The Leveson inquiry, as many of these inquiries do, seems to take on a life of its own. Of course Prime Ministers and Cabinet Ministers want to be friendly with editors and journalists and of course they meet the heads of large companies, large accounting firms, leading lawyers, doctors, scientists and a broad spectrum of those who have senior positions and influence. This seems to me to be perfectly normal. I do not think it abnormal either that one of the first calls that an editor might get on being appointed is a congratulatory one from the Press Office in Downing Street, and in due course an invitation to meet the Prime Minister. I am sure that many people ask for favours from senior politicians. I recall a meeting with the then Prime Minister at which Mr Rupert Murdoch, Mr Conrad Black, as he then was, Mr Robert Maxwell, Lord Vere Rothermere and myself were all present—a distinguished

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group, I am sure you would agree—to ask that VAT should not be applied to newspapers. It was not, but it might not have been anyway. I do not remember who did all the talking at that meeting, but with all those egos around I recall that mine was insufficient to get a word in sideways.

Phone hacking can, and probably will, be prosecuted under current legislation. I do not believe that further legislation is the answer to the behaviour that has occurred. It would involve politicians and we have only to look at the report before Christmas in the Telegraph about a certain MP’s expenses, and the Telegraph’s assertion that pressure was applied from Downing Street, to realise how dangerous legislation, and the inevitable involvement of politicians, would be.

I have to agree that the Press Complaints Commission has been more or less totally ineffective. Editors have been far too involved in the process, but it has sought to impose curbs on photo intrusion and coverage of the sick and children, among others. Let us by all means have a strong and independent self-regulatory regime, as proposed by Leveson and as is currently being prepared by the newspaper industry, without legislative backing. Whatever system is adopted, it will inevitably be difficult to define standards and what is acceptable. As the working group of the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, stated, any code should be technologically neutral, not just confined to the newspaper and periodical industry. Clearly, some of the recent illegal behaviour is totally unacceptable, as are some of the excesses, but this must be a question of judgment and I cannot see how we can legislate for that, nor should we.

As has been pointed out, whether a law to regulate the press is illegal under the Human Rights Act, as it would mean that the press had to meet higher standards than anyone else, I am not qualified to judge. However, to have a law regulated by Ofcom is clearly unacceptable, as the Prime Minister has said. No state quango where the members are appointed by the state should be involved. Furthermore, Ofcom has powers to decide on political bias, rules which have never applied to the press. The same reservations apply to a royal charter.

Since the press holds the Government to account, the Government clearly must not regulate newspapers. I am sure that some politicians want to get back at the press for disclosing all their shenanigans over expenses. There has been some mention of changing culture in the debate. Speaking with my non-newspaper interests in mind, changing culture is extremely difficult. Look at parliamentary expenses, for example.

The constitution of the United States declares that government,

“may make no law … abridging the freedom … of the press”.

A Leveson Act would give politicians an entry point which they could change in future to get the press they want. The arbitration service proposal by Leveson gives me cause for concern. At present, the person offended against can complain to the PCC. Under the new proposals anyone can do so. This really opens the floodgates. If such a body is to be appointed, some control must be in place to deal with frivolous complaints and compensation lawyers—maybe

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a meaningful advance payment, non-refundable in the event the complaint is not upheld. At a time when all newspapers are facing a declining market, many running at a loss, there must be some limit on costs and awards.

I apologise for going on a bit, but I think that I am the only former chairman of a national newspaper group here and noble Lords will have to forgive me—a big windbag.

The inquiry seems to be unaware of the critical financial situation of many in the press. Twenty-five years ago the circulation of daily national newspapers was 16 million; today it is just over 8 million. In 1959, when I started work, the circulation of paid-for evening newspapers in London was more than 3 million; now, just before the Evening Standard went free, it was under a half a million. Twenty-five years ago it was estimated that 75% of the adult population read a daily paper; now the estimate is less than 50%. There is barely a mention of the proliferation of TV channels or the internet, to which newspapers are migrating. Newspapers are gatherers and disseminators of information, be it hard copy or new media. The internet, if regulated, would migrate elsewhere.

In other words, good as the report is in many places, and although clearly the press must improve its standards and behaviour, the arrival of the internet has led to a rapidly declining economic situation for the newspaper and magazine industry—a decline that started with the proliferation of TV channels. The stable door has opened and the horse has bolted.

1.22 pm

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, that while he makes a few good points, the defensive tone and aggression of his remarks are hardly likely to encourage anyone to believe that the press is capable of putting its own house in order.

However, I want to focus on the issue of plurality. That has received relatively little attention in the public debate and, until the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, rose to speak, relatively little attention in this debate, although my noble friends Lord Donoughue and Lady Jay mentioned it. A truly free press requires diversity of opinion; diversity of opinion means real diversity and plurality of ownership; and plurality of ownership, in a world of ruthless capitalism that the press occasionally advocates, requires effective regulation of competition and merger policy.

Some of my best friends are journalists, and some of them even work for the Murdoch press. I do not necessarily believe that the Murdoch empire is uniquely evil; nor do I believe that its journalists and editors are the only ones capable of the dark arts of attacking personal privacy and breaking the law. However, the Murdoch empire is uniquely dominant and dangerously powerful. But this goes beyond Murdoch. If you look at the totality of the media—electronic as well as print, regional as well as national—they are subject to a high degree of oligopoly and are close, in some cases, to monopoly. They are under the control of relatively few proprietors, service providers and editors. Whether those individuals are malign or benign, it is a dangerous situation for a democracy that does not provide a truly free media.

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Like the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, I was disappointed that Lord Justice Leveson did not spend more time on plurality and I am also disappointed that the four Bills that are before us do not deal much, if at all, with that issue. However, Leveson gave us a lead. The last few recommendations in his report set out a bit of a route map, as the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, suggested. The most important aspect of that route map is the recommendation that the thresholds of levels of competition in relation to the news media must be lower and probably considerably lower than in competition policy in relation to other sectors. That leads Lord Justice Leveson on to say that we must concentrate on the measurement of plurality, as the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, said, and that the regulators—Ofcom or possibly the new Competition and Markets Authority—should look at ways in which that plurality could be regulated and enforced. He also suggests, because the point where the law at present intervenes is largely on acquisitions and mergers, that there should also be periodic reviews of the ownership pattern of the media and that should extend to the electronic media and online publications as well as the print media. He suggests also that the Secretary of State should continue to develop the ideas of public interest. Although those propositions may not have received the same attention and may not be in the same detail as some of the other propositions from Leveson, they do provide a basis and a package on which the Government ought now to be basing their propositions in relation to plurality and competition within the media sector.

This is not the first time I have raised this. When we had our double-handed presentation of the Leveson report just before Christmas, I asked the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who was giving the Liberal Democrat version of the Government’s reaction, whether they were about to make propositions on the diversity front, and in particular whether they could possibly use the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which is currently before this House and is changing the whole basis of competition policy, to put in specific clauses relating to media competition and media structure. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, did not say yes and he did not say no. What he did say was that it was above his pay grade. Since the lamented former Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was sitting next to him, it was presumably above his pay grade as well. I raised it again during the Committee stage of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, where the noble Lord, Lord Marland, one of the other Banquo’s ghosts from the Front Bench, also said it was above his pay grade, but explicitly said it was the Prime Minister’s pay grade.

It may be a bit late to insert such a provision into a Bill which is already going through this House and which has already passed through the Commons. It may, in any case, deserve a stand-alone Bill. But the issue of plurality in news media is an important one for the Government to grasp. It does not have the same level of controversy that we have seen in terms of the regulation of media behaviour and it could be worked on now and brought before this Parliament within a relatively few months. I would hope to hear from the Minister today that that is indeed the way in

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which the Government are thinking. I am sorry that the public debate and this debate have focused on it so little.

However, I will make one remark that may be of slight comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, and to the press in general, and may upset some of my colleagues. I am in favour of Leveson’s propositions in relation to underpinning by statute a voluntary system. I think he has got it about right. My misgivings relate to something to which the noble Lord, Lord Bew, referred in relation to Northern Ireland. In the course of history, we have had on the one hand the kind of actions of which we are complaining in the press which are already mostly illegal—from phone hacking through to intimidation. On the other hand, many of the great exposures of wrong-doing in high places, private as well as public, have required somebody to break the extant law for them to be exposed, whether breaches of the Official Secrets Acts, breaches of contracts, or indeed the kind of whistle-blowing that we are more familiar with these days. The development of a transparent democracy requires on occasion the press and the media to take on the law in that respect.

It seems to me that the central job of the form of regulation that Lord Justice Leveson recommends and which I can support requires us to say clearly when the public interest overrides the effects of those laws. Public interest does not mean public prurience but there is often a public interest in getting information which, without breach of those laws or contracts, would never see the light of day. That is a difficult matter for all of us but it is one which a recognition commission on the one hand and the proposed self-regulating structure on the other can take on board.

However, the one message I would leave with the House, with the Government and with the political leadership who are looking for some consensus on this issue is: deal with plurality as soon as you can, otherwise all this will be for nought.

1.30 pm

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, like other speakers, I feel that we owe a great debt of gratitude to Lord Justice Leveson. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on the Front Bench, I also think that we owe a huge debt to those who had the courage to come before Leveson and give evidence. What came out of Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry was what many of us had long suspected and feared: it was damning and shaming, a stop-at-nothing culture and an industrial scale of telephone hacking, and there would have been much more in the report about telephone hacking if a number of cases had not been sub judice.

Lord Justice Leveson also concluded that there was wilful disregard for decency, objectivity and accuracy. Accuracy! Good heavens—whatever next? The only time that I was ever shocked by the subject of accuracy in relation to the press was when I gave an interview to an American glossy magazine and the next day I was rung up by a lady from Chicago who said, “I’m the fact checker”. I said, “What?”. She repeated, “I’m the fact checker”. That is the only occasion that I was ever approached by a fact checker from a newspaper to check the facts of what had been said. However,

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what was shocking in Lord Justice Leveson’s findings were the episodes involving the Dowlers, Christopher Jefferies and the McCanns. They have been referred to so often that we have become anaesthetised to the horror of their stories, yet they were truly horrific.

What has been the reaction of the press to the Leveson report? In many cases, it has been a complete lack of contrition. There could not be a greater contrast than the eloquent apology and contrition expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and many newspapers. They have been in completely opposite directions. In some cases, newspapers also ignored specific criticisms that were made of them and their editors. Not a word was printed about the specific criticisms of individual newspapers. However, since Leveson the press have attempted to frame the debate within a particular parameter. The choice, we are told, is between statutory regulation and freedom of the press, but there can be statutory regulation and freedom of the press, as Denmark and Ireland have shown. However, that is not the choice that we are being given.

Statutory regulation is not being proposed. What Lord Justice Leveson proposed is independent regulation free from excessive domination by the industry itself. That regulation is to be validated by a statutorily underpinned body. Leveson’s proposals do not give any rights to Parliament, the Government or the regulator to prevent newspapers publishing anything; nor would his recommendations allow Parliament, the Government or the regulator to prohibit the publication of anything. The noble Lord, Lord Hennessy—who I thought got right to the heart of the matter—talked about the danger of tightening the legislation, but I think that there is a distinction to be drawn. A monitoring body will look at the whole scene overall at periodic intervals—after two years initially, then three years and then another three years. There is nothing in the legislation that could be tightened to become a vehicle for censorship.

Of course it is right that the Prime Minister should warn us to think very carefully before we pass any legislation that refers to the press. He referred to paragraph 71 of the Leveson report and stated:

“Once we try … writing a law that provides for statutory underpinning that describes what the regulatory authority does, what powers it has and how it is made up, we soon find we have quite a big piece of law. That is the concern. We need to think very carefully before crossing that Rubicon”.—[Official Report, Commons, 29/11/12; col. 455.]

Is it really going to be quite a big piece of law? We have the privilege of having three or four Bills drafted for us: by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, by the Labour Party and by the Hacked Off group. They have served a very useful purpose. Do they really justify adverts comparing Lord Justice Leveson to Presidents Mugabe and Assad? Are they really chilling and overprescriptive? They do not write the press complaints code into law. They do not describe what has to be in newspapers. They do not describe the procedures that have to be followed.

As the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said in his short and forceful speech, we have to draw a distinction between the self-regulatory body that does the regulating —and directing, if there is any—and the body that is just doing periodic monitoring every few years of how effectively the regulatory body is performing its task.

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I suggest that no Rubicon is being crossed. As the noble Lord, Lord Trees, pointed out in his excellent maiden speech, the duties and powers of our courts are governed by statute, but that does not mean that our judges are controlled by politicians or the Government of the day.

The noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, used the word “touch” and said that it would be wrong if the law even touched on the area of the press. There are already some statutory underpinnings of press regulation. Section 12 of the Human Rights Act 1988 refers to the press complaints code. Why is it there? It is there because the press asked for the code to be recognised in statute.

Some noble Lords argued that the press should be restrained only by law. That seems to be rather like arguing that when a rogue trader in an investment bank commits a fraud, loses the bank £1 million and is jailed for doing so, there is no need for the bank or the FSA to look at its compliance procedures. One needs to use both the law and compliance procedures to ensure that such situations do not arise again.

The Prime Minister rightly said that the Leveson report would and should be judged by the responses of the victims. They have said that they regard the recommendations of the report as the minimum that is necessary. They do not regard a self-regulator as independent and efficient unless there is an agreed system of checks on it. We should accept their verdict. We must not let them down. It is not enough yet again to repaint, refurbish and refit with a few shiny new brass fittings the last chance saloon. That would not be a satisfactory response.

1.38 pm

Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke: My Lords, I was one of the Peers who went to the Leader of the House to ask that this should be a full-day debate. The quality of the contributions that we have heard proves that it was right to do so. What is also relevant is that many victims have been able to hear what has been a very consensual debate—with one or two exceptions—demonstrating the strength and knowledge of this House and the determination, expressed in particular in the remarks of my noble friend Lord Alli, that those of us who do not occupy positions of power in the House still have a voice that can speak for the victim.

In the past half-hour we saw a very powerful vignette. We heard a very moving speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, about the dreadful experiences that she went through. Those of us who are parents must take that to heart. The noble Baroness was followed by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, who in his remarks acknowledged that change has to happen. The noble Lord, Lord Stevens, epitomises some of the difficulties that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will encounter in seeking to put in place a voluntary model of press regulation that is not underpinned by statute. I have a great regard for and admire the noble Lord, Lord Hunt—he is probably one of the very few people who can take on the press barons and grandees—and he made the powerful point that what Lord Justice Leveson is recommending is not statutory regulation of the press.

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Prior to the publication of the report there was a powerful campaign from the press suggesting that there was going to be statutory regulation, and afterwards in both editorials and advertisements we saw that idea promulgated. Frankly, you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. Lord Justice Leveson went off to Australia—and in whose interest is it that we know the price of his hotel room? I know the hotel that he stayed in, I know where the grandees of the press go for dinner when they are in Sydney, and I know that the price of Lord Justice Leveson’s hotel room would not pay their wine bill for one night’s dinner. It is a symbol of the extent to which they do not get it.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevens, made the point that the circulation of national newspapers has gone down from 16 million to 8 million. That is not only because of the internet but because newspapers nowadays are too often a part of the entertainment industry—they are more comic than educator and people are drifting away from them as a consequence.

At one stage in my less than illustrious career I was in charge of complaints in a newspaper. I was not part of editorial but part of management and, believe me, that is a big difference in newspapers. Editorial departments are not democracies but self-perpetuating oligarchies and it is the responsibility of management to bow to the will of editorial. I could get away with murder if there was a complaint from someone who was annoyed that their new white paintwork had been dirtied by the nasty ink that comes off the newspapers, but heaven forfend that I should raise something to do with editorial. I often felt guilty if I did raise a complaint with an editor because the person who had complained would often become the object of a vendetta from the newspaper. All of us who have had cause to complain to newspapers know that that happens.

I want to concentrate the rest of my remarks on one particular element of what Lord Justice Leveson said, which relates to my experience in dealing with complaints. Lord Justice Leveson said quite plainly that there was a failure of systems of management and compliance. The argument that the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, made about the change and the move to the internet is very important because it creates a culture where some of these well-paid jobs in newspapers—and we saw an indication of that yesterday with the revelation of what Sir Paul Dacre earns—are at risk because of the pressure to increase and maintain circulation. The important commercial relationship is not between the newspaper and the reader—the reader is just a way of keeping count—but between the newspaper and the advertiser. That is what makes the profit for most newspapers other than the regional ones which have been praised so highly in Lord Justice Leveson’s report as well as this afternoon.

There is a need for those who run newspapers to recognise that they have a responsibility of governance, because if we do not get a grip of what is happening in editorial departments the whole business will become imperilled. The dogs that did not bark in all of the scandals around newspapers were those who manage the newspapers. Where were the board directors who said that there is a crisis of governance in this business? Yes, advertisers withdrew copy near the end of the

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News of the World

, but where were the advertisers from ethical organisations—particularly the one that is close to my own heart, the Co-operative—when these stories were being published about the McCanns, Milly Dowler and so on. There is a crisis of governance in the management of newspapers that needs to be addressed. Some of them are plcs and some are privately owned, but it is incumbent on those who invest in and deal with these companies to urge them to put their house in order. They must ensure that systems of compliance and governance, which are de rigueur in other areas of industry, are in place to deal with complaints.

My final point concerns the ethical training of journalists. The noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, talked about the training in journalism that she received at the BBC. I was trained at the BBC as well, although not as fully as the noble Baroness. One of the tragedies of the rundown of the regional press is the reduction in its involvement in the training of journalists. Journalism is increasingly becoming a graduate profession. There is a necessary reliance on making sure that journalists understand the law, but I would contend that there is a need to ensure that a journalistic education takes into account ethics as well. It is necessary for the industry in all its different guises to turn its attention to the training of journalists.

I began my career wanting to be a journalist. With the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, I did a short spell on the Privacy Commission at the BBC, and I have to say that when I heard what happened to the victims of newspapers, I was ashamed of my past in journalism. I am not talking about the big, glamorous stories, although even they were heartbreaking, but about the stories of people who had killed themselves as a result of the shame brought to their families as a consequence of publicity. I have seen young girls who perhaps are mesmerised by the fame of footballers lose all contact with their families. I believe in a free press, but I also believe in a responsible press, and this country believes in that too.

1.46 pm

Lord Dykes: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the wise words we have just heard from someone with experience of this industry and from others with the same kind of experience who have spoken. Unfortunately, my noble friend Lord Watson of Richmond has had to pull out of today’s debate. He has asked me to convey his apologies and to emphasise, rather along the same lines of the speech just made by the noble Baroness, that if the press does not understand the human rights of individuals on whom it reports, it can lead to some of the worst examples of bad behaviour. I am not an expert on the industry because I am a politician and a consumer of the press, but I have concluded that we do need a free press in this country and that it would have been relatively a very free press indeed if it had not been dominated by the controversial visitor from Australia many years ago who acquired the Times and the Sunday Times in dubious circumstances. That has already been explained in the debate by at least one speaker. I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, said.

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The dismay I felt as an onlooker at this complicated field before Christmas at the time when this debate was postponed concerned the award to Rebekah Brooks of, I believe, £11 million in severance pay as a result of her departure as editor of the News of the World. It did not seem to produce the indignation and anger that I thought would have been relevant. Does that not say it all about the attitude of the boss man and his cronies who run the world’s most unappetising newspaper network? It is the ultimate two fingers of defiance from Rupert Murdoch after the pretend grovelling during the Select Committee hearings and all the rest of it. In a fascinating book written by Tom Watson MP and Martin Hickman, Dial M for Murdoch, published by Penguin Books, the section from page 268 onwards is revealing about his character and background. Incidentally, I am reminded of Murdoch’s sneering comment to Lord Justice Leveson that apparently he is one of the few people in the world who still reads Le Monde. Rather than actually answering any of the relevant questions, Murdoch chose to make other sneers which I shall quote briefly to illustrate. He used the occasion to settle old scores, criticising former editors who had later questioned his methods. He said that editor David Yelland was drunk all the time at the Sun. Andrew Neil found it,

“very profitable to get up and spread lies about me”.

The last is the preposterous remark that Colin Myler,

“would not have been my choice as editor of the News of the World”.

A previous speaker said that the owners would be suffering from illegal behaviour by journalists, but I think that it is probably the other way around. How reminiscent of the famous old Mafia trials in the US. All these appearances from this person remind us too of the cozy relations, unfortunately, between politicians of all parties and the unimpressive world leader of the newspaper industry. Now we have to contend with the reality of the mass destruction of e-mails, which would have been even more embarrassing had that reached the authorities now investigating through the Metropolitan Police.

Returning to the compensation for loss of office for Mrs Brooks, the rest of the News of the World staff fired on the spot must be rigid with anger and resentment. We remind ourselves that the insult—relative as well as absolute—to the long-suffering Dowler family is monumental. That is the ethos and nature of an international press operation which considers the word “ruthless” to be compulsory. How the Murdoch brigade must be laughing at the pulling-the-punches response of naive people in the law and politics as to what now needs to be done. The arrival of this man in the UK years ago completely wrecked the reputation of British newspapers, which were relatively decent—noble even—in the days of quite ruthless press barons like Beaverbrook, Rothermere and Thomson. Certain standards were maintained.

We must now have a system of press supervision, and regulation, in the proper sense of that word, which is underscored by the legal support system. It is not only the reckless Mr Murdoch—whose now sadly missed and highly respected mother should have told him to behave properly years before he came to Britain—

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but the other unattractive denizens. The owners of the

Daily Star

, the

Daily Express

, the extremist

Daily Mail

and the tax haven dwellers who own the

Daily Telegraph

all now need a proper system of supervision that prevents them from ruining the lives of ordinary people with falsehoods, brutal doorstepping and misquoting, and from engaging in the ruthless harassment of the Royal Family, abuse by long-lens cameras and all the rest of the sordid paraphernalia.

I believe I am correct in assuming that all these owners avoid, or even evade, UK personal taxes while pontificating about this country in boring editorials and mendacious articles. If I have been unfair to any of them individually, I will be delighted to set the record straight at once, but I believe that is the sad and tragic case when it comes to those who happen to own the British newspapers, unlike in many other countries.

The Prime Minister’s response was, I believe, overpartisan to the overmighty press excess that we have already witnessed. Producing a giant Bill would be a mistake but so is saying there will be no statutory back-up. Like others in this debate, I am glad to see some psychological coming-together now of all the parties about the urgent need to get this right and between the Liberal Democrat leadership in the Commons and Labour on some of Harriet Harman’s proposals in the other place. The deputy leader of the Opposition in the other place did, I think, get the balance as right as you can get it with the proposed six-clause draft Bill. It needs to be a brief piece of legislation, which would aim to create a regulator apparatus with a legal guarantee of effectiveness and independence. The Lord Chief Justice and his fellow judges would, under those proposals, consult expert assessors to ensure compliance with the new press law. It is possible to maybe take some parts of that and create a package between all the parties. I hope that that will be so.

Freedom of the press is an equally vital element of the new structure and would also be enshrined in statute. This reassurance is vital for the vast number of decent, well behaved journalists who do not admire the Murdoch method. Whatever package is painfully constructed after vast consultation and debate, it will be quite a complex piece of legislation. The shorter it is, the better, but it can and must be done. At last Britain has the chance to get away from the sinister grip of Murdochian sensationalism and false assertions and to get close again to the usually higher standards we still see, mercifully, in the press on the continent or in Scandinavia. We can get back to the great newspapers in Britain that people enjoyed. As the noble Baroness said in her speech just now, they were not comics, they were newspapers. Now, they are just masquerading as newspapers and are comics. That can be done.

1.54 pm

Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, with whom I have a commonality of view on so many subjects. It is necessary to approach the question of press freedom from the standpoint of an analytical sceptic—a sceptic because claims to press freedom so often proceed from self-interest, and analytical because they are so often based purely on assertion.

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The freedom of the press is a shibboleth, an article of faith before which we are expected to make ritual obeisance. Moreover, it is something that is usually presented as unitary and indivisible, whereas any serious reflection shows it to be a highly complex concept, comprising diverse so-called rights, between which important distinctions need to be made that properly lead to differences in treatment.

In a few minutes it is not possible to do more than sketch the contours of the sort of discussion that needs to be had. The noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, has shown the way by undertaking a lot of the analytical spadework. I will mention just four of the interests that need to be distinguished: individual freedom of speech; the right to privacy, which may vary from one individual to another; the power of media moguls and press barons; and the interest of the press in freedom from political interference. This is perhaps what people most often mean by press freedom.

My orientation to these interests and the rights that are said to go with them differs quite sharply from one to another. I surprised myself by how much more passionate I felt about the threat to freedom of speech constituted by the fatwa against Salman Rushdie than I did about the threat to people’s livelihoods constituted by the economic policies being pursued in the 1980s—and that is saying something, because I felt pretty passionate about those as well. We need stronger protection of the right to privacy. Perhaps for that reason among others, I care much less about the right of newspapers and journalists to print whatever they like.

I remember AH Halsey once beginning a radio talk by saying that he did not read the papers very much because they were full of nothing but trivia, inaccuracy and lies. I have a friend who has spent a lot of time in Russia in the past 20 years, telling the Russians about British institutions. She says that the press there is actually much freer than we are customarily given to understand. By contrast, the Russians look rather askance at the kind of press that we have here, where people assume a licence to indulge in character assassination of political leaders and anyone who enjoys a prominent place in society, often on quite spurious grounds in pursuit of a partisan agenda, and present the issues of the day in a manner that renders rational debate well nigh impossible.

All this is perhaps rather abstract, but it should ensure that we take claims of press freedom with a healthy dose of salt. If these considerations were not enough, the abuses of which we are all aware and which Lord Justice Leveson has catalogued in detail put the matter beyond doubt. Then there is the arrogance and lack of contrition on a scale matched only by the bankers, to which the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, and others have referred. Finally, the pre-emptive campaign to undermine Leveson and the bogus and absurdly inflated prophecies of doom were a system of regulation to be introduced mean that the press has little respect left.

At this point, I pay particular tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, not only for the impressive speech that he has made today, which underlined the points I have just been making with far greater power and

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authority than I could muster, but for the campaign that he has waged on these issues with great independence of mind.

For us to have press freedom, it needs to be recognised that it is a qualified freedom. Given the way that freedom has been serially abused, I would add that it should be a regulated freedom. It is sometimes said that regulation is not necessary and that the abuses complained of normally involve breaches of the law for which legal remedies are available. All that is necessary is for people to enforce the law—for the law, as we know, is as open to all as the Ritz Hotel.

So what is concretely to be done? Let us be clear what Leveson does not recommend. First, he does not recommend a compulsory system of regulation; he recommends a voluntary system of independent regulation. Secondly, he does not recommend a system of statutory regulation sitting behind or underneath a system of independent regulation; instead, he recommends a process by which an independent regulatory system devised and set up by the publishers themselves can be verified by a recognition body to provide confidence that it is working. Thirdly, he does not recommend that Ofcom has to be the independent verifier; he favours Ofcom but it could equally be what he calls a recognition commission or commissioner. In addition to his system of verified independence, Leveson proposes that the press should have guarantees in law from government interference and special costs protection in the courts as an incentive to participate in the system of self-regulation. Self-evidently, legislation will be necessary to deliver those things, but that is not statutory regulation and the press should welcome them. It does not get more light-touch than Leveson. The victims certainly wanted more. The royal charter is a busted flush.

The Prime Minister showed leadership in setting up the Leveson inquiry. If we are not to be back here in 10 or 15 years’ time, he should show the same qualities in accepting its key recommendations. After listening to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, if I was a betting man I am not sure how much money I would put on not being back here again anyway—but Leveson is our best hope. The noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, for whom I have great respect, worried that Leveson will take us to the top of a slippery slope. I say to him that Leveson is our last hope of avoiding that slippery slope.

2.01 pm

Lord Trimble: My Lords, I listened with great interest to the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Low. It reminded me of the times that I enjoyed sharing a Bench with him before finally the politician in me recovered control of my actions.

This has been a marvellous debate. A lot of very good speeches have been made and, as they were, I struck out various things in my notes. In terms of striking things out, particularly galling was the excellent speech by my noble friend Lord Inglewood. My notes started off by referring to the elephant in the room that was largely ignored by Lord Justice Leveson: the internet. After my noble friend’s speech dealing with the internet, there is little left to say, so my comments

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on that will be a little tangential. The internet is obviously hugely important. It and broadcasting have already changed the nature of the print media hugely. The internet and broadcasting now do almost all that is necessary to disseminate news as information. The newspapers do not really do that, although they carry some news. They are always behind the ball when chasing both the internet and broadcasting. The newspapers now are into news as entertainment and into comment.

The print media are also declining. I found very interesting the speech about that by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, as well as that by my noble friend Lord Inglewood. Some noble Lords worry that we will be back in the last chance saloon in another 15 or 20 years’ time, but I very much doubt if the print media will be here then. With print we are dealing with the weakest element of the media and one that is rapidly declining. The really important element—the internet—has a much looser framework. That is putting it very mildly and vaguely. None the less, because of what has happened—which is important—there is pressure now for a journalism that is more ethical and conducted properly. There are a couple of difficulties with that because the terms “proper behaviour” and “acting ethically” are easy to enunciate but start defining them in terms of newspaper operation and they become extremely difficult.

Then we have the point, with which I agree, made by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty: that one of the valuable things that the press does is sometimes to act unlawfully and unethically in order to bring attention to really important stories. We want that to continue, so we have to reconcile ourselves to it—although it may be said that it could be covered by public interest defences, which are developing. One little thing I have noticed while thinking about this is that examples of unethical behaviour would of course involve the reception by the Daily Telegraph of stolen property, for which it paid a bribe. There might be legal issues with regard to that but, none the less, it was an important story and worth bringing to our attention.

I disclosed my general approach to this issue on 15 February, when a Question came up on it and I asked whether there was not,

“an overriding public interest in the continued existence of a free press”.—[

Official Report

, 15/2/12; col. 790.]

Of course, there is an overwhelming interest in the continuation of a free press, but the press is not entirely free. There are legal limits, the most important of which is the law of defamation. Other provisions could be mentioned: for example, hacking is an offence. To some extent, the interesting story about hacking is why the police did not take action earlier and why cases were not brought. That is not the only area in which there was a failure to enforce the law, so there is an important existing legal framework around the activities of the press.

The question we are looking at is whether there should be fresh, tougher regulation of the press. On that matter, I have to declare that I am a sceptic about press regulation. I will add that to my other scepticisms,

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of which there are already quite a few, but I will not go into those. I will not spell out in detail why I am a sceptic about this but, if there is regulation, particularly tougher regulation, it will have a very significant chill factor on the operation of the press. That is going to be bad for it. It also does not sit easily with the nature of the press, which is intensely competitive. If people are competitive in a declining market, it is possibly part of the reason why they are striving for more and more sensation. They are trying, as it were, to preserve themselves in that situation.

The argument made by the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, is deserving of attention, as is the excellent contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, who spelt out in detail the huge problems there will be in providing any form of statutory underpinning to this regulatory system. I am doubtful as to whether regulation is the right way to go. I realise that I am very much in the minority in this House today on this matter but I felt it would be important to pick it up and to say that. I am glad to discover that it is not my phone that is making the noise I am hearing, by the by.

What would I do? I would like to see a review of the legislative framework that already exists. I have mentioned defamation; there is also the Bribery Act and the criminal offences there. The big question then would be: do we want a law of privacy? That is where this is heading, whether it is by regulation or by a law of privacy, which, having looked at it again, I am doubtful about.

I will finish by mentioning something that I had intended to say at the outset. I do not think that I have been at any time victimised by the print media—I emphasise “print”. However, I should mention that my elder daughter was, in that she was twice put on the front page of the Daily Mirror’s Northern Ireland edition. It concerned things that were embarrassing to her but had no reason to be there and nothing to do with my public life, yet because of my public position she was there. I see that a petition is going around in the United States to send Piers Morgan back here. He should know that if ever my wife gets within range of him, his life will be in danger.

2.09 pm

Lord Giddens: My Lords, I want to comment on the relationship between the press and the internet with regard to the Leveson inquiry. I shall do so partly because this has not been discussed in much detail by previous speakers and partly because I would like to seal off a possible escape route from the implications of Leveson in relation to the famous “last chance saloon”. I am not entirely sure what that metaphor of the last chance saloon actually means; in the cowboy films that I remember, the hero went in and drank sarsaparilla, whatever that was. But sarsaparilla was thought to be a very innocent drink and the others insulted him, so he shot them. What this has to do with press freedom I am not sure. It is a more obscure metaphor than one might imagine.

We are living through a period of big transition in our society. One by one the institutions of our system are being peeled back, as if by a giant can-opener, and what is inside is not always all that delectable. This has

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happened, as everyone knows, in the banking system, in Parliament, in the police, in television and of course in the press. I do not think that one can see this as coincidental; it is clear that the internet and new information technology are playing a major role here—in other words, transparency and openness are being forced upon institutions in a much more thoroughgoing way than was ever true before.

The relationship between the press and the internet is obviously a complicated one. In some respects, it has clearly advanced the cause of investigative journalism. In all the areas that I have just mentioned, the press has played a fundamental part. That is an affirmation, if one were needed, of the indispensable role of a free and responsible press in a democratic society. It was the dogged persistence of one particular newspaper that served to uncover press behaviour that, as the Leveson report says,

“at times, can only be described as outrageous”.

That has been quoted many times.

Personally, I find Lord Justice Leveson’s work exemplary and his arguments for a self-regulatory system, driven by incentives and underpinned in law, irrefutable—I therefore disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, who spoke before me—and there have been some very powerful speeches today that have backed that up. However, what of the argument, which is made quite often these days, that the rise of the new media makes regulation of the press redundant? The newspapers, as several speakers have mentioned, are experiencing dwindling sales, in part because of the internet, which is a sort of chaotic free-for-all. Why regulate an industry that is doomed anyway? Many say that that will simply accelerate a decline from which we will lose.

Speaking as a social scientist who looks at these issues historically and in some detail, I have to say that that argument seems to be wholly wrong and actually against the best interests of the press itself. I offer three main reasons for this. First, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, said, it is commonly heard now that the printed press is on its last legs and might not survive even another 10 or 15 years, I would be very sceptical about that argument, based on what has happened to previous media. It used to be said, for example, that television would destroy cinema. That has not happened; now we simply have two forms existing alongside each other. It used to be said that television would destroy live football but actually the opposite has happened. I do not believe in such predictions, and I think that there is a future for the classical printed press alongside the internet. The question is what that future will be.

Secondly, it is clear the papers will exist in substantial part online, but it is fairly clear that there is little future for them if they are driven by a race to the bottom. Innumerable websites already specialise in outrageous opinions and endless tittle-tattle. There is no real possible competition for a newspaper in that context, so they will have to look for another model.

Thirdly, it seems that newspapers will survive and prosper online only if they generate trust and create revenue, either through attracting advertising, which

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has always been crucial to newspapers, or through charging their customers or both. If one examines it in detail, each strategy has far more chance of success if readers recognise that certain standards of reliability and authenticity are guaranteed.

We should note that this applies to strictly online newspapers. We might note the success of the Huffington Post, for example, which has been used widely across the world, but which is quite often translated into printed sources. Articles from that source appear in orthodox newspapers very often, but they do not appear there first. I conclude therefore that a regulatory system of the kind set out in the Leveson report is not only of benefit to the public but also to the press itself, and possibly indispensible to its secure future.

All the institutions I mentioned at the beginning—the banks, Parliament, the police, television—will emerge the stronger as a result of the impact of the new transparency. We see that in the case of Parliament clearly already. The same could very well be true of the press.

We owe it to the public to establish a system that is in their interests, but does not trample on their freedoms and rights, as so many other noble Lords have eloquently argued. Let us now get on with it. Let us forge a cross-party consensus. The public will not forgive us if we fail.

2.16 pm

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, we owe a huge debt to Lord Justice Leveson and his report. The press do, too, although it may not choose recognise it at the moment. In retrospect, in the years to come, I think that it will accept that it was very helpful to its industry.

After many months of listening to over 300 witnesses and taking over 300 written submissions, paragraph 8 of the executive summary of Lord Justice Leveson’s report says that,

“the British press—all of it—serves the country very well for the vast majority of the time. There are truly countless examples of great journalism, great investigations and great campaigns”.

Those great assets are something that all of us in this debate today are seeking to protect and enhance. I agree with that view, as I agree with most of the report. I recalled, when reading it, many journalists losing their lives to bring us a story, such as Maria Colvin last year. Indeed, News International, which has received quite a hammering in the debate today—and rightly so—has even over the past few months run an extremely good campaign on the sexual grooming of young women in the north-west and other parts of the country. Yet the Leveson inquiry was the culmination of the pent-up contempt of the British public for the appalling actions of journalists and photographers, but not all; of editors, but not all; and of the police, but not all. There have been 90 arrests, a damning statement in itself.

I declare an interest: in my previous career, I was proud to be the general secretary of the one of the unions involved in the national newspaper industry. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Ludgate, who is not in his place, referred to proprietors. I believe that I have negotiated with every single one of those that

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he named. Indeed, I well remember having to go to Paris to negotiate with the late Lord Rothermere because he was a tax exile.

I was also a member of the Press Complaints Commission, as the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, said, in his time there. That was a complaints commission; it was not a regulatory body. It had, and has today, something called the editors’ code. It was not just for the editors—the editors wrote it. It was that which the commission had to follow.

In the whole of this debate over the years, there is one group that I believe has snuck through quite comfortably without enough attention on it, and that is the proprietors of these newspapers. I am not saying that they signed the cheques in hacking; I do not believe that they did and most of them would not have known about it. However, I question them as the owners of these newspapers. If you go back a few years, Clive Goodman, a journalist, and Glen Mulcaire, a private investigator, were jailed for hacking into the Royal Household’s telephones. They went to jail and, when they came out of jail, News International paid them substantial amounts of money in compensation. What company would pay compensation to an employee who had gone to jail, having been found guilty in a court of law, unless there was something else there? That is no leading example.

The proprietors appoint the editors; the proprietors set the environment in which the editors work. None of this would have happened if the proprietors as a group had taken responsibility for the environment within their titles. Yet, when it came to paying the price as we saw the News of the World close—I was not a reader of it; many of us were not—who paid the price? Thousands of workers—innocent people from the production and journalism sides who knew nothing and were not involved in this disreputable activity—lost their jobs. Moreover, they did not go out the door with a multi-million pound settlement, as one of the people wholly responsible did.

The press have been claiming that if you are in favour of some statutory underpinning, then you are in favour of state control of the press. That is nonsense—a three-card trick—and I hope we do not fall for it. Lord Justice Leveson was perfectly clear in the report that not one of the more than 300 witnesses called for state control of the press; he said he never even contemplated it. I do not support statutory control of the press, but I have reluctantly come to the view that to have even a strengthened regulatory body without some kind of statutory underpinning, there is no guarantee that it will work next time either. The press have had no fewer than seven chances in seven reports over 70 years to get their act right. If they had got it right we would not be having this debate today and there would have been no need for Leveson.

I take the point about the Irish regulatory body, which I gather is working well but has not been put to the test in law yet. That is certainly something worth looking at.

The new regulations will not be complete unless journalists have a conscience clause. Lord Justice Leveson refers to this in his report. He also talks about a hotline for whistleblowers. Any decent company today

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has such a system in place and I hope the new regulatory body will take that on board. He talked about plurality and I totally agree: the trade unions have been asking for that to be addressed for over 20 years. Now perhaps it will be. One big omission in the report is the digital media. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, was absolutely right that it is no good regulating for the printed press if we have no control of any kind of standards of the digital media. That is certainly lacking at the moment.

There has to be a cross-party outcome of this. Members of the public had the guts and courage to come forward and speak in public and knew they were being televised. If we do not get this right on this occasion, we will have badly let them down and missed a major chance.

2.23 pm

Viscount Astor: My Lords, looking back to my youth, I realise how naive I was, because I used to believe what was written in the newspapers. Even when I started my first job as a very junior reporter for the Bradford Telegraph and Argus, as I knew that what I wrote was true, I assumed therefore that what others wrote was probably true, or largely true. I say “largely” because, having lived at Cliveden throughout the Profumo affair, I realised that a certain amount of exaggeration was the norm in much of the press.

It was not until I joined the world of politics and newspapers started writing about me that I realised that there was not a glimmer of truth in many of their stories, but I put that down to the price one pays for being involved in politics. After all, no one forces us to attend this House. However, in my time in newspapers, I learnt that most journalists seek the truth, but each newspaper has its target audience. Therefore, to keep the circulation up newspapers must pander to the views and often the prejudices of their readers. There is nothing wrong in that: newspapers have every right to have views whether we agree with them or not, and every right to tell people what they want to hear, as well as every right to tell them what they do not want to hear.

We must not forget that newspapers are a business. They are managed in order to make money for their shareholders, but that does not stop them having an important role in our democracy and our society. When newspapers champion themselves as guardians of free speech, often it is their freedom of speech that they are championing, not necessarily ours.

I deplore those who seek to restrict free speech because they do not agree, have different views or regard some views as unacceptable. Provided that it is not against the law of the land, freedom of speech is a core value in this country. Too many people have started using the words “freedom of speech”, followed by the word “but”. That is not freedom of speech.

Readers are not fools. If they do not like or do not agree with a newspaper, they do not buy it. When my family owned the Observer newspaper, my uncle, a distinguished and principled editor, came out against Suez. Although history shows that he was probably right, his readers took a different view. The circulation died. He lost thousands of readers, we were overtaken by the Sunday Times and we never recovered. When

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readers like what they read, they buy the newspaper. Of course, that is why the

News of the World

was so successful. Many of its readers were delighted by the salacious stories that they read.

I have three points to make on the commendable Leveson report. First, if the Government propose that the body for newspapers and magazines is to be voluntary, what happens if someone decides to leave, as did the Express newspapers from the Press Complaints Commission? Are we then to have a statutory body? If so, what will be its powers and its remit? We know that almost all the abuses set out in the Leveson report were already covered by the law, the Data Protection Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. If the editors, own code of practice had been adhered to, there probably would have been no need for an inquiry. It was the systematic abuse of their own guidelines that led to the inquiry.

It was also the failure of the police and prosecuting authorities, not the failure of the law, that allowed the abuses to survive for so long. I do not blame so much the journalist who bunged the police: I blame more the police for accepting the cash. However, I worry about the Bribery Act 2010, which seems to make it illegal to pay for information that could reveal corruption. I hope that the Government will look at that point.

My second point is whether a new body should be set up by royal charter. I believe that if that were the case, it would be a major mistake. Look at the BBC, which is under a royal charter. It is not really accountable to Parliament and it certainly is not accountable to licence fee payers. Recently, it often has treated Select Committees in another place almost with disdain. When a royal charter comes to Parliament, it is not amendable: we can only debate it. Any proposal that comes to Parliament needs to be scrutinised properly and be able to be amended.

We must have a new way to protect those who are most vulnerable when they are wrongly accused or smeared by the press. That is the challenge that your Lordships face. I agree that the ideal outcome is an independent regulatory body, established by the industry, which is able to secure the voluntary support and membership of the entire industry, and thus able to command the support of the public. Commanding the support of the public is probably most important.

Many of your Lordships will remember the days when, if they could not get their stories into their newspaper, journalists would march to hand their copy to Private Eye, where it duly would appear the following week. The internet carries that same ability, except that its circulation is infinite rather than in the thousands. Therefore, unless the internet service providers can be made accountable, any new scheme must fail. That is why any proposal and any new body must have real authority, and therefore probably must be backed by statute. The outcome would not be censorship, as has often been claimed by a group of self-important and self-righteous editors, who, as many of your Lordships have said, seem to lack any contrition and have never apologised. One wonders if they see the real crime as getting caught.

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We need freedom of the press, with some small and important safeguards for those abused by the press. Editors need greater liberty to publish what is right and proper, not constrained by either the Government or their corporate masters.

2.30 pm

Lord Judd: My Lords, I believe that perspective is essential in our considerations of this matter. It is essential that we pay a warm tribute to many fine and courageous journalists and to excellent parts of the media, who provide invaluable service to society even when we at times get very upset by it. I am totally convinced by the courageous work of Lord Justice Leveson and think that we should fall behind him and quickly implement his emphasis on regulation, which must be independent of government and involve the media themselves. I also believe, as we have heard convincingly argued in this debate, that it must be underpinned by statutory authority. I am very glad that my noble friend Lady Liddell laid emphasis, rightly, on the importance of governance in the media.

I believe that the crisis in the media is a symptom of a deeper crisis in society as a whole. We are obsessed with quantitative rather than qualitative considerations. The increasing reality is more and more of a sad absence of ethical and value dimensions. There is now an emphasis in education from the youngest children to postgraduate studies onproducing efficient, operational people to feed the economic machine, less and less matched by an equal commitment to producing citizens who think, evaluate and challenge in the context of a search for truth and with the ability always to ask not simply what is happening but why it is happening or why it has happened. That is the key word—“why”.

Of course, we desperately need efficient management and highly professional competence, but for what? Where are we going? What is it that really matters? Historically, there has always been a tension in a pluralist free press between commercial success and fulfilling the high and demanding calling of being the essential life blood of an informed and imaginative democracy. This is, of course, complicated by arrogant love of power by some. Democracy cannot be better than the quality of the information on which it functions.

Whether we be of the left or right, the issue of ethics applies to us all. Adam Smith was first of all a teacher of ethics. He approached his economic theory in the context of being a highly ethical and somewhat dour, I suspect, Presbyterian. He took the ethics for granted. We now want a free market, and all the rest, but not the ethnics. When the Berlin Wall fell, Lord Soper made a debate-stopping intervention. He said that it was not a question of socialism having been tried and failed but of socialism having demanded an ethic of which humankind has so far proved itself incapable. So whether we are on the left or the right, that struggle to see the ethical dimensions has pride of place and must always be there.

The issue with which we are now dealing reflects the pressures in the machine that constantly push downmarket to ensure sales, circulation and advertising. Other absolute principles have to be present all the time, such as truth, responsibility and integrity. These

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should be basic to, and inherent within, the culture; it is no good for them to be present simply because they have been imposed by a regulatory body. They have to be internalised in all that is going on.

The media themselves have a key part to play in tackling all this. Education, not just the training of journalists, matters desperately. That is why the humanities such as history, philosophy and the creative arts are so critical in our educational system. It is sheer short-sighted foolishness to undermine their primacy in our educational system.

The repeated disturbing events which made Leveson necessary must raise questions about the prevailing or developing culture among too many journalists—though not all, by a long chalk—their sense of responsibility and how far any inadequacy is the inevitable outcome of the state of our society. To take Leveson seriously demands a fundamental look at ourselves, society as a whole and the quality of our educational system. If we are really to live up to the challenge of Leveson, we urgently need to promote a nationwide debate about the values of our society.

2.36 pm

Lord Fellowes: My Lords, I was surprised and, I have to say, disappointed by the reactions of both the Government and the press to Lord Justice Leveson’s report.

While I recognise, and have some sympathy with, what one can broadly call the “thin end of the wedge” arguments against the statutory element in the report, it has always seemed to me that those sorts of arguments—thin end of the wedge, slippery slope, and so on—are all too often an excuse for doing nothing. Without the statutory elements from Leveson, whatever action is taken by the Government or the press will, I fear, be seen as doing nothing, especially by the victims of press malpractice and the public at large. The press will be seen as “having got away with it again”. So I hope it is not too late for a change of heart, since I believe that there is something in Leveson as a whole to the advantage of everybody concerned.

For the press, Lord Justice Leveson has devised an ingenious and effective way for them to demonstrate their good intentions. The statutory element would absolutely not encroach on press freedom, the concept of which is specifically endorsed by the report, but the victims of press misbehaviour would realise that their sufferings have been recognised and acted upon. Furthermore, the press, Leveson has suggested, would actually be offered financial incentives to take part in the new system and to behave lawfully and reasonably—an incentive which is not offered to any other body I can think of.

For the public, the acceptance of the report would be seen as the long-awaited closing of the last chance saloon, with at last an independent self-regulating body as the monitor of press behaviour and standards, and a statutory underpinning which would bear witness that the press means what it says. Press and public might find themselves on common ground for the first time for years.

For the Government, the report has offered a chance to be seen to act swiftly and effectively and to demonstrate that the time and expense involved in the inquiry have

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not been wasted. That chance will be wasted if the statutory element is rejected. By accepting it, the Government would also be seen to be sympathetic to the victims of press malpractice rather than turning a more or less deaf ear.

As to the sanctions to be imposed on offending newspapers that sign up to this new self-regulating body, I suggest that they might include the suspension of publication in any form for a period of a day or days as the most draconian penalty. For those that do not sign up, any egregious offences would of course still be covered by the law of the land. In neither case would the statutory validating body take any part in the imposition of these penalties, other than as an interested spectator.

I am an avid newspaper reader. I recognise the difficult nature of the contracting market in which today’s press has to operate. I see that the printed press has an entitlement to freedom, but that freedom has been grossly abused by a minority of the profession over a period of years, despite persistent warnings from successive Governments. Leveson does not undermine the concept of freedom of speech but more of the same just will not wash. There are advantages for everyone concerned in accepting Leveson wholesale. Anything less will, I fear, be widely considered as a fudge.

2.40 pm

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, at last I have the chance to speak. However, there is little time and I hope that the Government genuinely want to take note of what we have to say. Having submitted written evidence to the Leveson inquiry, including a number of recommendations for change, I resolved to keep my powder dry, thinking that, as the immediate past chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, I would naturally be asked to give further evidence in person. In fact I had to chase the officials for the chance to speak at all and, when I did, I was cut short. As a lawyer, I was therefore reminded that you cannot tell the whole truth unless you are asked the right questions. I wondered, was I cut short on purpose?

So, how much should I reveal on this brief occasion? I have to remember also that it is not what you say; it is what people want to hear. Some might assume, having been misled by powerful representatives of the news industry, that I would advocate legislation. In short, my answer is no. While some in the press deserve to be heavily regulated, the public deserve a free press.

Nearly 15 years as an active Member of the House of Lords has shown me that you cannot begin to rely upon either politicians or indeed many in public life to root out wrong—there are too many vested interests and prestigious jobs at stake. Sometimes, to learn the truth, we need an open, partial, even offensive and investigative press that works within acceptable bounds of practice but is also free, at least in terms of the content it publishes, from any state interference.

I move on to the report itself. Given that the inquiry was called to put a stop to outrageous behaviour by some journalists and editors, much of it involving criminal behaviour, a stronger focus by Lord Justice Leveson on enforcement of the criminal law would

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have made sense. Also, a huge opportunity has been missed to rebuild public trust in the system by ignoring the obvious—the need to at least seriously consider how to future-proof compliance in an online, global world whereby you cannot and will not impose solutions. Here I entirely concur with the speeches of my noble friend Lord Inglewood and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich.

Instead, in the report there has been merely a feeble proposal for voluntary compliance within a traditional system. So I fear that whatever is agreed now will not last long and may not be trusted. Indeed, I remember that when we were taking the Communications Act through this House in 2003 there was no mention of the internet. At the same time, Mark Zuckerberg was in the States developing Facebook. We have to be careful that whatever we introduce will, at least to some degree, take account of the ongoing revolution in communications.

The suggestion that self-regulation should be underpinned by statute and handed over to Ofcom is simplistic. What if Ofcom decides that this new regulator has failed? More than that, I know—I think most of us know—that Ofcom is not entirely independent of the state, and a comparison with Ofcom’s oversight of broadcast regulation is instructive. A recent report by the Lords Communications Committee confirmed my view that the BBC complaints system is a complicated, ineffectual mess with no powers to prevent harm—unlike the current PCC, which does have effective powers to desist and prevent harmful content being published in the first place. While fines are wrought following an Ofcom ruling against a broadcaster, in the case of the BBC, the licence-fee payer coughs up, not Jonathan Ross et al, and certainly not BBC executives.

Incidentally, a royal charter for the press is not the panacea or even close. The BBC, with its charter and its rules and its board, and now trust—the latter introduced a few years ago to suit another occasion for political expediency—cosseted Jimmy Savile.

What about the rather key question: who is a journalist? Whom would the new system capture? You and I can now become one—an online journalist—overnight, but does that give us the all powerful privilege in a court of law, the protection of sources?

A number of recommendations by Leveson for reform, while presented as new, are not actually new at all. In fact, they reflect to a large extent the existing work of the PCC. The PCC itself is already dominated by people entirely independent of the industry. There is a speedy, bespoke system of handling of complaints and a rigorous process for prominence of apologies—just some of the 76 reforms introduced on my watch in 2010 following a root-and-branch independent review of governance and structures chaired by a retired senior civil servant—reforms completely ignored by Leveson.

Please also note: almost all the evidence presented to Leveson from victims relates—with the exception of Jefferies, which concerned contempt, and that is a criminal matter—to events that took place well before our reforms were introduced in 2010.

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In my view there can be no doubt that the Leveson process has been healthy in the sense of bringing greater scrutiny to the press, and there is a chance—a chance—here to ensure a proper mandate for the new body which will go further than the PCC ever could. I welcome that wholeheartedly.

However, there are more shortcomings—or is it blind faith? References to “investigative powers” sound good; however, there remains a fanciful assumption that a self-regulating body can investigate criminal activity. Also, who is going to take on the additional responsibilities and pay for this? In 2011 the budget was £1.8 million—Ofcom, I think, is on £117 million right now—and there were 14 staff in total, including the switchboard. I am glad that Lord Justice Leveson recognised the frankly absurd financial constraints placed on the PCC by the industry. Funding is a major issue and the lack of resource has always cramped sustained efforts to toughen the system. Some might say that they had us where they wanted us. But will this really change? Will the industry really accept more invasive powers of a full independent body?

In truth, changing the culture and thereby changing behaviour—for that is what this is all about—is much more of a challenge than changing the law. While Lord Justice Leveson talks tough about wrongdoing, it is striking that he attributes no real blame at any stage. For an inquiry heralded as an independent and fearless examination of those in power, its report is gentle on the powerful: the police, editors and politicians.

That brings me to my key point. Before I left the PCC, I tried to persuade the industry of the critical need to develop consistent, industry-wide protocols applicable to journalists and editors for news gathering and the dissemination of personal information. Saying “tried” is of course a giveaway because it was up to the industry to make those rules, not the PCC.

Who are the industry and who are the press? The Government keep referring to the press as though it were one collegiate body, yet there remains a huge gulf, particularly between the editors and another between editors and journalists, and then there are those largely ignored by Lord Justice Leveson: the men in charge—the proprietors and publishers. Was that deliberate? Indeed, when I gave oral evidence, I asked Lord Justice Leveson why he was not calling the body that represents those in the industry who hold all the cards, the Newspaper Publishers Association. Why was its chairman not called to account for the industry’s behaviour? For some reason, Lord Justice Leveson and now the Government have each preferred to deal with a sub-committee of that board—PressBof—together with some editors.

Change requires leadership. It is the proprietors and publishers who should be called in for meetings by the Prime Minister, not the editors and fixers. Unless the real decision-makers regarding independence, sanctions, remit and funding collectively commit to tackling behaviour in newsrooms and assume accountability and proper governance at main board level within their organisations, nothing will actually change. A huge opportunity will be lost and the Leveson inquiry will have been a total waste of time and a flagrant

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waste of taxpayers’ money. Can my noble friend the Minister confirm this evening that the Government will tackle those ultimately responsible?

If the public are to continue to enjoy a free press, they must be given good reason to trust what they read. So far, the jury is out.

2.51 pm

Lord Clinton-Davis: I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness who has just spoken. Her defence of the PCC, about which she spoke at some length, was not wholly convincing, as the House has already mentioned. I regret very much that some news organs fall very short of being the “acceptable press”, to which she referred. It was a rather biased account.

In recent years, too many of the public have been exposed to the unwarranted intrusion and calumnies of the press and, unless effective action is taken, others will be, too. Much of the press, although not all, is controlled by press barons who are primarily concerned with advancing their own political and economic objectives, and, in the main, in my view, are largely unconcerned about potential victims who have too easily become pawns in attempts to increase circulation. The majority of the national papers are not to be trusted, I would contend.

Fortunately, many of the relevant issues have been put under Lord Justice Leveson’s microscope. There may well be a few matters in this comprehensive report from which one might legitimately dissent but that does not mean that the core solutions advocated by Leveson should not be implemented, as the Prime Minister assured us they would be, unless, to quote his words following the inquiry, “they are bonkers”. Bonkers Leveson is certainly not, and Labour’s Bill and that of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, take the line that the regulator has to be independent and that an independent body should oversee the regulator to secure that objective.

Although there are cogent arguments in favour of enshrining in statute a code of conduct, there are those who contend that it would jeopardise press freedom. A compromise between these two positions would be to ensure the impartiality of the independent regulatory body by requiring that it should be presided over by members of the senior judiciary. The exact formula for this would have to be worked out. Statutory intervention should and would be limited in this instance to the setting up of the regulatory body and would not extend to any prescription for press freedom in general.

Labour’s Bill in some respects falls short of those I would favour, but it is a positive advance that represents genuine momentum in implementing the principal recommendations of the report. Regulation of the press is not prescribed in Labour’s Bill, but the regulator will be both independent and—I hope—effective. We should not end up with what the majority of the press would prefer: superficial change during a honeymoon period, with no substantial transformation in reality. If the press considers itself a profession, laws—simple ones, I hope—to protect the public are absolutely essential. This is common to most professions. Why should the press be different?

I have great respect for the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who is not in his place. His intention is to comply with the concept of a new regulatory process. However, I

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fear that under his proposals, without some statutory underpinning, albeit of a limited nature, the structure of the regulatory body may prove to be not as strong or as independent as he claims.

I do not subscribe to the notion that the press should become the final arbiter, exercising real power; that the chair of the board could be summarily dismissed by the press, no doubt acting at the behest of the press barons; that a mere notice in writing to that effect would suffice; and that sanctions, if any, would be decided by the same press barons. That is totally inadequate. Some solution! Some independence! No wonder the press and media would support that.

Of course there are weaknesses in the route I outlined, but it is better than the plan devised by the newspapers or that offered by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt—for whom, as I said, I have great respect. Some government supporters, particularly those in another place, would in the final analysis prefer to kick the whole thing into touch.

I support the proposal put before the House by the Opposition. It would provide a fair wind to the aims that so many of us wish to see realised. Having said that, I would warmly welcome cross-party talks, provided that those participating were positive and prepared to make clear decisions. However, royal charters are essentially the wrong signpost to follow. My view is that that should not happen.

3 pm

Lord Bates: My Lords, the debate has been framed as a question between those who prefer some kind of limited statutory regulation and those who wish to resist that. However, I contend that, essentially, the debate is not about the relationship between politicians and the press and the police and the press but about the relationship and the level of trust that exists between the press and the public in whose interests it claims to act. The basis of that relationship has come under strain because of abuses of power by some journalists, resulting in a breach of trust and a sense that inadequate balance of power has been exposed in seeking redress.

It used to be the case that the press would “shine a light”, but all too often it is so strong that it now scorches the lives and the truths upon which it focuses its attention. It used to illuminate but often, as it sensationalises and joins in a voyeuristic celebrity obsession, it now trivialises the news and obscures the truth from view.

The press should not separate that reality from its falling circulation levels as a potential cause and effect. It is a part of the reason why my right honourable friend the Prime Minister set up the Leveson inquiry. On 8 July 2011, he said:

“The Press Complaints Commission has failed. In this case, the hacking case, frankly it was pretty much absent. Therefore we have to conclude that it’s ineffective and lacking rigour. There is a strong case for saying that it is institutionally conflicted because competing newspapers judge each other. As a result it lacks public confidence. I believe we need a new system entirely”.

I would argue that if the Rubicon has been crossed, it was not crossed with a potential Bill but with that statement of intent.

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And so Lord Justice Leveson began his work. Not on his own: he conducted his work with six independent assessors, whose contributions should be acknowledged, in Sir David Bell, the former chairman of the Financial Times; Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty; the noble Lord, Lord Currie, a former Ofcom director; Elinor Goodman, former political editor of Channel 4; George Jones, the former political editor of the Daily Telegraph; and Sir Paul Scott-Lee, a former chief constable with the West Midlands Police. The sum of their efforts together was the report we are now considering.

It was a courageous decision by the Prime Minister to set up the inquiry but it enjoyed overwhelming public support at the time. It still merits overwhelming public support if we are to judge by the opinion polls. The public had a sense that there was something fundamentally wrong with the system at the heart of journalism and that something needed to change. If they felt that at the beginning of the inquiry, then as the details emerged of the treatment of Sally Dowler, Kate and Gerry McCann, Margaret Watson and Chris Jefferies, that position was surely strengthened as we were horrified by the evidence it revealed.

What makes the system far worse, and the need for action far more urgent, is that we have never had an inquiry at this level—there have been six or seven—with the strength of the internet in play, an issue to which other noble Lords have referred. It used to be said that newspapers were tomorrow’s fish and chip papers but, because of the internet, they are today’s reheated fish and chips. On the internet, lies can be circulated around cyberspace and constantly move in advance of any correction. There was evidence from Gerry McCann on this when he spoke about his fear, as a father, of the time when his children will be old enough to start searching the internet engines and come across articles which allege that their mother and father were complicit in their sister’s murder.

Of course we cannot control what is on the internet, but if we want to live in a civilised society, it behoves us to do all we can to regulate the veracity of what goes on the internet in the first place. We are reminded that democracy is not just an event, but a process, and that distils down to a duty to keep a check on power. We must make sure that the regulatory system keeps pace with the shifting contours of power in our society. It used to be said that it was the role of journalists to speak truth to power. Through the Leveson inquiry we have heard from victims of the press, and it is their courage in re-entering the public square and sharing their accounts which has turned and spoken truth to the power of the press. We must remember that the object of all our freedoms is not the preservation of a free press, but the protection of a free people.

3.05 pm

Lord Prescott: My Lords, I welcome this debate and I especially welcome the Leveson report and analysis, and the fact that he adopted many of the recommendations I made in my evidence to him. But there have been voices that disagree with his approach, basically on the argument about whether there should

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be a statutory underpinning. That is what is at the heart of the argument now—not only now, but, as Leveson pointed out, in a number of the seven other inquiries that have taken place over the past 70 years. It is clear that in avoiding the recommendations, the industry has used the same old trick: you delay it in discussion until you get near to an election and so avoid doing anything about it.

I have no problem with the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, saying that they should be talking to the proprietors. The trouble is that not only are they talking to them, they dine with them and they wine with them. That is where the real influence lies—not only at the level of the editors, but at the level of the proprietors. We need to look at the evidence in any debate about a statutory framework. They say, and it has been said today, that statutory underpinning would bring about state control. The noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, fears that if we go along this road, it will lead to more of that. I have to say to the noble Lord: think about what they are doing now and then wait for 10 years. They have not changed their habits; they have not changed the culture. It is the same creatures who are exercising their culture in a way that I believe acts against the ordinary individual, so it is nonsense to argue that.

There is also the old time trick: let us keep on talking and eventually we will talk it out. We will get near the election, when no Prime Minister of whatever political party will want to say, “I’ll have you on”, because he will want them on his side for the election, so nothing happens. It is no coincidence that we have now had the eighth inquiry.

We have heard speeches today from the noble Lords, Lord Hunt, Lord Stevens and Lord Wakeham. The noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Wakeham, have direct experience as chairs of the PCC. I have to say that the evidence is against them. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, told us before about how confident he was that he would get his plan through, but it did not happen with the Black plan. It got rejected in Leveson and nobody except the proprietors supported it. I am glad to hear him talking about confidence in this one because it is to be based on civil law, but I will wait and see.

The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, knows this because I have discussed it with him on a number of occasions. When he was the chair, he negotiated with the Labour Government in 1997 when we were changing our legislation to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights. He was able to limit the statute so that the industry did not get an independent PCC, as was required under that legislation. I think he referred to Section 12. He also limited the damages payable under human rights and privacy considerations, which he was able to get into the legislation. It is not as if they are against a statutory framework; they rather like a statutory framework as long as it is working for them. The argument about a statutory framework is not a principled one. I go even further than that. These things were happening after the “last chance saloon” warning that has been referred to. They went on a pub crawl after that, because all the criminal acts that you can think of under our legislation were committed at

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the highest level, despite the role-playing by the press and the media in the name of press freedom. That is what every one of us has been condemning today.

You might say that if they are against a statutory framework, why are we in this House considering legislation such as the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act and the Defamation Bill, which is before us at the moment? Those two pieces of legislation are designed to reduce damages claimed against the press in cases where they have been found guilty and to reduce the possibility of people securing no-win, no-fee agreements. That has been limited by that legislation, at the request of the media, using our power of statutory enforcement to their advantage. They are not against it in principle, they are just against it for others when it might strengthen their position against them.

In recognising that, as I said before to the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, we should look at what they are doing now in the light of the Leveson report. We have a situation where the editor of the Times has been dismissed—or perhaps it was settled and it went his way. James Harding was a more liberal voice, but he did not last very long when the phone call came in from New York, despite all the protection for the Times. The Sun and the Telegraph were recently involved in the plebs conspiracy, as it is now called, according to the evidence yesterday. What happened there? The Sun and the Telegraph got an exclusive on the information in the memo and then published it. I do not suppose they paid for it—they would not do such terrible things, would they?—but they got it and published it. What did they do with it? They used it as evidence against Leveson’s report, saying that whistleblowing is a justification. After two days, when it clearly looked to be a conspiracy, we had the inquiry. They had forgotten about that.

The more recent case, which does involve me, is that of the chief superintendent who was found yesterday to have been paid by the News of the World. When they ring up to say, “Will you give me a few bob because I’ll tell you Prescott’s pressuring us for an inquiry”, that is as serious as the actual payment. We in our job have to do what we think is right; and, in my case, I was pressing for a further inquiry because the conclusions of the first one were not true. I am right to do that as a parliamentarian, yet they can ring up a paper like the News of the World. She wanted to use the public interest defence but it was financial, as the courts found yesterday.

I did not want to go into the privacy issue with Prince Harry, but some photos were taken in private and all the industry agreed not to print them. The Sun must have got another call from New York, as the next day it decided to print them and break the unanimous agreement that privacy here had to be respected. All this is going on now, in the era of Leveson. They have not changed. It is all about culture, they say. I agree that it is about culture but how do you get that to change? You cannot just chat to the editor, you have to do an awful lot more than that.

However, there are things that we can do. For example, there is the information about Ireland that we were given by the noble Lord, Lord Bew. It was very interesting to hear the differences, as the situations

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are not exactly the same. That is true, but if you read Leveson, there is a full statement about it. What is important is that they made changes to the legislation, which they were able to impose. Why were they able to get the British press to sign up in Ireland? Everybody asks that question, but we know why they signed up for it—because they have a system that, as the noble Lord, Lord Bew, has pointed out, is better. It is voluntary, but underpinned by statutory framework, because the man who I saw 10 years ago, the Minister of Justice, holds the power to determine what is an independent organisation. That is political accountability.

When I hear all this talk about how it takes years, I ask: why we do not amend the Defamation Bill that is before this House now, like the Irish did, and put some of the content in that? We can do that almost immediately—the Bill is coming before us and we can get on with it. In Ireland, as Leveson pointed out, they reserved the right to be able to say, “If you do not create the proper independent, voluntary body which we all say we want, we will implement this statutory one”. That is put in a Bill; it is called a sunset clause.

If the House is serious about this, it should think about a sunset clause. If they do not do what is expected and carry on with delaying tactics, we have the power to say not that we are going for legislation but to implement it in a sunset clause. That is what we can do; that is what we should do; it is built on the Irish example.

3.14 pm

Lord Skidelsky: My Lords, almost everything that there is to say has already been said, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, so I will just concentrate on two points. First, there is the ingenuity of Leveson, which recognises that voluntary self-regulation via the almost toothless Press Complaints Commission has run its course. Therefore, any successor system of self-regulation needs to give confidence that it will not be toothless—hence the need for legislation to guarantee the teeth. I think that is the main thrust.

The truly ingenious feature of Leveson is his proposal to secure publishers’ participation in a toughened system of self-regulation by means of incentives rather than compulsion. These incentives are cost-shifting, exemplary damages and the opportunity for a newspaper to consult the new regulatory body when faced with a difficult decision as to whether or not to publish. All these incentives hang together; it is a very coherent structure. But that structure will not work without an arbitration scheme or the necessary statutory measures to allow exemplary damages and double cost-shifting, always at the court’s discretion.

That is the Leveson alternative to giving the victim of a damaging story the legal right of prior notification. In his evidence to Leveson, Max Mosley said:

“Once information is made public, it can never ever be made private again. Therefore the only effective remedy is to stop it becoming public”.

The Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions found that there was,

“widespread support for prior notification becoming a requirement for editors intending to run a story which compromises an individual’s private life”,

and that this should be part of the code of practice for the new regulatory body.

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Leveson does not concede the right of prior notification, which is what this group of witnesses was asking for, but he suggests a way in which it will benefit proprietors to seek advice from the regulator before publishing a potentially damaging story, with an arbitration system that, in the event of publication, will make reference to the advice that has been given. A Desmond newspaper could, if it wished, remain entirely outside the system, but if it broke the law—on defamation, privacy or harassment—it would risk exemplary damages. It would also be liable to pay the costs of both sides in a court case, whether it won or lost. In a nutshell, it would be much more expensive for a newspaper to stay outside the system, even though it would be allowed to do so.

Leveson’s aim is admirable but limited. It is an attempt to apply a legal dressing to a cultural wound. I do not accept that every country gets the press it deserves—we deserve a better press, I think—but a number of broader factors explain the press that we have got. The first is the politicians. The point has been made, but I think it needs reinforcement. I speak as an historian. The politicians have built up a partly malign press for their own political purposes. That has been the main factor in the rise of Rupert Murdoch and News International. As the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, pointed out, it was Margaret Thatcher who allowed the Murdoch build-up, because she knew that his titles would support her. I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, that Murdoch was equally ardently pursued by Tony Blair for exactly the same reason.

Lord Prescott: Not by me.

Lord Skidelsky: In his memoirs, which I quote chapter and verse, Blair admits that he made a “Faustian pact” with Murdoch—could anything be more transparent than that?—but he does not reveal what Faust’s obligations were in this pact. Later he complained that the press was a “feral beast”. Did he not understand that if you dine with the devil you should use a very long spoon? Perhaps he did not care.

That is one source of the malaise that we have all been complaining about. The point there is that a proper enforcement of anti-monopoly legislation would have prevented the extensive Murdoch takeover. That is why I believe that no one company or individual should be allowed to own more than 20% of newspaper titles.

But that is not the only thing. We now live in a culture that is much more interested in the personalities of our leaders than in policies, possibly because the public have a well founded suspicion that a great deal of political debate is phoney. The demand to expose corruption in dark places has turned into an insatiable desire to know more and more about the private lives and griefs of public figures—and even non-public figures. We all enjoy a bit of prying, but we are the first civilisation to have turned enjoyment of prying into a right to know—that is, to raise it to the status of a political principle. That is the real ethical Rubicon that we have crossed. There is no easy solution to it. I do not think that there is any purely legal remedy for such ethical confusions. Leveson has done everything that

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he can to protect privacy, so his report deserves our strong support. We should be especially vigilant to ensure that the recommendations are carried out in their full integrity because, as I have said, they all hang together.

3.21 pm

Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: My Lords, we owe Lord Justice Leveson a very great debt. His is not merely a sophisticated, integrated and well argued report, but it has been conducted in the most difficult circumstances, in which he was not able to comment on a great deal of the relevant evidence because of the number of cases that are or will be sub judice. In effect, he had to do his prospective task before his retrospective task. It is a matter of consummate skill that he succeeded in that.

At the end of that, it is remarkable that we have the degree of agreement that we already find. Listening to the debate today, we can see that there is an enormous level of agreement about the “what” and a great deal less about the “how”. I will talk about a small part of the “what”, as I think it, too, deserves some attention. I first declare a few interests. I have spent my life writing on political philosophy, in the last decade on media freedoms and other human rights, and I chair the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I am also among those who think that statutory backing for a recognition body will be needed, but I will not argue the case for that now in order to concentrate on the question of “what”.

Which standards matter? Let me take the most obvious one, and the one central to the former Press Complaints Commission code: accuracy in reporting matters. We can see that that matters for all of us as citizens. We often hear suggestions that that is all very nice but journalists have to work very fast—unlike the rest of us—so a certain amount of inaccuracy is inevitable and excusable. If the demand were that journalists achieve total accuracy, that might be a partial excuse, but of course the demand is to attempt accuracy and to take appropriate precautions and remedies when accuracy is not achieved. If we assume that the demand is to achieve total accuracy then, because the standard is too high, it is likely to be treated with contempt. I suggest that that has happened. The very demand for accuracy central to the PCC code has been seen as marginal—an aspiration, but practical people can disregard it. I think that they cannot in a democracy.

If the aim is to attempt accuracy, feasible requirements can be stated with some clarity and do not limit media freedom of expression. Attempting accuracy is basically a matter of respecting readers, listeners and viewers by giving them some means to check media claims. Of course, not every reader of a story will have an interest in checking or the time to do so. But at present all too often they have no option but to accept or reject what is said and perhaps then demonstrate that they are not gullible by adopting a certain blanket cynicism about those claims. Better remedies are available that work by requiring better media process, which makes media claims assessable by others, and not by regulating content. That is what journalism in a democracy should aim for, and it would not be that hard.

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Here are some examples. Where money has been paid to obtain content, this should be stated. You do not necessarily have to state who paid, but state that it is paid-for content. If the agents of celebs have certain content placed in a newspaper for money, that is surely relevant to assessing the story. Where content has been donated, this should be stated. Where a report on a company is just a lightly done-over press release, do not readers deserve to know? Where money has been received, it should also be stated. Consumer journalism is rife with examples in which it is in effect advertising, but that is not declared. I was struck by the points of comparison with advertising standards made by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. That seems quite pertinent to me: anything that is paid-for content should be recognisable as such, and that goes for financial and consumer journalism, with its lovely holidays and so on.

Where journalists, editors and programme makers have relevant interests, they should declare them. Where they have conflicts of interest, they should make them plain and appropriate measures should be taken. Where there is no reason to hide sources, they should be made public, as good journalists have always done. Where inaccurate content is published, its correction should be swift and equally visible, with apologies if those are called for. Where there is a reason to hide some sources, the evidence for a public interest defence should be assembled and, if necessary, used. Those are not impossible requirements; they are quite manageable.

I have another point which is also quite relevant. Some have said that what has happened is that new technologies have made it harder for the media to reach certain standards, or perhaps easier to violate them. Perhaps that contributed to the descent of some journalism into disgraceful habits. However, new technologies can also be part of the remedies. The information for making media content assessable by improving media process can be provided online, cheaply and easily. I believe that it would greatly improve the standards of journalism if these simple changes in process were secured.

In my last minute, I finish with a brief comment on media plurality. Concentration of media power is not in the interest of citizens; it is only in the interests of those who concentrate it. We should be clear that there are no arguments from rights of freedom of expression to suggest that we should be indifferent about the concentration of power, and that the break-up of media monopolies, or oligopolies, protects rather than damages freedom of expression. Consideration of concentration of power is quite separate from other aspects of media regulation.

One aspect of media plurality is peculiarly difficult at present in this country. Many current proprietors of national newspapers are not citizens of this country; some are citizens and not taxpayers. They do not share our future or our fate, which is really quite problematic. In replying to this debate, I wonder whether the Minister would be willing to say something about the steps that Her Majesty’s Government would take in the event that the Murdoch enterprises decided on a fire sale of their UK newspaper assets and the new owners were, say, either Chinese or Qatari citizens. Is there anything that the Government think they would be able to do?

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We already have many overseas, non-taxpaying owners. Would it be acceptable that the national press is entirely overseas based and owned?

3.29 pm

Lord Morris of Handsworth: My Lords, many adjectives have preceded the Leveson inquiry, which we are debating today. We have heard that,

“the whole country has been shocked by the revelations of the phone hacking scandal”.

We have heard it described as,

“an episode that is … disgraceful”,

and that there has been,

“the failure of our political system over many, many years to tackle a problem that has been getting worse”.

We have heard descriptions of the victims:

“Relatives of those who died at the hands of terrorism, war heroes and murder victims—people who have already suffered in a way that we can barely imagine—have been made to suffer all over again”.

Those were the words of our Prime Minister, David Cameron, when he made a Statement to the House of Commons on Wednesday 13 July 2011 about the phone-hacking scandal and the upcoming inquiry. Naturally, the entire nation found empathy with the Prime Minister’s sentiment. He spoke for all of us.

Over the following months, as the inquiry progressed, millions of us watched in disbelief as individuals described their harrowing experiences with journalists. We all know who the victims are and we all know what they experienced, as we have been reminded today by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins. We saw the misery in their faces, and they surely hoped that something positive would come from them telling their stories to millions through the inquiry.

However, we did not hear from the silent victims of the press, those without power or a voice—benefit claimants, single parents, immigrants, people with disabilities, rape victims, the unemployed, Gypsies and black and Asian people. They have been abused, insulted and ridiculed by the media, sometimes even encouraged by the debate that politicians are engaged in. One example is the current debate about welfare reform. If you have your curtains drawn at 8 am, you are a benefit scrounger living off welfare. You could not possibly be a night worker who has just completed a 10-hour shift driving a bus, cleaning the streets or emptying our dustbins—oh no.

Now, though, we have an inquiry and a promise from the Prime Minister, made on the “Andrew Marr Show” in October, that Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals would likely be adopted unless they were too “heavy-handed” or “bonkers”. In the light of his response today, I will leave the House to choose between bonkers or heavy-handed. I think neither.

In his report, Lord Justice Leveson said that newspapers in Britain have been guilty of years of malpractice that has,

“wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people”,

and ultimately must be regulated to prevent further wrongdoing. In a Statement to the House of Commons in November last year, the Prime Minister reminded us why the inquiry had been necessary. He said:

“We should remember how the parents of Milly Dowler, at their most vulnerable moment, had their daughter’s phone hacked

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and were followed and photographed, how Christopher Jefferies’ reputation was destroyed by false accusations, how the mother of Madeleine McCann … had her private diary printed without her permission and how she and her husband were falsely accused of keeping their daughter’s body in their freezer”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 29/11/12; col. 446.]

Lest we forget, all these were stories—and “stories” is the appropriate word—that the media thought that they had the freedom to publish, and which they thought it was essential for the British public to know. But somewhere on the road to Wapping, with the sun behind him, the Prime Minister had a conversion and announced that while changes were urgently needed, he would reject the judge’s recommendation for a statutory body to oversee the new independent press regulator. The Prime Minister went on to say:

“We should be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press”.—[Official Report, Commons, 29/11/2012; col. 449.]

Have we asked the victims what they think? At the Leveson inquiry, JK Rowling described her experience at the hands of the press as,

“under siege or like a hostage”,

in her own home. She was not the only victim wondering why the Prime Minister has spent public money setting up an inquiry, and why so many people have been asked to relive extremely painful episodes in the context of an inquiry watched by millions, if its recommendations were merely to be ignored. Clearly, JK Rowling and other victims who gave evidence to the inquiry had a right to feel disappointed, duped or even angry. And for what?

We are told by most parts of the media that their intrusion into our private lives and their taunts to minority groups are about freedom of the press. But where is the freedom for us, our friends and family, to live our lives without being hounded by the press? For more than 60 years, the press had insisted that it can regulate itself, but history tells us that, on every occasion that a self-regulatory body was established by the press, it has been told that this was its last chance. Clearly, some sections of the press have failed consistently to police themselves.

The challenge for us is simple. We cannot allow this process to be repeated again and again. Why? Because we want, and the British people deserve, a press of which and about which they can be proud: one which has the freedom to inform, but not the freedom to destroy.

3.37 pm

Lord Soley: Freedom of the press has never been, and should never be, allowed to become the power of rich, powerful organisations to trash the lives of individuals and, as my noble friend Lord Morris has said, minority groups. In fact, in its origins, the press did exactly the opposite. I will make a few points about the report itself and then, if I have time, I will talk a little on the relationships between politicians and the press, an issue on which we need to spend much more time.

First, let us put to bed another issue. The press deviously and dishonestly, during the course of the inquiry and immediately after the report, tried to lead people to believe that Leveson was introducing a

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statutory system. As has been said, it is not. Leveson calls for an organisation that would verify the strength, independence and fairness of the body set up by the press itself. That is what we are all talking about here. In this context, I remind noble Lords of the importance of the code. In my long years of dealing with the relationship with the press, the code has been crucial. It was drawn up by and, in my view, for the editors. Much of it, if you read it in a simple way, seemed good until you looked at the small print; we all look at the small print. Here, you have quite a good description of the “public interest”, and then there is an exception:

“There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself”.

That is the get-out clause. The other one, of course, is:

“The PCC will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain, or will become so”.

So all you had to do was to get one of your friends or colleagues to put something on the internet, zap it around a bit, and the press would start reporting the fact that it was on the internet and, finally, report the thing itself. Frankly, that is why you need something to oversee a body: to say, “That is not fair. It is not strong”. That is the case for the body that Leveson is proposing.

Also in that context, Leveson was not asked to look at the internet. Nor is it important, because the difference is in the nature of a large, corporate organisation trashing someone and individuals putting comments on the internet. There is a problem emerging about internet coverage of people’s private lives, but it would not get in the way of what we are discussing today.

In respect of those who do not sign up for the new system, I would suggest not only that court proceedings would be more heavily against those newspapers, but we should also look at the option of tax breaks of various types, precisely because the press is a declining industry. While I agree with other comments that have been made about this, it will not die out: it will change. Giving them tax breaks would not be a bad idea in recognising that they have signed up to a quality code.

I do not want the body concerned to be Ofcom; I think that would be the least good option. Neither do I think there should be a royal charter. I do not have time to go into it in detail, but my personal preference is still very much for an independent body. There is an issue about how we set that up which requires quite a bit of thought and discussion, but it is not beyond our ability to do it. As my noble friend Lord Lipsey said, there are already models available showing how to set up independent bodies, both in the public and private sectors and in the joint public-private sector. We have to examine how we do that and then set it up, but it is not impossible to do it.

I turn to the history of the relationship between politicians and the press because when I introduced my Bill on freedom and responsibility of the press in 1991, I conducted hearings in the same way as Leveson. The response was interesting: I was attacked from all sides. I have no problem with that: I am a politician and am not exactly unused to it. The interesting thing to me, however, was the number of people who said to me that I was putting myself at risk. My own partner actually said to me at the time, “I am more worried about you taking the press on than I was when you

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were doing Northern Ireland from the Front Bench”. I thought, “By God, I didn’t think it was that bad”. That, however, was the view.

When I wrote the book on this issue together with Professor O’Malley, it was described as an attempt to gag the press. There was a problem in my Bill—I acknowledge that—and it was that I had not cracked the issue of how to set up the independent body. However, Peter Preston said in a recent article that Leveson had picked up my Bill and applied it. I do not think that is quite right, but that was Preston’s view. My own view is that, if the press had taken on board what we were talking about 20 years ago, we would not be where we are now. I say this to the previous chairs of the PPC and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt: I know you have tried individually, but I have been saying for many years—and I was not alone in saying it—that you presided over a weak and ineffectual body that had major failings within it. The case for proceeding with it was very poor indeed; there was actually a case for simply resigning from it and saying, “It is not working”. It would have helped if we had had that.

I had an alarm, which grew in the 1970s and 1980s, about the nature of the relationship between the press and politicians. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, might want to think about this. When Tony Blair decided to go to see Murdoch, I approved of that, though the late Ian Mikardo MP said to a group of us together, “If you are going to sup with the devil, sup with a long spoon”. My view was that we had to do it because the press were increasingly seeing themselves as holding not just the Government to account, but politicians as well. It devalued Parliament, so parliamentarians stopped having their speeches and comments reported. One of the first things I did in the 1970s was to recognise that I was not going to get speeches in the press anymore; I had to form relationships with members of the media in order to get stories in. Tony Blair and other party leaders had to make an approach to those leaders of the press. My noble friend Lady Liddell is absolutely right: this was a massive failure of management within the media industry, and particularly in the press. We should bear in mind that the News of the World was, until relatively recently, a good newspaper that did good journalism. It went off the rails, and the newspaper was closed down, but Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch stayed in post. What sort of responsibility is that?

I ask the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Ludgate, please to recognise his own responsibility in this. There were stories, and I used stories, in the press about the failure of media moguls, such as Rupert Murdoch, who were refusing to take responsibility for the bullying, sexual harassment and racism that were going on at the Sun. His paper, the Daily Express, was one of those which refused to publish it. The only newspapers that used it were the Guardian, the Independent and the BBC. Then the story was killed. That was happening over and over again.

If the press had been good at holding the owners, editors and some journalists to account, not only would they not be in the mess that they are in today, at least we would not be able to say that it is grossly hypocritical for them to turn around and say, “Oh, it is

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the politicians or these other people in the public eye—footballers, actors and so on”. No, it is not: it is the nature of the way in which the press has been operating with unaccountable power for a long time. I believe that Leveson is right. Broadly, we should go down that road and, fairly soon, we should discuss in rather more detail the relationship between politicians and the press.

3.45 pm

Lord Paul: My Lords, 2012 surely was an annus horribilis for standards in public life in this country. In the wake of the financial crisis, many of our institutional pillars, which are respected across the world, saw their probity brought into question with scandal after scandal. They included the press, the police, the BBC and politicians. It is sad to see the deterioration of values that historically set the standards to which others aspired. The UK’s global reputation is suffering as a consequence. I pay tribute to Lord Justice Leveson on his excellent report, which I hope will be a turning point for the restoration of some of these long-cherished values.

Freedom of the press is vital in maintaining democracy. Fortunately, Britain has some of the best journalists in the world who have set the benchmarks for ethical reporting. In India, we admired many British journalists, such as James Cameron and Mark Tully. Just last month, Indian journalists presented their lifetime achievement award posthumously to Sir Charles Wheeler.

However, ordinary citizens who find themselves caught in the media spotlight, often at a time of extreme crisis or loss, should reasonably expect that their personal information is not illegally accessed and published. The victims of the press have no voice and no platform. We must congratulate the Hacked Off campaigners who have taken a brave stand against an industry, some of whose members seem to regard themselves as being above the law.

When Lord Justice Leveson was preparing his report, even he could not have foreseen that a supposed hoax call by two Australian radio presenters on 4 December would end in such tragedy. Jacintha Saldhanha came to the UK with her husband and children as a young, skilled nurse. She worked hard and contributed to the welfare of people in this country. Yet she became an unwitting victim of the media. It appears that public humiliation by the press may have driven her to take her own life. I offer my sincere condolences to her bereaved family. I have great sympathy for the Royal Family and the Duchess of Cambridge who were also victims in this tragedy.

This case surely must represent the pinnacle of the abuse of power by the media over the individual. With power goes responsibility. Yet again the media have failed fully to accept that responsibility. It is now time for that power to be curbed and I urge the Government to endorse fully the recommendations of Lord Justice Leveson's report, especially when it was commissioned with all-party support.

Globally, the newspaper industry is losing its market share to social media. As circulation numbers fall, advertising revenues fall. Increased pressure to retain readership causes even more sensational reporting and

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a further decline in ethical standards. We have already seen in the banking sector how the pressure to produce extra profits and bonuses led to a collapse in business standards and the resulting financial crisis from which we all suffer and are likely to suffer for a long time. It is sad to see that the newspaper industry is going the same way.

There is no point in discussing self-regulation, because we know it has failed in banking, in the media, and in a lot of other services. At the moment, it is difficult to find an area where it has succeeded. Another revelation in the Leveson report is the extent of corruption involving the media, especially the cosy relationship between some of the media establishment and our politicians. The level of corruption in Britain is a topic now being openly discussed here and abroad. I quote recent comments by the executive director of Transparency International, one of the UK's leading anti-corruption organisations, on the publication of its 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index in December, where the UK ranks 17th in the world. It said:

“Despite the passing of the Bribery Act, and measures to improve transparency in government, the perception of experts is that the UK continues to be more vulnerable to corruption than the political establishment is willing to admit … The steady stream of political scandals has exposed a worrying complacency at the heart of UK politics. Until the Government acts with urgency to put a cap on party funding and introduce tougher regulation of lobbying and the revolving door, the UK will not be able to rise higher in global anti-corruption league tables”.

Corruption extends well beyond simple monetary gain to the abuse of power. Leveson has revealed that our politicians and Governments have had what is at best an unhealthily close relationship with the press over many years and, at worst, something more sinister. Our leaders must recognise that others look to them as an example. Their behaviour must be, and must be seen to be, unimpeachable at all times. They set the standard for the nation to follow. There can be no deals, at any level, between the media and our politicians.

I have seen how corruption in certain countries has destroyed the fabric of society for ordinary people and lowered the prestige of those countries internationally. This House has often discussed the question of corruption in other countries; perhaps the time has come to recognise that it is also happening here and something needs to be done, and speedily.

3.52 pm

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, at this late stage in such a long debate, having heard the main issues so well analysed, I shall base my contribution on my media experience of regulation. Having spent four decades working as a journalist and executive, mostly in television news and current affairs, I am all too aware of the many legal restraints on journalism. Compliance with the law should have been ensured in newspapers by the editors’ code and, ideally, enforced by the Press Complaints Commission. The culture in some organisations led to the code being breached, and its ethics ignored, and the resulting squalor is documented in the Leveson report. Clearly, there is still a lot of uncertainty about what progress has been made in cross-party talks and with other initiatives.

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One thing that everybody seems to agree on is that the press must remain free from political meddling. Even with a degree of regulation, I believe that its independence is not under threat.

Coming as I do from a background in regulated public service television, I see no real cause for concern in the smidgen of legislation proposed to underpin a “recognition body”, set up simply to guarantee the independence of a self-regulating replacement for the Press Complaints Commission. The distinguished members of that body would check periodically on the independence and effectiveness of self-regulation by the new press trust. The alarms raised by some sections of the press seem to me out of all proportion to the threat. What is proposed is a much lighter touch than existing broadcasting regulation and legislation.

The BBC and independent television have been much more vulnerable than newspapers to direct political interference. Over the years Governments have tried to influence broadcasters’ output through appointments from among the great and the good to oversee broadcasting regulation. Fortunately, most chairs and board members, once appointed, were not inclined to compromise their personal integrity in pursuit of a political agenda.

Despite all the onerous regulation, the remarkable fact is that public service broadcasters have for the past half century or more produced respected news bulletins, high-quality documentaries and investigative current affairs series such as the series I once edited—“World in Action”. We had our rows with the Independent Television Authority but considerations of public interest almost always won out. The regulators would be consulted and required to approve secret filming, bugging of conversations, breaches of so-called “official secrets” or the use of confidential documents received from whistleblowers. Only rarely did they inhibit series such as “World in Action” from broadcasting and, if they did, we could predict that they would soon read about it in a newspaper.

Let me be clear: I do not wish any of these public service obligations on the press. My point is, if you are operating inside your own editor’s code as a newspaper journalist, you have very little to fear from regulation. Like others who have spoken, I have my reservations about some of the proposals floated by Lord Justice Leveson. Much as I admire Ofcom, it should not be involved in press regulation, nor would it want to be. The Information Commissioner is right to warn that tougher data protection laws,

“could have a ‘chilling effect’ on investigative journalism”.

Changes to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act might make it easier for the police to seize journalists’ documents, identify their sources and deter whistleblowers. Given these complexities, it is no surprise that deadlines for cross-party decisions are slipping. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is not in his place, but he and his publishers have a lot of conflicting interests to reconcile, and I wish him well, but need it really take until the middle of the year for them to reach agreement? I hope that the members of the commission will follow the Prime Minister in welcoming Lord Justice Leveson’s suggestion of a conscience clause for working journalists. That is a long-standing demand of the National Union of

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Journalists and a reform that could help reinforce ethical considerations in newspaper practice. That change in newspaper culture has been demanded by many noble Lords today.

In television, we concluded that the legislation that required accurate, fair and impartial reporting helped generate the public trust and support that we needed when we were threatened by political pressures. Newspapers, of course, are very different in their opinionated reporting, provocative analysis and capacity to campaign and to make mischief—and long may they continue to do so. Regulation with the lightest touch in the manner proposed should not interfere with any of that. Nor can every issue be solved before a decision to legislate is taken. I say: get it done and see how it works out. Given the power of the press, they will certainly not be bullied. If they can enforce their codes and change the worst aspects of the old culture, they will attract much more public support—enough, I trust, to deter any politician who subsequently tries to interfere.

3.58 pm

Lord Janvrin: My Lords, while it goes without saying that a robust, free press is an essential ingredient in a free society, even the most cursory reading of Lord Justice Leveson’s excellent report confirms that there have been major problems with the culture, practices and ethics of some parts of our press.

As many noble Lords have alluded to today, this is not a new problem. The fact that in the past 70 years there have been seven major inquiries, including three royal commissions, suggests that this is the case. But what is new today is that the internet is now posing a fundamental challenge to, and major economic consequences for, the newspaper industry. This, as Lord Justice Leveson observes, is particularly severe for Britain’s regional and local newspapers, which provide a major contribution to the life of the communities within which they operate. I join the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich in paying tribute to the unique contribution made by the local media to local life. I hope that their voices will be heard in this post-Leveson debate.

The internet poses a much greater challenge to the future of a robust newspaper industry in this country than effective, independent self-regulation. If new providers are going to survive and prosper, either in print or digital form, we the public are going to have to continue to want to read those publications and pay for them in preference to free online blogs, social media or whatever comes next. We will surely do so only if the quality of the news coverage, the investigative reports, the features and the comment—whether in red-tops or broadsheets—are of a standard that makes us wish to do so. Faced with increasing choice, we will surely be willing to pay only for standards that we trust and are of the highest quality, and for more accurate, more challenging, wiser, and more entertaining words than are ever likely to be consistently available from other online sources. Standards will become more, not less, important and are, above all, about culture rather than only about rules, as my noble friend Lady Boothroyd expressed. An effective system of self-regulation, as put forward in the Leveson report, has a vital part to play in ensuring that these

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standards are met, primarily by providing an effective means of arbitration when they are challenged, and that redress is accessible to all when things go wrong. An effective regulatory system can also provide, in a sense, a kitemark trusted by readers.

However, such a system will be trusted only if it is seen to be truly independent, certainly of both the newspaper industry and the Government. I welcome the fact that much of the newspaper industry now seems to accept that although it will pay the bills for the regulatory system, it would do much better by not trying to control the system—or appearing to control it—as has been the case in the past.

Two vexed questions remain. First, how can we devise the process of validation for this independent self-regulatory system? Who verifies the work of the regulators? Secondly, how do we ensure the fullest coverage of the new independent self-regulatory system in order to prevent major newspaper groups exiting from the regulatory system, as happened under the Press Complaints Commission?

Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, eloquently argued, it might be better to avoid statutory underpinning, if there were an easy way to do that, although I share the view that here we are considering statutory regulation of process and emphatically not of content. It may be that some sensible non-statutory basis for the validation process can be devised, although I remain to be convinced. An additional advantage of some statutory underpinning is that it could allow some benefits in law to provide the incentives to ensure the widest possible membership of an independent self-regulatory system.

My view remains—and here I join the noble Lord, Lord Giddens—that an effective regulatory system, trusted by the general public, is very much in the long-term interests of the newspaper industry itself in the digital age and that some very limited statutory underpinning may well be a sensible price to pay to ensure that this system is credible, long-lasting and widely accepted. As so many noble Lords have said today, the Leveson report provides us with a unique opportunity to grasp this nettle. I add my voice to those who say that we should do so.

4.05 pm

Baroness McDonagh: When I saw my name listed as 50th on the List, I promise the House that I was ready to strike it out at any moment, but I feel that one area that has not been fully explored and that is the benefits to the press of the Leveson proposals, were they to be underpinned or recognised in statute.

I am a lifetime lover of newspapers. I have also never complained about the editorial content of a newspaper. When my party was attempting to get elected in the 1980s, newspapers did us a service; they reflected the views of the public. I also have to declare an interest as a former general manager of Express Newspapers, so I can see the arguments from both sides within the industry and outside.

I believe that as politicians we now have a duty to help the newspaper industry. They have lost the trust of the public, their readership is plummeting, journalists

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have been arrested, illegal actions have been admitted, lives have been destroyed and the industry is in serious financial difficulty. Yet newspapers have become so deeply entrenched in ideology and dogma that they are unable to hear that what is proposed for them is good for them.

I understand that their hysteria is not exclusive to them. It is a universal truth that none of us believes that we should be regulated ourselves, but that everyone else should be. It is in the industry’s interest to have statutory regulation and it does not bother me whether it is called underpinning or recognition.

The most important of these proposals is for the industry to embrace the statutory underpinning of a complaints system which includes ensuring we have a fit and proper arbitration service and which allows the courts to recognise whether a defendant or claimant has gone to the arbitration service prior to undertaking a court action.

I was surprised at the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, earlier, as I agree with his evidence to Leveson. When he was talking about an arbitration service he said:

“In my view the system would need statutory backing to operate meaningfully”.

Secondly, regulation would protect newspapers against powerful and wealthy people. Today, we have rightly concentrated on the damage that the press has done to members of the public but there is an untold story. Many powerful and wealthy people go straight to court as soon as their name is printed. Soon, newspapers back off those individuals as they can afford neither the time nor money to pursue them.

However, Leveson’s proposals would save newspapers a lot of money. Individuals would have to use the arbitration service or find their refusal published. Courts could recognise such behaviour in their judgments. Both would lead to a spotlight on the behaviour of these individuals and would enhance, not detract, from free speech.

Next, regulation would persuade investors that newspapers were a safe investment. What individual now without a blind passion and £1 million to waste would put their money into newspapers? There is no clear line of sight for what goes on in these organisations because of a lack of regulation.

Many of us in this house are non-executive directors. We represent the views of shareholders. What is one of the first things we do as soon as we get our board pack? We look at the complaints. We look at the complaints within a company. We look at the regulator in our industry. We ask questions.

This is not possible in the newspaper industry. We know that most newspapers suffocate complaints. Editors, executives, journalists and internal lawyers do their utmost to squash complaints and make it really, really difficult for any member of the public to raise a complaint. When they do apologise, invariably it is done begrudgingly and tucked away. Only statute will force a change in this culture, which is now so corrosive that it cannot be changed from the inside.

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We talk much about how hacking was illegal and how legislation would deal with it, but I tell your Lordships that the journalists guilty of hacking did not start with criminal activity; they began with writing stuff about people that was inaccurate and they were never checked. None of us wants a situation where our criminal law deals with journalists. We all want bad behaviour to be nipped in the bud at the earliest opportunity.

Lastly, these measures would bring confidence in the press. We say that newspaper readership is in decline because of the internet, but readership was in decline long before the development of those sites. It began with the public feeling that they could not rely on what was written, so restoring public confidence must be the number one priority of the newspaper industry.

The world has changed and so, too, must regulation. Power is simply not concentrated in big institutions as it once was. The media are now available seven days a week and 24 hours a day, and their budgets are under pressure. Without the proper regulatory measures in place, it is so easy to ruin people’s lives at the stroke of a key.

If the Leveson proposals are enacted with statutory backing, they will help the newspaper industry. It will save them money, improve the quality of their product and begin to repair their reputation. Even though the industry is hostile to the proposals right now, it is our duty to protect newspapers from themselves, just as we would for any other industry.

I take up the challenge of my good friend—my noble friend Lord Alli—as a Back-Bencher. If the parties in the other place fail to reach agreement, I will certainly be prepared to introduce or amend legislation as appropriate. I hope that other Members will be prepared to do likewise.

4.11 pm

The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, it saddens me that due to the behaviour of a limited number of MPs and Peers we are still condemned by the press for our expenses and are now treated as guilty until we have proven our innocence. We seem to have fallen into the same trap and condemned all the press today as ethically corrupt, but equally I believe that to be a wrong impression to have of this debate. That is not to say that some journalists have not behaved recklessly and outrageously, often with devastating effects. As we have witnessed, some might have gone even further and broken the law, but we must remember that there are already sanctions to deal with those people if proven guilty. Such journalists are a small minority of the press.

Lord Justice Leveson was right to highlight the collusion of editors and their indifference to knowledge of illegal behaviour. Any code of conduct must ensure better corporate governance with severe penalties for editors, who must start to take proper responsibility for material that is used and for what is printed. There is no doubt that they should tighten up the rules under which their reporters operate, but that is easy to say. Much more difficult is dealing with what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. Lord Justice Leveson states in paragraph 37 of the executive summary that at

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present there is “insufficient clarity” on this. That will always be the case unless very prescribed rules are laid down in statute. Let us not forget how some people have interpreted “insult” under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986—a subject we debated recently— to remind ourselves of the huge disparity between interpretation and expectation.

Following my wife’s suicide in 1994, I was the subject of intense media interest. I was pursued relentlessly for months by both journalists and the paparazzi, occasionally deceitfully, and a normal life was impossible. Since there has been quite a lot of Murdoch bashing, I have to say that the Murdoch press was not number one on my hate list. It was without doubt the most ghastly time of my life and inevitably both my children, who were at school, were hugely involved with and affected by this media circus. Unlike some who courted the press and were willing to sell their stories, we wanted privacy, but some of the press wanted a story—the more salacious the better—at almost any price. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, when a fact or truth emerged, the worst of the press ignored it, for it spoilt a good story under an eye-catching headline, but can one really blame them for that? It was and remains their job to get a story.

Today a great number of people still buy the newspapers that have behaved the worst, even when they know how inaccurate and unbalanced their articles are. They enjoy reading the gossip on others, and that is a legitimate market for the press to feed. In such situations it often seems irrelevant that the person who is caught up in such a maelstrom of events is first and foremost a human being with emotions and not just an inanimate object that one can pick up, play with and then put down at will. We have heard demands today for greater legal redress for such victims so that they can go to court against the press. Let us not go down that route. Some would not want to go to court because it would only prolong the press attention; others would not be able to afford it. There must be a better way forward. If members of the public were to stop buying newspapers or reading them online, the worst of the press would soon change their ways.

Today’s newspapers give us much more in the way of comment than news, which we receive from the internet, Twitter and Facebook. Control over unacceptable behaviour in the social media, both by the press and individuals, seems to me to be a much more worrying challenge, and one on which Lord Justice Leveson does not comment much. It is the elephant in the room. I commend the speech of my noble friend Lord Inglewood. We should all read it again, as it was the best speech that I heard today. To try to control the written word but not social media would not only be unjust but would fail to tackle the real problem on which we should focus.

I pay a huge tribute to the majority of our press. By and large they have served us very well. Over the years they have done an amazing job, and many injustices have been brought to light entirely because of their persistence. Almost every paper has led on at least one good campaign, such as the mistreatment of prisoners, tax dodgers, Thalidomide or match-fixing in cricket. It is worth remembering that it was a journalist who

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first revealed that another member of the press had been hacking mobile phones.

As long as there is a demand for gossip and news of other people’s misfortune, some of the press, either under pressure or hoping to make a name for themselves, will continue to overstep whatever bounds are agreed or set. At the same time, people want the press to behave—however that is defined. The two are irreconcilable without a strictly prescribed legal code of practice, which will undoubtedly be hugely controversial and contested. Yes, we need an independent regulatory body, but, despite what we have heard this afternoon, it would be very difficult to achieve. Once we have legislated to put it on a legal footing, there would be continual demands for a stronger body and an even stronger legislative code whenever in future the bounds were exceeded. Even discounting the increased state control, such rules would inevitably prevent others in the press from scrutinising, revealing and holding to account those whose actions should be exposed. If that were to happen, we would be a much poorer country.

So notwithstanding all that my children and I went through, I do not support a statutory basis for self-regulation. Whether there is or is not, we must not delude ourselves or others: some people, and as a result their children, will continue to get unnecessarily hurt in future, just as they have over so many generations. I fear that that is the price we must pay for as free a press as possible as one of the guardians of our democracy.

4.18 pm

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, on this rather dismal day in your Lordships’ House, I would like to cheer us up a bit by reflecting on the admirable maiden speech given some time ago by the noble Lord, Lord Trees. It combined wit and lucidity to our great advantage and I hope very much that we will hear from him on many future occasions.

I should also like to cheer up your Lordships with what I thought was the huge joke in the central part of the Leveson report. I do not know whether Lord Justice Leveson intended it as such. He assured us all that he had found no evidence whatever of a conspiracy between Her Majesty’s Government and the Murdoch press to do anything that either of them wanted. Who on earth thought that there would need to be a conspiracy between them? Everyone knew what Murdoch wanted and everyone knew what the Prime Minister wanted. They did not have to get together to discuss it. The fact that Lord Justice Leveson assures us that he found no evidence of any such meeting must be hugely reassuring.

As usual, I shall turn to a certain unpopular theme—the Press Complaints Commission. I had a very short dealing with the Press Complaints Commission and found it hugely supportive and very effective. I had some dealings with a rather slippery individual who was then the editor of the Financial Times. He had published a report in his newspaper which was—I will not say fraudulent—totally inaccurate and totally contrary to the truth. I communicated with him in a gentle way, as I usually do, one December and I got no

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acknowledgement or reply. I communicated with him a second time, in January, and again I got no acknowledgment or any reply. I sent him a third note saying, “It is now February and I am today getting in touch with the Press Complaints Commission”. Within about 20 minutes my telephone apparently rang and my secretary said, “It is the editor of the

Financial Times

”. I am afraid that I would shock your Lordships if I told you the reply I told her to give him but I instructed her to tell him that if he was going to communicate with me to do it in writing and that I was not going to speak to the gentleman. I got a full correction and an apology because that individual—still the editor of the

Financial Times

—was so concerned about having his behaviour exposed to the Press Complaints Commission. So the Press Complaints Commission can work. We have had such a culture change and such a tidal wave of anger over what happened in the scandals of the past few months that I believe it has every possibility of being effective again in the future.

I turn now to the more serious matters. Lord Justice Leveson said when he started his inquiry that the whole report would come down to one question—Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? He did not answer that question and did not deal with it very much himself. The Prime Minister said that “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” is, God help us, Ofcom and the chairman of Ofcom. I could frighten your Lordships by telling you a fantasy tale about what a Prime Minister who had lost his marbles or one of his Secretaries of State who had equally lost his marbles might do by appointing a chairman of Ofcom. He might appoint a chairman who lied to the press; he might appoint a chairman who was in breach of the Official Secrets Act; he might appoint a chairman who, unbelievably, would disclose the facts of legal advice being given to a department; he might appoint a chairman who would intervene in a domestic political dispute between one government department and another and alter the press position in order to damage another Cabinet Minister. It is unthinkable, unbelievable, but that is what happened—and that is who we have got as chairman of Ofcom.

If anyone cares to challenge me, the behaviour of the head of the Department of Information in the DTI, going back 15 or more years, is in the fourth report from the Defence Committee, Session 1985-86. The behaviour of the current chairman of Ofcom was described in terms as tendentious, improper and disreputable. Before any of us look too smug about this, I regret to have to say that it was Labour appointment. I tackled the Minister concerned and asked him if he had gone mad when he made that appointment. He said, “Oh, that was many years ago”. It was like inviting Mr Dillinger to come on to your bank board because he has not robbed any banks over the past few years.

I pointed all this out to the Conservative Secretary of State, a man called Hunt. I said, “You did not make the appointment, but you are responsible for keeping her after it was disclosed to you what sort of individual you have here”. He relied on two flimsy bits of evidence,

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one from Select Committee hearings confirming this woman in her position. It was the most extraordinary set of Select Committee hearings you have ever heard. I read every single word of the oral hearings and I went through the written evidence as well. In all of that, not a single reference was made to the fact that Colette Bowe had been involved in the Westland scandal up to her neck. In fact, the chairman of that Select Committee, a rather weak young man called Whittingdale, who ought of course to have resiled from the hearings, held her hand, told her what a splendid lady she was and wished her good luck. That is what we are stuck with at the moment.

If anyone thinks this is irrelevant or unimportant, let me put this to your Lordships. Let us assume that Ofcom decides that Mr Murdoch is not a suitable person to be controlling a large chunk of our media and tries to disqualify him from so doing. What if Mr Murdoch then says, “Who the hell are you to speak to me like that? I have not been censured by a Select Committee of the House of Commons. My behaviour has not been called disreputable. I have not been behaving in a tendentious way. How dare you?”. That is where Ministers are likely to find themselves unless something is done quickly about this awful mess. I hope very much that we can have an assurance from the Minister, who has only just inherited this brief, that he will seek to take to the Prime Minister the request that all references to Ofcom are out and that Ofcom has no business whatever being involved in these matters. I personally support Leveson.

4.27 pm

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I rise as the tail-end Charlie in what has been a really admirable debate. It has demonstrated, if demonstration is needed, the extraordinary wealth of experience in this House because virtually every vantage point has been represented. I, too, commend the noble Lord, Lord Trees, on his maiden speech, not least because he delivered it without notes. I look forward to his contributions in the future.

Briefly, because it needs to be said, I must express my admiration for the press as a whole despite the miserable events to which the Leveson inquiry relates. I am someone who would say that, by and large, we have an admirable press that does admirable work. We should acknowledge in all humility that without the bravery of the Daily Telegraph, our own appalling failings would not have seen the light of day as soon as they were. It was a classic example of what is best in the press and, indeed, why there is a degree of tension between us as politicians and the press.

I have been involved with the press over many decades. I was lucky enough to be a trustee of the Scott Trust, which owns the Guardian, the Observer and a whole fleet of regional newspapers. I presented current affairs programmes for London Weekend Television and Anglia Television, and as a solicitor I have had a good deal of professional involvement, usually acting for members of the public and politicians who have been defamed by the press. I think that I have had a fair old view of the different issues and the practical problems that have to be confronted and dealt with.

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