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House of Lords

Friday, 11 January 2013.

10 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

Arrangement of Business


10.06 am

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, I will take very little time because I am sure that noble Lords will want to get on with the very important business of today. As noble Lords are already aware, today’s debate is not time-limited. However, as those who are listed on the speakers list will already have been informed by the Whips’ Office, noble Lords, with the exception of the movers and those making the winding speeches, might find it helpful if we offered some guidance.

As the Companion sets out, the expectation of this House is that those participating in a debate are here for both the opening and closing speeches. If we were to aim to rise today at around 5 pm, we have estimated that Back-Bench speeches of around seven minutes would get us to that rising time. I and my Whip colleagues will assist the House in arriving at that estimated time, but we will look for your Lordships’ co-operation in achieving that time as well.

Leveson Inquiry

Motion to Take Note

10.08 am

Moved By Viscount Younger of Leckie

That this House takes note of the report from Lord Justice Leveson on the culture, practices and ethics of the press (HC–780).

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Viscount Younger of Leckie): My Lords, it is a privilege to open this debate today. The response to Lord Justice Leveson’s report is a weighty moment for this Government and for this House. Within its 2,000 pages the report provides significant insights and recommendations, the result of nine months’ painstaking work, and we are most grateful to Lord Justice Leveson.

I know that many distinguished Peers have contributed both to the inquiry and to the wider debate, which has been shaped by their experiences and knowledge. We look forward to hearing their views today and in the days to come. I would first like to acknowledge some notable contributions. Among many others are, first, my noble friends Lord Hunt of Wirral and Lord Black of Brentwood, who were instrumental before the report’s publication in developing and presenting a new structure of self-regulation for the press. I look forward to hearing my noble friend Lord Hunt’s views today. Secondly, there is the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill of Bengarve, who has been a highly respected contributor on issues of press and media freedom, and the noble

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Lord, Lord Soley, who has brought his wisdom and experience over many years to the debate on the subject of press regulation.

I am delighted to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Trees. I am sure that the whole House looks forward to his maiden speech today. I am grateful also to my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach, who has the honour of responding to the many views, proposals and reflections that we will hear.

At the outset, it is vital to note that there is broad agreement on the principles espoused by the Leveson report. They are principles that all sides of the debate have accepted. I reiterate that it has never been about whether but how these principles are enacted. This is now the focus for the Government, as well as for the cross-party discussions, and I hope that today we in this House can continue and add to the debate with the wisdom and clarity of thought that has marked it so far.

The UK has a history of setting standards for democracy and press freedom in the world, but the current practices, culture and accountability of some parts of the British press have let us down badly and it is widely agreed that the status quo is no longer an option. We all agree that there must be significant change. We all agree that the abuses of the past must never be allowed to happen again, and that a new system of tough, independent self-regulation is needed urgently to ensure that this is so.

At the heart of all this lies our deep conviction that victims must be better protected. Their suffering in the past has been made significantly worse by the unacceptable levels of relentless press intrusion inflicted on them. We must have a new, independent self-regulatory body that can deliver: independence of appointments to and funding of that body; a standards code by which the press operates; a new arbitration service for victims submitting civil law claims; a fast and thorough complaints-handling mechanism for handling breaches of the press code of conduct; the power to demand apologies, designed to carry equal weight in their exposure to that of the transgression; and the power to levy fines.

I will now update the House on progress since Lord Justice Leveson’s report was published in November. The report contains detailed recommendations, and the Government continue to lead cross-party discussions to consider the best way to implement them. The latest of these talks took place just yesterday. In addition, there are ongoing discussions with stakeholder groups, including the press industry and the campaign group Hacked Off. The Government have been very clear that this process needs to be transparent and robust if it is to produce an effective solution, and to that end they are seeking a collaborative approach to achieving the principles outlined by the report.

Much attention has also been drawn to the function and nature of the body that Lord Justice Leveson recommended should recognise any new press self-regulator. We should remember that, however this recognition body is established, Lord Justice Leveson himself said,

“The goal must be a genuinely independent and effective self-regulatory system”.

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He also notes very clearly in his report that,

“not a single witness has proposed that the Government or Parliament should themselves be involved in the regulation of the press”.

The gauntlet has been thrown down to the industry to develop a model of tough and independent self-regulation that fulfils the principles of Leveson. I believe that it has now picked up that gauntlet, and whatever it comes up with will need to meet the Leveson principles in order to gain recognition. We in this House must keep the pressure on it to ensure that such a model swiftly materialises. Delay would be unacceptable.

The Prime Minister has said that he does not believe that statutory legislation is necessary to achieve the principles outlined by Leveson. However, noble Lords should be aware that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has been equally clear that if the industry does not deliver a tough new independent self-regulatory system, she will not shy away from going down the statutory legislation route. That would be the only option left.

As noble Lords will be aware, some work has already been done on a draft Bill, as well as on Bills drawn up by the Opposition, by my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill and most recently by the campaign group Hacked Off. These Bills constitute one of several avenues being explored in the cross-party talks. However, the Culture Secretary is clear that she remains committed to a non-statutory route. As such, the cross-party talks are also exploring the idea of a royal charter as an alternative means of fulfilling the Leveson principles.

What progress has been made so far? There are some aspects within the report that the Government have been able to act swiftly on. First, on incentives and sanctions, a key question is how to encourage newspapers or media organisations to sign up to a new regulatory body. A range of options are being considered, both within and outside government; some would require government intervention while some would lie in the hands of any new self-regulator. A proposal that has gained momentum in recent weeks is the suggestion made by Lord Justice Leveson that a system of damages be instigated to punish the worst transgressions of the press. As incentives to sign up for the new scheme, membership would be a factor for the courts in considering whether to award exemplary damages and, if so, how much. This would always be at the discretion of the court. However, these issues are not black and white, and the Ministry of Justice continues to consider the proposals in depth.

Secondly, progress has been made on access to justice. Although this issue has not taken the centre ground, the report and the reaction to it have clearly highlighted widespread concerns about access to justice for litigants, particularly where they are of limited means. In response to this, the Government have already referred the question of how costs should work in defamation and privacy cases to the Civil Justice Council. It will report back in March, and it will be imperative that the conclusions of the Leveson report feed into its work. In the mean time, we have also announced that we will partially delay the reforms in the Legal Aid,

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Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, so that conditional fee agreements will continue to be available in defamation and privacy cases.

Thirdly, I shall update noble Lords on the Leveson recommendations relating to the police and the press. The report addressed many issues of policing, which I have no doubt my noble friend Lord Taylor will refer to in his summing-up of the debate. The report makes a number of recommendations in relation to transparency and accountability. However, Lord Justice Leveson himself acknowledges that the landscape of policing is already changing, in part due to work undertaken by the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers on behalf of the police. We should not forget the importance of this aspect of the report. The Home Secretary will report on all these measures to Parliament in the near future, and I know that she will take account of the Leveson principles when she does so.

Fourthly, data protection is another area of the report that the Prime Minister and the Culture Secretary identified as an issue warranting careful consideration immediately. There are serious issues at stake around questions of investigative journalism; they must not be brushed aside but should be given due weight and diligence in our consideration of them. Lord Justice Leveson makes a range of recommendations on both the role and powers of the Information Commissioner and the application of an amended Data Protection Act to the press. Within these suggestions there are fundamental issues at play. The balance between the competing rights to privacy and freedom of expression is not easy to strike. The Information Commissioner has already published his own response to the recommendations that are aimed at him. In doing so, he acknowledges that extending the scope of the Act to cover journalism is a matter that needs careful consideration, and that is precisely what the Government will do.

The concerns and issues that I have outlined are but some of the areas that noble Lords will wish to debate today. Much work remains to be done, and the extensive debate since the publication of the report is likely to continue. The Government will issue a full response to the report shortly. I am aware that there will be many and varied viewpoints in the Chamber today and that noble Lords will present their arguments with passion, eloquence, balance and wisdom. I look forward to hearing them, in order that this House might play an important role in securing the right path for the future.

The press plays a key role in our democracy. However, with that privilege comes considerable responsibility. There is much more that unites us than divides us on taking forward the Leveson recommendations. The outcome that we all aspire to see is a set of proposals that truly reflect the spirit of his report, putting in place a robust, independent self-regulatory system for the press that is capable both of protecting the public and of safeguarding freedom of expression. I beg to move.

10.20 am

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, we welcome the opportunity to debate this important issue today, and thank the Minister for the clarity with which he

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has set out the Government’s position. As he has made clear, the implementation of Leveson is still the subject of detailed cross-party talks. We believe that this is the right way to proceed, provided that it is carried out in a spirit of transparency and participation. We also believe that it will provide some solace for the victims of press intrusion over the years if all parties can unite in responding comprehensively and speedily to the public desire for a settlement of this issue.

In recent years in this Chamber we have achieved a remarkable degree of consensus when debating the role of the media and the need for a free and fair press. I hope that we are able to achieve a similar degree of consensus in this timely debate today. If anyone can find a way through the challenges which Leveson has set us, your Lordships are well placed to do so.

Before I refer to the detail, I pay tribute to the work of Lord Justice Leveson, the rigour with which he conducted the inquiry, and the humanity with which he enabled victims of some appalling injustices to have a proper hearing for the first time. For many of the victims, it meant reliving the pain and the trauma of their abuse by the press, but they did so with enormous courage and determination. The stories that they told made many people feel moved, incredulous, appalled and very angry: people such as the McCanns, who were falsely accused of murdering their missing child; the parents of Milly Dowler, given the false hope that their daughter might still be alive; John Tulloch, a 7/7 bomb survivor, tricked into giving a misrepresented interview; Christopher Jeffries, falsely accused of the murder of Joanna Yeates; and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, whose daughter Abigail has been pursued for stories following her tragic stabbing while out walking with her son.

The pictures that unfolded were not just about illegal acts such as phone hacking, but more underhand acts of deception, breaches of privacy and a “reckless disregard for accuracy” in pursuit of copy at any cost. As Leveson acknowledged, it was not just one rogue report. It was not even one rogue newspaper. The so-called “dark arts” appeared to be endemic across the sector. As a result, the report represents a chilling indictment of the routine practices of the press.

We should not forget that victims come in many different forms. While we heard some truly horrific stories from families such as the Dowlers and the McCanns, some in the press have also found it convenient to differentiate between private individuals, whose personal tragedy forced them into the limelight, and celebrities who were somehow all considered to be fair game. Are we really saying that for a newspaper to announce that it is Charlotte Church’s 16th birthday so her virginity is now available is acceptable? Or for Sienna Millar to be hounded by gangs of press photographers like a hunted animal? How low does journalism have to sink before someone intervenes?

The fact is that the Leveson inquiry should never have been necessary. The catalogue of incidents that were described and the many more that they represent, should never have been allowed to happen. It should not require a regulator to point out what minimum levels of decency and honesty should apply in press reporting. To most outside observers it is common

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sense. This is why there was widespread public anger at the revelations during the inquiry, and while they may not have read all 2,000 pages of the findings, most decent people know what is right and wrong and they now expect us to act. Unsurprisingly, 78% of the public, in the wake of the report, favours an independent press regulator backed by statute.

That brings me to the press response to the report. We welcome the fact that the press are now working on a Leveson-compliant regulator, but a new voluntary model will not be sufficient. The fact is that Leveson concluded that there have been far too many occasions when the press has acted as if its own voluntary code of practice simply did not exist, and he went on to describe the press behaviour at times as being “outrageous”. So we cannot go on as we have in the past, and the challenge now is to find a new model of independent self-regulation, guaranteed by law, in which the public and the victims can have confidence.

In the cross-party talks we have tabled our own proposals, the press freedom and trust Bill, which meets the fundamental criteria established by Leveson and reassures the victims that came forward that their courage was not in vain. Our Bill is being debated alongside the alternative proposals tabled by the Government and others including Hacked Off, which has provided a very effective voice for victims of press injustice. We are not wedded to our wording but offer it as a serious contribution to the debate.

Our Bill enshrines the right of a free press and ensures that politicians cannot meddle in content. On the contrary, it ensures that Parliament’s role is two steps removed from the independent regulator. It would ensure the free, irreverent, investigative press that is central to our democracy. It was, after all, the outstanding journalism of Nick Davies of the Guardian that brought the scandal of phone hacking to our attention in the first place.

Crucially, our proposals would ensure that there is a legal guarantee that the regulator will be effective and independent. This would be achieved by a recognition panel, composed of the Lord Chief Justice and other senior judges, tasked with verifying that an independent press standards trust—to which, substantially, the national press must subscribe—is undertaking the tasks to which it is committed. It also builds in major incentives for the press to join the standards trust through offering less liability to exemplary damages and court costs for trust members.

Our draft Bill meets the essential requirements of Leveson without being invasive or cumbersome. However, we are also continuing to consider the other proposals which have been tabled. However, we have some concerns about the Government’s proposal that the independent regulator be underpinned by a royal charter. We welcome the fact that this represents an acceptance of the need for a legal framework to underpin the role of the regulator, but have some doubts as to whether this is the best mechanism. For example, we are not convinced that it is right to bypass Parliament on an issue where fundamental individual rights are at stake. Also, it seems inappropriate to deploy the prestige of the monarch in a controversial role where intervention might be necessary. In addition, the monarch would

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be obliged to act under the advice of Ministers, placing too great a concentration of power in the hands of the Executive rather than Parliament.

Can the Minister explain the rationale for a royal charter? What precedents exist for a body with a regulatory function to have one? What are the views of the victims of press intrusion on this solution?

We also await the latest proposals for a voluntary code from the press with interest, but we take the view that without statutory underpinning, the press could drift away from agreed standards over time, as they have in the past. Unfortunately, the press have form on this, with promises made and broken: seven inquiries in less than 70 years, all resolved by a commitment to voluntary reform which latterly ended with the Press Complaints Commission being so embarrassingly ineffective that it announced its own abolition. So the time is right to put press standards on a firmer, long-term footing, underpinned by statute so that the public can have respect for the press again; a regime where potential victims can have access to meaningful and proportionate redress; where the press embrace a systematic approach to correcting errors; where the funding of content is transparent; and where the truth can be relied upon to underpin each story. We will measure any alternative proposals against these criteria.

It is crucial that we harness the current energy around the discussions to reach agreement within this month. We will continue, for example, to look in detail at the issues around the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, but this should not delay an agreement on the essential principles of a new regime. If the talks falter, we retain the political will to put the issue to a vote in the Commons. It is essential to proceed with the involvement and agreement of the victims who have made these issues come alive at Leveson. It is important that they have a seat at the table and a significant voice in determining the outcome. The Prime Minister also made it clear that their approval should be the ultimate test of any new mechanism, so could the Minister confirm that this continues to be the Government’s position? Can he explain to the House how the representatives of the victims will be consulted before any decision is made?

I said at the outset that I hoped that we could reach a consensus today. I hope that the consensus confirms our view that a new system of independent self-regulation, underpinned by statute, fulfils the prescription of Leveson and protects the potential victims of the future. On this basis, I look forward to the debate today.

10.30 am

Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: My Lords, I join in commending Lord Justice Leveson for his very thorough report, and I start by repeating the words of my right honourable friend, the Deputy Prime Minister:

“In my view, there are two big liberal principles at play in this debate: on the one hand, the belief that a raucous and vigorous press is the lifeblood of a healthy democracy; on the other, the belief that the vulnerable, the innocent and the weak should be protected from powerful vested interests”.—[Official Report, 29/11/2012; col. 351.]

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Many of your Lordships were here for the short debate on the day that the Leveson report was published and will remember the moving words of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, about what she and her family experienced at the hands of the press after her daughter was paralysed as a result of a random stabbing. She is here today and I will obviously leave her to tell her story, but I would like to quote from her evidence to Lord Justice Leveson:

“(the) press intrusion was almost more traumatic than the attack itself … the police actually mounted a guard on each door of the hospital ward to protect her [daughter’s] privacy”.

She told the inquiry that the intrusion has continued over the years since but that when she complained to the Press Complaints Commission, it provided neither solace nor solution. Because the real problem with the PCC was never its code of conduct, which in many ways is admirable; it was its manifest inability to implement it. To quote Winston Churchill:

“A free press is the unsleeping guardian of every other right that free men prize; it is the most dangerous foe of tyranny”.

I agree—of course I agree—but our press, not properly regulated, has been exercising tyranny.

The day the Leveson inquiry report was published, I was speaking to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins. She told me that she had agreed to appear on the “Today” programme but had decided to pull out because she was concerned that this might reopen press interest, which in her experience equalled unacceptable intrusion. This does not add up to being the guardian of the rights that free men and women rightly expect, as well as prize. We need and have always needed a regulatory regime that is independent of both the Government and the media and which —crucially—is about the regulation of process, not content. This is what Lord Justice Leveson proposes: a system of voluntary, independent self-regulation overseen by an independent board. As the judge himself says:

“This is not and cannot be characterised as statutory regulation of the press”;

and as the Statement said:

“This is a voluntary system, based on incentives, with a guarantee of proper standards. It is not illiberal state regulation”.—[Official Report, 29/11/12; col. 352.]

Lord Leveson wants the press to regulate itself. All he recommends is that another independent body—a “recognition body”—should be established in law to ensure that the self-regulatory element does not dilute or withdraw from any of the commitments it originally makes. As the report notes, in Ireland, a number of UK newspapers are members of the Irish press council, which is an example of similar light-touch statutory underpinning.

It has been suggested that using law will blur the line between politicians and the media. However, it is the current system of self-regulation that blurs that line. It is the current system that has allowed cosy relationships between political and media elites to arise in the first place. Let us not forget that of the five PCC chairs three were serving parliamentarians. Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals, far from allowing greater overlap, give us a chance to create a hard wall between politics and the press. What of the latest initiative from the PCC? The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, a politician,

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has appointed the noble Lord, Lord Smith, a politician, Sir Simon Jenkins, an ex-editor, alongside the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, as special advisers to help set up a new press regulator.

There is another aspect to this debate. I was a journalist for many years and I believe in British journalism. I believe in the integrity and professionalism of most of our journalists. I believe in the courage of many of our journalists. One of my greatest friends was Marie Colvin, who was killed in Homs in pursuit of speaking truth to power. One of the things that Leveson is trying to achieve is proper respect for the vast majority of journalists who want to get on with a vitally important job. Leveson seeks a proper environment for young, up-and-coming journalists to learn their trade. He seeks the sort of environment that I was lucky enough to experience at the BBC and an environment that allows established practitioners to be proud of what they do. The NUJ welcomes the report—it is the proprietors who do not.

Lord Justice Leveson’s report is a large one and of course there are elements that need further scrutiny. One area of concern, as my noble friend Lord Younger mentioned, is the proposed changes to the Data Protection Act and the role of the Information Commissioner. We would not wish to support any reforms that might have a detrimental effect on the vital democratic role of investigative journalism. Another concern is the failure to address the internet. As a liberal, I firmly believe in a free press that holds the powerful to account and that is not subject to political interference. However, a free press does not and cannot mean a press that is free to bully innocent people, free to abuse grieving families or free to force unethical work practices on its employees.

The Liberal Democrats welcome the cross-party talks that are taking place. We also welcome the publication of Labour’s Bill, of my noble friend Lord Lester’s Bill, of Hacked Off’s Bill as well as the Bill from the DCMS. Those are all important contributions to these talks. I take the opportunity to commend all that Hacked Off has done and continues to do in campaigning for change. Clearly there is more to be done to ensure a proportionate and workable outcome—an outcome which involves cross-party consensus and carries the confidence of the public. Our preference on these Benches is for a stand-alone Bill, and that is what we are working to achieve. We, along with Labour and the Conservatives, are considering all the different proposals. However, it is essential to get the outcome that Lord Justice Leveson has recommended. The worst thing that could happen is for nothing to happen at all.

10.37 am

Baroness Boothroyd: My Lords, this is our first debate on an issue of constitutional importance since your Lordships’ House was spared the Government’s threat to our existence last year. At risk now, of course, is the future of a free and responsible press. I am grateful—as I know are many of your Lordships—to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for agreeing to a full day's debate. It is a farewell gift that we appreciate from the former Leader of this House after his many years of distinguished service.

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Whatever we think about the press, the Leveson report reminds us of a truth that good journalists never forget and bad ones have never learnt. It is that newspapers and the media are not a law unto themselves. They are not a separate estate of the realm with a licence to flout the rights of individuals and ride roughshod over basic standards of common decency. I believe that a free press is part of the fabric of our democracy. It is woven into the right to free speech. I do not want a tame press; I do not want a licensed press or press that can be pressured into dropping a legitimate story because it embarrasses people in high places. That does not mean that the rights of the media are unfettered. But rights must be exercised responsibly, and that requires judgment and experience—qualities unfortunately sometimes ignored in the chase for scoops and sensation.

To those who say that the press cannot be trusted to put its house in order, I say: it now has no choice. If that sounds like a threat to legislate, it is, and the press would be very foolish to ignore it. We will not need another inquiry if there are more scandals on the scale we have witnessed. Legislation will be inevitable. To those in the media who think that this will blow over, I say: think again. The victims of press malpractices have found their voice and rightly demand action, as we do. The media’s dirty tricks departments are no longer in the last chance saloon. They have been caught rolling in the gutter and must be cleared out, along with their methods.

Sadly, other institutions in our country that affect our lives far more than newspapers are in a similar position. I refer to banks, hospitals, care homes, the police and to Parliament itself—all have been in the firing line. Royal charters are no guarantee of invincibility, as the BBC knows to its cost. Regulatory authorities abound but the scandals in the City of London and the NHS evaded them. I doubt whether press legislation would fare any better. Wrongly used, it might even make matters worse.

I believe that we need a cultural revolution in the press and in the country. There is too much cynicism, too much dodging the line. Journalists must refuse to do what they know to be wrong without fear of the sack. Editors and chief executives in other businesses must monitor more closely the actions of those under them. Newspaper owners, broadcasting bosses and directors of our great companies must never again claim that they did not know what was going on, because it won’t wash any more.

Reforming the way in which newspapers are run is not enough. The media have darker alleyways where muggers savage people’s reputations without a shred of reliable evidence, as Lord McAlpine has shown. Mistaken judgments must be corrected before they get into print, on the air or on the web. There must be clear lines of editorial responsibility. Serious offences must be heavily punished, if necessary, by exemplary fines. Journalists must be better trained at a grass-roots level. The decline of local newspapers and the provincial press is a tragedy in this respect.

I understand that some of Leveson’s proposals have been accepted by editors but we have had broken promises before. I am not inclined to the view that the

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best way forward is through legislation but I am firm in the belief that swift, positive action by the press and the wider media is certainly needed to avoid it.

10.43 am

The Lord Bishop of Norwich: My Lords, the 2,000 pages of the Leveson report make the New Testament seem a lightweight document, at least in terms of bulk. But it is important to remember why the report came to be written: it was the consequence of national, moral outrage. Anyone who believes that Britain’s moral conscience is duller than it was might do well to reflect on our collective response to the phone hacking scandal. That conscience was animated when the victims of phone hacking were a murdered child and her family.

Public moral indignation may still prove to be enough to reshape our culture—about which the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, was just speaking—especially when it is in defence of the weak. The worst revelations of the Leveson report show the casual and callous disregard of the feelings and well-being of the targets of sensational press stories, especially in relation to families who have experienced the murder or abduction of one of their members. Some elements of our national press have made the terrible suffering of such families almost unendurable.

In another age, there might have been calls for public acts of penitence. The sad thing is that there has been surprisingly little public repentance and a great deal of self-justification and lapses of memory. That alone should make us wary of the claims of editors that they can clean up their act without the independence of their regulator being guaranteed by statute or in some other way. Let us remember that we are debating this at all only because there is a deep instinct in the people of our nation that the weak should be protected from the powerful and the invasion of family privacy should not be an inevitable consequence of family tragedy. That is something to be celebrated.

Our newspapers have been very good at defending themselves from independent statutory regulation while calling for it in almost every other walk of life. We need a fully independent body which is able to investigate the practices of the press without the trigger of a complaint bringing it into action. To ensure that the independence of such a body is guaranteed by statute is a long way from state control of the press.

While all that is very important, it is a pity that the debate following the Leveson report has been so narrowly focused on this one matter. So much else in the report has failed to gain sufficient attention; for example, legal protection for journalists who become whistleblowers when asked to do things against their conscience and against any existing code of practice.

It has been noticeable, too, that our national newspapers have given very little coverage to the very different judgment on ethics and culture that the Leveson report makes about regional and local newspapers, which, of course, is hardly surprising. Lord Justice Leveson says that local and regional newspapers are “truly without parallel” in their contribution to community life, which is an astounding statement. He states:

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“It is clear to me that local, high-quality and trusted newspapers are good for our communities, our identity and our democracy and play an important social role”.

He calls for urgent action by the Government to safeguard the future of regional newspapers suffering because of the declines in advertising revenue that they have faced in recent years. But he does not specify what action this should be and in this he shares the general perplexity about finding a new funding model for institutions of such social worth.

Occasionally, local newspapers have been accused of being too close to those with power and influence in the areas they serve and there have been some disturbing examples over the years. But Leveson shows vividly how this has been more characteristic of some of our national titles in relation to leading politicians and senior police officers. By contrast, regional and local newspapers are part of the communities they serve. They strengthen our sense of belonging, provide information and exchange of ideas, celebrate what is good and report on what is disturbing. Occasionally, people say that newspapers report only bad news but that is not true of our local and regional press.

Total newspaper circulation is falling by 5% a year and is now 30% less than it was a decade ago. The print media, despite the success and continuing profitability of a few national titles, is in crisis. Our regional newspapers are shedding journalists rapidly and there are now more people working in the public relations industry in Britain than there are in journalism. The press gallery in our courts is too often empty. Frequently, there is no one to report on local council meetings and we are served up with free newspapers and magazines in which councils report on themselves. It is the print media, for all its faults, which has often held our public institutions to account, especially locally and regionally. It is hard to see social media replacing the function, and it leaves us with a potential democratic deficit.

This is likely to become a much greater problem over the next decade or more. So despite the bulk of the Leveson report, there is a good deal more work to be done. Safeguarding what Leveson describes as the unparalleled value of local and regional newspapers is, I believe, just as important as the establishment of a just and fair system of regulation.

10.50 am

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, at the beginning of my remarks I should point out to the House that I am the non-executive chairman of the CN Group, the Cumbrian local media company.

In the fuzz and noise surrounding the deliberations and report of Sir Brian Leveson’s inquiry, a lot of commentators seem to have lost sight of the fact that the inquiry was not about hacking, which is and has for some time been a criminal offence. Rather, it was about the culture in which hacking and other forms of unethical behaviour came to be treated as generally acceptable. After all, the title of the Leveson report is, An inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press.

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As the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, pointed out, we all expect a basic standard of ethical behaviour around the institutions that are the building blocks of everyday life—Parliament, government, the Civil Service, commerce, financial services and banking. Equally, and quite rightly, we expect it from the press, where the EditorsCode is the road map for reputable and ethical journalism—that is to say, about what it does and how it does it. That is not the same as gagging the press from being radical and anti-establishment. Of course, the problem is that in parts of the press, and especially, I fear, in the national press, standards have fallen below what they should have been.

The immediate purpose of the Leveson report is to provide the springboard for defining and establishing a successor to the PCC which, in its present form, has become discredited. However, in my view, the most important part of the Leveson report, certainly in the longer term, is part 6 of chapter 8, on page 1,790. I would not claim that I had meticulously read all the preceding pages. In paragraph 6.21, he looks beyond the immediate issues of the Press Complaints Commission and its successor and discusses things on which he has subsequently elaborated at much greater length in speeches in Australia last year.

As we speak, newspaper presses are being decommissioned and sold for scrap. Last month, Newsweek in its printed form was available for the last time in the Library. This month, it has all gone digital, which means, in the words of a Q&A for its readers:

“You will be able to enjoy Newsweek on any device or platform that we support, and we’ll notify you as new platforms become available so you will have the option to change the version you receive”.

Earlier last year, the Seattle Times, admittedly the second paper in the city, went entirely digital. In this area, where the United States leads, the United Kingdom tends to follow—and very frequently rather more quickly than you might expect.

This revolution matters, because regulation surrounding media behaviour has traditionally depended on two things—platform and jurisdiction. The platform up until now, be it newspaper, television, radio or whatever, has been the obvious focus for media regulation. Jurisdiction has been the obvious envelope to put round it, because it was the obvious limit to the marketplace in which the products were in circulation. But the digital revolution, in the form of convergence, means that all these means of communication are now electronic binary code. The same code delivers across a whole range of different platforms, such as computers, tablets, mobiles and internet protocol television, and across any jurisdiction. Television news and current affairs are morphing into blogs and websites, which in turn are merging with newspapers, which now have moving images on their apps, websites, and so on. As the printing presses go to the physical scrapyard, the framework for regulation is going to the metaphorical one. This is the real challenge of anyone trying to place an ethical framework around the media in the future since, as I have already shown, our existing approach is built around distinct platforms that will become increasingly irrelevant. That is happening in parallel with traditional legal jurisdictional boundaries becoming increasingly porous.

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The “ugly duckling”, if I can put it that way, of contemporary British politics—the European Union—has probably done as much thinking about these kinds of things as anyone else in its development of regulation and consumer protection across, and inherent in, the European single market, much of which is conducted by electronic means. In the case of the single market, specifically in media products, the audiovisual media services directive has put in place an approach that gives national authorities some legal ability to intervene in cross-border services emanating from outside their own national jurisdictions but within the European Union. This may be a place where, in the medium term, we should start seeing what we can find which could teach us helpful lessons.

We must also remember that there is the greatest commonality in the media in this country with the United States, which is of course not within the jurisdiction of the European Union. We must not overlook the fact that this is a two-way street. After all, the biggest online website in the world is now, I believe, the Mail Online, which has 50 million unique users a month. The Guardian website is probably third. On a whole range of levels, the relationship between the two English-speaking media areas needs to be examined with care.

In the short term, we need to find a replacement and successor to the Press Complaints Commission that runs with the grain of our traditions and our traditional guarantees of freedoms in this country. For the longer term, more importantly, we need to think through the implications of what has happened both in the press and around the BBC in recent months and see what lessons they can teach us in the evolving world of digital convergence. In this House, in the Communications Committee, we have started to do that in our current inquiry, and it does not look as if there is an immediate and obvious answer. But it is important that we start thinking now, since the commercial and technological developments of today, which are a revolutionary evolution taking place with hardly any reference to us as legislators or to Governments, are going to render the traditional approach to media regulation anachronistic. That is a much greater and more important challenge than simply finding a short-term successor to the Press Complaints Commission.

10.57 am

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, this is clearly an important and so far fascinating debate. There are many fine speakers to come, and I shall try not to delay noble Lords too long.

First, I should declare some ancient interests. Long ago, I worked as a journalist for four newspapers, including one owned by Rupert Murdoch. I was sacked by him, an experience of which I am unequivocally proud. I was also sacked by Robert Maxwell, but I shall not go into that here.

The Leveson report, which we are here to debate, is immensely impressive. I basically support its approach, especially on the need for a fine, delicate layer of statutory underpinning. I support all that was said by my noble friend Lady Jones and by the right reverend Prelate about the value of the local press, the remaining, though fast disappearing, jewel in our media.

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The report, of course, has deficiencies and omissions, which is inevitable with such a vast subject to cover in such a little time. It has been and will be comprehensively covered today, so I shall try not to repeat much of what has been said—and I am sure will be said—on the body of the report.

I wish to make just two points. The first, which has been stressed to me by old journalist friends, is that the fact that present proprietors, editors and journalists sadly include some thugs, bullies and, in the case of the Murdoch gang, some alleged—I stress alleged—criminals, does not in itself justify eliminating the basic freedom of the press. I agree with that. However, I do not believe that the Leveson report, if read carefully and fairly, does anything like that. It is careful and subtle in deliberately setting out not to do so. Only the recent ridiculous campaign by some parts of the press to denigrate Leveson by proposing that its aim is for the Government to control what journalists do and do not say suggests that it might do so. The Prime Minister, who is perhaps historically too close to the Murdoch camp—he and his party are not alone in that—is wrong in apparently believing that that is the danger in Leveson, and in seeking to appease the press rather than its victims. I trust that the Minister, when he replies to the debate, will demonstrate that that is not so by accepting the need for some statutory underpinning. However, I confess that I am not too optimistic about that. He should acknowledge that on many previous occasions when the press has been under the scrutiny of previous commissions of inquiry into newspaper behaviour—I think that there have been six in my lifetime—it has always promised to perform more responsibly in order, of course, to avoid closer regulation, but has always broken its word. In recent times it has behaved worse than ever, as the evidence to Leveson and recent actions by the police have proved. It does have form, my Lords. The fact is that it cannot be trusted to operate complete self-regulation.

My second and main point concerns one of the crucial factors which is understandably given little analysis in this hasty report: that is, the excessive concentration of ownership power in the media, which has shaped the culture of the media, to which the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, rightly referred, in particular the concentration of power in Murdoch’s media empire which stems from the 1981 decision to allow him to take over the Sunday Times and the Times. That concentration led to his newspapers having the power to intimidate politicians as well as ordinary members of the public and, over time, led to some—I stress “some”—of his newspapers and journalists feeling that they were above the law and unaccountable. Indeed, it apparently led some of them to feel that they were above all normal standards of moral behaviour, thus leading to the appalling episodes of behaviour which Leveson exposed.

The events of 1981—the takeovers by Murdoch of the Times and the SundayTimes—were central to this process of decline and corruption. The politicians, led by Prime Minister Thatcher, for whom I have great admiration in other fields, behaved outrageously in conniving with Murdoch for him to acquire this

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excessive power: a bigger concentration of newspaper ownership and power than was ever held by notorious newspaper barons such as Northcliffe and Beaverbrook in the United Kingdom and Hearst in America. Murdoch’s acquisitions were characterised by deceit, misrepresentation of facts to Parliament and the public and contempt for company law—all to avoid reference of these takeovers to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and to allow Murdoch to avoid the official guidelines of a 30% maximum share of newspaper ownership. These events were all set out in meticulous detail by Sir Harold Evans in his inside story,

Good Times, Bad Times

, which I recommend noble Lords to read, and have never been challenged or disputed. They show how the Prime Minister had a secret meeting in No. 10 to plan these developments. The Prime Minister and Murdoch both later denied that meeting to Parliament and it was never reported to Cabinet although it was minuted by her press secretary. No other competing bidder was given that privileged access. When the deal was done, Parliament was reassured by Murdoch giving five statutory undertakings, backed by criminal sanctions, which mainly referred to guarantees of editorial independence. All these guarantees were subsequently breached without action being taken against Murdoch.

In seeking to avoid a referral to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, the device was used of claiming that the Sunday Times, which in the past and in the future is one of the most profitable British newspapers in history, was “not a going concern” and therefore needed Murdoch’s immediate financial rescue. In fact, the financial statistics on the performance and prospects of the Sunday Times were distorted and misrepresented to Parliament. The paper’s finance director, who knew the true figures, was not called to brief the Department of Trade, whose Secretary of State was handling the issue on behalf of the Prime Minister. It was later reported to me by an official from the No. 10 private office, who I knew, that Mrs Thatcher was heard to say, “Rupert supported me in the election, and I must support him now”. That is an understandable political reaction.

That excessive concentration of power given to Murdoch by dubious methods was, and still is, inimical to the workings of a healthy democracy. It is indicative of the bad effects of such a concentration of media power that the later alleged criminal activities of journalists were concentrated in, though not exclusive to, Murdoch’s empire. When the alleged criminalities were first exposed in the brave Guardian newspaper, that paper was exposed to derision in the mass media, much of it owned by Murdoch. The same patterns of behaviour began to be observed as Murdoch moved towards increasing ownership and power in television through seeking control of BSkyB. If that proceeds, he will probably offer guarantees, but we should remember that he once said the guarantees he gave over the Times were “not worth the paper they were written on”. He has the virtue of honesty.

Concentration of media power enables a proprietor to intimidate or reward politicians, as Murdoch rewarded Mrs Thatcher with future electoral support in his papers, although, of course, that was his natural inclination

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anyway. Politicians naturally need media support, hence they are tempted to return favours to supporting media. As we know, the police—

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Is the noble Lord concluding?

Lord Donoughue: I am concluding. It is a potentially corrupting game. All power corrupts and excessive media power corrupts excessively. The Leveson inquiry was an impressive enterprise but it will fail if it does not ensure that such a concentration of media power, and the corruption which follows it, never happens again.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, missed my remarks at the beginning of today’s debate, but it might be helpful for me from time to time to give noble Lords a sense of how we are doing as regards time. I remind everybody that we have suggested—this is just guidance—that speeches should last for around seven minutes if we are to rise at around five o’clock this afternoon. We are starting to run a little behind schedule.

11.09 am

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, in view of the attack by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, on Rupert Murdoch, I suppose that I should declare an interest, in that I have represented the Times and the Sunday Times in both Rupert Murdoch’s reign and that of Harold Evans.

Sir Brian Leveson is a very senior and experienced criminal judge. His careful evaluation of the evidence has demonstrated, in his words, that there have been far too many occasions when parts of the press have acted,

“as if its own code … did not exist. This has caused real hardship and, on occasion, wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people whose rights and liberties have been disdained. This is not just the famous but ordinary members of the public, caught up in events (many of them, truly tragic) far larger than they could cope with but made much, much worse by press behaviour that, at times, can only be described as outrageous”.

I strongly agree with that conclusion and the central recommendation for a new self-regulation body, independent in respect of appointments and funding, with a standards code, an arbitration service and a speedy complaint-handling mechanism. I also agree that it is essential that there is legislation to underpin and facilitate its recognition in legal processes. I have sought to do so in the little Bill that I introduced last month.

I strongly support self-regulation with statutory underpinning, not state regulation, under a new system that commands widespread public confidence. A contract or a royal charter should contain the machinery and details of self-regulation, including professional codes, arbitration and dealing with complaints. However, there needs to be statutory underpinning to guarantee independence from government interference—I do not share the apparent trust of the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, in politicians other than the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher—to create incentives for joining the

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scheme and complying with professional standards, and to make sure that the new regulator is able to secure compliance and provide effective remedies.

The overriding and pressing need is for the industry to agree on a new, independent, well resourced and powerful regulator of professional standards and conduct. Statutory underpinning should avoid legislative overreach bordering on state regulation. However, Sir Brian’s proposals include extending the law on punitive damages and data protection. That, in my opinion, would be counterproductive and would seriously hamper investigative journalism in breach of the freedom of expression of the public and the media as public watchdogs, and purveyors of information and ideas to the public on matters of legitimate public interest and concern.

Lord Justice Leveson recommends extending the law on exemplary damages by Act of Parliament so that if a newspaper publisher chooses not to subscribe to the proposed regulatory body and is found to have infringed the civil law rights of a claimant, the publisher could be considered on that basis to have shown wilful disregard of standards and be liable to exemplary or punitive damages. This potentially draconian penalty would apply to any newspaper publisher, including a small regional newspaper or Private Eye. I disagree with that recommendation. Exemplary damages are punitive and, in essence, criminal penalties, not intended to compensate the claimant for any loss. In 1997, the Law Commission recommended that there should be an extension of exemplary damages, but there was no consideration of whether that would conform to the constitutional right to free speech.

Sir Brian relies on that 1997 report and explains that he has,

“no doubt that the court should be able to award exemplary damages in privacy cases and ... breach of confidence and similar media tort”.

However, in 1999, when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, was Lord Chancellor, the Labour Government announced for good reason that it had decided not to take that Law Commission recommendation on exemplary damages. The Labour Government reiterated that position eight years later, when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, was Lord Chancellor, in their 2007 consultation. Lord Justice Leveson’s report does not mention these continued rejections of that proposal. Nor does it consider the serious risk that to extend the law on exemplary damages in that way would be incompatible with free speech.

It goes further. The report refers to Mr Justice Eady’s ruling in the Mosley case, but fails to quote the passage from the judgment in that case that is at odds with Leveson’s recommendation. Mr Justice Eady sets out in detail why it would be wrong in principle and a violation of free speech to extend exemplary damages in the way that is suggested. Mr Justice Eady’s statement is important because the tests of necessity and proportionality that he sets out have to be satisfied if a penalty on free speech were to pass muster under our constitutional right to free expression. I very much hope that that proposal will not be taken forward by the Government or anyone else.

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I also disagree with the recommendation to tighten the law on data protection. The proposed amendments would result in restrictions on investigative journalism that could defeat the very object of the protection afforded by Section 32 of the Data Protection Act and tilt the balance unfairly against press freedom and free speech. I am quoted by Sir Brian Leveson in his report as being “prescient” in having, in a debate a dozen years ago, queried whether what the Government were doing on data protection made sense. Sir Brian describes me as prescient, but I was never asked to give evidence to the inquiry and, if I had been, I would have said that I did not share the view that I had been prescient. The past 12 years have not demonstrated that anything like the changes made to data protection proposed would now be justifiable. It is therefore welcome that the Government are going to consult on that crucial question.

Statutory underpinning is needed to compel Ministers and others to uphold freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the independence and effectiveness of the new regulator. Those aims cannot be achieved by contract alone because a contract does not bind third parties or affect the role of the courts. Another reason why an Act of Parliament is needed is to provide a powerful incentive for publishers to join the new system and abide by high professional standards. That incentive is contained in my little Bill by widening the public interest defence in claims of libel and media intrusion on personal privacy where the newspaper, its editor or staff can show—it is for them to do so—that they have acted responsibly in news gathering and publishing, in accordance with the standards and practices prescribed by the new regulator. The courts would take that into account, making it much less likely that the publisher would be found liable for alleged wrongdoing. I hope something along these lines will be accepted by the press and the politicians to overcome what I regard as irrational opposition to any statutory underpinning.

11.18 am

Lord Trees: My Lords, it is with considerable excitement, a great sense of honour and no little trepidation that I rise to give my maiden speech. In thinking about it—because of the postponement, I have had rather longer to think about it than I might have wished—I realise that the custom in this House of not being able to speak freely from the Floor until one has given one’s maiden speech is a very polite way of ensuring something that I personally always observe when entering any new organisation; namely, for a while, it is wise to keep one’s ears open and one’s mouth shut. However, the time has come to open my mouth.

You may wonder why a veterinary surgeon such as myself should want to speak in the Leveson debate. I shall come to that in a moment but, first, there are some courtesies to observe that I am very pleased to do. Like others before me, I have received a very warm welcome in this place from all the Members and staff of all types, and I am extremely grateful to everyone for their kindness, good advice and the warmth of their welcome. I should also like to thank my two supporting Peers at my introduction: the noble Lord,

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Lord Owen, was the chancellor of the University of Liverpool throughout the seven years that I was dean of the School of Veterinary Science there—he was a great supporter of the faculty; and the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, as your Lordships will know, was the first veterinary surgeon to enter this House, and was indeed the only one until my arrival. Moreover, Lawson Soulsby has been a great personal academic friend and colleague. We are both parasitologists. That has caused some of my veterinary colleagues rather uncharitably to wonder if the study of parasites is an appropriate requisite to serve in this House, but I could not possibly comment. Finally, I would like to thank my noble friend Lady Mar who has been a great support to me before entering and since and is a source of constant advice, thanks to her 37 years, I think it is, of experience in this place.

On the more substantive issue, why speak on the Leveson debate? I am a veterinary surgeon. I am a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and we are subject to a self-regulatory process underpinned by statute, which is exactly what Leveson proposes. As a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, I have been subject to that professional regulation throughout my professional career up to and including now. As president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons some three years ago, I was part of the executive arm of that regulatory framework sitting on the preliminary investigation committee, which is analogous to the complaints mechanism that Leveson proposes.

I am sure that those of your Lordships who have had contact with the veterinary profession will agree that the system works and that the veterinary profession provides a fantastic system of healthcare for the animals in this country and for their owners. It is a system of the highest integrity and ethics in the public interest, which does not curtail individual professional freedom.

I appreciate that analogies between professional regulation and press regulation are not entirely apt. When we talk about press regulation we are talking about the regulation of journalism, not of journalists. That is partly because of the problem of defining who is a journalist.

Strictly speaking, journalists are not members of a profession in a technical sense. They do not undergo an accredited period of training leading to entry to a register, the acceptance of a code of conduct or the acceptance of disciplinary processes and sanctions which may ultimately remove them from that register or list. Therein may lie some of the problem, but I suggest that is a different debate and one to which the journalistic profession, if I may call it that, might like to give some thought.

While the analogy is not entirely apt, there are some general principles in any regulatory system which are essential to give it credibility and to assure the public. They include such things as inclusivity; all the relevant parties must be involved. Public protection cannot be an optional extra left to the individual whim of the operator to join in with or not as they see fit. There must be a code, of course, agreed by all. There must be independence of the regulator. Here I would like to mention something that has not been mentioned so

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far: the important role that lay persons can play in regulatory bodies. There must be appropriate sanctions and, I would suggest, statutory backing, which among other things is there to ensure the inclusivity and effectiveness of sanctions.

These are all elements of professional regulation and of course they are essential elements recommended by Leveson in his report. The last element—statutory underpinning—is the most controversial; however, I stress that the proposal is about the process of regulation, not the action of individuals. It is difficult to see how one could ensure inclusivity and also that sanctions are enforceable without a degree of statutory underpinning.

Leveson offers an ingenious solution regarding inclusivity. It is the recognition body that has the statutory underpinning; it is there just to ensure that the regulatory body, which is at arm’s length, properly does its job and particularly that all the news publishers of importance are included in and subject to the regulatory body, which itself is independent. To suggest that the freedom of the press would be curtailed is to ignore that critical separation. It is also to ignore the important role the lay members of the recognition body and the regulatory body would play. Those lay members will be every bit as anxious to preserve the freedom of the press as they will be to ensure that it behaves ethically and properly.

It is not just vets who are subject to professional regulation with statutory backing. Many in this House who are members of the legal profession are so regulated. Are we suggesting that lawyers and barristers cannot seek truth and justice, cannot ensure fairness and freedom and cannot root out crime and corruption because they are subject to regulation with statutory underpinning? No.

This is the seventh report, I think, in as many decades on this subject. Not to act decisively on this occasion would be like St Augustine—who, your Lordships may remember, was troubled with thoughts of lustfulness all his life—asking God not once, but for the seventh time, “God grant me chastity, but not yet”.

11.26 am

Lord Fowler: My Lords, may I first congratulate the noble Lord on his maiden speech, which was quite excellent? No one has had to wait longer to make it, given that he was sitting patiently in his place just before Christmas and, if I may say so, it was very much worth the wait. I agree with what he said about statutory underpinning safeguarding the public. I think we will all want to study the words that he uttered; it was an important speech.

The noble Lord is a very distinguished scientist. He spent most of the past 20 years at Liverpool University. His achievements take up a significant chunk in Who’s Who, but what also interested me were his recreations. Recreation one is mountaineering, recreation two is “living life while I’m alive”. As a non-mountaineer, I would judge the two recreations are very closely connected. The whole House will wish to congratulate the noble Lord and I hope that “living life while I’m alive” will include making many more speeches in this House.

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Perhaps I may say to my noble friend the Whip on the Front Bench, as is customary, my seven minutes start now. When I originally raised the issue of phone hacking, I remember being assured by a senior Cabinet member that it was just an issue for the media village. I think we can say that with more than 50 speakers in this debate it has gone way beyond that and has been revealed as the worst press scandal since the Second World War.

I started life as a journalist for almost 10 years in the swinging 1960s. I worked just off Fleet Street with the Times under the editorship of William Haley, and then of William Rees-Mogg, who we all remember with great affection. Indeed, if Lord Rees-Mogg’s high journalistic standards had been generally followed, we would not be having this debate today.

As a result of my journalistic past I was always regarded in government as something of an apologist and a defender of the press and the media. My noble friend Lady Thatcher never forgot my journalistic past. I remember at a reception for the Prime Minister of Finland she spied me, “Ah, Norman”, she said, “come and have a word. You know all about paper”. She added, “The Manchester Guardian. This lady knew how to wound. As for her successor, John Major, he also simply regarded me as a hopeless case when it came to putting into action his not very temperate views on the British press.

Let me be quite clear: the journalists and editors I have worked with over the years in the national and regional press were and are predominantly men of honesty and integrity and sometimes of substantial courage, such as the war correspondents now at work in Syria.

Frankly, I am much more accustomed to defending the press and much more comfortable in that role, so why is it that in the past two years I have campaigned for change? Basically it is because I have seen the values that I and most journalists hold high trampled into the dirt; it is because I have seen so-called journalists attacking the public rather than carrying out their essential duty of standing up for their rights; and it is because I have seen a newspaper industry unable and unwilling to take action against palpable wrong-doing. One may say that actions such as phone hacking are criminal offences, and so they are, but what they also pointed to was a deeply rotten culture which had grown up in some parts of the press. It was so rotten that one mass-circulation newspaper had to be closed; so rotten that 1,000 people, and probably more, have been the likely victims of phone hacking; and so rotten that the Press Complaints Commission, which is there to protect the public, has been deemed by Leveson and virtually everybody else to be unfit for purpose.

What has confirmed me in my view is the dishonest campaign that over the past few months has been mounted against change by some of the most powerful figures in the industry. Rather than admit that there has been abuse of power, they seem to feel that they have been unfairly put upon. The result is that, even before the Leveson report appeared, there were adverts such as the one that appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 26 November saying:

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“These people believe in state control of the press. Do you?”.

This was followed by pictures of Mugabe, Assad, Castro and Putin, and the injunction:

“Say no to state regulation of the press”.

There cannot be any serious figure in this country who believes that a comparison between Lord Justice Leveson and Mugabe and Assad is anything other than the crudest and most dishonest form of abuse.

Furthermore, anyone who believes that because of the revelations of the past two years and the Leveson inquiry everything has already changed needs only to look at Andrew Mitchell’s account of his experiences with the press. They laid siege outside his home for more than a month, they followed his children and his wife in cars and on foot, and they even tried to find his 92 year-old mother-in-law but fortunately managed to get the wrong address. It is not exactly the strongest case for allowing the industry alone to protect the public interest in this country.

My view is that Lord Justice Leveson has done this country a great service. He has demolished once and for all the excuse that phone hacking was the work of one rogue reporter, and he has revealed the almost total inactivity of many proprietors and editors when undoubted evidence of wrong-doing was produced. Most of all, I support Leveson because he has put forward a system that would protect the public from abuse of power but would not be state regulation. In effect, he would allow the industry to come together and set up a complaints and investigation body that would be given certain rights provided it exercised its powers responsibly and independently. I accept that one does not have to follow every one of his proposals—for example, in relation to Ofcom—but the decision that cannot be avoided is whether we have a modest degree of statutory underpinning. It is statutory underpinning that Lord Justice Leveson proposes. We should be clear about how modest that is, for what we are talking about is basically a body that will periodically validate the independent arrangements that have been decided.

Personally, I think it is utterly ludicrous to describe that as state regulation, but it is important because it gives the public the assurance that their complaints will be investigated properly and independently and, above all, will continue to be so. That, it seems to me, is an assurance that they are entitled to have after decades of false starts and failures. Nor do I accept that the legislation need be long or complex. No less than four draft Bills have now been prepared, each one shorter than any of the Bills that I introduced as the Minister in charge of transport, health, social security and employment. It is a nonsensical argument.

As for the Government’s apparently favoured solution of setting up a new body under a royal charter, I cannot decide whether that is intended as a reward for the press for past conduct or as a punishment for what they have done. I say punishment because a royal charter hands over control to the Privy Council and, as the Privy Council’s own guidance says:

“This effectively means a significant degree of Government regulation of the affairs of the body”.

Why the press should want that is entirely beyond me. I repeat:

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“a significant degree of Government regulation”,

resulting from a charter which, in its workings, will certainly require legislation—legislation otherwise known by some as statutory intervention.

The truth of the matter is this. If this were any other industry, it would be the press themselves clamouring for reform, and it would be the press themselves telling Parliament to ignore the claims of special interest groups. I believe that our concern should above all be the public interest. What we need is a short Bill which underlines and safeguards the freedom of the press while at the same time recognising that with that freedom comes the duty to respect the truth, to obey the law and, above all, to uphold the rights and liberties of individuals. That is what the Leveson report proposes. We will never have a better opportunity to act.

11.36 am

Lord Alli: My Lords, first, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Trees, on his maiden speech. I look forward to hearing more from him in the future.

Like many in this House, I have watched the events of the past 16 months with a degree of horror and disbelief but also with, I have to be honest, not a huge degree of surprise. So many lives have been destroyed by so few for so little, but perhaps the greatest victim of them all has been public trust—public trust in print journalism and its current system of voluntary regulation; public trust in the police and their ability to investigate the criminal activities of some of the press; and public trust in us, the politicians, to stand up to press intimidation, especially in the face of commercial pressures. We have all been found wanting and today is our opportunity to begin to put things right.

I am optimistic that we can do so, in part because of the extraordinary work of Lord Justice Leveson. He has produced a measured, thoughtful and, I believe, extraordinary example of what works in our society. We should all be proud of this report because it has created a backdrop for rebuilding public trust in our most valued institutions. Like others, I am a little disappointed by some elements of the newspaper industry, who have deliberately misrepresented the report in order to scare the public in pursuit of their own self-interest.

First, I want to look at what I think we can all agree on. I believe that we can find much to agree on in the following nine judgments contained within the report. The first is that a free press, with all the rights and responsibilities that that entails, is essential. The second is the clear inadequacies of the PCC. The third is the need for a genuinely independent and effective system of self-regulation for the press. The fourth is the creation of a new body with teeth that promotes high standards of journalism and protects the rights of the individual. Fifth is the importance of maintaining a plural media, particularly when it comes to sourcing news. The sixth is that the commercial pressures and ambitions of national newspapers should not be an excuse to lower standards or trample on citizens’ rights. The seventh is that the relationships between senior politicians of all parties and the press should be much more transparent. Eighth is that the Metropolitan

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Police was probably too close to certain newspaper groups, and its judgments were poor in the investigation of the criminal activities of those newspapers. The ninth is that the culture of tip-offs and payments to the police and other public servants by some should not have been tolerated by any of us.

Those provide us with common ground to move forward. So the debate boils down to one single issue: a system of self-regulation underpinned by statute, or not? There it is in a nutshell: underpinning by statute or not? I fully accept that there are other important issues of detail in the report, but that single question is what each of us has to answer. I have reluctantly come to the view that, in the absence of any other credible structure being put forward, the time to underpin self-regulation by statute has finally come.

I will raise three further issues. The first is funding. If self-regulation is to work, it needs to be properly funded. I believe that there is a strong case for looking to state funding. It is not a discussion for today, but I would like the Government to look seriously at the issue.

Secondly, I would like a new offence on the statute book to deal with the issue of press intimidation. When a newspaper group uses information on an individual to coerce them into revealing details of their own or others’ private lives in return for protection or non-publication, it feels to me like blackmail, and we should make it a criminal offence. Thirdly, the lobbying of newspaper groups on their own behalf in their own papers needs to be looked at again.

Finally, what are we to do with this report and its recommendations? I find myself in agreement with John Major who, in his evidence, said:

“I have no idea what this Inquiry will recommend, but if it makes recommendations that require action, then I think it is infinitely more likely that that action will be carried into legislation if it has the support of the major parties. If it does not, if one party breaks off and decides it’s going to seek future favour with powerful proprietors and press barons by opposing it, then it will be very difficult for it to be carried into law”.

I believe that it was no accident that Lord Justice Leveson highlights John Major’s remarks as his final concluding remark.

I understand that it is tempting for Prime Ministers of all political parties to seek to accommodate powerful proprietors, and I feel no animosity towards the Prime Minister for his attempts to broker an alternative solution. However, I say to the Prime Minister, to the leader of my own party and to the leader of the Liberal Democrats: come together and lead, because this report sets out a once-in-a-generation route map to ensure a free and fair press.

I also say to my fellow Back-Benchers on all sides of the House that leadership, as noble Lords may know, does not always come from those on the Front Benches, We, too, have our role to play—by the way, this would not be a good time to intervene on timing. If we believe that the recommendations of Lord Justice Leveson require action, we on the Back Benches in this place have a special constitutional role to play in making that happen. There is an onus on us to ensure change. In doing so, we can help to restore trust in the press, in the police and in this Parliament, too.

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11.44 am

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: I, too, share in welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and commend his congenial and appropriate speech. The Leveson report reminds us that the inquiry,

“was sparked by public revulsion at a single action—the hacking of the mobile phone of a murdered teenager”.

However, its scope was expanded widely, and it became an enthralling and sometimes entertaining event.

The terms of reference of the 1961 Shawcross royal commission were limited to the economic and financial factors affecting the production and sale of newspapers. Leveson covers the culture—always rather a loose word—of the press, and I am not sure whether an all-encompassing report was wise. The internet, social networking and other changes in technology may turn out to be a more complex and critical issue, especially for privacy, than the future of conventional newspapers.

The relations of the press with police and politicians are of a different kind. There are certainly serious concerns about the way the police deal with newspapers, and about internal police behaviour. This is about far more than routine tip-offs from a local police station when a drunken celebrity falls down in the street.

As for politicians, when the inquiry was set up, the leaders of the three main parties said that in recent years politicians had become too close to the press, and implied that there had been a significant change. However, the relationship is long-standing; politicians and the press have benefited from stroking or bullying each other.

Over Christmas, I read an enjoyable volume of diaries written by Chris Mullin, who was a Member of Parliament and is now retired. In one of his diaries, he describes the “tabloid virus”—his expression—as,

“the daily cocktail of misrepresentation, trivialisation and relentless cynicism that is gnawing at the foundations of democracy”.

That is the same language of hyperbole that is used by much of the press that he deplores.

I do not much like the red-tops, and the broadsheets can often fall short. In the latter respect, I endorse the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, in a letter to the Times a week or so ago. However, politics is a tough business. For a politician, resilience in the face of the press should be taken for granted.

The powers of press proprietors or barons have been familiar since the arrival of the yellow press in the closing decades of the 19th century, led by the Harmsworth brothers. After Northcliffe and Rothermere there was in particular Lord Beaverbrook, who recruited left-wing journalists from the weekly Tribune to campaign for his right-wing causes. In the 1930s there was a huge marketing competition between Hulton, Pearson and Odhams that resulted in many gifts being delivered to modest homes. As a child, for many years I read to my advantage a News Chronicle dictionary bound in mock leather.

I will not dwell further on these historic matters except to say that there are outstanding editors and journalists working today who can match the editors and journalists of the past. My preferred aphorism—perhaps it is a platitude—is that editors and journalists

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should stay within the law, separate news from comment and check the facts. If they sometimes fall short, that is the price we have to pay for free speech.

For six years I was chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority. My successors have been the noble Lords, Lord Borrie and Lord Smith of Finsbury. In the early 1970s there was serious public concern about advertising, and the Director of Fair Trading warned the industry that a formal, statutory body would follow unless it put its house in order through effective self-regulation. This led to the Advertising Standards Authority as it is known today. There have been changes. In my years as chairman, I invited, for the first time, members of the public to seek a place on the council of the ASA. I welcomed and facilitated an appeals system which the industry wanted. Later, the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, oversaw a major expansion, bringing broadcast advertising within its scope, thus moving into self-regulation.

As the House knows, the ASA is funded by a levy raised by a board of the advertising industry. I was appointed, as were the noble Lords, Lord Borrie and Lord Smith, in turn, by its chairman. There was no pressure of any kind put on me or my council at any time. My council had eight lay members who had no connection to the advertising industry, and I was expected to consider and approve even the four advertising industry members. The ASA is now well established, with an expert and committed staff. It is trusted by the public and is often praised. It is seen to be a great success and a model of self-regulation. I look forward to hearing more about the progress of the proposals of the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Black.

There will be a moving scene for some months. However, it is not surprising, given my own experience with the ASA, that I lean towards similar arrangements to solve the problems set out in the Leveson report. To deal with the press is a much tougher assignment than dealing with advertising, even as it was in the 1970s. An independent, self-regulatory body must have its own budget and, despite my entirely satisfactory experience, the chairman must be chosen, as Leveson says, in a genuinely open and transparent way, free from the industry and government. I welcome the report if its implementation stays close to the model of the ASA—self-regulation with a light statutory touch.

11.52 am

Lord Bew: My Lords, I shall speak solely on one aspect of the Leveson debate: the Irish dimension, which clearly exists. The noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter has already referred to it and, even the day before the Leveson report was published, the Scottish First Minister said that the Irish model should be the Leveson model and urged it on the Prime Minister. This showed a rare courage on behalf of the Scottish First Minister as he had spent some years previously endorsing the Irish economic model only to find that rebounding back on him in a rather problematic way.

However, there is no question but that Sir Brian Leveson paid great attention to the experience in Dublin and the regulator in Ireland, the very distinguished historian, John Horgan, came to London to give

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important evidence. In his speech on the Leveson report in the other place the Deputy Prime Minister referred to this and quite rightly said that it was hard to argue that there was,

“a deeply illiberal press environment across the Irish Sea”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 29/11/12; col. 471.]

Another Liberal Democrat MP, Mr Tim Farron, also argued that something similar to Leveson was already in place in Ireland. When replying, the Prime Minister had the Irish Defamation Act with him at the Dispatch Box and recommended that Members of the House should study it. I have studied it and it will be at the core of what I have to say.

I wish to argue, first, that the Leveson recommendations are significantly different from the Irish model and significantly tougher. Secondly, I would argue that there are some problems that we ought to at least be aware of when we talk about the Irish model.

Leveson is tougher than the model in place in Dublin in three respects. I refer particularly to the summary of recommendations of Leveson at paragraph 5(d), when he argues that the board of an independent, self-regulatory body should not include any serving editor. In contrast, the Irish press council includes serving editors of the leading Dublin newspapers.

Secondly, again unlike Ireland, Leveson recommends that the proposed press board in Britain should allow people other than those directly affected to make complaints and that the board should have the power to examine issues on its own initiative. Again that is not the case in Dublin.

Finally, of course, it is widely understood that Leveson argues for a maximum £1 million fine on errant publications, while in Ireland the only sanction is to request such publications prominently to publish the decisions of the press council. So the Leveson model is significantly stronger than the model in place in Dublin.

I say that simply for the purposes of clarification. I fully accept that they do not resolve the argument, one way or the other, about the content of the Leveson proposals.

If Leveson is significantly tougher, what are the implications? The Deputy Prime Minister made the point—it has also been made in this House today—that a number of UK newspapers have accepted for their Irish market, so to speak, this light touch regulation. The Deputy Prime Minister was right to say that Ireland does not have a deeply illiberal press environment—of course it does not—but does it have quite the same tradition of freedom of expression of opinion that we are used to in this country? Is it quite as vibrant?

On the week after the Deputy Prime Minister’s speech, the Dublin Sunday Independent, the leading Sunday newspaper in Ireland, noted that,

“The confluence of separate recent controversies around varied issues and the increasingly regular private litigation against journalists has facilitated the evolution of a subtle frost over how freely we can speak”.

There is an argument that all sections of this House and the other place welcomed the report by Sir Desmond de Silva and the Finucane inquiry and welcomed the Prime Minister’s apology about a very grim moment

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in the recent history of our country, but anyone who knows the history of that inquiry will know that it is extremely unlikely that there would have been an inquiry at all but for the fact that there were briefings of journalists by some sections of the police in ways which Leveson has now set its face against.

It is clear that there has been in many respects a rather disgraceful relationship between the police and journalists in the United Kingdom, but I simply draw attention to the complexity of these issues. This is a case where the House as a whole says, “It is wonderful that we now know the truth”, but does not want to face up to some of the means by which we got to know the truth.

Let me make a final critical point. The Prime Minister referred to the Irish Defamation Act 2009 and Clause 26 reads to me like a transaction in which the press agrees to be regulated but is allowed to offer a public interest defence. All parties here have reached the point where we accept that the press has a right to offer a public interest defence in defamation cases, but not as part of a transaction: we accept that the press has that right. So, again, there is a sense in which the Irish analogy does not quite hold. It leaves open entirely the questions, pro and con, about Leveson. There is no Irish gold standard and there is no model in Dublin ready to be packed on an Aer Lingus flight and flown over to London for our use.

11.58 am

Lord Hunt of Wirral: My Lords, I declare an interest as chair and now sole owner of the Press Complaints Commission, and as a practising solicitor and partner in the international commercial law firm DAC Beachcroft.

I was appointed to the PCC in October 2011 specifically to lead the renewal and regeneration of the system of self-regulation. In that context, I welcome the debate and the opportunity to listen to views from all sides of the House. I know that my noble friend Lord Black of Brentwood is sad that he cannot be here, but he has to be in Paris discussing press freedom.

I start by echoing the many others in this House and elsewhere who have rightly welcomed Sir Brian’s remarkably thoughtful, comprehensive and far-reaching report. It reminds us all too vividly of the horrors of the past and is replete with some good and positive ideas for the future. I have been through the entire report, and I hope that others have too, and I am delighted that Sir Brian decided not to recommend a system of self-regulation established by statute. Like many others, I would have regarded that as a step too far and an unacceptable imposition upon freedom of expression. It is also, I believe, unnecessary. A truly effective but non-statutory regulatory system can and must be created to establish once and for all the highest possible professional standards right across the newspaper and magazine industry, and among digital-only news publishers too, all underpinned by law, but civil contract law.

As a consequence of Sir Brian’s wise judgment, there is already a wide measure of consensus on the way forward, wider than many of us had ever thought possible, across the political parties, the newspaper and magazine industry and beyond. All the parties are

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now fully signed up to seeing the regulatory structure recommended by Sir Brian Leveson up and running as soon as is practicable, but it must satisfy the principles of the Leveson report. It should be buttressed by incentives and its independence and effectiveness must be verified by an authoritative, independent body of some kind.

I have to report that yesterday, I hosted the third in a series of three meetings, each of which brought together editorial and non-editorial figures from right across the newspaper and magazine industry and from right across the United Kingdom. It is clear to me that the industry now understands that, between the existing and inadequate system of self-regulation and what Leveson proposes, there is no acceptable “third way”.

I now have a dual role. First, it remains my responsibility and that of my two fellow directors at the PCC to ensure that until the new structure is fully up and running, the PCC continues to deliver its fast, fair and free service to the public. Every year, the PCC helps hundreds of people who feel they have a legitimate complaint against a newspaper, magazine or online article and have no one else to whom they are able to turn. I have to tell the House that in the most recent survey of complainants to the PCC, 86% of respondents who gave an opinion said that the staff were either “satisfactory”, “helpful” or, indeed, “very helpful”. I pay tribute to the excellent staff and commissioners at the PCC for remaining on board to deliver that first-class service.

My other role is to establish the new regulatory architecture as called for by Sir Brian Leveson. I want to keep quoting from the report, but time will limit the extent to which I can. On page 1,769, he says:

“It is worth repeating that the ideal outcome is a satisfactory independent regulatory body, established by the industry, that is able to secure the voluntary support and membership of the entire industry and thus able to command the support of the public”.

He repeats that 10 times in the report, and if anyone wants to read that, I am very happy to supply it.

I am confident that, together with the industry, I can deliver that new structure with comprehensive sign-up right across the newspaper and magazine industry by the middle of this year. It will then be for others both here and in the other place to decide whether any form of statute is required, either to guarantee the independence of the new regulator or to underpin the proposed incentives to membership.

In view of the remarks of my noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury—I refer her to pages 1,760 and 1,761—I acknowledge that I have approached the present chair of the Advertising Standards Authority and the chair of the Environment Agency, the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury; also Sir Simon Jenkins, who was a member of the Calcutt committee, and the immediate past president of the Supreme Court, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, to assist me. I am very grateful to them for that. Under the chairmanship of Paul Vickers of Trinity Mirror, an implementation group from the industry itself is seeking to close the ever-smaller gap that remains between the industry and full compliance with Leveson principles. A group of lawyers is developing the contract

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and fleshing out how the proposed arbitral arm might function. This will require a delicate balance to which my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill has already referred.

I am optimistic of a good outcome. We shall see a profound change of culture and an end to sloppy journalism ruining the lives of innocent people without losing all that is good in our press. We shall demonstrate that, for a good journalist, freedom of expression and professional principles can and must be inseparable, indeed symbiotic. To the victims, finally, I say this: those victims of unacceptable press behaviour in the past which has been so forensically exposed by Sir Brian Leveson—the McCanns, Chris Jefferies, Margaret Watson, the Dowlers—the clear message must be never, never, never, never, never again.

12.06 pm

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I know that the whole House appreciates the enormous diligence and enthusiasm with which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is trying to undertake and resolve these issues. I wish I could share his optimism about the future, but I am sure that the House joins in wishing him well on achieving the negotiated settlement that he has been trying to get.

My interest in taking part in the debate is like that of other noble Lords who have spoken—the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter. I have spent much of my working life as a journalist, albeit usually as a broadcast journalist. In recent years I have also served as a non-executive director in several media companies. Most relevant to this debate is my nine-year membership, ending up as the senior independent director, of the Independent News and Media Group, the largest newspaper group based in Ireland. It has global interests and publishes across the world. But unlike the noble Lord, Lord Bew, who I am sorry to see is not in his place, I have far greater enthusiasm for the system which has been working in Ireland than he, and in a few minutes I will go on to explain why.

Like the other former journalists who have spoken, I am a firm supporter of the majority of Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals for future press regulation, including the need for so-called statutory underpinning. Indeed, in theory, or if the canvas was totally blank, I would go further, especially in the area of personal privacy. In practice, my experience of the working model of general regulation in Ireland convinces me that a Leveson-style plan is both realistic and achievable. In addition, for this country I would like legislation to limit the size of individual media ownerships, something that my noble friend Lord Donoughue spoke about, to try to achieve greater plurality in the industry. I am disappointed that none of the draft Bills published so far advocates this. The National Union of Journalists and several campaign groups have argued that reducing the concentration of ownership in the UK would in itself improve the press, and I have to say that I agree. Perhaps any further proposals, or the final proposals if they come, will revive the public interest test, which this House has discussed on many occasions, to limit

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the market share of media companies. I look forward to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, who is to speak after me. I understand that he will be developing some of these points.

Going back to the practicalities of regulation, what does a system of self-regulation for the press which has—in that infelicitous phrase—“statutory underpinning” look like? As I say, my experience in Ireland gives me confidence that it can and does work. As we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Bew, the Press Council of Ireland and the supporting Office of the Press Ombudsman were set up in 2009 as part of a reform of the law on defamation. I was surprised when the Prime Minister, speaking in the Commons, criticised the Irish legislation as being “too cumbersome” for us to follow. In fact, those sections of the Irish Act which established the press council are only one clause—Section 44 of the 2009 Act—and one schedule, Schedule 2. Of course, Ireland’s Defamation Act as a whole—which is similar to one this House is now considering—is much more substantial, but the relevant section on the press is approximately three pages, even fewer than the six pages of the Labour Party’s proposals for legislation here. I certainly do not think it should be rejected out of hand as peculiarly elaborate.

It is worth quoting the main provisions which established the Irish press council. As I am sure your Lordships will appreciate, they read across very precisely to the Leveson proposals, although they do not exactly reflect them, as we have already heard. The Act says:

“The principal objects of the Press Council shall be to … ensure the protection of freedom of expression of the press … protect the public interest by ensuring ethical, accurate and truthful reporting by the press … maintain certain minimum ethical and professional standards … ensure that the privacy and dignity of the individual is protected … The Press Council shall be independent in the performance of its functions … The number of directors of the Press Council shall be 13 … One of the independent public interest directors of the Press Council shall be appointed as chairperson of the Press Council”.

In addition, the Act sets up an independent ombudsman with the ability to investigate complaints against the press. It seems to me that those provisions are very straightforward and uncomplicated, and very much in tune with the essential outlines of Leveson.

My experience as a member of the largest newspaper board subject to this legal form of regulation, and indeed my recent inquiries about the practical application of the complaints mechanism, suggests that the Irish system works well. After all, Ireland is not a country that avoids political debate or controversial press comment, but there has been none of the—frankly—hysterical reaction provoked by similar regulatory proposals here. Indeed, I cannot remember a single occasion when the INM board has discussed them since the legislation was passed. In particular, the creation of the special ombudsman office to determine public complaints has been particularly successful. The system has to be quick—complaints are expected to be resolved within 30 days—and, very importantly, it is inexpensive. As the explanatory notes say: “Any citizen can lodge a complaint for the price of a postage stamp or an e-mail”. The service is free—an enormous improvement on a situation where often only the rich have the option of pursuing their concerns in financially crippling court cases. As I said, there have been few complaints

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about the new system, which is described officially as “recognised in law”, a description which I find more attractive and equally valid as “statutorily underpinned”.

Of course, one of the real ironies of the situation in Ireland is that all the English newspapers which are printed and published under the Irish jurisdiction are themselves subject to Ireland’s regulatory framework. I have just spent the Christmas Recess in a remote corner of west Cork, where I can buy the Irish editions of any English newspaper in the local shop as a matter of course. However, in the past few years since the law was passed by the Dublin Parliament, there have been no cries about government control or censorship from their UK owners or editors. I suppose it is possible that they are suffering in silence under what they see as grotesque oppression, but they do not complain and my suspicion is that they just do not notice.

In summary, the Irish press council upholds the principles of a free press, maintains ethical and professional standards and, through the special press ombudsman, provides swift and free redress for complainants. The system, which is independent but legally recognised, is widely supported by both the media and the public. I think it has very important lessons for us.

12.14 pm

Lord Sharkey: My Lords, on page 1461 of his report, Lord Justice Leveson notes that, among other things, he is required to make recommendations for a new, more effective policy and regulatory regime which supports the plurality of the media. He goes on to say:

“This does not amount to a requirement for a detailed prescription on what constitutes sufficient plurality or the technical means of achieving it. It is important to note that, within the broad constraints of the work that the Inquiry has had to undertake, there has been insufficient time to devote to a full scale review or to look in detail at these issues. My analysis and recommendations are therefore at the level of desirable outcomes and broad policy framework, rather than the technical means of achieving those outcomes”.

Many may feel that this is a real pity and an opportunity missed. Lord Justice Leveson’s rather narrow interpretation of his brief on plurality stands in contrast to his very detailed examination and recommendations on media regulation. It would be a mistake to conclude from this that plurality was less central than the issue of regulation. However, I note that in his opening remark, the Minister made no mention at all of plurality.

The lack of plurality in our current media landscape is a clear driver of misbehaviour in parts of the media. Regulations without structural reform will not solve all the problems Leveson was asked to address. The executive summary of Lord Justice Leveson’s report contains 146 main paragraphs. Of these, only six address plurality. The full report does a little better: it sets out some useful observations on the nature and importance of plurality and of the steps that may be taken to address the problem that lack of plurality presents. Specifically, it notes that Ofcom defines the desired outcome of a plural market as,

“a) ensuring there is a diversity of viewpoints available and consumed across and within media enterprises and b) preventing any one media owner or voice having too much influence over public opinion and the political agenda”.

Leveson notes that the definition,

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“seems to be generally accepted”.

Leveson then posed five key questions about plurality. He discusses in some detail the answers given in evidence to these questions. All the questions are important but, in the interest of time, I want to focus on just two: how should plurality be measured; and what form should any requirements to support plurality take and what sort of remedies should be available to deliver them? There are clearly many ways of setting a measure of plurality.

Ofcom considered three types of metric: availability, consumption and impact. Within this, it considered five different types of consumption metrics. Other witnesses spoke of the merits of revenue caps. The Ofcom proposal was very comprehensive but also very complicated. Leveson remarked on this when he said that,

“its complexity is also a disadvantage, in that it will be difficult for most people to understand and could come under sustained attack from those media providers who feel that they may be the subject of plurality concerns”.

I think there is a very important point here, which is that a complex system of ensuring plurality simply will not work. It will be opaque, user-unfriendly, difficult to explain and a bonanza for lawyers; and unlikely to produce simple, clear outcomes. Leveson’s recommendation on this area is that,

“Ofcom and the Government should work, with the industry, on the measurement framework, in order to achieve as great a measure of consensus as is possible on the theory of how media plurality should be measured before the measuring system is deployed, with all the likely commercial tensions that will emerge”.

Of course they should. However, there needs to be a strict timetable and a simple default mechanism for these discussions, otherwise all this is simply for the long grass.

In fact, there are simple proposals for a measurement framework. Both Claire Enders and Professor Barnett gave evidence on the notion of a simple revenue cap. Harriet Harman, Nick Clegg and Vince Cable were also open to the idea. It seems to me that a revenue cap is an essential starting point for any meaningful discussion of plurality. It has the merit of clarity and is related clearly to the real world. It reduces the need for bureaucratic or highly technical definitions and exceptions.

Whether or not a revenue cap is a central part of any future method of ensuring plurality, the second Leveson question is: what action can or should be taken if plurality rules are breached? At the moment, the existing and inadequate rules on plurality allow intervention only at the point of merger or acquisition. There are obvious problems with this. What about organic growth? There are hard questions here that should not be dodged. As with other markets where a company’s size is judged to be detrimental to the public interest, divestment must surely be an available remedy.

There are also obvious problems with the Leveson report’s brief recommendation on the internet in its section on plurality. The recommendation says simply that,

“online publication should be included in any market assessment for consideration of plurality”.

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So they should, but it does raise the issue of what is meant by “publication”. Does this include Google and Facebook? Does it include Twitter? Arguably, these are all publications, but currently they do not have any obvious editorial function.

This is another area with perhaps an inbuilt and unfortunate invitation to complexity. It should not be like that. In fact, whatever rules, if any, finally emerge for plurality, they should be characterised by simplicity, ease of understanding and accessibility to common sense. That can be done for the internet, for example, by restricting considerations of plurality to those outlets that have an obvious and direct editorial influence on their content.

I repeat that regulation alone will not solve the problems addressed by Lord Justice Leveson. For example, the corrupting cosiness between politicians, the press and the police will not be stopped just by enforcing behavioural regulations. Politicians and the police have been too close to the media because of their perception of the media’s influence, and the size of this perceived influence is very often related very directly to the size of the media organisation. Regulation may stop criminal or shameful behaviour for a while, but it certainly will not stop undue influence. If undue influence does not stop, nor, in any enduring sense, will unacceptable media behaviour. Parts of the media in this country have felt themselves above the law. This is a cultural problem and is rooted in the establishment’s perception of the media’s power to damage, and that is related to size.

I end by asking my noble friend the Minister two simple questions. First, will he confirm to the House the Government’s commitment to addressing the plurality problem? Secondly, will he consider urgently bringing forward recommendations for a process and a timetable to complete the work on plurality only just begun by Lord Justice Leveson?

12.21 pm

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: My Lords, I declare an interest: I was a journalist for 20 years and still turn out an occasional column, as reflected in the register. I was also asked by Lord Justice Leveson to submit written evidence, which I duly did.

Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry scored a line across the country’s psyche like no other Government-sponsored investigation in recent times. It pieced together in raw, stark detail a story of systematic failings on the part of a significant portion of the press to adhere to even the most rough and ready ethics, of newspapers and journalists casting aside seemingly all restraint and decency when gifted by technological advances with means of intrusion into public and private lives that only very secret sections of the British state possessed when I ceased to be a daily journalist in 1984.

The events and behaviour Lord Justice Leveson investigated were searing and in some instances scarcely believable. He wielded a vivid pen in reporting. His analysis is powerful and convincing. His prescriptions have commanded wide assent and approval, bar one crucial and problematic recommendation that any new arrangements for press regulation must be tipped by

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the metal of statute if they are to be capable of sharp and sustained application where what has gone before was blunt and ineffectual.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, I will quote Lord Justice Leveson. He acknowledges:

“By far the best option would be for all publishers to choose to sign up to a satisfactory self-regulatory regime”.

For that I think there exists a wide consensus, but the great divide in the post-Leveson debate is, to use his words again, what kind of “convincing incentives are required” for this to happen.

I admit that I may be suffering from a degree of déformation professionnelle from my journalistic days but I remain deeply uneasy about Parliament allowing the tread of statute to touch this particular terrain of our national life. The key definition of an open society is a country in which the state has an ever-present sense of its own boundaries and limits. If, as a Parliament, we place a piece of primary legislation here, even as a backstop, will we not be propelling our country through a valve, through which we will be most unlikely to return?

The Prime Minister has told the editors that “the clock is ticking”. So it is. Public as well as political concern is quickening that clockwork and I recognise that in being wary of statute, I am out of kilter with three-quarters of the population, individuals whom I greatly respect, such as the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, and the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, who has direct journalistic experience, and more seasoned journalists than myself such as Professor Brian Cathcart of Hacked Off. If I was a statute man, I would be happy with the crisp Independent Press Council Bill drafted by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill.

My worry is that if we reach for statute, all future developments are likely to be one-way. Think a decade or so beyond a Leveson law. Imagine a Government irritated, as Governments usually are, with a coarse and wilful press that refuses to acknowledge the wisdom, beauty and subtlety of their political programme. There is bound to be a rogue newspaper or two in operation—like rogue states, rogue newspapers will always be with us—behaving extremely badly. It will be all too easy for the aggrieved Government to argue that the first light-touch law was all right for 2013-14 and that the press behaved more carefully for a while in the shadow of the Leveson report, but that Government could argue that those lessons have been unlearnt and it is time to tighten up.

The self-dissolution of the Press Complaints Commission creates a real opportunity for improved regulation. The proposals of its chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, for a new system of contracts, with the civil law in the background to give them bite, offers the publishers the chance to bind themselves in to a tougher, tighter and more sanctions-laden system of self-regulation. I know that this can be dismissed as promising “a better yesterday”—to borrow the rather unkind description of the old Social Democratic Party from the late and much missed Lord Dahrendorf. But I hold out a real hope for that approach and for the idea of respected figures—non-

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governmental and non-Ofcom figures—as the validators and overseers of the new arrangements and those appointed to operate them.

I do not think that a replica of the BBC-style royal charter is at all the way to do this. The BBC charter is reviewed roughly every 10 years and the merest glance at the 2006 charter shows just how intrusive this allows Governments to be in the institutional structures of the corporation’s governance.

At the risk of sounding Pollyanna-ish, to my mind, the events reported on by Lord Justice Leveson and the clarity of his analysis have proved to be no end of a lesson to the British media. There is at least a chance of Lord Justice Leveson’s “best option” of a self-regulation that works finally coming to pass amid the ruins of the Press Complaints Commission and the old Press Council that preceded it. However, I am the reverse of Pollyanna when it comes to Lord Justice Leveson’s wish for more restraint and greater transparency between the respective commanders of our political and media classes. That story has long been one of fluctuating combat and collusion, as captured by David Lloyd George, when he said of the press:

“What you can’t square, you squash; what you can’t squash, you square”.

It will take the second coming to put an end to that.

12.28 pm

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I have not spoken on this issue previously. I am in favour of a free press unshackled by Parliament or government. In fact, I want an even freer press, but where privacy laws are not needed. Privacy laws will be misused by the rich and famous to cover up. We should not have laws that look like they are only for celebs to be able to collect loads of money.

We need to respond on behalf of the majority of people living in an alert democracy who want facts, opinions and lots of open comments. They are not fools and can make their own minds up, but they need to be able to complain and not be fobbed off. If they are on the receiving end of an untruth, they want the chance for an apology and a correction. If they see an untruth they should be able to complain. They need someone to listen. They want someone to go to who is not owned and controlled, lock stock and barrel, by those they complain about. A regulator that is both independent and objective will help people with a complaint and, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, said, decent journalists who themselves want to be held to high standards. Over the next 18 months or two years, we will witness a great number of court cases where journalists, the police and others are held to account under the existing law. Everything we will witness came about under the existing, press-owned self-regulation process.

In preparing these few words, I read the 2012 Hugh Cudlipp lecture given by Jon Snow of Channel 4. Jon said that he never met that giant of post-war tabloid journalism but he mused about what Cudlipp would have made of today’s tabloid leadership: not a lot, I suspect. I met Hugh Cudlipp and his team in 1962, when he came to talk to the annual student journalist conference, and the year after when we persuaded him to address students at Aston University. He electrified

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us to go for those in power, search out what they were about and what they were up to, and remember that newspapers are about the people. Today, it appears that some press barons and journalists have removed themselves from the real world where the majority of people live. They have contempt for those they write about and take their readers for fools. Jon Snow said that the hacks in question who brought about Leveson,

“took some weird pleasure in urinating on our world”.

We need a regulator that people and journalists can trust; a regulator that above all knows what it is doing; a regulator that is objective, trustworthy and independent; and a regulator that editors do not fear if they print stories that are right in truth and justified. Snow pointed out—not much has been made of this—that the cutting edge of TV journalists are subject to regulation that seems quite effective. They can work within the so-called constraints that might be there. He also spoke about not wanting to find his own editors somewhere in the mix. Decent journalists want a system with an objective regulator but they would not want it presided over by their own editors.

Public trust is crucial. Lord Justice Leveson showed the way to engender that. Like him, I favour independent, objective self-regulation to maximise the buy-in. It is crucial that the buy-in is maximised but there is a need to give the regulator the kitemark from time to time to engender and preserve public trust. Who is to award the kitemark that the regulator is indeed objective, trustworthy and independent? Leveson also gave us the answer to that, which is dawning on people slowly. Contrary to the claims of editors and some Ministers, no parliamentary or government regulation of the press is required to achieve the solution in which the public will find trust. I will support the proposed recognition commission. Its only remit is to certify the regulation process—nothing to do with the press process, nothing to do with press content and nothing to do with the management of complaints. Therefore I support recommendations 1 to 24 of Lord Justice Leveson.

12.33 pm

Lord Wakeham: My Lords, when I gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry, I tried to explain to Lord Justice Leveson that his report would be valuable even if the Government did not agree to the need for statutory control of the press. He replied by summarising what I was saying as tails he wins and heads he also wins. I believed that his report would be valuable in either event, and so it has proved. I am a big supporter of his recommendation that the system of self-regulation should be tougher and above all independent. However, I am not a great admirer of many of the things in his report. Let me briefly touch on some of them.

It is not surprising that the report does little to deal with the problem that caused the inquiry to be set up in the first place—namely, the illegal acts of phone hacking and bribery. They were criminal acts before Leveson was set up and they still are—and that is how they should be dealt with. I also share the horror that many noble Lords spoke of about some of the awful things that have happened in recent years, but Leveson did not give credit to the industry for the improvements it has in fact made over recent years—for example, in

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the treatment of children, particularly but not only the princes when they were small, coverage of hospitals and the sick, coverage of the dying and the treatment of the bereaved.

Leveson is also critical of Section 12 of the Human Rights Act, which was devised after I made a speech in this House on 5 February 1998—sitting exactly where the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is now. I pointed out that the way the Government were incorporating the Human Rights Act into our domestic law was to create a privacy law, which the Government said they did not want. Jack Straw rang me up and I had several meetings with him. We negotiated Section 12 to try and maintain a press not shackled by statutory control. I am not absolutely sure that our efforts were entirely successful but that is the basis upon which Section 12 came to be part of our law.

Lord Justice Leveson’s suggestion about amending the Data Protection Act is again to reverse the changes that I negotiated with the late Gareth, Lord Williams of Mostyn, a former Leader of this House and a very experienced QC with massive media experience. We did that, as Lord Williams said, to protect investigative journalism, which we both thought was in the public interest. I am also doubtful that the statutory underpinning could be effectively enacted if it did not require Parliament to settle in the legislation most of the big issues that Lord Justice Leveson wanted kept out of the hands of politicians and the industry. I will refer to those in a moment. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alli, that that is the fundamental question that is still unresolved.

Having said that, as far as I know them, I am a big supporter of the proposals that the industry is putting forward that can be implemented in a matter of months, whereas statute will take several years and will be hard fought and divisive. If the new system of self-regulation is satisfactory and fully independent, and the chairman and a majority of the board are persons of standing, no statutory underpinning should be necessary. I cannot conceive of a chairman and board not standing their ground in those circumstances.

As some noble Lords might remember, I retired from chairmanship of the Press Complaints Commission over 10 years ago. The Press Complaints Commission of my day was not a regulator nor was it equipped to be. However, at no time did the industry not co-operate or not accept my jurisdiction. I made it quite clear to those in the industry that I would not stay for a single minute if they tried. The code I worked to was not strong enough and although I got the industry to tighten things up several times it was not a patch on the code that will now be implemented. A new self-regulatory system will be very different from the one I sought to administer. In my opinion, it should be on the following lines: the members of the Board should be totally unconnected with the industry; the industry should be bound to support the regulator financially by long-term civil contracts and to continue to pay its dues even if it was dissatisfied with some of the judgments it received; the code should be drawn up by editors but scrutinised by a body with a lay majority; and there should be a system of fines for serious transgressions. A new regulatory body on those lines, with a chairman and members of standing, would be

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perfectly able to do an excellent job. The industry would co-operate, for it would have no doubt of its fate if it did not.

Let me conclude by indicating why a system that requires statutory underpinning would be so difficult. First, what code would that be underpinning? The communications industry is moving so fast that the writ would probably be out of date before the Bill got Royal Assent. Secondly, there would be substantial questions over the human rights position, particularly of editors who elected to stay out of the new regime.

I shall try to put some of the other complications as simply as I can. If the new independent regulatory body is to receive approval, it will be necessary to set out the legal requirements it must meet before it can be recognised. The overseeing body will also have to be set up by statute and will have to have a legal constitution before it can grant recognition to the regulatory body—and, by common consent, that overseeing body cannot be Ofcom. If that is not already enough, Parliament will have to set out who will appoint the members of the overseeing body, who will have to be independent of politicians and the industry. As well as that, the law will have to define the legal arrangements that must be put in place with publishers that do not join the regulatory regime. I wonder whether a Bill to set all that out would end up, through Parliament, as an Act in quite the way that was intended when it began.

The Leveson report simply does not say how this will be done, which news organisations should be included and what should be left out. There are some vague references to online news services. Would we treat UK services differently from, say, United States services, where the freedom of the press is protected by their constitution? My fear is that if we go down the statutory road, the danger will be that we shall end up by requiring a licensing of the press and an end of a free press after hundreds of years.

12.41 pm

Lord Lipsey: My Lords, I am sorry to start on a slightly sour note but, in one regard anyway, the debate in your Lordships’ House will be less well informed than that at the other end. The House authorities have determined that we may not have printed copies of the full Leveson report, only of the summary. Of course, noble Lords could all access Leveson if they have 50 hours to sit in the Library reading it or were granted the skill, denied to some of us, to go through 2,000 pages on screen. The ground for the refusal was cost. I could go into that a great deal. I know it would be high if every Member of the Lords was given a copy. However, a compromise would have been to have given a copy to those who had put down their names to speak in this debate and who wanted it. This was turned down.

I asked the Clerk of the Parliaments whether he could provide any precedent for a report which was the subject of a specific debate in this House being denied to speakers. None has been cited. I know this is a subsidiary point but it is not unimportant since Leveson’s summary, although a good attempt, is not a proper reflection of the full weight of his report. I hope therefore that if noble Lords share my feelings

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on this matter, they will tell the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Chairman of Committees so, so that the House is not put in this invidious position ever again.

I speak as a former deputy to the editor at two national newspapers. I had responsibility at the Times for complaints, for the PCC and for libel. Whether that makes me a poacher turned gamekeeper or a gamekeeper turned poacher, I am not quite sure. I must say that I found some of the post-Leveson debate, although very interesting, a bit depressing because it seems that most of it has been making a mountain out of a molehill. There is really terribly little between 90% of the participants in the debate. All of us want an independent, self-regulatory system that works. None of us wants statutory control over content. Yet over this gnat of whether there should be statutory underpinning, we have strained and strained. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, for whose views on these matters I have the greatest respect, that a Permanent Secretary instructed by his Minister to find eight reasons why something could not be done would not have managed to exceed the efforts he just made at the end of his speech. That is why the actual Bills that exist to do this are so brief, succinct and effective.

The Prime Minister did not help with his remark that legislation would cross a Rubicon. Is it a Rubicon? Honestly, it is more the River Piddle after a prolonged drought. I do not think there is any slippery slope here. There is certainly none so long as it is clear that any statutory underpinning is to underpin the process by which wrong can be righted and not to get at the specific content of newspapers, which is a matter for them and their editors.

Having said that, I would prefer a minimum of legislation. There are well worn reasons of principle why this should be so, but I am afraid that mine is a pure matter of practice. The problems we have seen are largely a matter of rogue cultures in newspapers. Changes in culture are usually more successfully achieved if organisations embrace them from within rather than them being imposed from without. One reason why the Advertising Standards Authority, on which I once had the privilege to sit, is an effective authority is that the entire industry accepts it. If statute makes it harder for the press to understand the change in culture that is required, we should try and keep it to a minimum.

However, there is one problem which has not yet been resolved by the system of contracts proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. It is no good setting up the finest system in the world if some newspapers choose not to join it or, more insidiously, if they join it but keep on saying, “Oh, if you don’t do what we want, we’ll withdraw and you’ll lose our money”. That is what prejudices the bureaucracies of those organisations to listen to their press members and not to their independent members. I do not think we have cracked that one yet. I am not wholly confident that the incentive of better treatment from the courts for newspapers which sign up will be sufficient. This needs to be looked at further.

I have one other proposal, which bears on the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. No one much likes the idea that Ofcom should frank the self-regulatory system. There is, however, an existing

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alternative: the United Kingdom Accreditation Service, chaired by the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay. It would be worth everyone having a look at that. It has the enormous advantage of being extremely low-profile and therefore in many ways ideally equipped to take on this demanding task. I ask those who are responsible in these negotiations to look at that.

It is crucial that the all-party negotiations should succeed, because only then will we have a stable basis for a system. I should like to see a system that minimised the need for legislation. If it can be done without, no one would be more delighted than I would. If it requires something, I hope that those on the press side will retain a sense of proportion about the small amount of statute that is required. If it can be done by agreement without statute, that would be a wonderful outcome, but let there be no doubt: if no such agreement can be reached, statute there must be, and statute that will work.

12.47 pm

Lord Stoneham of Droxford: My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, with whom I have shared a lot in my political career. I share his frustration at not having full copies of the report available. I have spent a lifetime in the regional and national press and I have joined the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, on the roll of honour at News International. I am saddened by what Leveson has revealed about the ethics and lack of judgment shown by certain sections of the national press. We should be absolutely clear that it is only certain sections, though, and by no means the majority of journalists or editorial staff throughout our newspaper industry. Newspapers are never going to be popular institutions; I think that it was Lord Rothermere who said that every day he was publishing things that people did not want published. However, a free and responsible press is central to our democracy, warts and all.

A lot of points have already been covered in this debate, so I shall simply confine myself to three issues that concern me. The first, as noble Lords might expect, is the regional press. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich said, Leveson rightly gives the regional press a pretty good bill of health in terms of its working practices, its respect and support for the work of the Press Complaints Commission, its commitment to its local communities and the respect and trust that it maintains with its readers. We should remind ourselves, as Leveson does, that 70% of adults read regional press newspapers, compared with only 56.8% of adults who read a national daily.

One of the great sadnesses is that the national press is now taking fewer journalists from the regional press who have served a full apprenticeship. Nothing beats journalists living and working in the communities where every day they are meeting their principal readers. That provides the best training for ethics and appropriate behaviour. It is also a good thing to be working for editors who are tough and disciplined on standards, not simply getting the most stories out of people. Journalist training is one of the principal issues that need attention following Leveson. The regional newspaper industry remains, as Leveson said, and as several

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speakers have mentioned, under financial pressure in the cyclical downturn. This provides big issues for the vibrancy of our local communities. Above all, we must not saddle our provincial press, already vulnerable, with a bureaucratic and burdensome regulation regime that it does not deserve.

The second issue is the importance of independent self-regulation. Although I remain sceptical about statutory involvement in press regulation, I accept the need for fundamental reform towards independent self-regulation. I certainly welcome the work of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral. Press regulation is being transformed under his proposals: it will be independent, it cannot have serving editors on it and it must have sanctions. It must also be resourced not simply to provide a complaints service but to audit governance and to conduct fuller investigations as required. In my view, the issues that have to be resolved are how to ensure that all titles are included and how to sustain the initial progress that the noble Lord is making and is going to make. I am attracted by incentives on the costs of civil litigation and an arbitration service to solve disputes, which will improve justice for individuals and assist publishers. If that is matched by a statutory verification process for publishers, though, the key issue is that the devil is in the detail; that will determine whether or not the proposals are acceptable.

The third issue is plurality. The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, gave us an historical perspective of this and my noble friend Lord Sharkey has made a more specific analysis. Generally, the fact is that plurality as an issue is not getting the attention that it deserves following the publication of the report because the regulation of behaviour is getting all the public attention. We must not forget where we came in: but for Milly Dowler, the Culture Secretary was within days, if not hours, of agreeing that the same international company that had nearly 40% of our national newspaper market could also control the monopoly supplier of satellite broadcasting in the UK. Plurality is important because it has never been properly regulated. It has enabled an overpowerful, overdominant media owner to become too influential in all walks of our national life. Dominance breeds arrogance, as has been said, and arrogance has perverted the culture and the risk-taking, and indeed has probably encouraged criminal behaviour, in this powerful enterprise. They thought that they were untouchable. They had the politicians and the police in their pocket. It took the David of the Guardian and Milly Dowler to bring them down.

The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, has told the story about Conservatives in power. Let me tell you what life was like under new Labour. A shocking experience for me was to attend the retirement party in 2003 of the editor of the Sun, David Yelland; in effect, it was the crowning party for Rebekah Brooks. Pretty much the whole of the Labour Cabinet, with the honourable exception of the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, was there that night. This was no respectful attendance for a colleague stepping into retirement; it was a more familiar, kissy-kissy celebration than I would ever have anticipated. This was a meeting for colluding friends, supposedly.

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I went up to one leading Labour figure, who had been savaged in the Sun in only that past year. I said to him, “What on earth are you doing here?”. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Ben, it’s one of the things we have to do”. It is ironic that the more people are close to power in this country, the more they feel that they must trade up to the powerful interests in the media. I am sure that the Liberal Democrats might even be tempted if this continued. The key must be not to have these powerful interests. Overdominance breeds contempt and arrogance in any market. It is strongly against our national interest, culture and democracy. Regulation in the interest of greater plurality must play a central part in the reforms following the Leveson report. It must not be overlooked.

12.55 pm

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am very pleased indeed to rise immediately after such a powerful endorsement of the need to look at plurality, with which I wholeheartedly agree. Concentration of power in too few hands is clearly not in the public interest, as has been proven to be the case.

This is an historic debate and an historic opportunity. It is an opportunity to support good journalism, the rule of law and freedom of speech. It is also an opportunity for us to reflect on the difference that has rightly been identified between the national and regional press, to remember that good journalism is alive and kicking in our country and to listen to those voices. However, this historic opportunity has been given to those before us on a number of occasions over the past 65 years. In fact, the last chance saloon for the press was first opened 65 years ago. Since then, last orders have been called on at least seven occasions. Time is therefore now of the essence.

There is an issue that we have to look at because, as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, will know, the greatest indicator of the future is our past. Therefore, if we wish to look at how the press may behave in the future, it is responsible for us to look at how it has behaved in the past. With recidivism, there comes a time to recognise when the opportunity to change is desired but may not actually be grasped and when the recidivists themselves are not able to change without a little help. Otherwise, it is an exercise of hope over experience. I hope that the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will find real support and success, but I say to him that experience causes me to believe that I would be unwise to share his optimism.

The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, said that the gauntlet was being thrown down and the press had to take it up. Well, that gauntlet has been thrown down on innumerable occasions. In preparing for this debate, I thought that I would look back over the reports that have been given in the past. I counted Sir David Calcutt as one of my dear friends; I hope that that will not detract in any way from his sagacity. In 1990, he made his first report. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, was then the Secretary of State for the Home Department and said about the last chance saloon:

“This is positively the last chance for the industry to establish an effective non-statutory system of regulation, and I strongly hope that it will seize the opportunity that the committee has

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given it. If a non-statutory commission is established, the Government will review its performance after 18 months of operation to determine whether a statutory underpinning is required. If no steps are taken to set up such a commission, the Government, albeit with some regret, will proceed to establish a statutory framework, taking account of the committee’s recommendations. It is now up to the press to take up the challenge that the committee has presented to it. I am confident that the response will be a positive one”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 21/6/1990; col. 1126.]

The press responded and Sir David Calcutt was asked to report again. This he did on 8 January 1993. This was 20 years—almost to the day—from our debate, and what did Sir David say? I quote from the summary of his report, paragraph 5, entitled “Assessment”:

“The Press Complaints Commission is not, in my view, an effective regulator of the press. It has not been set up in a way and is not operating a code of practice, which enables it to command not only press but also public confidence. It does not, in my view, hold the balance fairly between the press and the individual. It is not the truly independent body which it should be. As constituted, it is, in essence, a body set up by the industry, financed by the industry, dominated by the industry and operating a code of practice devised by the industry and which is over-favourable to the industry”.

He goes on to say in paragraph 7:

“It has been argued that two years is too short a time in which to judge the Press Complaints Commission. But the way forward was clearly spelt out in the Privacy Committee’s Report. In particular, the Committee stressed the need for the Commission to be seen as an independent body which would command the confidence of the public. Both the Committee, and subsequently the Government, gave a clear indication that this was the last chance for the industry to put its own house in order. It has to be assumed that the industry, in setting up the present Press Complaints Commission, has gone as far as it was prepared to go. But it has not gone far enough.

In my view, too many fundamental changes to the present arrangements would be needed. Nothing that I have learnt about the press has led me to conclude that the press would now be willing to make, or that it would in fact make, the changes which would be needed”.

That was 20 years ago. How much longer should we wait? Lord Justice Leveson has created the most Delphic, gentle, succinct opportunity for us to give the press a little extra encouragement, just so they know that last orders have finally—after 65 years—been called at the last chance saloon.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Alli. I sincerely hope that our Front Bench will remain robust, but if the Front Benches in this House need a little encouragement, then surely the power of the voices on the Back Benches would be enough to encourage them to see the light. I hope that no one in this House who supports freedom of the press and the rule of law will be silent.

1.04 pm

Baroness Hollins: My Lords, I thank noble Lords who referred to my family experience earlier in the debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, spoke about Lord Justice Leveson’s compassion and sensitivity in enabling victims of press abuse to give evidence. I commend Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry and the manner in which it was carried out. He and his staff made the experience of giving evidence somewhat easier. The decision to give evidence was not an easy one. To be honest, I felt intimidated, as I know did

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many other victims of press misconduct. Surprisingly perhaps, I was concerned that my words, spoken on behalf of my family, yet again would be twisted by the press.

It has been suggested to me that everything is now in the open, that all victims of press misconduct and unethical press behaviour have now been dealt with. That is so far from the truth. The majority of victims are intimidated and do not take on the powerful press barons lightly. However, I recognise that there are many responsible and honest journalists who themselves need some protection in order to be able to work and to continue to work in an ethnical manner.

Recently, I attended some meetings arranged by Hacked Off. I am usually wary of getting involved with campaigning organisations but Hacked Off has impressed me hugely. It is the only organisation which is faithfully giving a voice to victims and keeping them informed. I ask the Minister to tell this House exactly how many meetings have taken place between government and representatives of victims since the report was published, and how many meetings have taken place with representatives of the press industry.

If any other industry was facing such public criticism and concern, the press would have been investigating that industry’s response very energetically. Why is it then that we do not know exactly what is going on behind the scenes? There are four draft Bills proposing one way or another to ensure that Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations will be implemented. In some ways, perhaps it does not matter which Bill is introduced as it surely will be amended. However, as a victim or, as I prefer to call myself, an expert by experience, I suggest that Hacked Off’s Bill is the most faithful to the Leveson report and, unsurprisingly perhaps, the least political. Given the Prime Minister’s supposed commitment to be guided by the views of victims, this Bill would be a good place to start. Perhaps I may suggest that Hacked Off’s Bill will be a necessary, transparent and democratic way of ensuring an effective regulator in the future.

The Leveson inquiry was not just about whether journalistic practice was legal or illegal. It was also about the culture and ethics of the press. I agree with my noble friend Lady Boothroyd that we need a cultural revolution in the press and in the country. I would add that the drip-drip effect of little lies and spin have contributed to the cynicism which has seeped into our daily lives.

I will give just one example from my experience. An article in one newspaper contained 28 supposed facts. It was quite a lengthy piece that went over two or three pages. It included photographs of people and places. Of those 28 facts, just two were correct. The others were fabricated and sensationalised. But this information was repeated by other journalists again and again in the same and in different newspapers. None of these journalists checked their information. They simply took it from the internet, reordered it, changed the emphasis and called it an exclusive. In my profession of medicine, that would be called plagiarism. My son-in-law has a creative suggestion that editors should have to give a star rating to all articles. Gossip and unchecked facts would get no stars, while five stars

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would require the journalist and editor to be able to defend vigorously what they have printed.

My noble friend Lord Trees, in his excellent maiden speech, explained the parallel between press regulation and professional self-regulation with statutory backing. As a member of the medical profession, I concur with his views.

I conclude my remarks by giving emphasis to my own victim test. In, say, two years’ time, will the British public be proud of our free press—proud because it is truthful and fair and respects everyone’s right to privacy and freedom from harassment? I say everyone, because I think that a celebrity who is well known only because of their skill in entertaining us has an equal right to their freedom. In two years’ time, will we have an honest industry that uses ethical and lawful methods and journalists and editors who can defend their sources? When the highest standards have been breached, will victims receive prominent and willingly given apologies? In short, will trust have been restored? I suggest that, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, did, that a little extra help is going to be needed.

1.11 pm

Lord Stevens of Ludgate: My Lords, I am deeply sorry to hear of the experience with the press of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, and I apologise on behalf of the press, of which I used to be a member.

I should perhaps disclose that I was chairman for nearly 20 years, until 1999, of United Newspapers, which subsequently became United News & Media. When I became chairman, the company owned many of the regional newspapers in Yorkshire and Lancashire. In 1985, we purchased Express Newspapers.

None of the witnesses to the Leveson inquiry questioned the assumption of authority over the future of a free press, ranging from Prime Ministers to proprietors or editors, except for Mr Gove. It was in danger of becoming more of an inquisition than an inquiry. Dozens of journalists have been arrested, their homes searched, contents removed and are on bail as police look for evidence of phone hacking. Add that to the Savile inquiry, with an 82 year-old man arrested in a dawn raid and the front door of a former weatherman smashed down, relating to an allegation dating back to the early 1970s, and some of these things seem to be getting a bit out of proportion. One wishes that the police would file charges and move on.

What happens at the BBC? A £2 million inquiry tells us all we already know—that there is a lack of leadership, bureaucracy, and more journalists than the whole of Fleet Street. And what happens apart from the odd staff departure? Nothing, apart from large cheques. Where are the resignations right at the top? Compare this to the treatment of the press when it has the establishment against it—although much of the behaviour cannot be excused.

As is well known and has been stated, what is news? In many cases, it is something that someone does not want to be reported. Even if we ignore what appears to be some bias in the advisers to Lord Justice Leveson’s committee, it is obviously an honest attempt to try to

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find a solution to current misdeeds. The motives of the high-profile celebrities who are in favour of state regulation should concern us all. Many of them have somewhat dubious private lives, from fathering illegitimate children to sex orgies. Most of them employ or have employed public relations consultants to promote themselves. How else would they be so well known? They want as much press coverage as they can get, as long as it is on their terms. They are resentful when newspapers publish less flattering stories about them which do not fit their PR image. We even have one of them, Mr Grant, stating that looking at history shows the need for state-backed regulation. My history is not very good but, as I recall history, it has been a fight to free the press from legal restraints.

The spark that led to the setting up of the Leveson inquiry by the Prime Minister was the Guardian stating that News of the World journalists had deleted voicemails of the murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler. This turned out to be untrue. But then look at the investigation; the top lawyer said that the inquiry was not opposed to the Guardian campaign over the News of the World phone hacking or the Telegraphs revelations about MPs’ expenses. The first of these campaigns was based on information from police sources, the second on documents handed over by an informant.

No one would deny that some newspapers have been guilty of gross excesses and illegal behaviour and the worst one has been closed. However, before we continue bashing Rupert Murdoch—of course, he is too powerful—let us remember what he has achieved. He was known in Australia as the Dirty Digger a long time ago, but he has built a huge business, albeit with a vast amount of borrowings which very nearly crippled him. He was at the forefront, after Eddie Shah, who seems to have been forgotten, of reducing the manpower in Fleet Street, more or less at the same time as many others of us were talking about it, and restoring some sanity to the industry. He built Sky TV from nothing. Yes, he made mistakes—every successful man does—and, yes, he phoned his editors on a regular basis, especially on a Saturday night, and instigated personal attacks in his newspapers on, among others, his competitors, of whom I was one. We now have to deal with the consequences of his journalists’ illegal acts—illegal, as has been stated, under current law. If we are concerned about laws controlling the press, look at libel laws; they impose huge restraints on the press.