House of Commons
Wednesday 13 July 2011
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
London Local Authorities and Transport for London (No. 2) Bill [Lords]
Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Bill to be read a Second time on Tuesday 6 September.
Mull of Kintyre Review
That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House a Return of the Report, dated 13 July 2011, of the Mull of Kintyre Review: An independent Review to examine all available evidence relating to the findings of the Board of Inquiry into the fatal accident at the Mull of Kintyre on 2 June 1994.—(Miss Chloe Smith.)
Contingencies Fund Account 2010-11
That there be laid before this House an Account of the Contingencies Fund, 2010-11, showing—
(1) a Statement of Financial Position;
(2) a Statement of Cash Flows; and
(3) Notes to the Account; together with the Certificate and Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General thereon.—(Miss Chloe Smith.)
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Smallholder Farmers (Climate Change)
Smallholder farmers are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Fifty per cent. of the United Kingdom’s £1.5 billion fast-start commitment will help developing countries to adapt to it, and a significant share will benefit smallholder farmers. In Kenya, for instance, we support research on improved early warning so that farmers can adjust their cropping strategies to increase production.
Two weeks ago 20 pastoralists were killed in central Somalia following a dispute about access to water for their livestock, and people are starving and dying now as a result of the terrible drought and famine in the horn of Africa. Will the Minister press for a specific day to be set aside for discussion of smallholder farmers and food security at the upcoming COP 17, the 17th United Nations conference on climate change?
As I am sure the hon. Lady knows, we do not control the agenda, but she has made a powerful representation—which others will hear—in suggesting that priority should be given to the plight of smallholder farmers at that important meeting. In particular, it must be ensured that the cause of disputes which can get in the way of humanitarian aid is not perpetuated.
Read-across does take place when a huge commitment is made to research enabling DFID to help smallholder farmers. For instance, the Foresight report, which was commissioned by the Government, benefited from a great deal of expertise drawn from UK farmers. The result has been of mutual benefit, which is another reason for concluding that the aid programme is in our mutual interests.
Does the Minister agree that most climate-related finance should take the form of grants rather than loans? That is only fair to people in developing countries who suffer from the effects of climate change but who, in the main, did not cause it. Will the Minister tell us what proportion of our climate-related finance takes the form of loans rather than grants?
As I am sure the hon. Lady will recognise, to start from the premise that finance should take the form of either loans or grants is to start at the wrong end of the question. The first question that should be asked is “What will best achieve the desired result and give the most help to vulnerable smallholder farmers?” That said, most of the finance does take the form of grants, and, as the hon. Lady knows, 50% of it is being provided through the international climate fund to help smallholder farmers to adapt.
2. What recent assessment he has made of his Department’s work in Burundi; and if he will make a statement. (65537)
From 2012, DFID’s work in Burundi will focus on supporting regional integration into the east African community through the British-led organisation TradeMark East Africa, which has opened an office in Burundi which DFID is funding. That is the right way for us to help the people of Burundi, rather than aid being provided through a small, expensive and duplicatory bilateral programme.
During a recent visit to Burundi, the vicar of Romsey and a group of parishioners found that one of the biggest problems was a critical lack of access to fresh water. Would the Secretary of State be prepared to meet them to discuss what they found, and how aid can be provided most effectively?
My hon. Friend has made a good point. I believe that I met the vicar during a visit at the time of the general election, but I, or one of my fellow Ministers, would be happy to meet him and some of my hon. Friend’s constituents to discuss this important matter.
The Secretary of State did not say in his opening remarks that Britain is winding down its aid programme in Burundi, a country in which more than 80% of the population live on less than $1.25 a day. What specific assurances can he give that other donors will take up the programmes in which Britain has been involved in so far?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Germany, Belgium and France have much larger bilateral programmes in Burundi than Britain. We are providing only 3.6% of the funding through our bilateral programme, but we have to make tough decisions about how we spend our budget. It is, after all, hard-earned taxpayers’ money, and we do not think it provides good value for money to have such a small programme with such high administrative expenses. I can tell the hon. Gentleman, however, that through multilateral support over the next few years Britain will spend about double the sum of the old bilateral programme.
Bilateral Aid (India)
The bilateral aid review demonstrates that DFID’s programmes with Indian states yield strong development results with good value for money. The Independent Commission for Aid Impact will evaluate the India programme as part of its work in 2011.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s response. He has recently been urged to discontinue aid to India, but does he agree that for as long as India continues to have a third of the world’s poor living within its borders, we will never achieve the millennium development goals unless that aid continues?
The hon. Gentleman is right: India is a development paradox, as I have said before, and we are right to continue the programme for now. We have frozen the figure for the next four years, and we are moving to work only in the poorest states in India. As the hon. Gentleman has implied, there are more poor people in India than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.
Will my right hon. Friend accept the International Development Committee recommendation to put more resources into sanitation and nutrition, as they have been shown to be the prime cause of poverty? Half the population of India has no access to sanitation and malnutrition rates among Indian children are among the worst in the world.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Half the children in the state of Bihar are suffering from malnutrition. His point about the programme is a good one. We are looking at increasing the amount we spend on water and sanitation, and all of us are extremely grateful for the strong all-party support his Committee gave to the Government policy on aid and development in India.
The situation in Gaza is unacceptable and unsustainable. Perversely, the current access regime benefits Hamas and punishes the ordinary people of Gaza. In the last fortnight, I visited Israel and the west bank, as did the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who also visited Gaza. We both urged Israeli Ministers to recognise that the restrictions are not in Israel’s interests and should be lifted.
I thank the Minister for that reply. First, I am sure that my constituent, David Cole, who is currently in Gaza would like me to use this opportunity to thank those Government officials who eventually helped him to be able to get there. However, I know that he is concerned that the number of trucks going into Gaza is about a third less than the number that were able to go in before the blockade. I am glad the Minister has already made representations, but will he specifically ask the Israeli and Greek Governments why they will not allow unarmed humanitarian volunteers to deliver medical supplies to Gaza by boat, through the flotilla?
I thank the hon. Lady for her appreciative comments. It is the case that about 30 times more cement and 10 times more steel goes into Gaza through Hamas-controlled tunnels than through the crossings. At the current reconstruction rate, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency estimates it will take 78 years to rebuild Gaza. We put confidence in the conversations between Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Quartet representative Tony Blair, which took place in May, and hope they can have a more successful outcome than they have had so far.
That is primarily a matter for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I have not had any such discussions, but I have had discussions with Israeli Ministers. As I said a moment ago, I hope that the representations made by the Quartet representative, Tony Blair, to Prime Minister Netanyahu can ease many of the restrictions that the Israelis are currently imposing.
The UK has contributed to significant global progress in reducing deaths and illness from tuberculosis. Globally, 41 million people have been successfully treated since 1995, saving 6 million lives. The UK reaffirmed its commitment to tackling TB, including co-infection TB-HIV, in “UK aid: Changing lives, delivering results” and in the UK’s position paper on HIV in the developing world. A paper on our broader approach to health, including TB, will be published later this year.
I thank the Minister for his answer and welcome the commitment to addressing TB-HIV co-infection. When will the future health paper be published? When will stakeholders be consulted on it? Will there be specific targets on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of TB where patients are not co-infected with HIV?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. It is very important to recognise that there has been no de-prioritisation of TB, as a huge amount of effort is being made to tackle it. That broader health context and the paper that will appear later this year will set out the priorities and how we will attempt to ensure that we are pushing on the right things to bring down the incidence of TB, which is falling globally. Most importantly, we need to recognise that this depends on the interrelationship with other workings of the health systems.
Does the Minister agree that one of the ways in which we will deal with the problems of global TB is through the development of new treatments? Is he aware of the work being done at the university of Strathclyde? Will he ensure that representations are made to ensure that research into the development of new TB drugs is continued?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for that. She is right to pinpoint the fact that one of the difficulties in tackling TB is the emergence of very resistant strains. We are well aware of the research being done at the university of Strathclyde and elsewhere, which has a close link with the very big research commissioning programme for which DFID is responsible. I will be more than happy to pursue that in more detail later on.
Official Development Assistance
The coalition Government have set out in the comprehensive spending review how we will meet our commitment to spend 0.7% of national income as overseas aid from 2013. We have made it clear that we will enshrine that commitment in law as soon as the parliamentary timetable allows.
I thank the Secretary of State for that comprehensive answer, and I wish that all his Cabinet colleagues were quite as enthusiastic and as committed. But can he give us a firm date, as “in the fullness of time” simply is not good enough in these circumstances?
The hon. Gentleman, who is enormously experienced in the ways of Parliament, will know that that is not a matter for me as the Secretary of State for International Development; it is a matter for the business managers and the usual channels. I suggest that he refers his question, on an appropriate occasion, to one of them.
Any Government can spend as much money as they want on overseas aid if they want to do so. Lots of Departments have very important priorities, so why do we have to have a specific target in law for overseas aid and not for anything else? Is this not just ludicrous gesture politics, rather than anything that is actually meaningful?
My hon. Friend is right to this extent: we could spend this hard-earned budget twice over, because there is need that we could satisfactorily address. But the world, many years ago, settled on a figure of 0.7%, and all of us have made a promise to stand by that commitment and the Government are absolutely right, even in these difficult economic circumstances, not to seek to balance the books on the backs of the poorest people in the world.
I strongly support the Secretary of State on the points he made. Will he join me in making the point that our aid is vital in the terrible situation for the people in the horn of Africa, where there is suffering on a massive scale? Will he also join me in paying tribute to the generosity of the British people in response to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal? I strongly welcome his rapid response on Ethiopia, but what steps is he taking to ensure that other countries play their part, too, and what help is he giving to the people suffering in Somalia and Kenya?
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her support. We are looking very carefully at how we can assist in Somalia, particularly in the south-central region where there is a weight of people crossing the border into northern Kenya. I expect to visit the region shortly to see what additional assistance can be given. The right hon. and learned Lady is also right that although there has been strong British leadership in all this, it is essential that other countries that can help put their shoulders to the wheel, too. We spend a lot of our time ensuring that others do precisely that.
Horn of Africa
Up to 10 million people need emergency relief, especially in south-east Ethiopia, southern central Somalia and northern Kenya. We are seeing acute malnutrition in all these places. The crisis is provoked by the failure of the rains for two consecutive years and is characterised by the loss of crops and livestock, exacerbated by high food prices. The situation is unlikely to improve before the October rains.
Will the Secretary of State set out the steps that his Department is taking to build long-term resilience in the national agricultural systems in the countries in the horn of Africa so as to reduce the impact of potential crises such as the one they face?
My hon. Friend is right to make it clear that food security over the longer term is the key way to tackle such disasters. It is also true, however, that it is no fault of the horn of Africa that there have been no rains for the past two years and that a serious situation has been exacerbated by that. I can tell him that there has been significant progress and over the past 20 years, for example, the incidence of acute malnutrition in Ethiopia has gone down by some 50%.
The Minister does not have to visit the region to know what the problem is. Every night on television we are seeing children dying, the elderly dying and livestock dying—it is obvious what is happening. The aid agencies are short of money and surely we can do more right now.
I can reassure the right hon. Lady. We were the first people to make it clear that we would give strong support, helping 1.3 million people in Ethiopia and ensuring that mothers with babies and children—330,000 of them—would receive rapid support. The Disasters Emergency Committee appeal has kicked into play and we are considering additional support to that which we are already giving to take account of the situation that she described in southern Somalia and particularly in Dadaab, which is now the biggest refugee camp in the world.
The House is full, everybody is chattering, everybody is obsessed by Murdoch but millions of people are in danger of dying in the horn of Africa. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that this is an absolute priority for him and that all the bureaucratic restraints that stop help going in this uniquely challenging environment—usually useful things such as value for money and protecting our workers—will be laid aside and that he will go right in there and help those suffering people?
My hon. Friend has eloquently made the case for the world taking urgent action to ensure that what is currently a crisis does not develop into a disaster. He has my assurance that the British Government are doing everything they can to help and I will, as I say, be going to Dadaab at the weekend with the head of the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal. Together, we will look to see what additional work Britain and the international community can do to help.
T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. (65551)
We are delivering the results agenda through our 27 bilateral programmes and we are working to tackle the emergency unfolding in the horn of Africa. We are acting quickly and decisively, as I have said, to prevent this crisis from becoming a catastrophe. We are also continuing to co-ordinate Britain’s contribution to post-conflict stabilisation in Libya for the time when the fighting is over. Since our last Question Time, Britain has chaired and led the drive to fund the next stage of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation for the poor world.
I thank the Secretary of State for his response. With a record number of countries applying for vaccine funding from GAVI, what results does he expect to be achieved following last month’s success at London’s pledging conference of Ministers, business leaders and charities?
My hon. Friend is right that the conference was an extraordinary success—exceeding the pledge target of $3.7 billion by some $600 million. As a result, the world will be able to vaccinate a quarter of a billion children over the next five years. Britain will vaccinate a child every two seconds and save a child’s life every two minutes as a result of this initiative.
I am sure that all Members will join me in congratulating South Sudan on achieving independence at the weekend. The Government of South Sudan are now planning to review all their international oil contracts. Does the Minister agree that although our aid is important for desperately poor people in South Sudan, it is vital that global oil companies pay their fair share of their profits in tax in that country? Will he ensure that DFID uses its expertise to help South Sudan to get fair tax returns from the oil companies?
The hon. Gentleman is right that that country has just been born and has $1.7 billion of revenues, and it is essential that the money is used transparently. Britain is a very strong leader on the extractive industries transparency initiative and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it clear that he expects the European Union to look at how it can develop its own version of the Dodd-Frank legislation that has been laid in the United States.
My hon. Friend will have had a chance to read the detailed plan that has been set out. Britain is committed, over the next five years, to ensuring that the prevalence of malaria in the most affected countries is reduced by 50%. We believe that tackling malaria, which kills so many children needlessly every day, should be towards the top of our list of initiatives.
T2. I was privileged to be part of a delegation that visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo and monitored the last election there and I was really moved when I talked to women there about their experiences of rape and sexual violence. I would be very grateful if the Secretary of State would tell me what support he is managing to offer to Margot Wallstrom, the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy on sexual violence in conflict. (65552)
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. The tackling of sexual violence and violence against women is now embedded in all our bilateral programmes. In the DRC, the International Rescue Committee is doing outstanding work on this specific agenda, as I hope she will have seen during her visit. She has our commitment that the coalition Government have always said that putting girls and women at the forefront of our international development efforts is essential.
My hon. Friend is right. The $800 million is part of the US military budget. All of Britain’s aid that is spent in Pakistan, which is particularly focused on trying to get 4 million children, especially girls, into school, is not spent through the Government. We are very anxious to ensure that there is always accountability to the British public and that aid is transparently used. Those policies will continue.
The hon. Lady is right that the floods had a devastating effect in Pakistan as I have seen for myself on my frequent visits there. Britain was at the forefront of the countries coming to support Pakistan when the floods struck and we have been very strongly engaged, not least in helping people to continue their livelihoods and in getting children back into school in the aftermath of, and recovery from, those floods.
T8. In Afghanistan the depreciation of the afghani has sent the price of basic staples soaring by 7% in just one week. Has my right hon. Friend had conversations with the Afghanistan Government about how to improve food security, with the winter approaching? (65558)
My hon. Friend is right that across the world, not just in Afghanistan, the price of food, particularly staples, has rocketed in recent months and years. Britain is specifically engaged in Afghanistan in trying to help secure the wheat harvest and ensuring that farmers have wheat seeds to plant. We focus on this area keenly for precisely the reasons that she has set out.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Secretly deleting voicemails left for a missing teenager, buying the silence of public figures who would incriminate your business, and publishing the confidential medical details of a disabled child who just happens to have a famous father: I ask the Prime Minister—are any of these the actions of a fit and proper person?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely powerful point in a powerful way. We have to be clear about what is happening here. There is a firestorm, if you like, that is engulfing parts of the media, parts of the police and, indeed, our political system’s ability to respond. What we must do in the coming days and weeks is think above all of the victims, such as the Dowler family, who are watching this today, and make doubly sure that we get to the bottom of what happened and prosecute those who are guilty.
Yesterday I met the family of Milly Dowler, who have shown incredible bravery and strength in speaking out about what happened to them, the hacking of their daughter’s phone, and their terrible treatment at the hands of the News of the World. I am sure the whole House will want to pay tribute to their courage and bravery. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Does the Prime Minister now agree with me that it is an insult to the family that Rebekah Brooks, who was editor of the News of the World at the time, is still in her post at News International?
I have made it very clear that she was right to resign and that that resignation should have been accepted. There needs to be root-and-branch change at this entire organisation. It has now become increasingly clear that while everybody, to start with, wanted in some way to separate what was happening at News International and what is happening with BSkyB, that is simply not possible. What has happened at this company is disgraceful. It has got to be addressed at every level and they should stop thinking about mergers when they have to sort out the mess they have created.
I thank the Prime Minister for that answer. He is right to take the position that Rebekah Brooks should go. When such a serious cloud hangs over News Corporation, and with the abuses and the systematic pattern of deceit that we have seen, does he agree with me—he clearly does—that it would be quite wrong for them to expand their stake in the British media? Does he further agree that if the House of Commons speaks with one voice today—I hope the Prime Minister will come to the debate—Rupert Murdoch should drop his bid for BSkyB, recognise that the world has changed, and listen to this House of Commons?
I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has said. It is good that the House of Commons is going to speak with one voice. As he knows, the Government have a job to do to act at all times within the law, and my right hon. Friend the Culture Secretary has to obey every aspect of the law—laws that were on the whole put in place by the last Government.
And yes, as the hon. Gentleman says, we should look at amending the laws. We should make sure that the “fit and proper” test is right. We should make sure that the Competition Act 1998 and the Enterprise Act 2002 are right. It is perfectly acceptable, at one and the same time, to obey the law as a Government but to send a message from the House of Commons that this business has got to stop the business of mergers and get on with the business of cleaning its stables.
I look forward to debating these issues with the Leader of the House, who will be speaking for the Government later in the debate. I know the Prime Minister is to make a statement shortly about the inquiry, but can he confirm something that we agreed last night—that we need to make sure that we get to the bottom not just of what happened at our newspapers, but of the relationships between politicians and the press? Does he agree that if we expect editors and members of the press to give evidence under oath, so should current and past politicians?
I agree with that. First, on the issue of the debate, we are debating now, which is right, and we are going to have a statement in the House of Commons, and I will stand here and answer questions from as many Members of Parliament who want to ask them. I think we should focus on the substance.
As the Leader of the Opposition said, we had an excellent meeting last night. We discussed the nature of the inquiry that needs to take place. We discussed the terms of reference. I sent those terms of reference to his office this morning. We have had some amendments. We are happy to accept those amendments. They will still be draft terms of reference, and I want to hear what the Dowler family and others have to say so that we can move ahead in a way that takes the whole country with us as we deal with this problem.
I also think that if we are going to say to the police, “You must be more transparent and cut out corruption”, and if we are going to say to the media, “You must be more transparent and cut out this malpractice”, then yes, the relationship between politicians and the media must change and we must be more transparent, too, about meetings, particularly with executives, editors, proprietors and the rest of it, and I will be setting out some proposals for precisely that in a minute or two.
I want to thank the Prime Minister for those answers; they are answers the whole country will have wanted to hear. Can I also ask him to clear up one specific issue? It has now been confirmed that his chief of staff and his director of strategy were given specific information before the general election by The Guardian. The information showed that Andy Coulson, while editing the News of the World, had hired Jonathan Rees, a man jailed for seven years for a criminal conspiracy and who had made payments to police on behalf of the News of the World. Can the Prime Minister tell us what happened to that significant information that was given to his chief of staff?
I would like to answer this, if I may, Mr Speaker, in full, and I do need to give a very full answer. First, all these questions relate to the fact that I hired a tabloid editor. I did so on the basis of assurances he gave me that he did not know about the phone hacking and was not involved in criminality. He gave those self-same assurances to the police, to a Select Committee of this House and under oath to a court of law. If it turns out he lied, it will not just be that he should not have been in government; it will be that he should be prosecuted. But I do believe that we must stick to the principle that you are innocent until proven guilty.
Now, let me deal directly with the information given to my office by figures from The Guardian in February last year. First, this information was not passed on to me, but let me be clear that this was not some secret stash of information; almost all of it was published in The Guardian in February 2010, at the same time my office was approached. It contained no allegations directly linking Andy Coulson to illegal behaviour and it did not shed any further light on the issue of phone hacking, so it was not drawn to my attention by my office.
What is more, Mr Speaker—let me just make this point—I met the editor of The Guardian the very next month and he did not raise it with me once. I met him a year later and he did not raise it then either. Indeed, if this information is so significant, why have I been asked not one question about it at a press conference or in this House? The reason is that it did not add anything to the assurances that I was given. Let me say once more that if I was lied to, if the police were lied to, or if the Select Committee was lied to, it would be a matter of deep regret and a matter for a criminal prosecution. [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister has just made a very important admission. He has admitted that his chief of staff was given information before the general election that Andy Coulson had hired a man who had been jailed for seven years for a criminal conspiracy and who made payments to the police on behalf of the News of the World. This evidence casts serious doubt on Mr Coulson’s assurances that the phone hacking over which he resigned was an isolated example of illegal activity. The Prime Minister says that his chief of staff did not pass on this very serious information. Can he now tell us what action he proposes to take against his chief of staff?
I have given, I think, the fullest possible answer I could to the right hon. Gentleman. Let me just say this. He can stand there and ask questions about Andy Coulson. I can stand here and ask questions about Tom Baldwin. He can ask questions about my private office. I can ask questions about Damian McBride. But do you know what, Mr Speaker, I think the public and the victims of this appalling scandal want us to rise above this and deal with the problems that this country faces.
He just doesn’t get it, Mr Speaker. I say this to the Prime Minister. He was warned by the Deputy Prime Minister about hiring Andy Coulson. He was warned by Lord Ashdown about hiring Andy Coulson. He has now admitted in the House of Commons today that his chief of staff was given complete evidence which contradicted Andy Coulson’s previous account. The Prime Minister must now publish the fullest account of all the information that was provided and what he did and why those warnings went unheeded. Most of all, he should apologise for the catastrophic error of judgment he made in hiring Andy Coulson.
I am afraid, Mr Speaker, that the person who is not getting it is the Leader of the Opposition. What the public want us to do is address this firestorm. They want us to sort out bad practices at the media. They want us to fix the corruption in the police. They want a proper public inquiry. And they are entitled to ask, when these problems went on for so long, for so many years, what was it that happened in the last decade? When was the police investigation that did not work? Where was the public inquiry over the last 10 years? We have now got a full-on police investigation that will see proper prosecutions and, I hope, proper convictions, and we will have a public inquiry run by a judge to get to the bottom of this issue. That is the leadership I am determined to provide. [Interruption.]
What a case of the pot calling the kettle black, but perhaps we can just have a pantomime interval for a moment. Is the Prime Minister aware that there are now young people in Bradford being quoted, without convictions or claims, £53,000 to insure their first car? These ridiculous premiums are being driven by insurance companies selling fresh details to personal injury lawyers. What are we going to do to outlaw—
My hon. Friend makes a very good point about the problem of referral fees that are driving up the cost of insurance for many people. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) has made some very powerful points about this. There was a report to the Government calling for referral fees to be banned. I am very sympathetic to this, and I know my right hon. and learned Friend the Justice Secretary is too, and we hope to make some progress.
Of course. The point about the inquiry, which I will be announcing in a moment or two, is that it will be judge led, it will take its powers from the Inquiries Act 2005, and it will be able to call people under oath. I think this is absolutely vital. As I say, there are three pillars to this. There is the issue of police corruption, there is the issue of what happened at the media, and there are also questions for politicians past, present and future.
My hon. Friend is right that we have got to stay out of the eurozone. Being a member of the euro would take away the flexibility we currently have. We have to remember that 40% of our exports go to eurozone countries. We should therefore be making constructive suggestions about proper stress tests for their banks, backed up by recapitalisation; involving the private sector to make Greece’s debt burden more sustainable; and earning fiscal credibility through concrete action to reduce their excessive deficits. Basically, in my view eurozone countries have to recognise that they have to do more together and faster; they have to get ahead of the market rather than just respond to the next crisis.
I made this point some moments ago. Of course, the decision to employ a tabloid editor meant that there were a number of people who said that it was not a good idea, particularly when that tabloid editor had been at the News of the World when bad things had happened. The decision I made was to accept the assurances that he gave me. As I have said, those assurances were given to the police, a Select Committee and a court of law. If I was lied to and others were lied to, that would be a matter of deep regret. I could not be clearer about it than that. We must ensure that we judge people as innocent until proven guilty.
This week I received another e-mail from a constituent regarding metal and cable theft. This time, it told of an elderly lady who had a fall at home and was unable to raise the alarm because the cables in the village had been stolen for the second time in about as many weeks. This is a growing problem across the country. The legislation relating to this matter dates back to 1964. Please can we have an urgent review to ensure that scrap metal dealers who accept stolen metal are prevented from doing so and prosecuted?
I have every sympathy with my hon. Friend. There was a case in my constituency where the lead from the Witney church roof was stolen. I have been trying to ensure that these crimes are taken seriously by the police, because they put massive costs on to voluntary bodies, churches, charities and businesses. We must ensure that they are not seen as second-order crimes, because the level of this crime is growing and it is very worrying.
Q6. The debate this afternoon will be vital, because it will show the House united in its revulsion at what was done to Milly Dowler’s family. May I ask the Prime Minister to make urgent inquiries into whether families of the victims of 9/11 were similarly targeted by the criminals at News International? If they were, will he raise it with his counterpart in the United States? (65526)
I will certainly look at that. In the statement I am about to make, I will give some figures for just how many people’s phones the Metropolitan police currently think were hacked and how many of them they have contacted so far. They have pledged to contact every single one. I met the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson last night to seek further reassurances about the scale of the police operation that is under way. In what was—if we can put it this way—a mixed appearance by police officers at the Home Affairs Committee yesterday, I thought that Sue Akers, who is leading this investigation, acquitted herself extremely well. We should have confidence that the Metropolitan police will get to the bottom of this.
Q7. With its ambition of being the greenest county, Suffolk is already committed to a low-carbon world with offshore wind farms, anaerobic digestion, nuclear power and a recycling rate of more than 60%. The Prime Minister is always welcome to visit. Will he give his backing to our local enterprise partnership’s ambition to enhance skills training to fill the new job opportunities that will be created locally? (65527)
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I congratulate her on branding Suffolk as “the green coast”. There is a big opportunity, particularly in the light of what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change has said, in green jobs, renewable energy and new nuclear. A vital thing to encourage the inward investment that we want is to demonstrate that we will build up our skills base. That is where local enterprise partnerships can play such a valuable role.
Q8. Can the Prime Minister tell the House whether he had any conversations about phone hacking with Andy Coulson at the time of his resignation? Will he place in the Library a log of any meetings and phone calls between him and Andy Coulson following his resignation? (65528)
As I said, perhaps before the hon. Lady wrote her question—or had it written—of course I sought assurances from Andy Coulson and those assurances were given. [Interruption.] Yes, absolutely. Those assurances were given not just at the time to me but subsequently to the Select Committee and to a criminal case under oath. They were repeatedly given. Let me say again for the avoidance of any doubt that if those assurances turn out not to be true, the point is not just that he should not have worked in government, it is that he should, like others, face the full force of the law.
Q9. Can I raise with the Prime Minister a different case of hacking—the computer hacker Gary McKinnon? While I recognise that the Home Secretary has a legal process to follow, does the Prime Minister share the concern for my constituent’s nine-year nightmare? He feels that his life is literally hanging by a thread that is waiting to be cut by extradition. (65529)
I do recognise the seriousness of this case, and the Deputy Prime Minister and I actually raised it with President Obama when he visited. I think the point is that it is not so much about the alleged offence, which everyone knows is a very serious offence, and we can understand why the Americans feel so strongly about it. The case is now in front of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has to consider reports about Gary McKinnon’s health and well-being. It is right that she does that in a proper and effectively—I am sorry to use the word again today—quasi-judicial way.
In these days of a rush to make savage cuts in public spending, the decimation of the police service and the hammering of individuals because of the withdrawal of legal aid, can I ask the Prime Minister to justify the following expenditure? At the beginning of last month, a serviceman from Northern Ireland asked for a non-urgent pair of boots costing £45. They were dispatched from defence base Bicester by private courier to Northern Ireland, at a cost of £714.80. Is it not time the Prime Minister got a grip of this?
I know that former Health Ministers wanted to hear the rattle of every bedpan, and maybe I need to see the order of every pair of boots in the military, but I recognise the point the right hon. Gentleman makes. One of the things we are trying to do in the Ministry of Defence is recognise that there is a huge amount of back-office and logistics costs, and we want to make that more efficient so that we can actually spend money on the front line. The example he gives is a good one, and I shall check it out and see if we can save some money.
Q10. Can the Prime Minister assure the House that all illegal press activity under the last Government will be investigated now, and that that will include the criminal conspiracy between the highest levels in that last Government and parts of the Murdoch empire, including the blagging of bank accounts of Lord Ashcroft in a bid to undermine him and his position as laid out in “Dirty politics, Dirty times”? (65530)
The point about the inquiry that we are shortly going to discuss is that it will look at the relationship between politicians and media groups, across the whole issue of that relationship including as it relates to media policy. I think that is extremely important. The inquiry will have the ability to call politicians—serving politicians and previous Prime Ministers—to get to the bottom of what happened and how unhealthy the relationship was. That is what needs to happen.
On Monday, the MOD permanent secretary told the Public Accounts Committee that the Prime Minister himself blocked the National Audit Office from accessing relevant National Security Council documents. The auditors considered them essential to assess whether the decisions on the aircraft carrier in the defence review represented value for money. That refusal is unprecedented. In the interests of full transparency and accountability to Parliament, will the Prime Minister now agree to immediately release the information that the NAO needs?
The short answer is that we were following precedent, but the long answer is that if the right hon. Lady wants me to come to her Committee and explain what an appalling set of decisions the last Government made on aircraft carriers, I will. The delay alone by the Government whom she worked for added £1.6 billion to the cost of the aircraft carriers. So if she wants me to turn up and not just tell her what we discussed in Cabinet but lay out the full detail of the waste that her Government were responsible for, name the day.
Q11. Following a question from me to the Prime Minister’s predecessor three and a half years ago, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) set up pilot schemes to provide sign language support for deaf parents and their children in Devon and Merseyside. Those have now been completed, and they were a huge success. Will the Prime Minister meet a delegation of deaf parents, their children and their representatives to discuss how that sign language support can be extended to all children and their parents across the UK? (65531)
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. We do a lot to support different languages throughout the UK. Signing is an incredibly valuable language for many people in our country. Those pilot schemes were successful. I looked at what the previous Prime Minister said to him when he asked that question, and I will certainly arrange a meeting for him with the Department for Education to see how we can take this forward.
My question to the Prime Minister concerns the contract for the Thameslink rail programme. As he will be aware, that is of great concern throughout the House, and with 20,000 manufacturing jobs at risk, it is right that it should be. Will he confirm that no contract has yet been signed, and indeed that no contract can be let or signed until the funding package is determined? That is a complicated process.
This is the heart of my question to the Prime Minister: given that the funding package—[Interruption.] Twenty thousand jobs are at stake! Given that 20,000 jobs are at risk, will the Prime Minister look at holding the competition for that funding package with the Secretary of State for Trade—
I know that the right hon. Gentleman cares deeply about this issue. Bombardier is a great company, and it has a great future in our country. We want to see it succeed, but I have to say that in this case, the procurement process was designed and initiated by the previous Government. This Government were bound by the criteria that they set, and therefore we have to continue with a decision that has been made according to those criteria. But we are now looking at all the EU rules and the procurement rules to see whether we can change and make better for future issues like that one.
Q12. Will the Prime Minister join me in calling for the electrification of the Crewe to Chester railway line, which would provide a major and immediate boost to people in Chester and beyond in north Wales? That would also eventually link us to the much needed High Speed 2. (65532)
I am well aware of this campaign. I seem to remember spending a lot of time at Crewe station during the last Parliament, normally accompanied by people dressed in top hat and tails—some of my colleagues will remember that.
My hon. Friend’s suggestion is not in the current programme, but we will look sympathetically at it. We want to see more electrification of railway lines in our country.
Let me give the hon. Gentleman some of the figures. Only nine universities are charging £9,000 for every student; 58 universities will not charge £9,000 for any of their courses; and 108 out of 124 further education colleges will charge less than £6,000 for all their courses. However, the point I would make is this: university degrees have not suddenly started to cost £7,000, £8,000 or £9,000; they have always cost that. The question is this: do we ask graduates to pay—successful graduates who are earning more than £21,000—or do we ask the taxpayers to pay? The money does not grow on trees. We have made our choice, and the Labour party, which introduced tuition fees, must come up with its answer.
Q13. Amid the turmoil in other European economies caused by the euro, is not it essential that this country continues to take steps to reduce its debt, and that it steers clear of paying for any future EU bail-out, whatever advice to the contrary the Prime Minister receives from the Opposition? (65533)
The point I would make is this: the problem is not only the restrictions of the euro, but the building up of unsustainable levels of debt. Although we are out of the euro, that does not mean that we do not have to deal with our debts—we absolutely do. However, we have the opportunity of being quite a safe haven for people. We can actually see our market interest rates come down because of the action that this Government are taking. We must keep that up, but we must also recognise that the eurozone sorting out its own problems is in our interests, so we must be helpful and constructive with the work that needs to be done.
Q14. Last week, I was approached about a fee-paying debt management company that had advised its client to take out a remortgage for £50,000 to pay his debts. The company paid £11,000 to his creditors and went out of business, taking the rest of his money. I have many other examples like this. Self-regulation simply is not working in this industry. Will the Prime Minister urgently consider regulating the sector and provide the Office of Fair Trading with the resources necessary to take enforcement action swiftly so that vulnerable people do not continue to be ripped off? (65534)
I know that the hon. Lady has not just constituency experience of this but managed a citizens advice bureau, and so has huge experience of people with debt problems. Citizens Advice is probably the finest organisation in our country for helping people with debt. I will certainly consider her suggestion to consider whether the sector can be better regulated, what we can do to support citizens advice bureaux at this difficult time, and the issue of credit unions and how we can lead to their expansion.
Q15. The whole House will share the outrage that the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) expressed this week about the publication of private medical information relating to his son. He also said that when he was Prime Minister he tried to set up a judicial inquiry into phone hacking. Will my right hon. Friend tell me what detailed preparatory work he inherited? (65535)
I have every sympathy with my predecessor, particularly over the blagging of his details by a newspaper, if that is what happened. In public life we are all subject to huge amounts of extra scrutiny, and that is fair, but it is not fair when laws are broken. We have all suffered from this, and the fact is that we have all been too silent about it. That is part of the problem. Your bins are gone through by some media organisation, but you hold back from dealing with it because you want good relations with the media. We need some honesty about this issue on a cross-party basis so that we can take on this problem.
I have to say that I did not inherit any work on a public inquiry, but I am determined that the one we will set up, with the support of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, will get the job done.
The 45th international children’s games will come to the fair county of Lanarkshire at the start of August. Some 1,500 12 to 15-year-olds will participate in nine sports across the county. Will the Prime Minister congratulate two Labour local authorities—North Lanarkshire council and South Lanarkshire council—on their foresight in bidding for and hosting the games? Will he send a representative of the Government to the event?
I certainly congratulate the two local authorities. Tragically, there are not too many Conservative local authorities I can congratulate in Scotland. However, I am happy to congratulate the hon. Gentleman’s. It sounds like an excellent initiative, and I wish everyone taking part the very best of luck.
As I will explain in a minute, there will be one inquiry but with two parts, and it will be led by a judge, who will be the one who will eventually agree the terms of reference, set out the way it will work and be responsible for calling people under oath.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement. In recent days, the whole country has been shocked by the revelations of the phone hacking scandal. What this country—and the House—has to confront is an episode that is, frankly, disgraceful: accusations of widespread lawbreaking by parts of our press: alleged corruption by some police officers; and, as we have just discussed, the failure of our political system over many, many years to tackle a problem that has been getting worse. We must at all times keep the real victims at the front and centre of this debate. 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.
I believe that we all want the same thing: press, police and politicians who serve the public. Last night the Deputy Prime Minister and I met the Leader of the Opposition. I also met the Chairs of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the Home Affairs Committee and the Justice Committee to discuss the best way forward. Following these consultations, I want to set out today how we intend to proceed: first, on the public inquiry; secondly, on the issues surrounding News International’s proposed takeover of BSkyB; and thirdly, on ethics in the police service and its relationship with the press.
Before I do that, I will update the House on the current criminal investigation into phone hacking. I met Sir Paul Stephenson last night. He assured me that the investigation is fully resourced. It is one of the largest currently under way in the country, and is being carried out by a completely different team from the one that carried out the original investigation. It is being led by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, who I believe impressed the Home Affairs Committee yesterday. Her team is looking through 11,000 pages containing 3,870 names, and around 4,000 mobile and 5,000 landline phone numbers. The team has contacted 170 people so far, and will contact every single person named in those documents. The commissioner’s office informed me this morning that the team has so far made eight arrests and undertaken numerous interviews.
Let me now turn to the action that the Government are taking. Last week in the House I set out our intention to establish an independent public inquiry into phone hacking and other illegal practices in the British press. We have looked carefully at what the nature of the inquiry should be. We want it to be one that is as robust as possible—one that can get to the truth fastest and also get to work the quickest, and, vitally, one that commands the full confidence of the public. Clearly there are two pieces of work that have to be done. First, we need a full investigation into wrongdoing in the press and the police, including the failure of the first police investigation. Secondly, we need a review of regulation of the press. We would like to get on with both those elements as quickly as possible, while being mindful of the ongoing criminal investigations. So, after listening carefully, we have decided that the best way to proceed is with one inquiry, but in two parts.
I can tell the House that the inquiry will be led by one of the most senior judges in the country, Lord Justice Leveson. He will report to both the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The inquiry will be established under the Inquiries Act 2005, which means that it will have the power to summon witnesses, including newspaper reporters, management, proprietors, policemen and politicians of all parties, to give evidence under oath and in public.
Proprietors were included in that list.
Starting as soon as possible, Lord Justice Leveson, assisted by a panel of senior independent figures with relevant expertise in media, broadcasting, regulation and government will inquire into the culture, practices and ethics of the press; its relationship with the police; the failure of the current system of regulation; the contacts made, and discussions had, between national newspapers and politicians; why previous warnings about press misconduct were not heeded; and the issue of cross-media ownership. He will make recommendations for a new, more effective way of regulating the press—one that supports its freedom, plurality and independence from Government, but which also demands the highest ethical and professional standards. He will also make recommendations about the future conduct of relations between politicians and the press. That part of the inquiry we hope will report within 12 months.
The second part of the inquiry will examine the extent of unlawful or improper conduct at the News of the World and other newspapers, and the way in which management failures may have allowed it to happen. That part of the inquiry will also look into the original police investigation and the issue of corrupt payments to police officers, and will consider the implications for the relationships between newspapers and the police. Lord Justice Leveson has agreed to these draft terms of reference. I am placing them in the Library today, and we will send them to the devolved Administrations. No one should be in any doubt of our intention to get to the bottom of the truth and learn the lessons for the future.
Next is the issue of News International’s bid to take over BSkyB. By the day, we are hearing shocking allegations: allegations that royal protection officers were in the pay of the News of the World and handed over the contact details of the royal family for profit; and allegations that the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), had his personal details blagged by another News International title. As both the alleged nature of the malpractice and the scope of the newspapers involved widen, serious questions must be asked about News Corporation’s proposed takeover of BSkyB. Added to this, News Corporation has withdrawn its proposed undertakings in lieu of reference to the Competition Commission. That is why on Monday my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport referred the bid to the Competition Commission. The relevant independent authorities will now have the time to take an exhaustive look at all the relevant issues and come to a considered decision on whether the takeover should proceed. It will then be up to the Secretary of State to make the final decision, in his quasi-judicial capacity.
In every way we are following—and we must follow—the law with respect to News International’s proposed acquisition of BSkyB, but let me repeat what I said on Monday. In my view, this business should be focused not on mergers and takeovers, but on clearing up the mess and getting its house in order, and that is what the House will be voting on tonight. Let me also say this. The people involved, whether they were directly responsible for the wrongdoing, whether they sanctioned it or whether they covered it up, and however high or low they go, must not only be brought to justice; they must also have no future role in running a media company in our country.
Now let me turn to the issue of ethics in the police, and in particular their relationship with the press. Of course it is important that there is a good relationship between the media and the police. Police often use newspapers and other media to hunt down wanted criminals and to appeal for information. However, allegations have been made that some corrupt police officers may have taken payments from newspapers. And there are wider concerns that the relationship between the police and the press can also be too close.
When I spoke to Sir Paul Stephenson yesterday, he made it clear that he is as determined as I am that all aspects of the police relationship with the media should be beyond reproach. On the allegation concerning improper payments to police officers, I can assure the House that the Metropolitan police immediately referred the case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Since then, the IPCC’s most senior commissioner has been supervising the Met’s work to identify the officers who may have taken these payments. As soon as any officers are identified, the commission has publicly made it clear that it will move to a full independent investigation drawing on all the available expertise necessary so that the public are reassured.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been assured by the commission that it has both the powers and the resources needed to see this through. It will go wherever the evidence leads it, and it will have full powers to investigate fully any police wrongdoing that it might uncover. The Home Secretary has also today commissioned a report from the IPCC on its experience of investigating corruption in the police service and any lessons that can be learned. The initial findings of this will be delivered to her by the end of the summer. I can also tell the House that in addition to the work of the judicial inquiry on the wider relationship between the police and the press, Sir Paul Stephenson is looking to invite a senior public figure to advise him on the ethics that should underpin that relationship for his own force, the Metropolitan police. In particular, this figure will advise him on how to ensure maximum transparency and public confidence in how the arrangements are working.
As we discussed a few moments ago, if we are calling for greater transparency from the police, I think it is only right that we provide it in Government, too. After all, as I have said, one of the reasons why we got into this situation is because, over the decades, politicians and the press have spent time courting support, not confronting the problems. So I will be consulting the Cabinet Secretary on an amendment to the ministerial code to require Ministers to record all meetings with newspaper and other media proprietors, senior editors and executives, regardless of the nature of the meeting. Permanent secretaries and special advisers will also be required to record such meetings. This information should be published quarterly. It is a first for our country, and alongside the other steps we are taking, will help to make the UK Government one of the most transparent in the world. I will also be discussing this with the Opposition, and perhaps we can adopt it on a cross-party basis.
After this statement I will be meeting the family of Milly Dowler. None of us can imagine what they have gone through, but I do know that they, like everyone else in this country, want their politicians—all of us—to bring this ugly chapter to a close, and ensure that nothing like it can ever happen again. It is in that spirit that I commend this statement to the House.
I start by thanking the Prime Minister for his statement, and for the meeting last night. The revelations of the past week have shocked the whole country, and the public now rightly expect those of us in this House, who represent them, to provide not just an echo of that shock but the leadership necessary to start putting things right. That is why it is in the interests of the whole House and the country that we move forward swiftly, comprehensively and, wherever possible, on an agreed basis.
Let me ask the Prime Minister first about the timing, nature and scope of the inquiry. I welcome the establishment of the inquiry today. Can he confirm that it will be staffed and up and running before the recess? Can he also confirm that, from the moment the judge is appointed today, it will be an offence for anyone to destroy documents related to the issues of the inquiry? And can the Prime Minister tell us what steps he will be taking to preserve documents in Downing street that might be relevant to the judge’s inquiry?
Turning to how the inquiry will operate, we welcome a number of aspects of today’s announcement that clearly build on the way forward that we have been calling for. It is right that there should be a single judge-led inquiry; we have made it clear that it must be judge led if it is to get to the bottom of what happened and when. Can the Prime Minister confirm that it is being set up under the Inquiries Act 2005, and that it will have the power to compel witnesses? Will he explain how he envisages the judge and the panel that he mentioned operating together?
As for the scope of the inquiry, in his press conference last Friday the Prime Minister set out a number of areas that he envisaged being covered, and he has gone further today. I think it is right that the Government have now decided to follow our advice, and the clear views of the Hacked Off campaign and the Dowler family, in opting for a far broader inquiry.
Does the Prime Minister agree with me that yesterday’s important sitting of the Home Affairs Select Committee made it very clear that questions about the relationship between the media and the police run far wider than what was covered by the first investigation? We must take the steps necessary to restore the public’s faith in the police’s ability to hold to account all those who have broken the law.
Similarly, it can only be right that the inquiry has been broadened to include the relationship between politicians and the press. On the specifics of that—the relationship between politicians and the press, and the relationship between the police and the press—can the Prime Minister assure the House that these aspects of the inquiry will be very much judge led, and that those who appear as witnesses to the inquiry will be under oath? [Hon. Members: “He said that!”] If that is the case, I welcome it.
Alongside these important questions about behaviour in Britain’s newsrooms, the police and the relationship between politicians and the press, a number of additional issues need consideration. On the issue of media regulation, does he agree that our instinct should continue to be for self-regulation; but does he further agree that it needs to be proved that self-regulation can be made to work? Will he comment on the work being done on privacy issues and explain whether he sees that as being part of this investigation?
I welcome the decision to make cross-media ownership part of the inquiry. Does he agree with me that abuses of power are more likely to happen where there are excessive concentrations of power? Will he confirm that the recommendations made under this inquiry can be legislated for in the Government’s forthcoming communications Act? May I suggest that it would be wise for him to bring that Act forward from its currently planned date of 2015?
Finally, I welcome the Prime Minister’s proposals about transparency. I hope and expect he will ensure that that proposal is implemented in a retrospective way back to the last general election, so he will publish all the details—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] So he will publish all the details of the meetings he had, and I will publish all the details of the meetings I had. Let me end by saying that people such as the Dowler family, and other members of the public who are the innocent victims of phone hacking, deserve a full and comprehensive inquiry. They need us to get on with the inquiry, to make it fully comprehensive and to get to the truth. They have my commitment and that of my party to make sure that we do everything to make that happen.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the helpful meeting we had last night and for the constructive attitude that he is showing in trying to get the terms of reference right and to get the inquiry under way in an agreed format. I will try to answer his questions as directly as I can.
The inquiry will start at once, in the sense of getting the terms of reference published: they will have to be consulted on and sent to the devolved institutions; we have to draw up the names for the panel—but we are not going to waste any time with that. We will get on with it. On the issue of destroying evidence, let me be clear that once a criminal investigation is under way it is a crime to destroy any evidence that could possibly relate to it—and everyone needs to bear that in mind.
Yes, this inquiry will be established under the Inquiries Act. As for the relationship between the judge and the panel, that is an important point. The panel, whose members have not yet been approached and appointed, must have a range of expertise available to it, including specialised understanding of newspaper media, but also wider than that. Those panel members will assist the judge in the work he does. As I said to the right hon. Gentleman last night, we would welcome suggestions of names of people who could bring expertise to bear.
Yes, the inquiry is now a broad one, as the right hon. Gentleman said. I think that is right, but we need to make sure that we put quite a tight time frame on it, as we need to see results. It is right to look at issues such as cross-media ownership, but it is possible to spend for ever looking at ways of measuring that, and we have to be careful that we do not have this going on for years without reaching a conclusion.
On relationships between the police and the press, and between politicians and the press—yes, everyone whom the judge wishes to call can be called to testify under oath. On the issue of media regulation, I prefer to call what we need to aim for independent regulation rather than self-regulation, which has quite a bad name now because it missed too many things. I do not want to move to a world of full statutory regulation. I worked in an industry—television—that was statutorily regulated, and it works, but I do not think it is right for the press. However, we will have to be guided by what the inquiry finds. As parties looking at the matter, I hope we do not get into a bidding war—I think that the right hon. Gentleman understands what I mean. Let us shoot for independent regulation if we can.
On the issue of privacy, of course the inquiry will consider it, but perhaps the inquiry will also look at the very good work that I know will be done by the Select Committees, on privacy and super-injunctions. On legislation, we will do that as necessary: we have a forward legislative programme, but let us see what proposals are made.
On transparency, I am consulting on the proposal to make much more transparent what Ministers do, including not just business meetings but social meetings. It is worth asking whether we should go further on meetings with journalists, as the police might want to do. I am happy to discuss how far the right hon. Gentleman wants that to go back: it was a slight case of, “Make me transparent, but not yet,” as he proposed stopping at the election, but let us have a good look at that.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, and thank him for consulting me, and my two fellow Select Committee Chairmen, about the terms of reference last night. Although there is no doubt that we need a stronger system of regulation of the press in this country, will the Prime Minister bear in mind that although it was newspapers that were responsible for these wholly unacceptable and often illegal activities, it was also newspapers that exposed them? I hope he will agree that a free press is a fundamental cornerstone of a free society, and that we must do nothing to jeopardise that.
My hon. Friend speaks very good sense about this matter. Ultimately, we want not just a free press, but a free and vigorous press, which can make our lives miserable a lot of the time. That is absolutely vital. There will be those in the press who will be made nervous of a judge-led inquiry covering all the aspects of this matter, and I stress the importance of the panel in assisting the judge to ensure that the changes proposed are based on evidence of what matters and what works.
Given what the Prime Minister has said, will he now publish details of all the discussions that he and the Culture Secretary have had with News Corporation representatives since he entered Downing street? A week ago, when I asked the Prime Minister why the Government did not refer the BSkyB bid to the Competition Commission when Labour recommended it, he said:
“You would look pretty for a day, but useless for a week.”—[Official Report, 6 July 2011; Vol. 530, c. 1510.]
Does he regret that answer?
What has happened here is a massive firestorm of allegations that have got worse and worse. On both sides of the House, all of us started from the proposition that we had to keep separate the investigations that were taking place and the inquiry into BSkyB. I believe that we are now getting it right, and if the right hon. Gentleman has played a role by pushing and asking questions, I pay tribute to him. He, too, was a Culture Secretary, and knows about these issues. Just as I say to him, “Well done for pushing,” I suspect that he should also be saying to himself, “Why did we miss this for so long?”
I thank the Prime Minister for his decisive announcement and for the work that he and the Deputy Prime Minister have done to ensure that the concerns that my colleagues have been expressing for 17 years, and the calls for an inquiry that we have been making for two years, have at last been accepted.
Will the inquiry look into the Information Commissioner’s reports of 2006, and why his confirmation that 31 media titles and 305 journalists were involved in illegal activities in relation to personal information were not the subject of implementation of recommendations by the Labour party in government, whose leadership continued, even as late as last December, to accuse my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary of being too critical of Murdoch?
To be fair to my right hon. Friend, the issue of the Information Commissioner’s reports—particularly the two reports he mentions—really is a rebuke not just to the previous Government but to the then Opposition. We too should have made more of those reports, which included some very important detail about what was going wrong in data handling, data theft and the rest of it. We must ensure that the inquiry asks the question, “Why were they ignored, and what are we going to do about it now?”
May I commend the Prime Minister on the appointment of Lord Justice Leveson, who, as I am sure the Justice Secretary will confirm, is a man of the highest intelligence and integrity, and extremely well equipped to take on the job? On the future regulation of the press, I urge the Prime Minister not to fall into the trap that some in the press are setting, by asserting that any degree of statutory regulation is bound to lead to an end of self-regulation. Given that Express Newspapers has withdrawn from the Press Complaints Commission, as it did in January, will he acknowledge that some measures may have to be imposed by statute so that there is a stronger system of self-regulation?
The right hon. Gentleman speaks some very wise words. There are ways of setting up a regulatory system that is effectively independent, that is non-statutory, that does not have the Government’s fingertips all over it, as it were, and that can do a good and trusted job, as we see in the case of advertising standards. In any case, this matter will not now be for us, but for the inquiry, and it is important that the inquiry should look into it carefully.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and the terms of the public inquiry that he set out, but will the public inquiry consider the role that mobile phone companies have played in the scandal, and will there also be consideration of the responsibilities that they may have to their clients, to protect their privacy?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It takes, as it were, two to blag—someone to ask, and someone to give. We do need to consider the matter. The inquiry will have a huge amount of evidence to go through, and it will need to ensure that it has proper technical expertise to get to the bottom of the matter.
May I also welcome the inquiry and thank the Prime Minister for consulting the Home Affairs Committee on the terms of reference? He seems to have included our suggestions in his statement today. He is right to say that the Committee was concerned by some of the evidence that we received yesterday, but we were very impressed by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, who is going through the list at the rate of 30 victims a month, and has about 12,000 telephone numbers to go through. If the Met requires further resources, is the Prime Minister able to give it what it needs?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his approach and the constructive suggestions that he made last night, many of which we have put into the terms of reference. We will also consider some of his thoughts on the membership of the panel. Obviously, it is for the Met to decide how it distributes its resources. Sue Akers has two inquiries going on: one into the phone hacking at the News of the World and elsewhere, and one into corruption within the Met—and that inquiry is now reporting to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which might take over part of it, although of course the police must have operational independence.
The Prime Minister is absolutely right to concentrate on wider issues than the BSkyB takeover. Is it not the case, however, that over the past few years, all those whom the public expect to behave—bankers, MPs, journalists, the police—have shown, or at least some of them have shown, that they are not capable of meeting that trust. Regulation plays a part, but is it not the case that all those who have positions of responsibility must examine their consciences and work out how best to behave in future to maintain public trust?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. No regulatory system in the world can protect against all bad practice, and a sense of social and moral responsibility is vital, whether one is a banker, an MP or a journalist. I am sure that we can do better than the current system, because on the evidence of what has happened over the past 10 years and the warnings that have been ignored, it is clear that the Press Complaints Commission is not set up in the right way, and has not worked.
There has been serious disquiet about whether it was appropriate for former senior public servants to take up roles with News International. One example is Andy Hayman, who took a job with News International very soon after leaving the Metropolitan police; another is the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Macdonald. Will the inquiry be able to consider the appropriateness of that, given the damage that it does to public confidence?
As the hon. Lady knows, in politics we have huge levels of transparency in relation to jobs that former Ministers can go into, and we also have a committee dealing with appointments to ensure that there is an appropriate gap. However, she has made a good point, and I am sure that the committee of inquiry will want to consider it.
The inquiry announced by my right hon. Friend involves a very wide set of responsibilities. Can he be satisfied that the proper balance will be struck in the conduct of that inquiry—that, for example, we will not allow justifiable annoyance about the activities of tabloid newspapers to obscure the fact that the behaviour, competence and integrity of the Metropolitan police is of equal importance, not least because it extends to many other areas of activity in the country?
Perhaps it is worth my explaining why we decided, in the end, to have one inquiry rather than two. I think that the problem with the original concept of two inquiries is that the one that was going to be judge-led and investigating the wrongdoing would not really have been able to get under way until much of the criminal prosecution was finished, so the second inquiry—the media inquiry—would race away with conclusions. That was not going to work and be sustainable, and I do not think it would have resulted in such a positive outcome as the one that I think we will see. Nevertheless, my right hon. and learned Friend has made a good point. If we have a broad inquiry, we must ensure that it gets its priorities right within the terms of reference, and I am sure that the judge whom we have appointed will do just that.
Yesterday afternoon we heard that the man who is in charge of counter-terrorism in the Metropolitan police is 99% certain that his phone was hacked. An hour later, I was shown a piece of kit that costs about £1,500 and is readily available on the internet. It effectively sets up an illegal mobile phone mast through which it is possible to listen to any conversation held by anyone on a mobile phone within three miles.
As I have said, that device is publicly available. It is illegal to use it, but private investigators are using it all the time. Is it not vital for the inquiry also to examine the role of private investigators, and the shocking fact that there is absolutely no regulation of them?
The hon. Gentleman has made a good point. One of the features of an inquiry such as this is that the terms of reference are set out and we can agree them and refine them, but in the end the judge will determine where to go on the basis of where the evidence leads. If the judge concludes that that is an important point, he or she can go absolutely down that track.
In 2003, the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport asked for an investigation of the practice by journalists of making illegal payments to the police. Does the Prime Minister agree that those in charge of the inquiry should interview former Labour Ministers to discover why they appear to have taken absolutely no action at the time?
My hon. Friend has made a good point, but I think that if we are to try to get this right, we must all put our hands up and say, “Yes, of course the last Government should have done more to respond to the Richard Thomas reports and the DCMS reports, but we must also ask why the Opposition did not press them more to do so.” We shall all have to answer questions on that basis, and look through the reports and see what was suggested, what was the evidence, and what more could have been done. We will never solve this if we try to do it on a party basis; we must try to do it on a cross-party basis.
I believe that if these measures are carried out, some good will come out of evil. I find myself in the slightly embarrassing position of being able to commend all three party leaders on coming together to ensure that that happens, and I thank them for doing so.
May I ask the Prime Minister whether he would allow Lord Justice Leveson access to the intelligence services as well? At the murkier ends of this scandal, there are allegations that rogue elements of those services have very close dealings with executives at News International, and we need to get to the bottom of that.
Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that the judge can take the inquiry in any direction in which the evidence leads it. He, like others, is free to make submissions to the inquiry, point out evidence, point out conclusions from that evidence, and ask the inquiry to follow that. As well as wanting a broad, independent and tough inquiry, we want some early results—some early harvest—and I am sure that the inquiry will produce that as well.
Will the ambit of the judicial inquiry focus on the need to enable ordinary members of the public, such as bereaved families of service personnel who have given their lives for this country, to seek and achieve legitimate redress of grievances through proper complaints against the media and their agents when they are guilty of malpractice?
That is a good point. We must keep the public, and the victims of what has now emerged, front and centre at all times. Of course we all, as politicians, have strong views about what has gone wrong, what might have happened to all of us and the rest of it, but, although some people have said that there is an element of “revenge for expenses”, this has to be about the public and the victims. Politicians must be very careful. Yes, we want a good and robust system of self-regulation, but we must also be absolutely clear about wanting a strong, free, independent press that is able to challenge and to uncover wrongdoing, as it has done in this case.
Given the Prime Minister’s acknowledgment that a cross-party consensus is essential, why has there been no consultation with the minority parties in the House? Do we just get the conclusions when they are arrived at? May I also ask whether the inquiry will extend to newsrooms in Northern Ireland as well as the other regions of the United Kingdom?
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. That consultation simply was not possible in the time that was available to us. Let me stress, however, that these are draft terms of reference. In the end the judge must be comfortable with them and agree to them, but if the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise devolved issues with the Government and the judge, I am sure that we can ensure that that happens.
Some people find it difficult to sue newspapers that have lied about them because of the complexity and cost that that would involve. I hope the Prime Minister can assure me that the inquiry will look into how people on low incomes can be supported so that they can sue newspapers when they have been lied about.
Obviously one of the things that the inquiry will have to look into is how people can obtain redress from newspapers when they have been wronged. That has been looked into for many years, but the problem is that Governments have not acted. I believe that part of the solution is an effective regulatory system. If people end up having to sue a newspaper, things have gone too far. It ought to be possible to obtain proper redress through a regulatory system that has not just the confidence of the press but the confidence of the public: I think that is the key.
Can the Prime Minister tell the House whether he had any conversations about phone hacking with Andy Coulson at the time of Mr Coulson’s resignation—not his appointment—and will he place in the Library a log of any meetings and phone calls that have taken place between him and Andy Coulson since Mr Coulson’s resignation?
Of course, all the time during Andy Coulson’s employment, when articles were appearing and there was a storm of allegations, I had that conversation with him many times, because I had employed him. I had accepted his assurances: assurances which, as I have said, were given to many others. In the end, the reason for his resignation, the reason for his giving up on the second chance, was that he just felt that he could not go on doing the job, a job that he did well—no one denies that he did the job well—because of all the allegations. As for contacts, I have said what I have said about transparency, and I think that that is right.
Yesterday I met representatives of Hacked Off, who have been campaigning for a full inquiry on behalf of victims from the Dowlers to Hugh Grant. They have a range of requirements for what they would consider to be a sufficiently full inquiry. Has the Prime Minister met them, and does he believe that his current proposals will meet their demands?
I shall be meeting representatives of Hacked Off this afternoon. I have looked carefully at the briefing notes that they have issued, and I also listened carefully to what was said by the hon. Gentleman’s former colleague Evan Harris on the radio this morning. I think that we have reflected many of their concerns, and indeed some of their language, in the terms of reference, but I look forward to hearing what they have to say today. These are draft terms of reference, and, if they can be improved, we shall try to improve them.
Before the inquiries have been completed, if News Corporation does not heed the mood of the British public and does not heed the voice of the House of Commons this afternoon, will the Prime Minister be prepared to present a short Bill amending cross-media ownership rules, and also addressing the absence of limits to ownership of United Kingdom broadcasters by non-EU companies and non-EU nationals? There is not such an unfettered free market in the United States, for example.
I think it is difficult to bring forward specific legislation for a specific company; we have got to be a Government under the law. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but it is worth reminding Labour Members that a US-based company is able to purchase all of a UK broadcaster because of an Act that their Government passed.
I welcome the Leveson inquiry and agree very much with the Prime Minister that our focus should be on the innocent victims whom we have heard about recently, but he will be aware that there were concerns in the House that the hacking of telephones has impeded MPs in their work and interfered with freedom of expression, which is one of the most deeply felt and important aspects of our work. The Standards and Privileges Committee produced a report—its 14th report—on this subject. Will the Prime Minister ensure that it is fed into the inquiry and fully considered?
Everybody is aware that the reason why Murdoch had such tremendous power was that he had more than 40% of the print media, with television stations thrown in. It was not because of his amazing personality that politicians of all parties were in his pocket; it was because he had such power through the newspapers. In answer to the recent question of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly), the Prime Minister said he did not want to strip Murdoch or anybody else of their titles. Will he therefore include in the inquiry’s terms of reference that the judge can, if he so wishes, say that nobody should have more than one title or one television station? Will the Prime Minister agree to that, because without it this cancer on the body politic—Murdoch—will remain?
Of course, the inquiry can go where it wants to go; it can follow the evidence where it leads. I am sure the judge will want to produce an inquiry under the current law. That is what we have to do; we have to be a Government of the law. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman that we cannot have a responsible company owning a television or radio licence and also a newspaper, but we do need rules about plurality. That is why the media have not only a competition policy that they have to obey, but some rules about plurality so we can make sure there is a decent share of voice—a number of different voices in our media. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I am afraid that not enough was done over the last 10 years to make that happen.
We do not want anybody to be arrested in secret, but neither is it right that individual police officers should immediately contact their favourite journalist to let them know when someone is being arrested. Will the Prime Minister look at having a transparent and standard way of it being made public when someone has been arrested, so that this cannot happen in future?
My hon. Friend correctly identifies this as a problem, but I am not sure that I agree with his solution, although I will certainly look at it. It seems to me that it would be much better to try to have the same sort of transparency between the police and the media that we want between politicians and the media, because, in the end, I think transparency about media contacts would help to prevent the culture of leaking and briefing that has grown up in some parts of the police.
The problem we face is that we have a set of rules concerning competition policy, plurality and “fit and proper” tests that are all laid down in the law and have to be carried out by Ofcom, the competition authorities and, indeed, the Secretary of State. He has to obey the law—and these laws were, largely, put in place by the previous Government. The Competition Commission will look at this; it will take its time, but it cannot take for ever in making its recommendation. Then there will be a decision for the Secretary of State. We cannot do anything but obey the law, but what we are doing today—what the leaders of the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats and I are all doing—is making a clear statement about our opinion by saying to this business, “You can’t go on pursuing a merger when you ought to be dealing with the mess you’ve got in your own business”, and I think that is the best thing to do.
Does the Prime Minister agree that some of the evidence given to the Home Affairs Committee yesterday must have come as a shock and a surprise? For instance, how can it be justified for the police to dine with the very people whom they are investigating, and is that not all the more reason why this inquiry is so necessary?
I agree. I watched some of the evidence, and that was very striking. Let us be frank about transparency: MPs have had to go through this over expenses and meetings and other things, and it is time for the police to address it, too. Transparency is the best answer. There are bound to be relationships between senior police leaders and senior media executives, not least because the police have to explain what they are trying to do, but if those relationships are transparent, people can know what is going on.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, and may I say that it is good to see him on the front foot? May I also remind him of a sentence in the statement? He stated that “Sir Paul Stephenson is looking to invite a senior public figure to advise him on the ethics that should underpin that relationship for his own force, the Metropolitan police.” May I suggest that there is a wider need throughout the nation for such ethics to be applied, and may I ask the Prime Minister to take action to ensure that other forces are involved in this process?
Of course, relationships that have become unhealthy between some police officers and some media organisations are not just a problem in the Met, but as the Met is our premium and biggest force, I think that if it starts the process of not only transparency but the culture change that is necessary, that would set a good example to others.
In light of the information available to the Prime Minister on phone hacking, what techniques does he anticipate will be used to pressurise Ofcom over its decision as to whether Rupert and James Murdoch are fit and proper persons to run News International and BSkyB, and what action will he take to prevent any such intimidation?
The “fit and proper” test is a matter for Ofcom; it has to carry that out. It is right in this country that we do not ask individual politicians to make those individual decisions about who is fit and proper. We have also asked the Competition Commission to look at this issue. There is a separate issue, too: we need to allow Ofcom to make a “fit and proper” test at the point of full acquisition. That is a particular detail that we need to look at for the future.
For the first time ever, I think, I agree with the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner). What is most disturbing and murkiest about this whole situation is the relationship between politicians and the media. From the moment when Tony Blair flew to Australia back in the 1990s, that relationship has meant that successive leaders of major parties have felt it necessary to cosy-up to media moguls. May we have a situation in future in which party leaders do not go to the birthday parties of these people, and instead keep them at arm’s length, so that the whole country can be assured that it is the public interest, not any media interest, that has power in the land?
The relationship did get unhealthy. It was too close and, as I have put it, too much time was spent courting the media and not enough time was spent confronting the problems, but let us be honest, we are not suddenly all going to become monks and live in a monastery. We have to have relationships so that politicians can try to persuade media organisations that they are trying to do the right thing. We have a duty to explain our policies and what we are doing for the country. Democracy is government by explanation, so we have to explain ourselves to the media, but I hope that this whole process will end up delivering a healthier relationship where we can do that explaining, but confront the problems at the same time.
Given what the Prime Minister has said about the police’s performance yesterday, was it wise of the Home Secretary to describe John Yates as doing a good job, and of Boris Johnson, when chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, to describe this as a song and dance and a load of codswallop?
Let me deal specifically with the issue of John Yates, because this is important. He does an extremely important job for the country in terms of counter-terrorism policing. I have watched him and the job that he does at close hand. We have to have a situation where the police are operationally independent, and if we put our trust in Paul Stephenson to run his team, we must allow him to do that. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to think about this: it would be quite dangerous, would it not, if politicians were able to point at individual police officers, particularly those who were leading investigations into other politicians? So there are some dangers here. I think that John Yates is doing a good job on counter-terrorism. Clearly, as he said himself, he has some questions to answer about what went wrong with the initial investigation, and I hope that he will welcome this inquiry, which will get to the bottom of what went wrong.
In the light of and under the pressure of this inquiry it seems possible that serving police officers will go off on sick leave because of stress. Will the Prime Minister guarantee that in no circumstances will the taxpayer be asked to fund any pension of any police officer, either serving or now retired, who is found to be corrupt, as that would be the final insult?
The Prime Minister talks about independent regulation. May I ask that the inquiry considers possible remedies in respect of applying pecuniary damages where wrongdoing is found and, more importantly, ensuring that an equal amount of time and space is given to printing a retraction as is spent on vilifying people?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. I have worked in a regulated industry, in television, where you could be fined if you got something wrong—the company I worked for was fined a lot of money once—and there is no doubt that that has a huge effect on the business. But it is not for us to say what the rules should be; it is for this inquiry to do that and it should be properly advised by experts who understand how the media works.
May I congratulate the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, and you, Mr Speaker, on granting the Standing Order No. 24 debate in order to put Parliament at the heart of this matter? There is a danger in all this. In the scandal involving MPs, most MPs were of the highest integrity and were working hard in public service. Likewise, most journalists, including those at News International, are hard working and are of the highest integrity. Will the Prime Minister just mention that fact?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The British press has a lot to be proud of in terms of its record of investigative journalism, of uncovering the truth, of providing information and entertainment, and of holding the powerful to account. The point I would make to the sceptics in the press who will worry about this inquiry is that we cannot go on as we are, and we need to do something to stop this firestorm, to protect what is good in the media and to ensure its freedom for the future, and also to deal with the abuse that we clearly see in front of us.
Earlier, in his responses during Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister alluded to alleged lying to Select Committees. Given that misleading a Select Committee or refusing to turn up as a witness for a Select Committee is contempt of Parliament but that the last time criminal sanctions were invoked against anybody for that was in 1666, will he undertake to introduce emergency legislation to make contempt of Parliament a criminal offence at the earliest opportunity?
I will have to look closely at the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises. Perhaps it is something on which the Leader of the House, who does not quite go back to 1666 but goes some way further towards it than I do, will be able to give him some satisfaction.
With the number of individuals and organisations with questions to answer growing by the day, will the Prime Minister assure me that, should there be further dramatic developments in the coming weeks he would not hesitate to add his voice to the call for a recall of this place from our summer recess so that they could be debated on the Floor of the House?
There is never normally any shortage of people calling for Parliament to be recalled—indeed, I remember that a recent recess had not even started when someone called for Parliament to be recalled. I may not be the first out of the traps, if I may put it that way.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s repeated emphasis on transparency. In that respect, does he think it would be useful if freedom of information legislation was extended to public and private bodies that operate fully in the public sphere, notably all the media ones?
I am sure that that is something the inquiry can look at. I do not share Tony Blair’s regret on freedom of information; I think that it has actually been a good thing. What we are seeking here is more transparency, so that people can see who is meeting and who is doing what, rather than having to have a process of discovery. What this Government are bringing, across quite a range of areas, is that original transparency to reduce the need for often quite expensive discovery.
I very much welcome the Prime Minister’s plans to change the ministerial code in respect of meetings with members of the media. May I press him on the definition of “media”? In a world where increasingly people search for their news via Google and so on, and they share their news on Facebook and the like, I suggest that those organisations and meetings with them should also be in the public domain.
My hon. Friend raises a very good point, because “media” now encompasses such a wide range of things. That is one of the reasons why I think it is necessary to consult briefly on this change to the ministerial code before we introduce it, because I want to make sure that we do it in a way that is clear and works well.
An outraged public demand action and expect leadership in the public interest. At every stage, the Prime Minister has been slow to act. Does he agree that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit and proper person? Given that we now know that Lord Ashdown warned the Prime Minister not to appoint Andy Coulson, does he have any regrets about appointing somebody who was clearly not a fit and proper person?
The point I would make is that in government you are not just making speeches; you have got to make decisions and you have got to get it right. You have got to make sure the terms of reference are right, make sure the inquiry is right, find the judge, appoint the panel, work out how to be transparent and how to amend the ministerial code. It is not just about saying things; it is about doing things. Of course it takes time to get these things right when this enormous firestorm is going on, but I think that we have taken some major steps forward that will make a big difference. On the “fit and proper” test, that is a matter for Ofcom. We must not get into a situation where the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition is pointing a finger and making a particular point about a particular person—that is Ofcom’s role. As for the other question, I think that I answered it in full.
On that very point, does the Prime Minister agree that if there are any legal restrictions preventing the regulators from judging now on the fitness of News Corporation as an organisation—not the individuals—to own existing shares in BSkyB, those regulations should be swept away immediately?