We have all said how grateful we are to Lord Justice Leveson because his task was a formidable one which he has discharged formidably. In particular, his proposal vis-à-vis an ethical code, which has been referred to by other noble Lords, is at the heart of what should be a new beginning for the press, as indeed is the conscience clause that will underpin it and the whistleblowing protection which is also vital for the future. I happen to agree with those noble Lords—I think it is the majority—who have said, reluctantly, that statutory underpinning may be necessary. It is necessary and I have to say, too, that I do not believe that it is the thin end of the wedge. If I felt that, I would not go along with it. However, I believe that it is an essential coping stone to the new aegis. I am sure that, if and when the time comes, we will debate the matters with wisdom and, I hope, reach a sensible conclusion.

There is one main issue on which I take a different view from Lord Justice Leveson, which is over the role of the law in all this. In paragraphs 47 and 48 of the summary of his report—a 46-page summary, it must be said—he rejects the idea that the powerless state of affairs revealed by his inquiry was,

“caused by a failure in the operation of the criminal law”.

He goes on to add that:

“More rigorous application of the criminal law, however, does not and will not provide the solution”.

I would not say that it provides the solution but I do believe that a much more vigorous implementation of the laws we have, let alone the laws we might have, is essential. Most of all, it is essential for the press itself, as everybody agrees that it has reached a low ebb. It is vital that restoration of public trust in the press—which is so important, as indeed is public trust in us, the police and so on—must reside in the fact that the laws that we have must be implemented. However, they are notably not implemented.

It is not a fair question to put at this stage to my noble friend the Minister who will sum up, but it would be interesting to know how many provisions of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 or of the Data Protection Act 1998 have ever been enforced against the police. It is a besetting sin of this Parliament that we legislate as if there is no tomorrow—14,000 to 15,000 pages of new statute law a year with only 2,000 or 3,000 pages of repeals—and then take no interest in whether that law is implemented; or, if it is, with what consistency or results. I put it to the Minister that although I believe that Lord Justice Leveson has not sufficiently recognised the role of enforcement in his otherwise wise report, the Government should look at it very closely and intensely.

One instance which Lord Justice Leveson does refer to in his report is after Clive Goodman was prosecuted and convicted in 2006 and the police decided not to commence an inquiry because they were distracted by the more important matter of terrorism. It simply is not good enough that other priorities completely drive such an important estate as the press off the playing field, so to speak, in a case like that. It was a number of years later, and only after further revelations in the Guardian and the New York Times, that the police came back to this. I put this all on a par with the extraordinary and grotesque failure of HMRC to

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enforce our tax laws—with, again, awful results in terms of public confidence and for the Exchequer—and the awful failure of our regulatory authorities to enforce financial services legislation, which is abundant. I cannot exaggerate the huge importance of the impact. I believe that a few exemplary prosecutions and convictions, particularly of the bosses of the press—not just the little guy—would be galvanic. They could not be ignored. They would be noted. They would uphold and enforce the vast majority of journalists who want to do a good, honourable and ethical job. At this time of night, that is my main point and I am grateful for the chance to have this debate today.

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton: Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I might ask him why he can praise the press so warmly in the early stages of his speech, whereas very few newspapers and very few media give any attention at all to the doings of this House or the other place.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I think I heard the noble Lord: why do I praise the press when they give so little attention to the doings of this House? I am not sure that I agree with him that they give so little attention to this House and the other place. It is true that some of the red tops give precious little consideration but then they give precious little consideration to anything other than—I was going to be rude—

Noble Lords: Go on!

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: All right—boobs and bottoms. The serious press does give reasonable coverage. We may not like the manner of it, but I would not go that far with the noble Lord at all.

4.36 pm

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to what has been a really excellent debate today. In particular, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Trees, for his excellent maiden speech. He may have had to wait but his incisive analysis, his interesting parallels with the professions and his witty quotation demonstrate that the wait was worthwhile. Indeed, the whole debate has been extremely good, including the last few speeches, which took us off in strange and interesting directions. I am not sure that Admiral Byng should really be prayed in aid so late in the debate because I think he deserves more attention than we were able to give him.

There seem to have been four strands in our discussions today. The balance between individual privacy and freedom of the press is obviously the underlying thread of all this, and I will come back to it. The need to deal with the technology shift in our news production and dissemination, with the transfer to the internet and the implications of all that for the current business model in the press, is obviously a really big issue. It was not well covered in the Leveson report, as has been said, but it will be of increasing importance as we go forward, although I do not think it is a blocker on some of the issues that we need to focus on today. The important issue of the concentration of ownership has

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to be addressed. Again, as has been mentioned, it is not well covered in the report, but there are ways in which we can continue to keep a focus on that; there are a number of opportunities in the near future to do so.

The main debate today, and the one I will spend most of my time on, is on what the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, referred to as a false choice. We must be careful of false choices apparently being offered by the press, between a free press on the one hand and government regulation of the press on the other. Of course, it is a much more complicated and complex issue than that.

I was interested in the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and I think we all applaud his efforts in what he is trying to do. Having said that, one has to bear in mind, as my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland advised, that a lot of what he is about is necessary but it will not be sufficient to get us to where we want to get.

This debate is titled as, and indeed needs to focus on, the report itself. Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations on the issues that we have been touching on are very clear. He recommends a voluntary system of independent regulation. 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”, for the very important reason that the public, particularly the victims, can thereby be confident that it works; in return for that, members of the body can get legal benefits. Lord Justice Leveson suggests that, mainly on cost and efficiency grounds, Ofcom could be the body that undertakes the verification but he refers to and prefers a recognition commission or recognition commissioner. As the noble Lords, Lord Fowler and Lord Lamont, stressed, the powers being taken are of scrutiny not supervision. Lord Justice Leveson considers the recognition requirements the minimum necessary for an independent and effective self-regulator, but some, including the victims, would go a lot further than that.

Let us be clear: we are talking about taking statutory powers that concern process but not content and cover the independence of the people involved in the regulatory body, its financial security, its powers to correct or to seek apologies, to seek sanctions, to undertake investigations and arbitration, and to have the power to publish enough information to allow the public to judge its effectiveness. As has been said, notably by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, it is a very clever balance and we on this side support it. There is more: we need to be clear that despite some of the rhetoric that we have heard today, this package would also guarantee in statute—I think for the first time—the freedom of the press from government. That seems a very important consideration.

Like many noble Lords, I believe that the game changer this time round and the context for this report is the anguish felt by ordinary citizens who have not sought public exposure of their lives but who, like the Dowlers and McCanns, have been subject to outrageous behaviours from the press. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, is our own expert by experience and put it

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very well when she spoke earlier with such dignity. At the end of the day, we in Parliament have to be able to say to those victims that we have seen them right. As my noble friend Lord Giddens said, the public will never forgive us if we cock this up this time round.

We should remember that the public are overwhelmingly in support of the establishment of an independent regulator backed by law. That is born out by a series of polls by the Media Standards Trust, Hacked Off, the Carnegie Trust and the IPPR. The poll recently commissioned by the Sunday Times found that by three to one the public think that the press needs much tougher independent regulation, with fines for newspapers that behave badly. Some 58% think that new laws should be passed by MPs to encourage newspapers to join this new system of regulation, with only 26% opposing such legislation.

There are now four separate initiatives that would deliver for us the recommendations of the Leveson report, the most recent being the suggestion of a royal charter. Others have mentioned during the debate why a royal charter approach is inappropriate. I simply add that it seems wrongly focused in its conception. It is an executive act explicitly associated with the monarch. Despite her recent visit to the Cabinet, or perhaps because of it, it is surely inappropriate to deploy the prestige of the monarch in what might be a controversial and constitutionally inappropriate device, whose purpose is at heart to bypass Parliament. A royal charter can of course be revoked or amended by the monarch at will, which in effect means by her Ministers. As has already been said, she is obliged to accept their advice, so a device to avoid legislation places control of the recognising body in the hands of the Executive. Constitutionally, it is not possible to restrict the ability of the monarch to amend or revoke at will. In addition, a royal charter cannot authorise the body created to raise money or authorise government expenditure, so inevitably we are drawn back to statute to make sure it works in any case. Having said all that, it may be possible to recognise or find a way of creating an independent press regulator by royal charter and to support or underpin it with appropriate legislation. On this side, we will keep an open mind on that matter until such time as the discussions are completed.

Having cleared the ground, the heart of today’s debate is, as my noble friend Lord Alli said, the question of whether we have independent self-regulation backed by law or not. We believe that we need that in statute because the current system of self-regulation has failed—year after year for 70 years and despite seven major reports. St Augustine springs to mind once again. In any case, the problem with a purely self-regulatory body is that there is still an irreconcilable conflict of interest when those doing the judging—the press—are those being judged. Again, what is being proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and others is necessary but not sufficient. We believe that Lord Justice Leveson’s answer to that decades-long problem is ingenious: it ensures that the press regulates itself, independent of both government and its own interests, but it also ensures that there is statutory backing for the system.

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There are arguments against statute and I want to go through them quickly. The first is that any statute affecting the press automatically ends a free press but, as has been mentioned, the press is already subject to legislation. Section 12 of the Human Rights Act 1998, their carve-out for VAT and the regulations currently under consideration in this House on defamation are examples—there are many—and the Leveson report specifies them. It is absurd to hold that having any law mentioning the press undermines freedom.

Secondly, it is argued that putting the press complaints system on a statutory basis amounts to regulation of the press but such a statute would guarantee only the system, not the regulation itself. The oversight body—the one prescribed by statute—would have no role in hearing complaints, no role in deciding whether they are justified, no role in laying down penalties and absolutely no role in deciding whether anything does or does not go into a newspaper.

Thirdly, there is the argument that if Parliament legislates on this issue, it might be the thin end of the wedge but in our system Parliament is and must remain sovereign. Basically, we have to trust our elected and appointed representatives to make and change laws. That is our system, for better or worse. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, said, we also have to bear in mind that the press cannot become a law unto themselves.

Fourthly, it has been argued that what is proposed would inevitably mean cumbersome legislation but, as we have already heard from my noble friend Lady Jay, the Irish law contains provisions that are equivalent to proposals in Leveson recognising the Irish press council. It is simply one clause and one schedule. The Bill that we have recently published—I gather that the others are similar—shows that this is all feasible within a very few pages. Indeed, I hope this is the way forward.

Finally, there is the argument that Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals would undermine freedom of speech but, as the noble Lord, Lord Low, said, the freedom of the press is essential but so, too, is that other freedom: the freedom of a private citizen to go about their business without harassment, intrusion or the gross invasion of their grief and trauma. I was interested in what the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, said on this point but with the deepest respect I disagree. A free press must be a responsible press. It must expose the abuse of power but it must also not abuse its own power. That is what this debate at heart is about. It is an issue which cannot now be left unresolved and that is why we should take forward Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals with all convenient speed.

In conclusion, I join many noble Lords in paying tribute to the work of Lord Justice Leveson, the rigour with which he conducted the inquiry and the humanity with which he enabled victims of some appalling injustices to have a proper hearing. For many of them, it meant reliving the pain and trauma of their abuse by the press but they did so with enormous courage and determination because they had found a safe haven. The stories they told made many people feel moved, incredulous and appalled—and made us all very angry.

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As my noble friend Lady Jones said, it is important to remember that the voices heard in the inquiry were just a small sample of press harassment and misrepresentation which has become commonplace, week in and week out, for those struggling with tragedies in their lives—people who never sought to become the story. As we have heard, that is continuing. The fact is that the Leveson inquiry should never have been necessary. The catalogue of incidents that were described and the many more that they represent should never have been allowed to happen. However, let me end with a wish that was also expressed by many noble Lords: that the spirit of consensus which has been so evident across the parties on this issue continues and that we can, working together, solve this problem, but quickly.

4.48 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, for that summing-up of the debate and for his contribution, which goes with all the others that have informed this debate. It is nearly seven hours since my noble friend Lord Younger of Leckie opened this debate, which asks us to take note. I am sure that we all have been taking note during this time. I remember that when we postponed this debate, all having sat here expecting it that evening, the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, wondered whether perhaps it would all happen before we got to talk about it again. Well, it has not all happened and this debate has provided a really good forum for us in this House to inform future discussions and give our points of view. The noble Baroness, Lady Liddell of Coatdyke, referred to the circumstances of our debate, but I was focused on her view of the high level of consensus that had been generated by the time that she spoke, and it has continued in noble Lords’ contributions since then.

My noble friend Lord Younger referred to the honour that I had to reply to this debate. I laughed at the time, but actually it has been an honour to be involved in it in any way. This is a serious issue, and the debate has had very thoughtful contributions—indeed, it has been the House of Lords at its best.

It was a particular pleasure to hear the fine maiden speech from the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and I join all other noble Lords in welcoming him to the House. Indeed, just as my noble friend Lord Fowler wished him long life, so do we. The noble Lord and I know each other, and his expertise in the veterinary profession will greatly assist the House in its consideration of many debates concerning animal health and welfare and, as we have learnt today, many other matters too.

Before I go on to the substance of the debate, I think that we as a House should thank Lord Justice Leveson for his work in examining so thoroughly and with such integrity such a complex set of circumstances and issues. The shameless, distasteful and blatantly illegal hacking of mobile telephones of victims of crime and their families, and the intrusions into people’s privacy at the most distressing time of their lives, shocked us all. These events have led to a change in the public’s attitude to the press, and the Government have responded to the public’s concern by setting up

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Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry. His report goes to the heart of some of our country’s most important institutions, including the press and the police. He rightly praises the freedom of speech that has enabled countless examples of truly exemplary investigative journalism in this country and continues to enable the Government and the police to be held to account by the media. It is vital that we protect that freedom as a cornerstone of our democracy, and the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, made a very thoughtful speech about the nature of that freedom.

However, Lord Justice Leveson strongly criticises a culture of severe wrongdoing on the part of certain elements of the press that seriously undermines public confidence in the way that that freedom has been exercised. There are serious issues, and the Government recognise the strength of feeling within this House, among the victims of phone hacking and among the public more generally. Lord Justice Leveson called the havoc that was wreaked on the lives of innocent people “outrageous”. Noble Lords have strongly reinforced that description, perhaps most graphically my noble friend Lord Fowler, while “horrific” was the word used by my noble friend Lord Lamont. We heard directly from the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, and my noble friend Lord Caithness. That is why we have been considering this issue here today, and I am grateful that so many noble Lords have made a contribution to this discussion.

How we achieve success has been widely debated. We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, about the Irish system, and we have been told by the noble Lord, Lord Bew, of its shortcomings. We have been informed of the optimism of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral that a solution may be found that is compatible with Lord Justice Leveson’s ideas. I suspect that many others share that hope. I thank him for his determination and wish him well. My noble friend Lord Stoneham has a clear insight into these issues, and the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, summed up the position of many who support the endeavour of achieving it without legislation. However, even those speakers who doubted the chances of success without a statutory underpinning recognise the value of the structure that my noble friend Lord Hunt envisages.

I start by going through the central issue of media regulation as we see it. We have made it clear since the report was published that we completely accept the central principles of Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations: that an independent regulatory body should be established; that it should be independent in terms of who is appointed to it and its funding; that it should set out a code of standards with which the press must comply; that it should provide an accessible arbitration service for dispute resolution; that it should ensure a mechanism for rapid complaints handling; and that it should have the power to impose significant fines for breaches of the code.

Of course, this has taken place against a background of meetings. The Government are working to come up with the best possible solution for implementation of the new press recognition body required under Leveson. The Government have drawn up a draft Bill to examine the implementation of Lord Justice Leveson’s legislative

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recommendations, and this is alongside other Bills drawn up by the Opposition, by my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill—who is not in his place, as he has not been feeling well this afternoon—and by the campaign group Hacked Off. I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, that there have been five meetings with Hacked Off; in fact, yesterday, the Secretary of State met with Hacked Off again. There have also been five meetings between DCMS Ministers and the press since the report. I reassure my noble friend Lady Buscombe that press proprietors have been included in these discussions. However, it is the output of the papers, not the ownership, that is really at the bottom of all this. I will go on to talk about plurality, because that issue came up and it is important that we have a chance to factor it in.

However, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has expressed serious concerns about introducing a statutory element to regulation. The Government are also exploring a number of ways to ensure rigorous and independent oversight of the new regulatory system without the need for statute. This includes consideration of the proposal to verify a new system via a royal charter to ensure the independence of that verification from Parliament. It can be said that a royal charter has many virtues. It provides a body with the requisite independence. It can also be supported by safeguards so that the purpose of the body cannot change over time without scrutiny. However, as my noble friend Lord Astor pointed out, there are some weaknesses; the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, went into these in some detail.

The Government are continuing discussions with all sides, including, crucially, looking at ways in which Parliament can be involved without interfering with the independence of the press. I also note that the press has suggested the idea of a charitable trust—or a trust of some description—in order to set up the new recognition body. The Government will consider this suggestion carefully; however, we are clear that whatever solution is eventually agreed, it must be compliant with those principles with which I started the substance of my speech, enunciated by Lord Justice Leveson in his report.

Most importantly, as Lord Justice Leveson himself recommends, the press must put its own house in order. A series of meetings between the press and the Government have already taken place and we are confident that that work is progressing positively. Cross-party discussions are continuing, with the aim of reaching a consensus on the way forward. We all agree that our solution must strike the right balance between protection of the rights and privacy of individuals and the freedom of the press, which is central to our democracy and must be defended vigorously. For this reason, I am sure that the usual channels will ensure that these issues return to the House once those discussions have concluded.

Let me be clear: there is no government position on these issues. We are supporting all attempts to achieve a consensus. We are working on cross-party agreement, which I think all noble Lords would like to see underlie the solution.

Perhaps I may take noble Lords through some particular aspects. I will start with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich who, along with the

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noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, and other noble Lords, mentioned the importance of the regional and local press as part of our press media. They were at pains to emphasise that we should recognise that any solution should not impede that section of the press. I can say that, despite a rapid decline a few years ago in local papers and the regional press, the signs are that that sector is recovering. I tend to take the view of the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, about the future of the British press. He took a fairly robust view and I agree with him that the demand for information and entertainment is such in this country that the advent of new media does not necessarily mean that the print press will disappear. It is not a zero-sum game. The truth is that the press will need to change and not just in terms of its standards but also in terms of how it presents itself.

This is a good point at which to talk about plurality because that is something which a number of noble Lords said had not been mentioned in Leveson as a key element. The noble Lords, Lord Sharkey, Lord Stoneham of Droxford, Lord Donoughue and Lord Whitty, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, all talked about this issue. It rumbled on as a key area of concern. We need to agree that we should consider how we deal with change in growth within the press and how we get the mechanism right. An effective media ownership regime must strike the right balance between securing plurality and allowing growth. We want carefully to consider Ofcom’s constructive suggestions for strengthening the media ownership regime. We agree that online media should be considered in any assessment of plurality and recognise the complexity of doing so. It was the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, who talked about the complexity of measuring and dealing with these things. It is complex. In some ways, the solution lies in trying to find a way to make complexity simple, because the noble Lord also pointed out that any regime needs to be understandable and capable of being seen to be proper. Making the complex simple might be a theme for today and our discussions in general as we try to tackle this problem.

The noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, asked what would happen if there were a fire sale down at News International. I hesitate to suggest that such a thing might happen, but of course it would be dealt with as any other change of ownership is dealt with within the press. The authorities would deal with it in the usual way. It is a hypothetical question, but we have mechanisms for dealing with these problems.

Perhaps I may now deal with data protection issues. Lord Justice Leveson has considered issues of data protection and investigative journalism, including the role of the Information Commissioner to investigate and rule on public interest. As the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport made clear in another place, we need to give careful consideration to these proposals. As Lord Justice Leveson himself acknowledges, their implementation would go to the very heart of the balance between the freedom of the press and every individual’s right to a private life. It was interesting to hear the views of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, on that particular issue.

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On the press and the politicians, Lord Justice Leveson finds that the relationship between politicians of all parties and the press has, over the past 30 to 35 years, become too close, to the point where it is perhaps not in the public interest. This Government have introduced greater transparency to these relationships. However, the Prime Minister has made it clear that the Government accept the recommendation that these interactions should be more open still. It clearly is in all our interests that the public should trust their representatives and legislators and that they are not engaged in self-serving relationships behind closed doors. I think that this House would agree with that.

Lord Justice Leveson makes clear that he has not seen any evidence that corruption is endemic in the police nor that there is a widespread problem of corrupt relationships between the police and the press. We should welcome those conclusions. The noble Lord, Lord Alli, was right to draw attention to this issue and my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury was right to draw attention to the need to enforce the laws that we have.

We broadly welcome Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations on policing and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will be announcing a number of measures designed to strengthen integrity and transparency in policing further, including measures to implement recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson.

The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, made a point about the growing media outside the press. As I have said, I do not believe that the print press is threatened by such media but it is clear that any future solution for press regulation must be future-proofed and sufficiently flexible to take account of the challenges and opportunities that digital media present. I see that I am running out of time, but that is not entirely surprising given the length of the debate.

I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, that we do not favour Ofcom as the recognition body proposed by Lord Justice Leveson. My noble friend Lord Phillips asked about prosecutions against the media. The Director of Public Prosecutions recently introduced new guidelines on prosecutions involving the media, including considerations of public interest. I cannot comment on individual cases.

In summary, we come back to where my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral was in presenting what he was trying to achieve. My noble friend Lord Wakeham reiterated his view that the new regulatory regime would need to be substantially tougher than the current arrangements. He saw the new regime as having real teeth but perhaps being overseen by a lay-dominated board. My noble friend Lord Trimble came to a similar conclusion, along with the noble Lord, Lord Soley. However, many noble Lords felt that oversight would require statutory underpinning.

There is that difference perhaps, but there is much common ground, which is why I am encouraged from this debate that a solution based on consensus is possible. That has been the value of this debate and I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have participated. As my noble friend moved the Motion earlier, I hope that the House will take note of it.

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Lord Stevenson of Balmacara: It would be helpful for the House if, in closing, the Minister could sketch out the timescale for these debates. I appreciate that it is not entirely in his hands and that other factors may be going on. I think that everyone thought that this process would move reasonably fast. There are difficulties. There is a lot to learn, a lot to listen to and a lot to discuss, but frustration will build up if nothing is going to happen. Perhaps a word on the timetable would be helpful.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I cannot give a timetable, because it is not in my gift, of course. There are a number of different bodies involved. But I think it

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would be helpful, after such a productive debate today, for the usual channels to take notice of it—and we will have time to debate this issue as it progresses. I suspect that this is not going to be a Moses-like event, with tablets of stone coming down. I think that we will work our way towards the truth. I hope that it is the sentiment of Members of this House that we all feel that we have played some part towards getting a solution. I am sure that the usual channels would be quite happy to enable us to talk further about it. I am sorry that I cannot give a timetable.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 5.10 pm.