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Leveson Inquiry

Volume 554: debated on Thursday 29 November 2012

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on today’s report from Lord Justice Leveson. As we consider the report, we should consider the victims. We should remember how the parents of Milly Dowler, at their most vulnerable moment, had their daughter’s phone hacked and were followed and photographed, how Christopher Jefferies’ reputation was destroyed by false accusations, how the mother of Madeleine McCann, Kate, had her private diary printed without her permission and how she and her husband were falsely accused of keeping their daughter’s body in their freezer. These victims, and many other innocent people who have never sought the limelight, have suffered in a way that we can barely begin to imagine.

That is why last summer I asked Lord Justice Leveson to lead an independent inquiry. It had the power to see any document and summon any witness to be examined under oath by a barrister in public. It has been, as Lord Justice Leveson says,

“the most public and the most concentrated look at the press that this country has seen.”

I would like to thank Lord Justice Leveson and his entire team for the work they have undertaken.

Lord Justice Leveson makes findings and recommendations in three areas: on the relationship between the press and the police; on the relationship between the press and politicians; and on the relationship between the press and the public. Let me take each in turn.

First, on the press and the police, Lord Justice Leveson makes it clear that he does not find a basis for challenging the integrity of the police, but he does raise a number of areas that he felt were a cause for public concern, such as tip-offs, off-the-record briefings and, more broadly, “excessive proximity” between the press and the police. He makes a number of recommendations, including: national guidance on appropriate gifts and hospitality; record-keeping of contact between very senior police officers and journalists; and a 12-month “cooling-off” period for senior police officers being employed by the press. These recommendations are designed to break the perception of an excessively cosy relationship between the press and the police, and we support them.

When I set up the inquiry, I also said that there would be a second part to investigate wrongdoing in the press and the police, including the conduct of the first police investigation. That second stage cannot go ahead until the current criminal proceedings have concluded, but we remain committed to the inquiry as it was first established.

Next, on the relationship between politicians and the media, as Lord Justice Leveson has found,

“over the last 30-35 years and probably much longer, the political parties of UK national Government and of UK official Opposition, have had or developed too close a relationship with the press in a way which has not been in the public interest.”

I made that point last summer when I set up the inquiry, and at the same time I set in train reforms to improve transparency. We are the first Government ever to publish details of meetings between senior politicians and proprietors, editors or senior executives, as Lord Justice Leveson recommends in his report. He also recommends disclosing further information on the overall level of interaction between politicians and the press. That would apply to all parties, and on the Government’s behalf I can say that we accept the recommendation.

During the course of the inquiry a number of serious allegations were made. I want to deal with them directly. First, it was alleged that my party struck a deal with News International. That allegation was repeated again and again on the Floor of this House and at the inquiry itself. Lord Justice Leveson looked at this in detail and rejected the allegation emphatically. Let me read his conclusion:

“The evidence does not, of course, establish anything resembling a ‘deal’ whereby News International’s support was traded for the expectation of policy favours.”

Those who repeatedly made these allegations, including Members of this House and the former Prime Minister, should now acknowledge that they were wrong.

Secondly, it was alleged that I gave my right hon. Friend, the then Culture Secretary, now the Health Secretary, the responsibility of handling the BSkyB bid in order to fix the outcome. Lord Justice Leveson states clearly that

“the evidence does not begin to support a conclusion that the choice of Mr Hunt was the product of improper media pressure...still less an attempt to guarantee a particular outcome to the process”—

another allegation repeatedly made, and again shown to be wrong.

Thirdly, there was the criticism that the then Culture Secretary had rigged the handling of the BSkyB bid. Again, today’s report rejects that as well. My right hon. Friend, it says,

“put in place robust systems to ensure that the remaining stages of the bid would be handled with fairness, impartiality and transparency”.

Indeed, Lord Justice Leveson goes further, concluding that my right hon. Friend’s

“extensive reliance on external advice...was a wise and effective means of helping him to keep to the statutory test”.

He concludes that

“there is no credible evidence of actual bias”.

Of course, as my right hon. Friend has said, there are lessons to learn about how quasi-judicial decisions are made, and we must learn those lessons. But let me say this: my right hon. Friend, now the Health Secretary, has endured a stream of allegations with great dignity. This report confirms something that we on this side of the House knew all along—we were right to stand by him. Let me also say this: Lord Justice Leveson finds in respect of my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary that he

“acted with scrupulous care and impartiality”.

Next, and most important of all, let me turn to what Lord Justice Leveson says about the relationship between the press and the public. As he says very clearly, even after 16 months of this inquiry, he remains

“firmly of the belief that the British press—all of it—serves the country very well for the vast majority of the time.”

But on the culture, practices and ethics of some in the press, his words are very stark. He finds that

“there have been too many times when, chasing the story, parts of the press have acted as if its own code, which it wrote, simply did not exist.”

He cites

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

He catalogues a number of examples of such behaviour, going wider than phone hacking. He refers to

“a recklessness in prioritising sensational stories, almost irrespective of the harm that the stories may cause and the rights of those who would be affected”.

He finds that

“when the story is just too big and the public appetite too great, there has been significant and reckless disregard for accuracy.”

And he reports

“a cultural tendency within parts of the press vigorously to resist or dismiss complainants almost as a matter of course.”

In a free society, the press are subject to criminal law, civil law and requirements for data protection, but there should be a proper regulatory system as well to ensure that standards are upheld, complaints are heard, and there is proper redress for those who have been wronged. That is what the current system should have delivered. It has not. As Lord Justice Leveson says, the Press Complaints Commission is

“neither a regulator, nor fit for purpose to fulfil that responsibility.”

That is why changes are urgently needed. We welcome the fact that the press industry itself has put forward its own proposals for a new system of regulation, but we agree with Lord Justice Leveson that these proposals do not yet go far enough.

In volume IV of the report, Lord Justice Leveson sets out proposals for independent self-regulation organised by the media. He details the key “requirements” that an independent self-regulatory body should meet, including independence of appointments and funding, a standards code, an arbitration service, and a speedy complaint-handling mechanism. Crucially, it must have the power to demand up-front, prominent apologies and impose up to million-pound fines. These are the Leveson principles. They are the central recommendations of the report. If they can be put in place, we truly will have a regulatory system that delivers public confidence, justice for the victims, and a step change in the way the press is regulated in our country. I accept these principles, and I hope that the whole House will come in behind them. The onus should now be on the press to implement them—and implement them radically.

In support of this, Lord Justice Leveson makes some important proposals. First, he proposes some changes to the Data Protection Act that would reduce the special treatment that journalists are afforded when dealing with personal data. We must consider this very carefully, particularly the impact that it could have on investigative journalism. Although I have been able to make only preliminary investigations about that proposal since reading the report, I am instinctively concerned about it.

Secondly, Lord Leveson proposes changes to establish a system of incentives for each newspaper to take part in the system of independent regulation. I agree that there should be incentives and believe that those he sets out, such as the award of costs and exemplary damages in litigation, could be effective. He goes on to propose legislation that would help to deliver those incentives and, crucially, that would provide

“an independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body”.

That would, he says,

“reassure the public that the basic requirements of independence and effectiveness were met and continue to be met.”

I have some serious concerns and misgivings on that recommendation. They break down into issues of principle, practicality and necessity.

The issue of principle is that, for the first time, we would have crossed the Rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land. We should be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press. In this House, which has been a bulwark of democracy for centuries, we should think very, very carefully before crossing that line.

On the grounds of practicality, no matter how simple the intention of the new law, the legislation required to underpin the regulatory body would be more complicated. Paragraphs 71 and 72 of the executive summary begin to set out what would be needed in the legislation, which would, for example, validate the standards code and recognise the powers of the new body. Page 1772 in volume IV of the full report says that the new law

“must identify those legitimate requirements and provide a mechanism to recognise and certify that a new body meets them.”

The danger is that that would create a vehicle for politicians, whether today or some time in the future, to impose regulation and obligations on the press—something that Lord Justice Leveson himself wishes to avoid.

Thirdly, on the grounds of necessity, I am not convinced at this stage that statute is necessary to achieve Lord Justice Leveson’s objectives. I believe that there may be alternative options for putting in place incentives, providing reassurance to the public and ensuring that the Leveson principles of regulation are put in place. Those options should be explored.

These questions, including those about data protection, are fundamental questions that we must resolve. I have therefore invited the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to join me in cross-party talks, starting immediately after this statement. But let me be clear: a regulatory system that complies with the Leveson principles should be put in place rapidly. I favour giving the press a limited period of time in which to do that. They do not need to wait for all the other elements of Lord Justice Leveson’s report to be implemented. While no one wants to see full statutory regulation, let me stress that the status quo is not an option. Be in no doubt: we should be determined to see Lord Justice Leveson’s principles implemented.

There is much that we in this country can be proud of: the oldest democracy in the world; freedom of speech; a free press; frank and healthy public debate. But this report lays bare that the system of press regulation that we have is badly broken and has let down victims badly. Our responsibility is to fix it. The task for us now is to build a new system of press regulation that supports our great traditions of investigative journalism and free speech, that protects the rights of the vulnerable and the innocent, and that commands the confidence of the whole country. I commend this statement to the House.

May I start by thanking the Prime Minister for his statement? May I say straight away that in the days and weeks ahead I will seek to convince him and this House of Commons that we should put our faith in the recommendations of Lord Justice Leveson that were delivered to us today? I am sorry that the Prime Minister is not yet there, but I hope to convince him over the days ahead that that is where we should go. We should put our trust in Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations.

Let me begin by paying tribute to and thanking Lord Justice Leveson and his team for the painstaking, impartial and comprehensive way in which they conducted the inquiry. I thank Lord Justice Leveson for the clarity with which he has explained his report today.

Most of all, I want to join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the innocent victims who gave evidence to the inquiry: people who did not seek to be in the public eye, who suffered deep loss and grief, and who then faced further trauma at the hands of the press. It is easy to forget, but without the revelations last July about what happened to Bob and Sally Dowler, and to their daughter, and their courage in speaking out, we would not be here today. Gerry and Kate McCann suffered so much and showed much courage. Kate McCann, whose daughter remains missing, saw her private diary published by the News of the World for the sake of a story. Those people gave evidence to the inquiry to serve the wider public interest, and I am sure the whole House pays tribute to their courage. They must be at the forefront of our minds today.

Much has been written about the reasons for this inquiry. A free press is essential to a functioning democracy, and the press must be able to hold the powerful—especially us politicians—to account without fear or favour. That is part of the character of our country. At the same time, however, I do not want to live in a country where innocent families such as the McCanns and the Dowlers can see their lives torn apart simply for the sake of profit, and where powerful interests in the press know they will not be held to account. This is about the character of our country.

It turns out that there never was just one “rogue reporter”. Lord Justice Leveson concludes that a whole range of practices, from phone hacking to covert surveillance, harassment and other wrongful behaviour were widespread and in breach of the code by which the press was supposed to abide. I recognise the many decent people who work for our country’s newspapers, and not every newspaper did wrong. However, Lord Justice Leveson concludes that

“it is argued that these are aberrations and do not reflect on the culture, practices or ethics of the press as a whole. I wholly reject this analysis.”

That will not come as a surprise to many people, including Members of this House. Lord Justice Leveson also concludes that there has been by politicians

“a persistent failure to public concern about the culture, practices and ethics of the press”.

We must all take responsibility for that, and the publication of this report marks the moment we must put that right by upholding the freedom of the press and guaranteeing protection and redress for the citizen. As the Prime Minister himself rightly said at the Leveson inquiry:

“If the families like the Dowlers feel this has really changed the way they would have been treated, we would have done our job properly.”

I agree.

Let us be clear about Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals, why they differ from the present system, and why I believe they should be accepted in their entirety. He proposes:

“A genuinely independent regulator, with effective powers to protect and provide redress for the victims of abuse.”

He also gives responsibility for establishing that system to the press, as now. That is why statute is important.

Lord Justice Leveson provides a crucial new guarantee that we have never had before. He recommends that the media regulator, Ofcom, ensure that any system that is established passes the test we would all want applied—that it is truly independent and provides effective protection for people such as the McCanns and the Dowlers. To make that guarantee real, he recommends that both Ofcom’s role and the criteria of independence and effectiveness be set out in statute—a law of this Parliament. That is why we can get to truly independent regulation of the press, guaranteed by law.

I believe that Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals are measured, reasonable and proportionate, and Labour Members unequivocally endorse the principles set out and his central recommendations. We support the view that Ofcom is the right body for the task of recognition of the new regulator, and the proposal that the House should lay the role of Ofcom down in statute. We endorse the proposal that the criteria any new regulatory body must meet should be set out in statute. Without that, there cannot be the change we need. Lord Justice Leveson is 100% clear on that in his report.

Lord Justice Leveson has, I believe, made every effort to meet the concerns of the industry. Some people will say that this report does not go far enough or that the reforms will not work because the press will not co-operate. I believe that the press has a major responsibility to come forward and show it will co-operate with this system—a comprehensive reform of the kind proposed by Lord Justice Leveson.

Lord Justice Leveson also says that if we cannot achieve a comprehensive system involving all major newspapers, we should go to the necessary alternative: direct statutory regulation. I believe that Lord Justice Leveson has genuinely listened to what the press has said, and acted with the utmost responsibility. Editors and proprietors should now do the same. I believe that Lord Justice Leveson has genuinely listened to what the press has said and acted with the utmost responsibility. Editors and proprietors should now do the same.

Let me also say—the Prime Minister did not touch on this—that Lord Justice Leveson also reaches important conclusions on the need to prevent too much influence in the media from ending up in one pair of hands. He proposes that there should be continuous scrutiny of the degree of media plurality and a lower cap than that currently provided by competition law. When the Prime Minister gets up to reply, will he take that forward?

As the Prime Minister said, Lord Justice Leveson makes specific suggestions on greater transparency on meetings and contacts between politicians and the press. He says that that should be considered as an immediate need. I agree, and endorse the proposals, as the Prime Minister did.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s offer of immediate cross-party talks on the implementation of the recommendations, and I am grateful for the conversations we have already had, but the talks must be about implementing the recommendations, not whether we implement them. In the talks, I want to agree a swift timetable for the implementation of the proposals. I want us to agree to legislate in the next Session of Parliament, starting in May 2013, and to have a new system up and running by the end of this Parliament—meaning 2015 at the latest. By the end of January next year, we should have an opportunity—the Opposition will make this happen if necessary—for the House to endorse and proceed with the Leveson proposals.

We should and we can move forward together—wholeheartedly, now. We have 70 years and seven reports that have gone nowhere. Now is the time to act. Let me remind the House what David Waddington, then Home Secretary, said 20 years ago:

“This is positively the last chance for the industry to establish an effective non-statutory system of regulation”.—[Official Report, 21 June 1990; Vol. 174, c. 1126.]

The case is compelling and the evidence is overwhelming. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make change that the public can trust. There can be no more last-chance saloons.

In acting, let us remember the words of Bob and Sally Dowler at Leveson:

“there is nothing that can rectify the damage that has been done to our family. All that we can hope for is a positive outcome from this Inquiry so that other families are not affected in the way we have been”.

On behalf of every decent British citizen who wants protection for people such as the Dowlers and a truly free press—a press that can expose abuse of power without abusing its own—we must act.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his response. He is absolutely right to thank Leveson for the work he has done and the report he has produced. The right hon. Gentleman is also right to talk about the innocent victims and the enormous courage they have shown by appearing in front of the inquiry and telling their stories. He was also right to mention Leveson’s finding that all politicians, going back over decades, must take responsibility for a relationship between politicians and the press that got too close.

Let me make a couple of points on some of the things the right hon. Gentleman said. I note he said he strongly supports Ofcom carrying out the test of whether the regulatory system is compliant. That is something we need to look at in the cross-party discussions, because, however we go about this, it is important that we demonstrate the real independence of this regulatory system. Of course, the chair of Ofcom is appointed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. We have to think about that, but we also have to consider that Ofcom is already a very powerful regulatory body. We should be trying to reduce concentrations of power rather than increase them. That is something we might want to discuss.

One issue the right hon. Gentleman did not address—I hope we can address it in the cross-party conversations—is data protection law changes. We should not respond too rapidly to something as complex as that. We do not want to put in place something that wrecks proper investigative journalism in our country.

On statutory regulation, I would make the point to the right hon. Gentleman that Leveson rightly rejects statutory regulation and says that we must move from the status quo and implement the principles of the report. I agree—that is absolutely vital. We do not want to be left in the position of having only statutory regulation as the alternative to the proposals he sets out. I completely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the talks should be business-like and that we should get on with them, but where I disagree with him is that we do not have to wait until those discussions are had to implement the report. The report needs to be implemented by the press taking the steps set out in the report to put in place the independent regulation that Leveson speaks about. They could start that right now.

Order. There is much interest, which I am keen to accommodate. I exhort colleagues please to help me to help them by asking short questions without preamble. I know the Prime Minister will oblige, as ever, with pithy replies.

Did Lord Justice Leveson make any comments on the proprietorship of newspapers? Surely, one factor in the depression of press standards is that some owners of national newspapers have been bad men and sometimes foreigners with an ingrained hostility towards Britain, and their editors know that they can keep their jobs only by achieving the required levels of readership and advertising revenue by populist sensationalism, however immoral. Should ownership of British newspapers be confined to British nationals who are judged to be fit and proper for that role, as with television?

The report goes into enormous detail about the history and ownership of the press. Part of one of the volumes goes into immense detail, which my right hon. Friend can study, and perhaps that is the best answer to him. This point was raised by the Leader of the Opposition. Lord Justice Leveson does address concerns about plurality and media ownership and does say we need to make sure there is more plurality than would otherwise be guaranteed simply by competition policy. That is important, because we want to have not just a vigorous press, but a press that is in different—in wide—ownership as well.

Does the Prime Minister not, however, appreciate that the argument made by Lord Leveson is not, as he says, for statutory regulation, which is not there, but to enforce and give backing to the proposals of the press? The fundamental flaw with the proposals of the press, as Lord Leveson clearly sets out, is not their intention, which I acknowledge is now an honourable one, but that it is impossible to deliver the independence proposed by the press themselves and the enforcement—for example, not least on penalties on legal costs—without some overarching form of statutory backing? It is not regulation—it is statutory backing. I plead with the Prime Minister to recognise the force of the argument, not that I am making, but that Lord Leveson makes.

The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right that Lord Justice Leveson is not recommending statutory regulation of the press. He wants to take steps so that we avoid statutory regulation of the press—I fully respect that. But in answer to his point, the system Lord Justice Leveson recommends is not a compulsory system. It does not guarantee that everyone takes part; it is still a voluntary system. Where we are in complete agreement is that Lord Justice Leveson does not want statutory regulation—neither do I. Lord Justice Leveson wants strong, independent regulation—that is what I want. He sets out the principles of strong, independent regulation—that is what we have got to put in place, and that is what the press should start to put in place straight away.

The central requirement is a press complaints procedure that will not only be fully independent, but will restore public confidence. I ask the Prime Minister to look very objectively at whether an Act of Parliament would indeed enhance that credibility. I refer him in particular to paragraph 72 of the executive summary of the report, where Lord Leveson states that an Act of Parliament would

“reassure the public that the basic requirements of independence and effectiveness were met and continued to be met”.

I believe that that is a very powerful argument, and I ask my right hon. Friend to consider it with all force.

My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right—paragraphs 70, 71 and 72 are the absolutely key paragraphs of the report. But let me explain why I have misgivings about leaping straight to that conclusion. Once we start writing a piece of legislation that backs up an independent regulator, we have to write into that legislation what is its composition, what are its powers, what is its make-up, and we find pretty soon—I would worry—that we have a piece of law that really is a piece of press regulatory law. Now, that is an enormous step for us in this House of Commons to take, and we have to think about it very carefully before we leap into this new approach.

Does the Prime Minister not accept that, if he wants people to accept the report’s recommendations and conclusions generally, particularly the ones he likes, he cannot pick and choose, but should accept all the recommendations?

This is where I part company with the right hon. Gentleman: it is the job of the House of Commons to consider a report and what is right for this country to introduce. I highlighted the changes to the Data Protection Act because I was advised that they could have a serious effect on investigative journalism. It would be quite wrong, if we received a report of this magnitude and said in five minutes flat, “We’re going to implement every last piece of it”, without considering the consequences. A responsible Government will think about the consequences. I am absolutely clear, however, that the clear principles of Leveson-style regulation—on what the independent press regulator needs—are right.

Is the Prime Minister as clear as I am, reading paragraphs 70 to 76, that Lord Justice Leveson makes two things absolutely central—that there should not be legislation to establish a body to regulate the press, but that

“it is essential that there should be legislation to underpin the independent self-regulatory system”?

The word “essential” is a clear word. Does he accept it?

This is absolutely the key argument that has to be had in our cross-party discussions. Lord Leveson is saying that the statutory underpinning is necessary properly to give effect to this independent body. Of course, he intends it to be a very neat, very small piece of statute, but paragraph 71, for instance, states that the law would not

“give any rights to these entities…except insofar as it would require the recognised self-regulatory body to have the power to direct the placement and prominence or corrections and apologies.”

Once we try—and we have tried it—writing a law that provides for statutory underpinning that describes what the regulatory authority does, what powers it has and how it is made up, we soon find we have quite a big piece of law. That is the concern. We need to think very carefully before crossing that Rubicon.

How, without the statutory underpinning that Lord Leveson says is essential, does the Prime Minister think a new body could prevent a newspaper group simply from walking away or ignoring the new body’s findings?

Lord Leveson does not himself have an answer to the question of what happens if a newspaper walks away. His system is a voluntary system, so the same question applies to his system too.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is now almost universal agreement that we must have a strong new regulator, that it must be seen to be independent and that it must be established as quickly as possible? I strongly welcome his statement, however, that the question of whether the regulator should have statutory underpinning is something that Parliament needs to consider carefully, perhaps through a regular assessment of its effectiveness by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, and that we should proceed to legislate only if it becomes absolutely clear that it will not function properly without it.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. He has probably spent more time looking at this issue than almost any other Member of the House of Commons. As he said, what matters is the enormous consensus about what independent regulation should consist of, including the powers that are necessary. We all know we need million-pound fines, proper investigations, editors held to account and prominent apologies. That is what victims deserve and what we must put in place, but he is right that we need to think carefully before we pass legislation in the House.

In his responses so far, the Prime Minister is splitting the House. This is not what the public expect of us. It would be a dereliction of our duty as politicians if we did not establish the legal framework recommended by Lord Leveson, and I ask him to reconsider his position.

I think it would be a dereliction of our duty in the House of Commons, which has stood up for freedom and a free press, year after year, century after century, to cross the Rubicon by legislating on the press without thinking about it carefully first. That is why it is right to have cross-party talks, why it is right to have a debate in the House and why it is right to listen to people such as the Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

May I for one welcome wholeheartedly the Prime Minister’s caution about using statute in this matter? I remind him that it was not a policeman, a regulator or even a judge who highlighted the hacking scandal; it was a member of our free press. As such, one of our highest priorities is to ensure that whatever we do preserves the independence and freedom of our press from Government intervention, because that is the best bastion of our freedoms.

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. We have to get this right. It is very important that the regulation is put in place rapidly. That above all is the pressure that needs to be put on the media, but it is an important step we should consider before moving to statutory regulation.

We cannot forget the victims in all this: the Dowler family, the McCann family, Christopher Jefferies and the other innocent victims who have suffered terribly. We absolutely support the absolute freedom of the press—there can be no statutory regulation of the press—but there needs to be proper redress for those who are wronged. The Prime Minister says he wants to think again about Leveson’s recommendations on statutory legislation. He talks about alternative options. Can he give us a flavour of what those options might be? There is a feeling among some that this may be more to do with party management than really dealing with the problems.

There is a variety of opinions right across the House. We have to be frank about this. I think it is important to consider the very big step of effectively passing statute on the press in this country. There are many independent non-statutory bodies in this country of very long standing. The real test is not whether this body is backed by statute or not; the real test is: can it fine newspapers? Can it call editors to account? Can it get front-page apologies? That is what people want to know and that is what we need to deliver.

Does the Prime Minister accept that what we need is a rational and balanced approach to this, not an hysterical one? We are not being asked by Leveson to cross a Rubicon—barely even a brook. Perhaps the Prime Minister ought to consider the fact that the Irish system—Leveson proposes something similar—is already signed up to by The Times, the Daily Mail and The Sun.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have got the Irish Defamation Act of 2009 in front of me. It runs to many, many pages, setting out many, many powers of the Irish Press Council. It is worth Members of the House studying the Irish situation and asking whether we want to have legislation of that extent on our statute book—which of course could then be amended at any moment, by any politician at any future point. That is an important consideration.

I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Interests—but that is rather the point: we all share an interest in this. Lord Leveson reserves his strongest condemnation for the political class in this country, because he believes that over years—because we have been too compromised, too craven or too cowardly—we have refused to act. We now have an independent figure telling us what to do. Surely if we do not do what he says, which is to provide a change in the law, there will be more Millie Dowlers, and that will be our fault.

I would also argue that one of the other problems with the political class is never saying sorry when they get it wrong. On 13 November 2012, the hon. Gentleman spoke about the

“deal…secured between the Conservative party and News International”.—[Official Report, 13 November 2012; Vol. 32, c. 553WH.]

We have heard not a word of regret from him. What matters most about this is putting in place a regulatory system that can make the victims proud. That is what is necessary. The fines, the apologies, the proper investigations—that needs to be done and it can be done right away.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement today. There is a lot in the Leveson report that is to be welcomed. I share my right hon. Friend’s caution, but does not another important part of the evidence presented by Lord Leveson show that some of the smears against my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt) were absolutely outrageous, including the Leader of the Opposition saying that he was a back channel for Murdoch?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Time after time we were told that my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt) was backing the bid, not adjudicating on the bid. All sorts of allegations and smears were made. It is important that colleagues can read the report and see that he took the right decisions in the right way.

I declare an interest as someone who was a Fleet street staff journalist for 10 years. As such, I am instinctively opposed to statutory regulation of the press. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if that Rubicon, as he says, is not to be crossed, it will be up to the press to accept the recommendations of Leveson, to do that in full, to do that fast and to do that with all the proprietors involved? What happens next will of course be a matter for this House and the political parties, but above all it is a matter for the press.

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The pressure should be on the press to take the steps that everybody now knows are necessary and that are set out in huge detail in the report. That is the best way to avoid the statutory regulation that Leveson does not want to see, that no one in this House should want to see, and that would make our country less free. He speaks very clearly about that issue.

After two and a half years of working closely with the former Culture Secretary, I know him to be a man of the highest integrity. Does the Prime Minister think that the Labour party should apologise in this House for making disgraceful and unfounded accusations which the Leveson report shows to be absolutely false?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We had to listen to allegation after allegation, conspiracy after conspiracy, smear after smear. Each one is put to bed comprehensively by the report.

I welcome the report and I accept all its conclusions. May I also welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to part 2 of the inquiry? I accept that we have to wait for the outcome of the criminal investigations, but the operations being conducted by the Metropolitan police, including Operation Weeting, could take up to three years to conclude. Will he give a commitment today to give them whatever resources they need to conclude the matter once and for all?

The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right. One of the things that the victims have been most concerned about is that part 2 of the investigation should go ahead—because of the concerns about that first police investigation and about improper relationships between journalists and police officers. It is right that it should go ahead, and that is fully our intention.

The two scandals that gave rise to this inquiry were phone hacking and bribing the police, both of which are against the criminal law. Now, some 90 arrests have been made. Strangely, however, Lord Leveson concludes:

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

Instead he goes off on building proposals for what would ultimately be statutorily underpinned regulation, which is largely irrelevant to what has happened. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on not going down that route, as that would not solve the problems that gave rise to the inquiry.

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s support. I would, however, make the point that, while the press must always act within the law—it is subject to the criminal law, the civil law and the laws on data protection, and that is vitally important—there is also a role for strong, independent regulation. Those victims should not have had to wait for action through civil litigation, and they should not have had to wait until the criminal actions were taken. A proper regulatory system could have protected more of those people and prevented many more of them from becoming victims in the first place.

The Prime Minister will be aware that many of the aspects of any future press regulation, and related features such as criminal prosecution, defamation and policing, are devolved matters in Scotland. Will he take this opportunity to welcome the proposal by the First Minister that, in addition to a full debate on this question in the Scottish Parliament, there should be cross-party discussions and an independent implementation group, chaired by a Court of Session judge, which should consider how best to implement Lord Leveson’s proposals in the context of Scots law and the devolved responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament?

I will look carefully at what the First Minister says and at the proposals that he is making in this area. I also recommend that the hon. Gentleman have a look at what the report says about the First Minister.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we cannot simply farm out these important decisions, along with a blank cheque, to someone who is wholly unelected and unaccountable? Does he further agree that having the Government say to the press, “These are the specific steps that we need you to take; otherwise, we will either legislate or regulate” is a pretty rum form of self-regulation?

I agree with some of what my hon. Friend says, but it is important that we lay down very clearly what is expected of the press in terms of the independent regulatory system that needs to be put in place. What we cannot have is a continuation of the status quo; we need a proper investigative arm of a regulatory body, which needs to be able to levy fines, to insist on apologies and to be far more independent than it has been up to now. Frankly, on behalf of the victims and the public, this House is perfectly entitled to ask for those things. We should do, and if they were not put in place, we would have to take further action. That is the key to the Leveson approach, and it is one that I want to follow.

I wonder whether we could achieve consensus on one of the recommendations in the report, where Leveson recommends the consideration by proprietors of the introduction of a conscience clause to protect journalists who refuse in any way to go against the code of practice. Will the Prime Minister join me in urging proprietors to meet the National Union of Journalists and whoever else to start working on introducing a conscience clause in contracts?

I am very happy to agree to that. There are many sensible recommendations that can be put into place, I would hope, as quickly as possible—some of the recommendations about the police and the Association of Chief Police Officers, and many of the recommendations about politicians and our relationship with the press. Those do not have to wait for anything, and as I have said, the press do not have to wait for any further discussions; they can start putting this regulation in place straight away.

One of Lord Leveson’s recommendations is that we should legislate to introduce

“a legal duty on the government to protect the freedom of the press”.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that such a Bill would be utterly alien to our traditions in this country? Will he join me in encouraging Lords Hunt and Black to look at the Leveson recommendations, to see if there are things within them that they could add to their recommendations, and to get on with the job so that we can restore robust confidence in a free press that is the cornerstone of a free society?

Frankly, I think we have to be tougher on Hunt and Black than that. We need to say very clearly that what has been proposed so far is progress on the Press Complaints Commission, but that it is not good enough. We need more changes; the public want more changes; the victims want more changes. It is not yet the sort of independent regulation that we can say is right or of which we can be proud. Leveson points out the weaknesses in the system, and we need to plug those gaps. The press needs to plug those gaps, and as I say, there is nothing to stop it getting on with that straight away.

Does the Prime Minister believe that the press should be able to appoint or veto the appointment of the chairman of the press regulator? Many of his colleagues and a handful of colleagues in my party signed up to that model, with closed minds, even before Leveson reported.

One of the points that Leveson makes about the Hunt-Black model is that it needs to be more independent. The Press Complaints Commission was ineffective not only in not being able to investigate or in not having clear enough powers; it was not independent enough. This form of regulation needs to be independent regulation, as set out by Leveson.

The Prime Minister began his statement by praising the courage of the victims of press intrusion. Does he also respect the wishes of those victims about the outcome of this inquiry?

Yes, of course. What is absolutely vital is that we put in place a regulatory system that they can see has got real teeth. They want to know that it is independent; they want to know that it can achieve big fines; they want to know that it can call editors to account. We could, of course, completely obsess about the issue of statutory underpinning. That is one issue; there are many other issues about what makes for good, strong, robust and independent regulation. That is what we should focus on.

The Prime Minister has asked the House to reject Leveson’s central and essential recommendation of legislation on the grounds, he says, that it would be too difficult to do well. Would it not have shown more respect for the work of Lord Leveson and for the victims for the Prime Minister to have sat down on a cross-party basis to examine how the recommendations in paragraph 70 could be implemented, instead of rejecting them within 24 hours of receiving the report?

I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but I do not think that that is right at all. The central recommendation of Lord Leveson is to put in place the principles of independent regulation so as to avoid statutory regulation. Frankly, I do not think I would be doing my duty if I came to the House and said that every single aspect is absolutely fine without any changes. I am proud of the fact that we have managed to last for hundreds of years in this country without statutory regulation or mention of the press. If we can continue with that, we should. That seems the minimum that this House of Commons should consider in defending the freedom of our country.

The Prime Minister rightly started with the victims, many of whom were victims of the News of the World. We should bear it in mind that the News of the World no longer exists, and that not all newspapers are like the News of the World. I am thinking of, for example, my local paper, the Worcester News, and the Malvern Gazette.

What paragraph 135 of the executive summary effectively says is that, in the constituency of Witney, were the Prime Minister’s agent to have a personal dinner with someone who happened to work for the local paper, it would have to be recorded. What does the Prime Minister think of that particular recommendation?

Let me begin by responding to what my hon. Friend said first. In paragraph 19 of the summary, Lord Leveson makes a special point about Britain’s regional newspapers. He says that

“their contribution to local life is truly without parallel.”

He praises their role, and says how little they have been involved in the sort of damaging culture and practices to which the rest of the report refers.

As for my hon. Friend’s second point, we must look very carefully at the recommendations for increased transparency. I think, frankly, that transparency is important. The public want to know what is the relationship between politicians on the one hand and the press on the other. If they can see how often you are meeting and whom you meet, they can see whether you have a balanced, proper, sensible relationship with the press or not. We have put transparency in place. I hear murmurings from Labour Members, but in 13 years they did not do a single thing about it.

Lord Justice Leveson is very clear about the importance of maintaining a plural media. Specifically, in paragraph 140 of the summary, he says:

“There is no current option for the Government or regulators to step in to protect plurality if it is threatened by organic change in the market.”

What plans has the Prime Minister to protect media plurality?

That is an excellent point, which was brought out in the debates when my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt) was Culture Secretary. We need to look at this very carefully, because there is a gap in the law: Ofcom can only consider problems of plurality at the time of a merger or takeover. I think that the recommendations make a lot of sense, and that we should study them carefully.

The Prime Minister must be congratulated on his courage in not doing the popular thing, and standing up for the freedom of the press. Will he respond to one specific small point? He referred to how close the Government, and politicians, have got to the press. Will he give an assurance now that, from tomorrow, the Government will not leak statements to the press in advance?

I think that in the last week we have seen two notable successes in that regard. In two cases, there has not been a bat’s squeak outside the House of Commons. I refer to the announcement of the new Governor of the Bank of England, Mr Mark Carney, and to the report that was published today. There has been not a leak, not a sentence, not a word. How different things were in the past.

Lord Leveson states that the selection of the key appointment panel which selects the chair and members of the crucial governing board should itself be independent of both the Government and the industry. Who would the Prime Minister expect to draw up a list of nominations, and who would make the final choice?

That is a very important question. In his report, Lord Justice Leveson gives a number of alternatives. He clearly prefers his model, but I think that the independence of those either judging an independent regulatory system or appointing people to it is absolutely vital. That is why I am concerned about the role that he puts forward for Ofcom. As I said earlier, the chair of Ofcom is appointed by the Secretary of State, and in my view that makes the two of them too close. In everything that we do, whether via legislation or by means of other backstops, we need to ensure that the people involved in this and the people judging this are properly independent.

Before coming to this place, I spent 12 years working in regulatory compliance for BT. I remember the shockwave that went through the organisation when Ofcom told BT that it regarded it as a non-compliant company. After that, a culture of compliance swept through the organisation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the press should regard this as their moment to ensure that a culture of compliance is brought into our press?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. That, I hope, started as the Leveson inquiry got under way. Some of the things that were revealed during the inquiry about practices and culture in parts of the press were deeply disturbing. I think that quite a lot has already been done to address those, and to clean up the press’s act, but clearly more needs to be done. As I have said, the Hunt-Black regulatory alternative is not sufficient; more needs to be done to ensure that this culture change is driven through the press itself.

Lord Justice Leveson suggests that this new body should have strong powers to investigate a suspected breach of the code. Many of our country’s best investigative journalists are freelancers, however, so will the Prime Minister carefully consider the potential impact of such investigations on individuals who do a great deal to shine a light on areas that others do not want illuminated, and will he ensure that this issue is discussed in cross-party talks?

The hon. Lady makes an important point, and I am sure it will be covered in cross-party negotiations. I will just make the point again about the concerns expressed to me about the potential reforms to the Data Protection Act. If we were to try to treat journalists exactly the same as everybody else for the purposes of data protection, I think newspapers, programmes such as “Panorama” and others would make very strong representations about what that could mean for investigative journalism. That shows why we must think carefully about some of these recommendations; otherwise we could get something badly wrong.

The Prime Minister extended the inquiry’s terms of reference in response to the Home Affairs Committee’s concern that the Crown Prosecution Service had got the law wrong on phone hacking. Does the Prime Minister recognise that there are lessons for the CPS even in part 1 of the report, since while it exonerates the Director of Public Prosecutions, it criticises David Perry QC for failing to reacquaint himself with the relevant facts in law before advising him?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. From what I have seen in the report, Lord Justice Leveson is relatively complimentary about the work of the CPS and the decisions it took, but some of its workings do bear careful study.

The Prime Minister is on record as saying he would implement Leveson as long as it was not “bonkers”. It now appears that he regards Leveson’s recommendation of statutory underpinning as bonkers. Can the Prime Minister therefore explain why Lord Leveson said that was essential?

What I have said is that the principles set out by Leveson of what independent regulation needs to include and what it needs to look like are absolutely right and should be put in place, but, frankly, we do not do our duty in this House if we do not examine these proposals properly and ask the relevant questions, and instead just wave through a change that will make a very big difference to our country. If we were to do that, we would not be operating properly.

One issue that arose is that data protection law is simply not taken seriously enough, because the sanctions are too light. The report recommends that sections 77 and 78 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 should be commenced. That has been recommended by the Justice Committee, the Home Affairs Committee and now Justice Leveson. Will the Prime Minister agree to do that promptly?

I think we need to look at this very carefully. Lord Justice Leveson is incredibly tough about what he sees as the failures to act on the Information Commissioner’s report. We need to look very carefully at that, as well as at my hon. Friend’s point.

Many of my constituents had grave concerns about the BSkyB takeover and the fact that it nearly happened. It did not happen, but not because of anything in our law or practices that would have stopped it. Will the Prime Minister undertake to act on that promptly?

On the issue of whether politicians should be taken out of media merger decisions, Lord Justice Leveson finds that that should not happen. He says this is an issue about which someone has to be the decision-maker, and he believes that a politician acting correctly in a quasi-judicial capacity is the right person. The findings about how my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt), the then Culture Secretary, acted bear good reading.

The report’s executive summary makes it clear that

“successive Labour administrations, in power for 13 years…made no more progress than their predecessors in addressing problems in the culture, practices and ethics of the press”.

Does my right hon. Friend agree? Also, given all the noise the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) has produced on this topic, does my right hon. Friend share my surprise that he is not present in the Chamber?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have made more progress on addressing these issues in the last two and a half years than was made during the previous 13.

Does the Prime Minister really, genuinely believe that the victims will be satisfied with his statement today?

What I would say to all the victims is that the true test of this is whether, in four or six months’ time, we have in place proper independent regulation that we can be proud of in this country. That, in the end, is the test and that is what they want to know about. Will there be fines? Will there be proper apologies? Will there be proper investigations? That is what defines independent regulation and that is what we need.

The Prime Minister’s instinct against statutory regulation is absolutely right, but does he also accept that a key part of the problem is that many people in this country feel that they cannot gain access to justice because of a legal system that is too complex and too costly? What can the Government do to put that right?

My hon. Friend is right. Access to justice is one of the issues that needs to be addressed. At the same time, as I have said before, it should not be that the only way to get redress from the press is to sue them or find a policeman because a law has been broken. There should be a proper, independent regulatory system where complaints can be investigated. With the Press Complaints Commission, people had a sense that even if they got their complaint investigated, nothing would actually happen. That is what needs to change because in my view just relying on the civil and criminal law is not enough.

Lord Leveson says that he regrets that former Deputy Commissioner John Yates did not reflect on his close friendship with the deputy editor of the News of the World before he decided in 2009-10 not to reopen the hacking inquiries. Is not the great shock of this report the revelations of the very close relationships between press, police and politicians? What is the right hon. Gentleman going to do, personally and as a Prime Minister, to ensure that the corrosive effects of cronyism are reduced?

On the relationship between the press and politicians, this Government have taken unprecedented action to publicise and make transparent all the meetings between politicians and editors, and politicians and proprietors. All that is now declared on a quarterly basis and that is how it should be. That did not happen in the past. The report recommends that that should also apply between senior officers and members of the press and that, to try to end excessively close relationships, there should be a cooling-off period before police officers go and work for newspapers. Lord Leveson does address those issues. We have not waited for the report; we have gone on and put those things in place.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we may be missing something rather important this afternoon? More and more people are getting their news from digital media, which remains way outside any kind of regulation. It in many ways is going to be a longer-term threat to the health of our newspaper industry.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The issue is brought out in the early parts of this large, four-volume report, about the nature of change in the media industry. That does mean that we need to have a system of regulation for newspapers that is sensible and proportionate and recognises the change that is taking place.

The main concentration of power is, of course, in media and press ownership, which is made up of so few people. Does the Prime Minister agree with the 75% of people in opinion polls who want that concentration to be broken up? Does he believe that legislation is required to do that? Will he use the communications Bill, for example, to deal with some of the new media that have been referred to?

What matters is that we have the proper application of competition policy, that Ofcom is able to look at plurality and that we make decisions on that basis.

This afternoon, Lord Justice Leveson has called time at the last-chance saloon. I welcome his commitment to a free press and a regulator independent of both press and politicians. However, does the Prime Minister accept that for that to work effectively, a careful balance needs to be struck between incentives and disincentives so that all the press sign up?

My hon. Friend’s words are extremely wise. What Lord Justice Leveson has effectively said is, “Here is an opportunity to put in place independent regulation.” He says in the report that if that is not done, regrettably, full-on statutory regulation will have to be introduced because we cannot maintain the status quo. I think that that is the right approach. The only difference that I am putting forward is that, as well as putting in place these principles, we need to look very carefully at one or two of the recommendations that he makes about how that should be done.

May I take the Prime Minister back to the multiplicity of media ownership and the extreme concentration in the hands of a very small number of companies of not only the print media, but the control of the distribution system of the print media, which often means that small-circulation papers cannot get to a wider public because of the stranglehold of the distribution system? That fetters the ability of all of us to access a wide variety of the press.

As I said, the press, like every other industry, should be fully subject to competition policy and fully competitive. I part company with the hon. Gentleman on one issue—because of the growth of the digital media, the costs of distributing opinion, fact and newspapers online have come radically down.

Does the Prime Minister agree that statutory underpinning in the wrong hands, possibly in the future, could lead to statutory regulation by the back door?

My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. The point I am making is that putting in place underpinning may well turn out to be not as simple as having a one or two-clause Bill. We would have to start defining what the body is, what the body does, what powers it has and what the extent of it is, rather as there is in the Irish system. Once we have done that, we would be in danger of finding that we have put in place a statutory Act on the press that is then very, very easy to amend. My point is that this House of Commons should pause, stop and think before taking a step of that magnitude.

I would have some sympathy with the point the Prime Minister makes about the Data Protection Act if that was all Leveson said about that Act. However, he goes on to talk about creating a commission which would have a broader base, including people from the media. Does that not counterbalance some of the Prime Minister’s legitimate concerns about the Data Protection Act recommendations? Perhaps there is an argument for doing the same thing with Ofcom, too.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s points. My reading of this is that what is being recommended is to stop some of the exemptions from data protection that journalists currently have but to put in place a public interest defence at the end. I am advised that that could have a very bad effect on investigative journalism. Again, I think that, instead of just waving through what could be a very profound change, it is worth stopping, talking and having cross-party discussions about this. That is why I do not think anyone, by rights, really can stand up today and say, “I accept the Leveson inquiry in full.” They would not be doing their duty as legislators and as politicians if they did not actually have a look at what this means.

Does the Prime Minister think that the Leader of the Opposition, in his enthusiasm for putting the Government in a strong position in respect of the regulator, forgot to call for the renaming of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport as the ministry of truth?

Well, we certainly have got a long way to the truth about the DCMS in this report, and I hope that colleagues will look at that very closely.

The Prime Minister will recall that my constituents the Watson family gave evidence to the inquiry that they have had their lives devastated for the past 21 years by grossly inaccurate reporting of the murder of their daughter Diane, reports that led to their son taking his own life. Do not they and the other victims deserve us, as parliamentarians, to put in place a powerful independent regulator whose role and functions are underpinned by statute?

I think that they, as all victims do, deserve a really tough, independent regulatory system that can really hold the press to account, that can fine those editors, that can call them to account, that can insist on proper apologies and that can take up complainants’ cases and deal with them properly. That is the absolute key. Of course there is a debate to be had about statutory underpinning, yes or no. But the real debate is: is this regulatory body going to be powerful enough to get to the truth and do what needs to be done?

The Defamation Bill is currently going through Parliament with the support of all parties and even of the press. Does the Prime Minister agree that this is a good example of successful statute being introduced by this House—perhaps the idea is not quite as revolutionary as he said? Does he think it is wrong for newspapers to support statutes which are in their interests but oppose statutes which might protect civil society? Just as he has an open mind to a regulatory model without statute, does he agree that editors should keep an open mind to using some statute?

I hope everyone will have an open mind as they read this report and the conclusions about some of the terrible things that have happened in the press, but above all what I want editors to do is engage properly with what Leveson has said needs to happen to the regulatory system. As I say, there is no need to wait for long conversations about that. He sets out what is wrong with Hunt-Black and what needs to be put in place. That work should start straight away.

The Opposition have called for genuine cross-party discussions. I note that the Secretary of State for Education does not appear to be in his seat, so will the Prime Minister confirm that there will be no smearing of Lord Leveson while those talks are taking place?

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Particular attention should be paid to paragraphs 74 and 75 of the document, in which Lord Justice Leveson does not come to a specific conclusion about what to do if particular newspapers do not choose to sign up to any system of regulation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is for this place to debate not only the principle of underpinning, which I support, but, for example, whether Ofcom is the most appropriate regulator or whether there should be a separate regulator for the print media?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is referred to in paragraph 75 of the summary document, but he needs then to go away and look at the bit of the very long report to which it refers. In paragraph 75, Lord Justice Leveson states:

“For the sake of completeness I have…set out in the Report the options that…would be open to the Government to pursue… in that regrettable event”—

that is, if the press do not agree to the principles of self-regulation. That would include pretty full-on statutory regulation, which is something we all want to avoid and Lord Leveson wants to avoid. Separately, my hon. Friend’s point about Ofcom is well made and I hope that the Leader of the Opposition will think carefully about that specific issue, because it requires further thought.

The Prime Minister alluded to what Lord Justice Leveson says about Alex Salmond’s attempt at intervention on behalf of Rupert Murdoch. Is he aware of Leveson’s conclusion that Mr Salmond

“stood ready to lobby first Dr Cable and later Mr Hunt”,

and that

“Acceding to Mr Salmond’s argument would have rendered the decision unlawful”?

I am afraid that in the time available I have not been able to get to that point—I think it is page 1312—but from memory, I would say that the issue with respect to the First Minister is that he was apparently having a conversation about the bid at the same time as asking for support at the election. The Scottish National party might want to reflect on that.

A free press is fundamental to a free society, but that freedom is dependent on a responsible press. Does the Prime Minister agree that self-regulation of the press has not had an auspicious history and that whatever conclusions are reached on independent regulation it should enshrine a new culture of responsibility in the British media?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. What needs to take place is not just a change in regulation but a change in culture within the press. The whole Leveson report has rightly engendered a big debate in the press about the culture, the practices and what needs to change. That needs to happen, but we must also put in place the regulatory system.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I thank the Prime Minister for standing up for our ancient liberties and refer him to the rather ominous phrase on page 1781 of the report, which states:

“In order to give effect to those incentives I have recommended legislation”?

It is very hard to see how giving incentives by legislation is not licensing. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that it is better ultimately to have an irresponsible but free press than to have a responsible but state-controlled press?

First, may I commend my hon. Friend for his extraordinary powers of speed-reading in getting to page 1781 quite so quickly? He might also want to look at page 1780, which sets out the first part of the statutory underpinning recommended by Lord Justice Leveson, which is a guarantee of media freedom. It is an attractive idea to write a guarantee of media freedom into the law, but even that needs to be qualified. It is worth while looking at subsection 3 of the suggested example, which states:

“Interference with the activities of the media shall be lawful only insofar as it is for a legitimate purpose”.

We might start writing into the law qualifications and issues that people in this House might want to consider carefully.

I thank the Prime Minister and all colleagues for their succinctness, which meant that all 52 Back Benchers who wished to contribute in the 50 minutes of exclusively Back-Bench time were able to do so.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Under Standing Order No. 9 I would like to move a motion. The Prime Minister has given the Government statement. We are in a unique situation where it is proposed that there should be two Government statements. A similar occasion occurred in 1932, which was followed four days later by a vote of confidence in the Government.

Motion made, That this House do now adjourn.— (Mr Bone.)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. His historical recollection of the events of 1932 is indeed faultless, but I know he will be interested in my reply to his point of order. He seeks to move the Adjournment of the House. He will be well aware, I feel certain, that under Standing Order No. 35 I have the power to put the Question immediately, to allow the motion to be debated, or not to accept the motion. I do not accept the motion and we will therefore proceed with the statement.