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Leveson Inquiry

Volume 608: debated on Thursday 21 April 2016

Around half of Sir Brian Leveson’s recommendations focused on press regulation and we have implemented those via the royal charter. The Government have delivered, or are in the process of delivering, the majority of the other recommendations directed at them.

The Secretary of State must realise that press abuse victims want him to implement section 40. Indeed, even the Prime Minister personally promised victims of press abuse and this House that it would be enacted. Why is the Secretary of State breaking the Prime Minister’s promise?

I have considerable sympathy with the victims of press abuse and have had a number of meetings with some of them and with others who are rightly following this matter with great interest. Having had my faith tested perhaps to the utmost, I still believe that press freedom is a vital component of a free society and we should tread very carefully. Some of the recommendations of the Leveson report have been implemented and the new system is coming into effect. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the exemplary damages provisions of section 40 have now been enacted. The remainder are still under consideration and we do not yet have a recognised press regulator in place, but we will continue to consider these matters very carefully.

Does the Secretary of State believe that we have sufficient press regulation or would he like to see further regulation of the press?

We now have two potential press regulators, both of which are independent, running self-regulatory systems with sanctions, and certainly represent a considerable improvement on the Press Complaints Commission, which went before. It is still early days and obviously we will watch carefully to see how the new system operates and whether it is delivering the proper protection that we all want to see to ensure that the abuses that have taken place in the past do not happen again.

We all support freedom of the press and broadcasters, but in the case of the BBC we also expect our national broadcaster to reflect the society in which we live. I am sure that the Secretary of State will have seen highlights of the House’s recent debate on BBC diversity. All sides were in complete agreement that there is a striking shortage of black senior managers, an inexplicable lack of openly gay and lesbian presenters in high-profile news and current affairs roles and a shocking absence of older women on screen anywhere. The House agreed that the time for BBC studies and targets had passed and that action was overdue. Has the Secretary of State had a chance to pass that on to the director-general?

I have quite a lot of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s comments. Obviously, we are still in the process of drawing up the new BBC charter but I can assure him that this issue will feature in the White Paper when we publish it, I hope quite soon. It is something we take seriously. I do not believe in instructing the BBC or setting quotas for the number of ethnic minority faces, older female faces or, indeed, Scottish faces that appear on screen or behind the camera, but all those groups, and others that are currently underrepresented, need better representation and that is what we are working to achieve.