have not had anything on the scale of the two examples we sent you since. If there is a major complaint to us, we will adjudicate on it. It is not a policy decision not to but we are bound by the types of complaints that we get.

Q362 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: That is the point, is it not? I am asking you about the systemic problem and a systemic solution. The systemic problem is damaging, misleading newspaper reporting in some sections which may damage community relations. The PCC obviously has to have a view about that as the voluntary regulator. You are saying it is entirely on the basis of the individual complaint but does not the PCC have some general view about systemic problems that need to be tackled, for example, by the code?

Mr Toulmin: The specific complaints we get are the basis on which we were set up, to deal with complaints from individuals and their representatives. That is our main work. Then there are various proactive things we can do that we have discussed. Beyond that you start to get into the area of monitoring. We could have a grand, monitoring body looking at not just coverage of asylum seekers but absolutely everything you fancy. That would be an enormous bureaucracy and very expensive. You are shaking your head.

Q363 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I am not suggesting that at all.

Mr Toulmin: There is work we do at the grass roots level before the complaints are even necessary and hopefully we have prevented them. There is work we do to raise the profile of the code and the requirements of it within the industry and then there are the responses that we make to specific complaints. Then there is a wide range of responses that we can make to those. There is obviously a further degree of involvement that you think we should have.

Q364 Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I am sorry to interrupt but you are misunderstanding me. I am not suggesting any of that. It is simply that your code reflects what the PCC and the editors think are practical problems requiring attention in the code. All I am putting to you is the need to reflect on whether the code itself and your system might deal with the systemic problem if you recognise that there is such a problem. Do you recognise that there is a systemic problem that needs your attention?

Mr Toulmin: We would have a very clear view based on a large number or a volume of complaints with which we could not deal, which would have left us in an unsatisfactory position. I cannot say with any honesty that that is currently the case. In any case, the code of practice is written and reviewed by a separate committee. We, the PCC, can make suggestions to it but we are not responsible for writing it. If there are examples of newspaper articles or the practices of journalists in gathering information for those articles which somehow people wish to object to, that it has fallen through the net somehow, obviously we need to see the cases.

Q365 Nia Griffith: In 2003 the committee reviewing the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination expressed concerns about the increasing prejudice against asylum seekers and immigrants in the UK media and they also mentioned the lack of effectiveness of the PCC in dealing with the issue. They recommended that the government should consider how the PCC could be made more effective and suggested that the industry should be empowered to hear complaints by groups like the CRE and other interested organisations. What steps have been taken in response to that comment?

Mr Toulmin: Since the whole process regarding this guidance note and the monitoring of that, compliance with that has been taken. I must declare an interest. A member of the CRE, Colin Harris, the director of strategy of the CRE, is a member of the Press Complaints Commission as well, which illustrates in part the fact that there is ongoing dialogue with bodies who represent and have an interest in this area; and also slightly different bodies, not just concerned with asylum seekers such as the National AIDS Trust when discussing issues to do with HIV and AIDS and so on have had some very constructive dialogue with us. If that recommendation was made towards the government, that would be a matter for the government to respond to but since then - and obviously that is some time ago, three and a half years ago and it predates my time as director of the PCC, although I was there before - there is a reasonable record of dialogue. It is not just dialogue; it is what we can do to train and coach people and their representatives about how best to use the code. Hopefully we do not get any complaints at all if people know how to deal with journalists immediately and know what their rights are under the code. In an ideal world, we would not have to deal with any possible breaches of it.

Q366 Dr Harris: On the issue of your redress, there is this famous story in The Sun called "Swan Bake" which started off: "Callous asylum seekers are barbecuing the Queen's swans ... East European poachers lure the protected Royal birds into baited traps ...". It turns out there was no evidence that that was the issue. The question is whether there is adequate redress or reinformation to the public because a clarification was made some months later on page 41 of one of its issues, acknowledging that conjecture had been confused with fact. I would be surprised if that was the phrase they used. If they settle out of court before you make a ruling, there is nothing to stop them giving far less prominence to the correction of fact under point one of your code than the actual story itself. Therefore, it does not achieve anything in terms of redressing the balance of information.

Mr Toulmin: I am the first to admit that the example as you describe it does not make us look particularly good. There is a number of factors there. Yes, that was a prominent story that was corrected or clarified further back in the newspaper. It was before my time as director. As I recall it, we had taken a complaint from a pressure group. In other words, not from the people directly concerned. It was very difficult to engage with them in our normal procedures, investigation and resolution. Eventually the complaint was dealt with on the basis that there had been an offer to publish something. The newspaper published it unilaterally afterwards. That is not a very good indication of the work we do on prominent apologies and corrections which far more regularly - in about 80 per cent of cases - are published around the scene of the crime, if you like, either on the same page or further forward than the original. Yes, you can quote those two pages and say that makes the PCC look rather feeble but I do not think it is indicative of what we do in general. More to the point, I do not think it was ever accepted by the newspaper that the story was wrong. What they were saying to us was that they had relied on a police source. The police source would not go on the record and therefore they were left in a position where they had to publish some sort of follow up. They never accepted that the story was invented.

Q367 Dr Harris: That was not my point. My point was about the place. Finally, to come back to Mr Hill and Mr Esser again, it is said that the sort of headlines we have been discussing, with or without unfortunate sub-editing - and you have kindly accepted that that can happen in a busy paper and I accept that - if it was accepted that there was this pattern that had an impact on the public image or the public's view of asylum seekers such that genuine asylum seekers and refugees were suffering as a result - and research could be done to show a few people, a significant number of people, some of the stories, asking questions before and after, to see if it affected their opinion or if the BNP were using them in a leaflet some of the headlines which exist - would you in that case argue that something ought to exist in the code, for example, that would ensure that genuine asylum seekers, as you call them, and refugees were given some further protection within the code; or do you think it is just a good practice point?

Mr Esser: It is a good practice point. I do not think you need to have that in the code. What the PCC has done is to introduce a greater sense of responsibility in the press, in all ten national newspapers and all the Sunday newspapers and the local papers too. It has done a very good job. I do not accept that newspapers, particularly The Daily Mail, deliberately go out to be provocative. We try not to be but if it was shown to us that it is destructive to community relations we would certainly think hard and long about the construction of our headlines. However, our readers read the paper; they do not just read the headlines.

Q368 Dr Harris: I know I do. Mr Hill, anything to add?

Mr Hill: In relation to the PCC code, we have to be very careful not to try to impose a level of political correctness in terms of expression on the newspapers. I would not like to see any kind of reworking of the code which made it difficult for people to use the kind of robust language that the newspapers in this country have a right to use and indeed, in many cases, a duty to use, because it is the newspapers in particular rather than television for instance that raise the issues that need to be discussed by our society. Quite often we do need to use strong and robust language. I for one would not like to think that I had to be limited. I do try to exercise responsibility and I know that my journalists do as well, but there are times when strong language is called for. Most people nowadays are very careful to avoid racial stereotyping. As a recent controversy has shown, people are very much against racial prejudice in our country. There has been a huge amount of good education in our country. I think the newspapers have helped that as well as anybody else. We have to be able to raise the issues. We have to be free to discuss them and if necessary in robust terms. That is very important indeed. Yes, we must be responsible, I agree, but we must be free to cite individual cases. If that has a bad effect, I am afraid it cannot be avoided because there are a lot of those cases. We cannot ignore them. It is very important to establish that the press is a free press, albeit a responsible one.

Q369 Chairman: Would any of you like to make a short, closing remark?

Mr Travis: On the final PCC point, my chairman does sit on the PCC committee of editors. His view would also be that he would be very reluctant to see an extension of clause 12 to cover groups as well. In matters of freedom of expression, we have to be extremely cautious. There are remedies available to deal with this problem. Perhaps the PCC could be rather more vigorous as a regulator rather than as a mediator in these cases.

Chairman: Thank you for your evidence. It has been a very interesting exchange from both our points of view.