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House of Commons Hansard

21st Century Fox/Sky Merger

29 June 2017
Volume 626

  • I came to this House on 16 March to confirm that I had issued a European intervention notice in relation to the proposed merger between 21st Century Fox and Sky plc on the grounds of media plurality and commitment to broadcasting standards. The EIN triggered a requirement for Ofcom to report—initially by 16 May but extended to 20 June—on the media public interest considerations and for the Competition and Markets Authority to report on jurisdiction. I issued a statement last week to confirm that I had received those reports and undertook both to publish them today and to come to the House to set out my minded-to decision on the next step in this process, which is whether to refer the merger to a fuller phase 2 investigation.

    In line with my commitments, I am today publishing both documents, copies of which will also be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses. I will also be publishing later today the letter to both parties with my decision, which I sent them this morning. Separately, Ofcom is today publishing its fit and proper assessment of the merged company. This reflects its ongoing responsibility as the independent regulator under the Broadcasting Acts to monitor who is fit and proper to hold a broadcast licence.

    Decisions made by the Secretary of State on media mergers under the Enterprise Act 2002 are made on a quasi-judicial basis. I want to be very clear about what that means. When taking a quasi-judicial decision, I am tightly bound. I must take my decision only on the basis of the evidence that is relevant to the specified public interests. My decision cannot be based on opinion, speculation or conjecture. Any decision I take must be objectively justified by the facts before me. I must set aside wider political considerations going beyond the scope of the legislation. I must act independently and follow a process that is scrupulously fair and impartial. This is what I am doing.

    On the question of whether the merger gives rise to public interest concerns in relation to media plurality, Ofcom’s report is unambiguous. It concludes:

    “The transaction raises public interest concerns as a result of the risk of increased influence by members of the Murdoch Family Trust over the UK news agenda and the political process, with its unique presence on radio, television, in print and online. We consider that these concerns may justify a reference by the Secretary of State to the Competition and Markets Authority”.

    On the basis of Ofcom’s assessment, I confirm that I am minded to refer to a phase 2 investigation on the grounds of media plurality. The reasoning and evidence on which Ofcom’s recommendation is based are persuasive. The proposed entity would have the third largest total reach of any news provider—lower only than the BBC and ITN—and would, uniquely, span news coverage on television, radio, in newspapers and online.

    Ofcom’s report states that the proposed transaction would give the Murdoch Family Trust material influence over news providers with a significant presence across all key platforms. This potentially raises public interest concerns because, in Ofcom’s view, the transaction may increase the ability of members of the Murdoch Family Trust to influence the overall news agenda and their ability to influence the political process, and it may also result in the perception of increased influence. These are clear grounds to warrant a referral to a phase 2 investigation, so that is what I am minded to do.

    There, is, however, a statutory process that I must follow. I am required by legislation to allow the parties the opportunity to make representations to me on this position before I reach a final decision. I will now do that and have given them until Friday 14 July to respond.

    The second question concerns whether, after the merger, the relevant media enterprises would have a genuine commitment to broadcasting standards. Ofcom is unequivocal. It concludes:

    “In light of Fox’s and Sky’s broadcast compliance records and taking account of our separate assessment of whether Sky remains fit and proper to hold broadcasting licences following the transaction, we do not consider that the merged entity would lack a genuine commitment to the attainment of broadcasting standards. Therefore, we consider that there are no broadcasting standards concerns that may justify a reference by the Secretary of State to the Competition and Markets Authority”.

    Ofcom’s approach sought to measure commitment to broadcasting standards by reference to breaches of regulatory codes. It found that Fox’s compliance with the UK’s Broadcasting Code is in line with comparable broadcasters. Nor did Fox’s compliance record in relation to overseas broadcast jurisdictions—where Ofcom’s analysis focused largely on the EU—give cause for concern.

    I also asked Ofcom to consider the effect of any failure of corporate governance on this public interest consideration. Ofcom did this in the context of its separate assessment of whether Fox and Sky would remain fit and proper to hold broadcast licences following the transaction. It concluded that behaviours alleged at Fox News in the US amount to significant corporate failures. However, these did not, in its view, demonstrate that the merged company would lack a genuine commitment to broadcasting standards. In reaching a view, I have to be guided only by the evidence before me. As such—based on the Ofcom report—I am currently minded not to refer to a phase 2 investigation in relation to a genuine commitment to broadcasting standards.

    As required by legislation, I am giving the parties an opportunity to make representations in relation to media plurality grounds, where I am minded to refer for a phase 2 investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority. In the interests of transparency and of ensuring that all the evidence has been considered, I will also invite wider representations on the question of commitment to broadcasting standards, where I am currently minded not to refer for a phase 2 investigation.

    Parties responding to the consultation should not simply duplicate any representations previously made to Ofcom. Instead, responses should be limited to setting out any new and substantial evidence and any comment on Ofcom’s overall approach. While there are strong feelings among both supporters and opponents of this merger, in this quasi-judicial process my decisions can be influenced only by facts, not opinions, and by the quality of evidence, not who shouts the loudest. The invitation to make representations will open today and close on Friday 14 July, and it can be found on the DCMS website.

    Under the process set out in the Enterprise Act 2016, it is open to the parties to propose undertakings in lieu of a reference to the CMA for a more detailed investigation—in other words, the parties may seek to avoid a phase 2 reference by proposing remedies to address the public interest concerns that have provisionally been identified. The decision as to whether or not to accept undertakings in lieu is for the Secretary of State alone.

    However, somewhat unusually, the parties proposed a set of undertakings to Ofcom, and Ofcom commented on them in its report. The proposed undertakings centred around Fox maintaining the editorial independence of Sky News by establishing a separate editorial board, with a majority of independent members, to oversee the appointment of the head of Sky News and any changes to Sky News editorial guidelines. They also include a commitment to maintain Sky branded news for five years with spending at least at similar levels to now. Ofcom’s view was that these remedies would mitigate the serious media plurality public interest concerns. It also suggested that the remedies could be further strengthened.

    Last week, the parties—without prejudice to my decision today, which they only learned about this morning—formally submitted undertakings in largely the same terms to me. In accordance with the legislation, if I still intend to refer the merger after having considered representations from the parties, I am required to consider whether or not these remedies are appropriate. Given that the parties have offered these undertakings and that Ofcom have commented on them, I have taken an initial view. I can confirm that I have, today, written to the parties indicating that I am minded not to accept the undertakings that have been offered. While Ofcom suggests that they may mitigate its concerns, it is for the Secretary of State to decide whether they sufficiently mitigate—or, ideally, fully remedy—what are serious public interest considerations.

    I note that Ofcom’s report says:

    “we recognise that behavioural undertakings can be difficult to monitor and enforce and that there are areas in which the proposed undertakings could be strengthened.”

    It cites questions regarding

    “the ongoing arrangements for the appointment of the independent members of the Sky News Editorial Board and the period of Fox’s commitment to maintaining its investment in Sky News”.

    I also note the guidance of the Competition and Markets Authority, which, in the context of competition cases, says that undertakings in lieu are appropriate where the remedies are

    “clear cut...effective and capable of ready implementation”,

    and that, in ordinary cases, it is

    “highly unlikely to accept behavioural remedies at phase 1”.

    I have given the parties 10 working days—until Friday 14 July—to make representations on the minded-to decisions that I have reached. If I receive further offers of undertakings as part of those representations, I will keep the House informed about how I intend to structure the statutory process that I must follow when considering them.

    As I have set out, I will now take representations on my minded-to positions. The call will remain open for 10 working days and I will then consider the evidence received before coming to a final decision on both grounds. To be clear, the minded-to decisions that I have outlined today are not my final decisions.

    Before I close, I want to say a word about Ofcom’s “fit and proper” assessment. This is a matter for Ofcom, as the independent regulator, and my understanding is that it will publish its report today. I have seen the report and know that many Members in the House will want to comment on it. However, given my current quasi-judicial role in the merger, I will not be commenting on the findings. It is rightly not for Government to determine who should, and should not, hold TV broadcasting licences. Ofcom has an ongoing duty to ensure that all UK broadcasters are fit and proper to hold TV broadcasting licences. I am clear that if any evidence comes to light, it is for Ofcom to take account of that evidence.

    I trust, as before, that this update is helpful to right hon. and hon. Members and that this statement gives an opportunity to debate this important issue while respecting the limits of what I can say, given my ongoing quasi-judicial role in relation to this merger. I commend this statement to the House.

  • I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement, albeit in redacted form, which, quite honestly, Mr Speaker, is utterly ridiculous.

    This decision was delayed as a result of the unexpected general election campaign. I hope that the Conservative party found those weeks as productive as we on the Opposition Benches did, but nothing about this decision is a surprise. It is the old playbook. The Secretary of State has known all along what she wants to end up doing, but she has to follow the established dance steps, so let me make a prediction now. The parties have proposed some pretty minor undertakings in lieu. They always knew that they were not going to be enough to satisfy Ofcom, so the Secretary of State will demand extra conditions, as a result of which she will get written up as a tough operator. The parties will offer something new, which they always had in their back pocket, the Secretary of State will accept them, as she always planned, and this merger will go ahead.

    Let me tell the Secretary of State the problem with Murdoch’s undertakings in lieu—not just these undertakings in lieu, but any undertakings in lieu that have ever been offered by the Murdochs. They are not worth the newsprint they are written in. Ask Harold Evans or James Harding about the guarantees of editorial independence at The Times and The Sunday Times. Can the Secretary of State name any undertakings in lieu that the Murdochs have ever made that have been respected?

    If the current rules mean that James Murdoch can pass a fit and proper person test, given everything we know about his and his companies’ behaviour over phone hacking, and given everything we know about Fox’s behaviour over the ongoing sexual harassment scandal in the United States, that says more about the rules than it does about Mr Murdoch. It is clear that the rules need to be reviewed, and if the current Conservative government will not do that, the next Labour Government will.

    This company has been found guilty of significant corporate failure, yet this bid process can still go ahead. In fact, over the next 12 months, the Labour party will be reviewing media ownership rules in the UK, and let me put the media barons on notice: the days when citizens of other countries can dominate our media markets while paying their taxes overseas have to end.

    The truth is, the world is changing and it is time the Conservative party realised it. We have seen what looks like an implicit bargain between the Conservative party and the Murdoch empire over recent years. The Conservatives would give Murdoch what he wanted—the Sky deal, stopping section 40, blocking Leveson part 2 —and Murdoch would deliver Theresa May the landslide victory she craved. Well, it has not quite worked out that way, has it? Rupert Murdoch has not delivered his side of the bargain, has he? His papers may have done their best to urge a Tory landslide, but he just could not follow through. He is not what he was. It was not The Sun wot won it. The country saw through him. The Sun told Britain: “Don’t chuck Britain in the Cor-bin”. Britain chucked the Tory manifesto in the bin instead.

    Please let me give the Secretary of State some friendly advice: Murdoch was not any use to them. They do not need to be any use to him anymore. If I was speaking to the Minister outside the Chamber, I would say to her: “At long last, you’re free. You can do the right thing.” One way of signalling that freedom would be to go ahead and order part 2 of the Leveson inquiry. Notwithstanding Ofcom’s fit and proper assessment, the only way to get to the bottom of the corporate governance issues that are at the heart of the decision is for the Secretary of State to hold part 2 of the Leveson inquiry. She should get on and order it now. She does not have a mandate to drop Leveson 2.

    Meanwhile, let me ask the Secretary of State this. Given that this autumn James Murdoch is facing a civil trial in the High Court over new allegations of hacking and blagging at the Sun, and destruction of evidence, does she think that she could come out of this process with egg all over her face? How can the process possibly proceed with these cases hanging over them? Before she makes her final decision, will she guarantee to let the House know what the Prime Minister discussed with Rupert Murdoch at their private meeting in New York last year?

  • I am disappointed by the hon. Gentleman. I have come here to be fair and proper in a quasi-judicial process, and he has chosen to make it party political. That is a shame, and I think it is very cynical of him.

    The hon. Gentleman should judge me on my record. Throughout this process I have been scrupulously fair and I have looked at the evidence and analysis available to me. He should not prejudge any decisions that I will take; I will take them on the basis of the evidence and analysis that is given to me and that I see, and I will make an appropriate judgment based on that evidence. I hope that he will give me credit for the fact that so far I have done that, and I will continue to do that.

  • May I commend my right hon. Friend on the scrupulous way in which she is following the advice she has been given while giving the maximum opportunity for interested parties to comment at each stage? Would she also agree that the only thing on which the Opposition spokesman was correct was that when it comes to plurality, it is becoming increasingly obvious—and the general election bears this out—that the printed press are a waning influence and the real media giants today are companies such as Google and the social media giants?

  • My right hon. Friend, who has significant experience in this area and a great track record, is absolutely right. During the general election in particular, we saw the power and influence of social media companies, which simply do not have to abide by the same rules of impartiality, fairness and checking sources that the mainstream media do. I thank him for his comments about the approach I have taken to this merger. Whatever final decision I take, I will take it on the basis of the evidence, but I want to make sure we are as transparent as possible, because there is great public interest in this issue. I want to make sure that whatever final decision I take, it is understood by the public and respected.

  • I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement. As the Ofcom report rightly reflects, the public have serious concerns about the concentration of media ownership in fewer and fewer hands. We welcome the fact that the Secretary of State is minded to refer this to the Competition and Markets Authority on the grounds of diminishing plurality in the UK media. In doing so, she will have bolstered public confidence that recognising plurality and diversity are vital components of an independent media.

    In her statement, the Secretary of State said that the guarantees received from Fox about editorial independence do not go far enough. Will she outline what she is looking for from Fox to guarantee that independence of editorial standards? Although she said that it is not for the Government to decide who holds a broadcast licence, is she satisfied that the current arrangement, whereby it is left solely to Ofcom to decide who holds a broadcast licence and who does not, is sufficiently robust to ensure public confidence in the process?

  • If I can take the hon. Gentleman’s latter comment about the fit and proper person test first, I think it would be extraordinary to be in a situation in which Government Ministers had any form of say over who held a broadcasting licence. It is right that that lies with Ofcom and if he has questions about the Ofcom process and its report, when he sees it, he should address those questions to Ofcom so that it can give him the comfort he needs.

    The hon. Gentleman asks what undertakings I am looking for and, again, it is not for me to prejudge that. I have set out today that I am giving all parties 10 working days to come forward—that is, interested bodies that wish to make further representations on the matter of commitment to broadcasting standards and media plurality, as well as the parties themselves—on the matter of further undertakings they wish to make or other matters concerning my minded-to decisions. At that point, I will make a further decision.

  • My right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) mentioned media plurality. What consideration has been given to the world in which we live today, where most people increasingly get their news on services such as Facebook? And what about the future of the television market—we are talking about the merger of two television companies—becoming dominated by the increasing power and financial influence of companies such as Netflix and Amazon?

  • If my hon. Friend looks at the Ofcom report, which should now have been published, he will see the consideration that was taken. One point of concern about the Fox-Sky merger is that the media company is unique among media organisations in having positions in broadcasting, radio, newsprint and online. He is right that we are in an ever-changing media landscape. We need to be cognisant of that when we are looking at how best to ensure that the public receive a wide and diverse range of accurate and fair news.

  • I welcome the Ofcom report recommending a referral to the CMA on grounds of plurality, and I urge the Secretary of State not to do a grubby deal with the Murdochs. We know their history. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson) who spoke from the Front Bench said, they break every undertaking they make, from The Times to The Wall Street Journal.

    May I also ask about fitness, propriety and broadcasting standards? I do wonder what it takes to be declared unfit and improper to hold a broadcasting licence. Ofcom has apparently found a second significant corporate failure on the part of the Murdochs. Given the Secretary of State’s responsibilities for broadcasting standards, is she not worried that this entity has been found responsible for a second huge corporate failure at Fox News, after News International?

  • I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman puts his comments about fitness and propriety to Ofcom, which is rightly the independent regulator. He will see its report later today. It ill behoves him to use the word “grubby” about the work that we will do. If undertakings are given and if, as a result, I am minded to consider them, there will be a full statutory public consultation on those undertakings so that we can be as transparent as possible and there can be no allegations of anything being grubby at all.

  • I am glad that the Secretary of State has pointed to the need to make her decisions on the basis of evidence. She will be aware that there was a long email campaign of rather emotional emails on the matter. What role have they played in her thinking, and how will that help her to retain public confidence?

  • The petitions and campaigns to which my hon. Friend refers have been considered as part of Ofcom’s work. He will see in the report that Ofcom has considered more than 51,000 responses as part of its work. He is right that, in my quasi-judicial role, I am obliged to look at the evidence and analysis before me. I said in my statement that shouting the loudest is not necessarily the way to get the result one wants. We are looking for new and substantive evidence that may make a change to the decision.

  • Is it not the case that the internet companies that have been referred to are essentially aggregators of news, rather than independent providers, and that a company that is the leading supplier of newspaper content, the second leading supplier of radio content and the third largest supplier of television content is, indeed, a major threat to plurality, precisely as the Secretary of State’s regulator has advised her?

  • I welcome the right hon. Gentleman back to the House. He is right in his assessment that much internet news content has been previously written and owned by other providers. In response to his comments on media plurality, that is why I am minded to refer for a phase 2 inquiry.

  • I remind the House that it was not just the News of the World that was guilty of phone hacking; The Mirror was found guilty too. Back to the subject of evidence, and following on from the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell), the Secretary of State will know that a number of identical emails have come, quite properly, from organisations such as 38 Degrees. In her statement, she drew a difference between evidence and perception. Is it not evidence that is now required?

  • My hon. Friend is right that evidence is what is required. I am sure that there will be more email campaigns. I assure him that my inbox is full to bursting with identical responses from around the world, but emotional perception is not evidence. Evidence is needed to enable me to make a decision in a quasi-judicial way.

  • The Secretary of State asks us to judge her on her record, which I will happily do. So when will she keep the promises that were made to the victims after the Leveson inquiry, announce Leveson 2 and implement section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which was passed almost unanimously by both Houses and, disgracefully, has still not been implemented by the Government?

  • We have had a consultation on the next steps regarding the second part of the Leveson inquiry and section 40, and I will publish the responses to that consultation. As Secretary of State, there is a process I need to go through in order to take anything further. We need to remember that the Leveson inquiry was in 2011. Many things have changed in that time. We have to think about how best to support local press and have a free, fair and vibrant local press. I will look at all those points when I consider the consultation responses.

  • I fully recognise the Secretary of State’s quasi-judicial role. On the doorstep during the election campaign, constituents raised with me their concerns about and perceptions of bias across various media and online platforms. They were also concerned about value for money and plurality. Does the Secretary of State agree that this referral will give the public confidence in what they can actually take as media rather than pure conjecture?

  • I had similar conversations on the doorstep in my constituency and in other parts of the country. It is important that we have a transparent process that the public can have full confidence in.

  • If the Secretary of State had sat in the High Court day after day, as I had to do as one of the victims of phone hacking, she would have heard endless examples and evidence—yes, real evidence heard in court before a judge—of the corruption that the Murdochs deliberately perpetuated in the British political system. The truth of the matter is that she cannot possibly now make a proper final judgment on whether the Murdochs are proper people to have any broadcasting licence in this country unless she hears more evidence in court in Leveson 2.

  • The point is that that evidence was heard in court and Ofcom has looked at it as part of all the work it has been doing. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman takes up his points on fit and proper people with Ofcom.

  • I thank the excellent Secretary of State for making such a clear statement to the House. However, 14 July cropped up as the date by which responses could be given, and it occurred to me that we are going into recess shortly after that date. Will she assure us that we will not get a final decision while the House is not sitting? As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) said, the subject of media bias came up a lot on the doorstep, but I am afraid that, for me, it was media bias by the BBC, which my constituents suggested should be called the “Brussels Broadcasting Corporation”.

  • I am acutely aware of the parliamentary timetable. I hope that the date of 14 July will enable me to have enough time before the House rises to come back to the House with any further updates. I will endeavour, as I have throughout the process, to ensure that the House is updated before anybody else.

  • Sky TV is the largest employer in my constituency. Will the Secretary of State ensure, in any considerations and discussions she has, that the jobs of workers in both organisations are given full and proper consideration? Further to that, she seems to know what is not good enough for the process, but my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) tried to elicit from her what will be good enough. She must know that. Surely that information should be written down and published. Then, when the evidence is presented, it should be put forward so that we can have confidence in the process.

  • I do, of course, recognise the issue with regard to people working for these organisations, and we need to be mindful of that. In many ways, that is why it is important that decisions are taken as promptly as possible, in order that uncertainty does not persist and pervade. But it would not be right for me in any way to try to set out today what I think would be appropriate or not; it is for the parties to come forward with their representations, and for me to make a decision as to whether they are appropriate to stop a phase 2 referral.

  • Is the Minister aware that what troubles us about her statement is her total failure to see the most obvious link between, on the one hand, the fit and proper test and, on the other hand, regular arrangements with those involved that might lead to some diminution in the influence of market share and make these things acceptable? The second can only depend on the first, and unless these people are fit and proper, they will never maintain the regulations. We know the first is not there, so why would the second be?

  • I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman does not understand the process. In the process for the media merger, I have a quasi-judicial role to ensure that the public interest test in the Enterprise Act 2002, introduced under a Labour Government, is fully met and that media plurality—the issue that he raised—is dealt with. In terms of the fit and proper persons test, that is an ongoing test for the independent regulator, Ofcom, and I suggest that he refers his comments to it. On the commitment to broadcasting standards, many of the same issues are considered as for the fit and proper persons test, and he will see in the report exactly what Ofcom says. If he has further evidence and further substantive comments to make, I suggest that he makes them as part of that process.

  • I thank the Secretary of State for her statement. I am sure that she, like other right hon. and hon. Members, will be reflecting on the contrast between broadcasting regulations and what exists online, where we have a burgeoning source of news that now has a huge impact. However, does she agree that our regulatory structure means that even a hypothetical Fox News UK would have to be very different from its US sibling?

  • My hon. Friend makes an important point. Any broadcaster in the United Kingdom has to comply with the broadcasting codes and to meet our tests of impartiality, credibility and fair reporting, which may be very different from the tests applied in other countries.

  • While we welcome the fact that the Secretary of State is minded to refer the proposed acquisition for fuller investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority, and we are pleased that the statement recognises the danger of too much media power being in the hands of too few individuals, we ask the Secretary of State whether, in the light of her previous references to failures of corporate governance in relation to the phone hacking scandal, she now believes that a Competition and Markets Authority inquiry will go far enough to tackle wholesale the problems at Sky?

  • I am not sure whether this is the hon. Lady’s first contribution, but she is very welcome. I am obliged under this process to comply with the terms of the Enterprise Act 2002, and I am following those scrupulously.

  • On broadcasting standards, does the Secretary of State recall the anger over the Fox News broadcast that claimed that Birmingham is a city where non-Muslims simply cannot go? If she approves this merger, what assurance can she give us that she can prevent that kind of offensive nonsense from being allowed on a Sky News programme in this country?

  • As I just said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), any broadcaster in the United Kingdom has to comply with broadcasting codes and our standards, and those codes are very different from those that exist in other countries.

  • I welcome the Minister’s statement. The test is that the merger must be fit and proper, but there are many concerns that it falls into neither category. There are doubts that the new service will be impartial. Is it right that one body controls so much of the media output? Too much control in the hands of too few is truly a danger.

  • That is why I am minded to refer to a phase 2 inquiry, to ensure that we have full confidence in whatever decision I finally take.

  • In coming to its view on the commitment of those involved to broadcasting standards, did Ofcom take account of the new civil case on phone hacking, in which the judge has required James Murdoch to surrender his personal laptop?

  • I would have to ask the hon. Lady to wait for the Ofcom report and to look at that. However, I remind her that the duty on Ofcom in terms of fit and proper persons is an ongoing duty; it needs to be constantly reviewed and reflected on, and that is for Ofcom to do.

  • Are we not indebted to our predecessors who sat in this Chamber in 1927, who determined that the broadcasters should have a duty of balance in their news? As a result of that, we trust the broadcasters to a greater extent than we trust the prostituted popular press, which tried a campaign of character assassination against the leader of my party in the election. Rightly, viewers and readers trusted what they saw on the BBC—the reality—rather than the propaganda. But are we not now in a new position, where fake news is a real threat to us, and what determines opinion is botnets, algorithms and artificial intelligence—activities that are entirely invisible and outside all the controls we have? Do we not need a new charter for all news?

  • We announced in the manifesto—and it was in the Queen’s Speech—that we are looking to construct a digital charter, which will look at the way people access information on the internet. The hon. Gentleman is right: we were all—certainly on the Government side of the House—victims of what appeared to be an echo chamber. People would put something completely vile, inappropriate and false on social media, and it was reinforced and repeated time and time again. That is simply not acceptable; it is a matter I have raised with the social media companies, and I will continue to do so.

  • The Conservative party has blocked Leveson 2. How can we respect the quasi-judicial role of the Secretary of State when she is closing off the hearing of additional evidence that was promised by the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, to the victims of phone hacking?

  • These are two very different matters, and I am bound by the evidence and the analysis before me.

  • I am sure the Secretary of State sees through some of the “Bah, humbug!” of those on the Labour Benches, considering that their former leader warmed the bed of this media mogul and ultimately became a godparent to James Murdoch’s stepsister. Given that some of us have been hacked by the Daily Mirror and by journalists from the BBC and Belfast newspapers, we take all of that with a great pinch of salt. However, may I congratulate the Minister on the way she has conducted herself today and on the handling of this report? I look forward to being able to make representations to her. Will MPs be able to meet her personally, or will we have to write to her to make our case?

  • I am always happy to meet hon. and right hon. Members from across the House, but I would also suggest that, in this process, the hon. Gentleman makes his representations through the official lines so that we can ensure that they are all properly accounted for.

  • Order. Just before we come to points of order—this is intended to be helpful to the House—I just mention that, a matter of only minutes before the intended resumption of the debate on the Queen’s speech, I observed that many, many hon. Members who have applied to speak in the debate are not currently present in the Chamber. I know the Whips are doing their best to ensure that that situation is addressed at once. [Interruption.] I know that the hon. Lady is gesticulating from a sedentary position to indicate that she is present; there is nothing particularly unusual or unexpected about that, and we are most grateful to her for her presence. It is not necessary for everybody who is present to signal that he or she is present; I am referring to those who are not present. But it might be helpful to new Members, in particular, if I make the point that, although all sorts of things can change over a period, and very beneficially for Parliament—I am very keen on beneficial and progressive change where the case can be made for it—it is a very, very, very long-established convention and courtesy in this place that Members who wish to speak in a debate should be present for the opening speeches and hear them, and should also be present for the winding-up speeches. People should not just wander in when it is convenient to them; that is, frankly, disrespectful to other colleagues and to the House as an institution. I hope that if there are now points of order of which I have, in response, to treat—this is not the purpose of the points of order—that will provide a welcome opportunity for people who have not yet arrived to scuttle their way towards the Chamber, and having scuttled their way towards the Chamber, they should stay in the Chamber.