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Leveson Report

Volume 553: debated on Thursday 22 November 2012

I expect Lord Justice Leveson to deliver his report by the end of the month. The inquiry team will make an announcement about specific times later this morning.

If the Leveson inquiry recommends an end to the current system of press regulation, will the Government rise to the challenge and help to create a system that will quickly gain the trust of the public?

My hon. Friend is right to identify trust as an overwhelming prerequisite for any solution to our problems involving the press. Certainly the status quo is not an option. The principles that will drive any solution are the need for an independent regulator, the need for tough regulation, and the need to do everything possible to preserve free speech.

Given that both the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, who set up the inquiry, have stressed time and again the importance of giving Lord Leveson space in which to report and not prejudging the outcome, how helpful is it for colleagues of the Prime Minister, in the Cabinet and elsewhere, to make repeated comments in an attempt to undermine the report in advance?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for endorsing the importance of the report, and I join him in doing so. We must ensure that we look at the facts and the judgment of the inquiry. Comments expressing concern are coming from many quarters, but I urge everyone to wait and not to prejudge the findings of the inquiry, which will be forthcoming very shortly.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to study Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations very carefully, but that any decision affecting the freedom of the press is so important that it should be made only by Parliament? Does she accept that there is now almost total agreement that we need a new, independent regulator with tough powers, but that the decision on whether there should be any legislative back-up involving statute is of such huge importance that we need to be absolutely certain that there is no alternative before proceeding down that route?

My hon. Friend is right to talk about the importance of the freedom of the press, but we must also ensure that there is robust and full redress for victims. Those are the things that we must balance, and that is why I think that it would be entirely appropriate for us to have discussions, whether in the Chamber or elsewhere in the House.

I agree with Members who have said that this issue is of enormous importance. Like me, the Secretary of State had an opportunity to meet victims of phone hacking and press intrusion yesterday.

The hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) was absolutely right to say that this is a matter for the House. In that context, may I ask the Secretary of State whether she intends to make a statement to the House on the day on which the Leveson report is published, and also whether she will ensure that the Government provide an early opportunity for the House to debate it? I have already asked for cross-party Front-Bench talks, but this is also a matter of great interest and importance for Back Benchers in all parts of the House.

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for the opportunity to clarify the position. She and I have already had discussions about this very issue. I hope that we will continue to have such discussions, and that they can involve the other parties as well. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be able to make things clearer in his business statement later today.

The Secretary of State will recall that the Leveson inquiry started as a result of the phone hacking scandal. Is she aware of recent evidence that journalists were using information like a trading commodity, one of them picking up the hack and then passing it to another to disguise the source of the hacking? Will Leveson cover that aspect?

Obviously Lord Leveson has been looking at this issue in an enormous amount of detail, and criminal investigations are also in progress. I am sure that the specific issue raised by the hon. Gentleman, and indeed many other issues relating to the prevalence of phone hacking, will be dealt with in Lord Leveson’s inquiry report, which, as I have said, will be available very shortly.