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The Earl of Longford: My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord. I wish to repeat a question which I am afraid the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, with the best will in the world, did not answer. Is it the case that if anybody wishes to make a complaint, he or she has to do so under some clause of the code? If that is the case, how on earth does the ordinary citizen know what the code is?
For example, what is "a significant inaccuracy"? When is an apology "appropriate"? What is "a fair opportunity to reply"? When is a reply "reasonably called for"? Such fuzzy language is necessarily part of the system, but it makes one slightly sceptical as to the efficacy of such sanction as the new code makes available. And of course one sanction that is not included is any power of financial compensation. So we shall have to see how matters develop.
Despite the introduction of the new Press Complaints Commission code, there is a danger that we shall see the introduction of a new privacy law by the back door because of the Government's determination to incorporate into English and Scottish law the European Convention on Human Rights. Such a development would make the proposal for a statutory ombudsman irrelevant, because since Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights gives a right to privacy, the Bill providing for the incorporation of the convention, which has now reached its Committee stage in the Lords, will give anyone who is not happy with a judgment from the Press Complaints Commission a right to take his or her case to court, where it will be decided according to European law. If we go down that route, it makes a statutory ombudsman superfluous. However, I am not at all sure that we should be going down that route. Self-regulation is the best method available--though I accept that it is very leaky.
My Lords, in conclusion, we probably have to put up with a rough press. I believe it is the necessary price that has to be paid for a free society. I should not so much mind a rough press, if it were not such a trivial press. That is the main change that has taken place over my lifetime. It has become more and more trivial. It is all very well to say that this is what people want, but we do not always believe in giving people what they want. They want many things that we do not give them because of the bad effects it might have.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I may ask leave of the House to say to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that the code of conduct is a published document, which is very easily obtainable. It is in all public libraries and is on the Internet. No one need have any fear of being unable to know what is in it.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is conventional to thank the proposer of a Motion for a debate of this kind for the timeliness and importance of the debate. I yield to none in paying tribute to my noble friend Lady Turner with regard to the importance of the debate. I have some problems with regard to the timeliness, to which I shall refer later, in that there has been considerable reference in the debate to the Human Rights Bill, which will have its Report stage in this House next Monday, and also to the Data Protection Bill, which was given its First Reading only an hour or so ago and will not be printed until tomorrow and is therefore not available for discussion. That is no fault of my noble friend's; she is fully entitled to have raised the issue. I pay tribute to her both for doing so and for the way in which she did so. Clearly her speech was the result of profound conviction and personal experience. I think she knows that, in a much smaller way, I have had comparable personal experiences which make me sympathise with her that much more.
I believe that my noble friend Lord Longford knows that a couple of years ago I introduced a debate in this House on the regime in prison for those sentenced to whole life imprisonment--in other words, who will never be released. I suggested that, if they were to spend their old age in prison, there should be a different regime for them. I was telephoned while I was on holiday by a journalist from the Sunday Express, who questioned me about the issue and whose questions I answered. As I heard the questions, it appeared to me that what the newspaper was interested in, above all, was Myra Hindley. I said to the journalist, on the telephone from France: "You will not say that I am arguing in favour of the release of Myra Hindley; the debate was about the regime".
As to the importance of the issue, the centrality of it to the existence of a democratic society has been made clear in the debate. The problem is that there are conflicting interests in a democratic society, as is made clear in the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 8 of the European convention says:
I shall not give the whole of the text of the European convention; that is for debate on another day. It must be clear to your Lordships that the potential for conflict between freedom of expression and privacy is what this debate and this part of the European Convention are all about. As noble Lords have said, it is central to a democratic society.
I say from the outset that this Government believe, as did the previous Government, that self-regulation is the preferable solution to the resolution of that conflict. Such conflicts will never be entirely resolved, but we must look to resolution of them. We believe that an effective self-regulation of the kind operated by the Press Complaints Commission is the right way ahead to resolve the difficulties which have been expressed this afternoon. We do so because the Press Complaints Commission's code of conduct makes it clear that its interest is in conciliation--in other words, in resolving problems--rather than in confrontation. The code covers the issue of intrusion into privacy in considerable detail, talking about the problems of persistent pursuit, defining what is meant by "private premises" and "private life"; paying particular attention to the restrictions on the press in reporting about children; being concerned with issues regarding intrusion on individuals experiencing grief and shock. The code is concerned with the issue of inaccuracy. Complaints of inaccuracy are a major part of the complaints to the Press Complaints Commission but are not covered by the European Convention on Human Rights and it would be very difficult for the issue to be covered by any law on privacy or the statutory regulation which my noble friend Lady Turner asks for. The Press Complaints Commission is concerned with the right of reply, although specifically not with compensation.
After the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, published proposals, on 25th September last year, for a very much strengthened code. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, publicly welcomed the proposals. On the 19th December the Commission published a revised code, which unfortunately in some
Fundamentally, whatever the defects may be--and none of these things will ever be perfect--we believe that self-regulation is preferable to statutory regulation because it is more likely to go into the detail which is necessary to protect individuals and, above all, because it is free to the complainant, a claim which can never be made about the courts.
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