Consideration of Lords message
After Clause 141
Data protection breaches by national news publishers
I beg to move,
That this House disagrees to Lords Amendment No. 62B proposed instead of the words left out of the Bill by Commons Amendment No. 62 but proposes amendments (za) to (a) to Clause (Review of processing of personal data for the purposes of journalism) inserted by Commons Amendment No. 109 and amendments (c) to (f) to the Bill in lieu of the Lords Amendment.
The House should be aware that some printed editions of today’s Order Paper do not include all the amendments that I am about to refer to.
We had a thorough and illuminating debate on the Data Protection Bill in this House just a few days ago, when we heard a range of perspectives from all sides on press regulation. This House plainly and clearly voted against the proposed Opposition amendments, and I thank all Members for their contributions and their constructive engagement.
Since that comprehensive debate, an amendment has been sent back by the other place for us to consider. The amendment would require the Government to establish a statutory inquiry into data protection breaches by national news publishers. It is essentially similar to new clause 18, which was proposed and defeated in this House last week. During the course of the Bill, we have repeatedly acted to take into account amendments made in the other place and to directly address concerns expressed by Members of this House. We have gone out of our way to offer concessions at every stage to make sure that the system of press regulation is both free and fair. On Report last week, we gave the Information Commissioner the powers that she needs so that those who flout the law are held to account for their actions. We introduced a data protection code of practice for the press; guidance on how to seek redress, which fits with the Independent Press Standards Organisation’s new system of binding low-cost arbitration; and a review by the Information Commissioner’s Office of how the new system is working.
I listened to the entire debate in the other place yesterday, and I understand some of the concerns raised there, both from those who essentially want to reopen the Leveson inquiry and those with deep concerns about the impact of that on the sustainability of the free press. Today, I am proposing further amendments to try to strike this vital balance and ensure that in future we have a press that is both free and fair. I hope that hon. Members will agree that this action can bring matters to a close.
I am proposing five further amendments to strengthen the system. First, we will strengthen the ICO’s review. Amendments (a) and (f) give the commissioner stronger powers to compel evidence to ensure that the review that she will undertake is both robust and comprehensive. Secondly, we will widen the ICO’s review. Amendment (za) broadens the remit to include looking at good practice in the processing of personal data for the purposes of journalism. Thirdly, we will make the review permanent. Amendment (zd) will ensure that unlike the inquiry proposed in their lordships amendment, the ICO-led review will not be a one-off, but part of the media landscape, with a review every five years thereafter.
Fourthly, we are determined that there can be no backsliding on the media’s commitment to low-cost arbitration, which we welcomed the introduction of a few weeks ago. Amendment (c) will ensure that a report on the use and effectiveness of that arbitration is laid in Parliament at least every three years and that a copy is supplied to the devolved Administrations so that they can take action in areas of devolved competence. Fifthly, amendments (d) and (e) bring all these matters automatically into force without the need for a commencement order in order to show good faith. I think that this significant set of amendments is a better approach than amendment 62B—proposed by the other place—which is unnecessary for a number of reasons.
Can the Secretary of State confirm that amendment (c) will allow him to judge the effectiveness, personally, of the alternative dispute resolution procedures? Is he not giving himself the power to mark the press and their regulatory bodies?
No. The purpose of amendment (c) is to make sure that a report is laid on the effectiveness of that arbitration. With this set of amendments we propose that this House can continue to debate and scrutinise the effectiveness of the self-regulation of the press without requiring statutory regulation, which we seek to avoid.
Just to follow up on the question about the Secretary of State being able to examine the paperwork of the press, what happens if the Secretary of State of whatever party is not happy with what he sees?
That will be up to the Government of the day. We are trying to ensure that the welcome moves by IPSO in the last few weeks can be debated by this House and sustained. I think that the low-cost arbitration that it has brought in is good for the press and good for ordinary people who want redress from the press. I want to see it continue, and this report will consider whether it does.
The right hon. Gentleman has just said that it would be up to the Government of the day. The whole purpose of the Leveson process was to stop politicians having direct control of the press. To my astonishment, he seems to be proposing exactly that.
No. I do not want to see amendment 62B from the other place in the Bill precisely because I do not want to see statutory regulation of the press; I welcome the self-regulation of the press, because we want the press to be free.
There is a slightly wider constitutional issue, which I hope the Secretary of State will get on to a minute. We passed the Bill in the House and sent it to the other place, having chucked out the new clauses, and the single argument that was made by the noble Baroness was that we do not have enough of a majority, which is why the other place was justified in returning the Bill to the House. Does my right hon. Friend not think that that is a rather absurd argument to make?
I think it is very important that the elected House, having considered the question and in supporting a manifesto commitment of the party in government, should have its say. That is absolutely right. It is a very important constitutional argument, but I am also making an argument of substance. The approach that we are proposing is the right one—that we do not have statutory regulation of the process, but that we in this House can debate a report on what is happening in the press and the self-regulation of it. I think that is the best way to take this question forward.
I fully support what the Secretary of State is trying to do. Does he see a rather worrying undemocratic tendency in the other place—it does not like the result of referendums, the EU withdrawal Bill, which was a manifesto Bill, or this manifesto Bill, and now it wants to regulate the press because the press point out the errors of its ways?
I support the Salisbury convention: if something is in the party of government’s manifesto and this House passes it, the other place should be very careful about sending it back. Indeed, the Salisbury convention says it should not. I hope that the vote of the House today is respected, because we will then have considered this question twice. We have made concessions, taking on board legitimate concerns, but ultimately the House will have decided its view, having considered the question twice, so I think my right hon. Friend asks an important question.
Can the Minister confirm that the noble Baroness is factually wrong and that the House does have enough of a majority? It was passed in this House and it is not the business of the unelected Members of that House to tell the elected Members of this House whether they have done a good enough job.
I have a lot of sympathy with what my hon. Friend says. The best course of action now, given where we are, is to vote for the Government’s position and make the point incredibly clear.
I will not venture into this attempt to rewrite the British constitution to stop the House of Lords giving the Commons the right to consider things a further time; we will save that for another day. On the important matter of regulation, does the Secretary of State agree that the key point is that institutions such as a free press need independent regulation, as other great institutions in the country do? It might be set up by statute, but it needs to be independent. That it is set up by statute does not mean it will be run by Ministers in a politically biased fashion. That argument could be used to dismiss many other respected regulatory bodies in all kinds of areas across the country.
I welcome the fact that we have self-regulation of the press and that IPSO has been set up. Unlike when the Leveson inquiry took place, we now have an effective self-regulator that has introduced low-cost arbitration. The crucial thing about this self-regulator is that is has now committed itself to having compulsory low-cost arbitration, which it has not had until now.
Nobody in this or the other House should ever fail to stand up and question the press. We know what has happened in the past, and people should always question the press, but there is a line, and it is that line to which the Government are adhering today. I have full respect for the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson) and his campaign, as he knows, but there is a line, and that line should not be crossed. I hope that the Secretary of State will always challenge the press, but are we not right to hold that line, which Members of the other place they have not done?
I agree comprehensively with my hon. Friend, who set it out incredibly well.
I want to take a look at the precise details of amendment 62B, because it is unnecessary. First, it promises to look into the reporting restrictions around arrests, but this work is already under way. Indeed, I have committed to working with hon. Members to get the details right. Secondly, it promises to look into the impact of social media, but we are already undertaking this with the Cairncross review, which has started to take evidence right around the country. Thirdly, it promises to look into Northern Ireland, but this has already been provided for with the review outlined in new clause 23 last week.
In addition to replicating a lot of what is already going on, the amendment goes over ground already covered by the Leveson inquiry, the three substantial police investigations and the two Select Committee investigations. There has been no shortage of inquiry. I am focused instead on getting the system right for the future. The amendment is unnecessary at a time when we should be coming together to face the challenges of the future.
I fully understand the strength of feeling on the issue of press standards. I supported the original Leveson inquiry, and I have met victims of press intrusion, including some in this House, and, worse still, have heard about the impact on Members and their families. I am fully aware of the distress caused and of how lives have been affected by false allegations, how hacking was used to access the most intimate messages and how personal information was obtained through blagging and deception, but much has changed since the inquiry, While our press are not perfect, the culture that allowed phone hacking to become the norm has gone, and, with the newly strengthened IPSO, this country now has the most robust system of redress for press intrusion that it has ever had.
In his intervention, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) just talked about the importance of an independent regulator. Is it not the case, however, that IPSO is not independent? It was set up by the press and its terms of reference are those of the press; it is not an independent regulator. It is about time the Government accepted that. Does the Secretary of State agree?
No, I do not. Our proposal, which does not involve statutory regulation, is the best solution to this challenge and will ensure the separation of press and state, which is at the heart of our freedoms. It would be wrong to cross that line.
This is a fundamental point. The big difference between this and the way we regulate agencies and others out there is that the latter do not in turn regulate and watch over this place. The press must be free from the idea of statute specifying how they are to be regulated. I completely agree with the Secretary of State that it is better that the press set up the process and we watch over it.
Furthermore, IPSO has now been granted powers to require front-page corrections—we saw it recently flex its muscles and use this power. When two years ago Sir Joseph Pilling concluded that IPSO largely complied with Sir Brian’s recommendations, the one major omission was compulsory arbitration. IPSO has now introduced compulsory low-cost arbitration, which the major national newspapers have signed up to, so that claims can be made for as little as £50. With the five further concessions today, we are clear that this will be the start of a tougher regime, not the conclusion.
We now have the basis of a stronger and fairer system in which everyone has accessible recourse to justice when things go wrong but in which the press are free to challenge those in power and bring them to account.
IPSO and its so-called compulsory arbitration are wholly inadequate. The only independent redress is through the courts, but that is much weakened because, under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, no win, no fee arrangements are no longer available, so the public actually have no clear independent remedy.
The hon. Gentleman has clearly not been following the debate. IPSO’s introduction of low-cost arbitration and the guidance on how to access it will ensure a stronger system of self-regulation.
All sides in this debate agree that our press must be free to report without fear or favour, to uncover wrongdoing and to hold the powerful to account. It is now a more difficult time than ever to produce high-quality journalism that does hold power to account. It was journalists who helped to bring Stephen Lawrence’s killers to justice; it was journalists who uncovered appalling child abuse, such as in Rotherham, and gave a voice to its victims; and it was journalists who reported on horrific allegations of sexual abuse in football, which led to many more victims coming forward.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) put it last week, newspapers are under threat from online media platforms that do not employ a single journalist.
We all recognise and applaud the examples the Secretary of State has given, but they do not excuse the bad behaviour by other sections of the press. Our concern is not with journalists who behave ethically and well at all times; it is with those journalists who do not, so could he address that point?
If that is the hon. Lady’s concern, she should vote with the Government this afternoon. She should listen to the journalist who uncovered the thousands of victims of sexual abuse in Rotherham, and who said that with statutory regulation under section 40 it would have been effectively impossible for him to do his job. We do not propose statutory regulation of the press, because we want the press to be free, but also to be able to make public stories that are sometimes uncomfortable to print.
The pressure is on the press because of new online publications. That is important, because if we as a nation lose high-quality journalism, we will lose the capability to hold the powerful to account on behalf of victims of all sorts of abuses of power. Clickbait, fake news and malicious disinformation threaten high-quality journalism. Why does this matter? Because a foundation of any successful democracy is a sound basis for democratic discourse, and that is under threat from these new forces that require urgent attention. A weaker press would mean poorer coverage of courts, of council chambers and of corruption. Why are we acting in the way in which we propose to act today? Because I believe that it will ensure that the press are fairer, while safeguarding their essential freedom. Fundamentally, the sustainability of our media underpins the sustainability of our democracy, and our efforts must be focused on that.
Let us not sleepwalk into a society in which high-quality journalism has been decimated and our democracy is damaged as a result. We all benefit—every single one of us benefits—from what a free press gives our country and our democracy, whether or not the coverage is good for us as individuals: the scrutiny, the uncovering of wrongs, and the catalyst for debate. Protecting those benefits is today’s challenge. Now is the time to look forward, not back, and to come together to build a vibrant, free and fair press that holds the powerful to account and rises to the challenges of our times.
I oppose amendment 62B, and I urge every Member in the House to do the same.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Last week, colleagues asked, “What is so special about the second part of the Leveson public inquiry?” Leveson part 2 is that rare thing: an inquiry into a national scandal that the newspapers are not calling for. If any other industry were subject to serious allegations of illegality, corruption and corporate governance failure, our national newspapers would be in the vanguard of calls for a public inquiry. That is not happening here. Here, the tabloid press are on the one hand warning about a chilling effect on investigative journalism, and on the other arguing that they should not be subject to any further investigation.
We believe that this new amendment addresses the legitimate concerns of local newspaper editors in specifically excluding local and regional publishers. I accept that it is a concession, and Labour Members respect that. The Secretary of State seemed to become confused earlier when making the case for section 40. Section 40 has gone, and I can clearly state that if the amendment is passed, we will not seek to push the case; we recognise that there is no majority in the House for it.
Will my hon. Friend go a little further? Is he saying that the Labour party has dropped section 40 for good in the case of all newspapers, and that—whether in opposition or in government—we will never bring back punitive damages for newspapers in order to get them to sign up to a state-sponsored regulator?
I am saying that, although my hon. Friend stood on a manifesto commitment to push section 40, I can envisage no circumstances in which I would move that motion. I cannot speak for the rest of the House.
What the amendment would do is ensure that we proceed with an inquiry which was solemnly promised to the victims of phone hacking by those on all sides, and which Sir Brian Leveson believes should go ahead. Prior to Leveson, the only newspaper that admitted hacking was the News of the World. Since then, in recent court cases, The Sun has settled with claimants at a cost of millions rather than face a full public verdict. The Mirror Group never admitted hacking during Leveson, but, years later, it has. Even The Sunday Times is alleged to have used a blagger for 15 years, yet that was never properly explained to the first part of the Leveson inquiry. Leveson part 2 will achieve something new: the answers that the civil and criminal trials have not and will not get at. Newspapers cannot settle their way out of the conclusions of a national public inquiry that will examine not just illegality, but improper and abusive conduct.
The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that it is somehow the tabloid press that is objecting and campaigning against Leveson 2. However, it was The Guardian that said, back in March, that Leveson 2 would be
“like a driver learning to steer by looking in the rear-view mirror at the road behind rather than the one ahead.”
Does the hon. Gentleman not see that that illustrates the fundamental weakness of expecting Leveson 2 to address the question of where the media should go from here to improve behaviour in future?
It is true that The Guardian was very critical of section 40, and, indeed, its pioneering former editor, Alan Rusbridger, spoke out against it, but he has said today that there is no real reason that people could give for opposing Leveson 2. I have spoken to a number of local and regional editors in recent months, and they have privately said that they have great concerns about section 40, but regard Leveson 2 as a problem for national tabloid newspapers—which is why the amendment explicitly rules out local and regional papers.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way again?
I am afraid that other Members want to speak, and we have a limited amount of time. I tried to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question as comprehensively as possible.
I think that the Lords have listened to the Democratic Unionist party, and have adjusted the amendment to meet their concerns. Although DUP Members are not in the Chamber today, I know that they will follow the debate closely before we vote. I am not one of those who do not respect their position. They are representing the needs of their constituents, and they do that well. Last week we did not manage to convince them, but I hope the new amendment shows that their concerns have been heard loud and clear. I think that of all the parties in the House, the DUP prides itself on its commitment to the United Kingdom. We ask DUP Members today to give all UK citizens justice by voting for the amendment.
During the Bill’s passage, we have been told that the press has cleaned up its act. Indeed, the Secretary of State has talked about a new culture in the papers since Leveson 1. Let me quote from a letter written by Figen Murray, whose son Martyn Hett was murdered by a terrorist in the Manchester Arena bombing last year. While she was at the Etihad stadium waiting for news—still not knowing whether her son was alive—her youngest daughters stayed safe at home. During that time, there were seven or eight journalists at their door, and journalists calling their phone. Figen Murray says:
“What upset me most about the media intrusion we have had was the fact that my youngest daughter...heard from a journalist on our doorstep that her brother died. You cannot unhear what you hear. She was a child and this was absolutely not fair, fiercely unethical and cruel.”
I ask colleagues to put themselves in that position. You are a teenager, and you find out that your brother has been killed by a terrorist bomb from a journalist who turns up at your door while your parents are out searching for him. It is unimaginable.
Martyn’s mother goes on:
“Whilst a lot of noise is being made that press behaviour has improved since the Leveson Inquiry, I totally disagree. As a family we have had first hand experience that this is not the case.”
In case after case, we have seen not just new evidence of wrongdoing that was never disclosed to part 1 of Leveson, but new wrongdoing, new abuses, and new victims. That is why Leveson 2 must proceed.
Let me say finally that we cannot possibly have time to consider this last-minute, far-reaching, highly irregular manuscript amendment today. It appears, ironically, to give greater powers to this Secretary of State and all subsequent Secretaries of State to interfere with self-regulation of the press. Whatever we disagree about on Leveson, no one wants this; that was the whole point of the royal charter system. So I say to colleagues today—in fact I am begging them—that this may be our last chance to deliver on that promise to the victims. The whole House supported a Leveson inquiry in two parts, and Sir Brian Leveson himself says that the inquiry’s work is not done. All I ask today is that colleagues think about the promises we all made; let’s keep our word and keep this amendment in the Bill.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, may I remind colleagues that this is a short debate? I hope that they bear in mind when making their contributions that it will finish at 3.22 pm.
I want briefly to say three things.
First, I have brought four successful libel actions against the media. I hope not to have to repeat that. There are many other times that I could have taken action, but chose not to.
Secondly, this House has to choose whether it wants to be Lord Ellenborough, a prosecutor, or William Hone. Their exchanges were well-illustrated in Ben Wilson’s history “The Laughter of Triumph”. In 1817 Hone was prosecuted for seditious blasphemy when he was actually exposing abuse. If given that simple choice, it is right for those in this House, and in the House of Lords, to defend the press—not to say they are in the last-chance saloon, but to back them to hold themselves to the standards they have voluntarily accepted.
Thirdly, I want to make one small point to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the data protection issue. We must find a way for journalists under the IMPRESS code to have the same data protection rights as those under IPSO. I hope he will remark on that either today or very soon.
We must try to bear it in mind that not every journalist remains consistent. Some of us might today have received a letter from Sir Harold Evans, who was editor of The Sunday Times when Jonathan Aitken and I were the only Conservative MPs to say that John Biffen was wrong to allow the takeover of The Sunday Times to go ahead.
Harold Evans said at that time that he would supply me with information demonstrating that what we were saying was right, but three days later he went in with Rupert Murdoch and we heard no more from him until he wrote his own book saying how he did not really enjoy working with Rupert Murdoch. I would take consistency from many people, but I do not expect it of Sir Harold Evans.
Like many others, I read with interest the Government’s proposals published this morning in response to Lords amendment 62B, and I have to say that they are not entirely without merit. Indeed some of what is contained in the Government’s proposals around extending the power of the Information Commissioner is interesting and sensible and could even be considered appropriate. Had those proposals been contained in the original draft of the Data Protection Bill, or even had they been introduced as a Government amendment in Committee, I may have been convinced that they were genuinely held beliefs. However, at the risk of being cynical, I fear that for these proposals to appear now, at this very late stage, it is more about staving off a possible Back-Bench revolt than any great principled belief, because what is on offer is simply too little, too late. Therefore, as we did last week, the Scottish National party will today again give its full support to establishing the second part of the Leveson inquiry and will vote against the Government’s offered concessions this afternoon.
We have always said that individuals should be able to seek redress when they feel they have been the victim of press malpractice and that it benefits each and every one of us in this country to have a media that is both transparent and accountable. The Scottish National party is committed to ensuring that the practices which led to the initial Leveson inquiry never, ever happen again. As I said last week, we have insisted from the outset that if there is to be a second part of the Leveson inquiry the distinct legal context in Scotland must be taken into account and the devolved competences respected. In those circumstances we would be happy to support the setting up of Leveson 2. We are confident that the proposal that has come back from the other place has been fashioned in such a way as to address all of our concerns, and we fully support the setting up of the second part of the Leveson inquiry.
This afternoon, Members will have a second chance to do what we did not do last week: make good on the promise that this House gave to the people of the United Kingdom in 2012, when the then Prime Minister said of the second stage of the inquiry:
“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.”—[Official Report, 29 November 2012; Vol. 554, c. 446.]
Earlier today the Secretary of State said that much had changed in the behaviour and culture of the press since the phone-hacking scandal, but surely no reasonable person believes that the circumstances and behaviours of certain sections of the press have changed to such an extent that they need no longer be examined by this inquiry. Like the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson), I read the letter from Figen Murray this morning. If the Secretary of State and other Members feel that this inquiry is no longer relevant, I urge them to read that letter, because the treatment of her family by certain sections of the press following the death of her son Martyn in the Manchester Arena attack last May borders on the unbelievable.
Members need to be aware of how important this is: people in this country have to believe that we in this House are taking this issue seriously. I worry that sections of the press have not travelled as far as we would have wanted them to—and as certain Conservative Members believe they have—since 2012. The setting up of a second Leveson inquiry is not just important and necessary; it will also fulfil a solemn promise made to the people of the UK by their Government, and I urge Members across the House to do the right thing today and support the establishment of a second Leveson inquiry.
I rise briefly to support my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s submission today from the Dispatch Box. I do not believe that moving to Leveson 2 would in any way resolve any particular problems. I have no idea, even after all the answers I have heard in the debates undertaken, what exactly it is that everyone expects Leveson 2 to produce that we do not already know. I suspect that in many cases it is about carrying on and grinding that wheel further and harder, and eventually almost getting even with the media.
I, like my right hon. Friend and most Members, have had cause to deal with the media over things that have been said or done incorrectly. I do not take that as the reason to pursue this beyond where it is at the moment. I agree with my right hon. Friend that self-regulation under the IPSO formula is infinitely better than anything that was in place before, particularly with the low-cost arbitration process of which he extolled the virtues. I would have thought that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends accepted that that was one of the last sticking points in terms of how the press regulate themselves.
Does my right hon. Friend not accept that one of the purposes of examining what went wrong in the past is to establish how such extensive criminality was allowed to grow in our press and exactly where the responsibility for that lay so that it is not repeated? Would he also apply the argument that there is no point in looking into the past to, for instance, the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war, which was held to ensure that we minimise the danger of great errors being made in future such situations?
I believe that most, if not all, of that was done in the original Leveson inquiry. My right hon. and learned Friend and I will not necessarily agree on this point, but, as has been pointed out time and again, since that period the courts themselves have vigorously pursued individuals who have breached the law. It was argued at the time that the courts could not do that, but they have demonstrated that they can.
The courts have shown that anybody who breaks the law can be pursued. They are being, and have been, pursued by the courts—and not all of them successfully, by the way. It has been demonstrated that independent courts can pursue and find fault with such individuals, and many have gone to prison as a result. So I am not sure that Leveson 2 would advance the sum total of our knowledge about what we need to put right. I think we know that that is the case. The question for us is whether this is best done in statutory form by a Government insisting that they can define exactly what those regulations should be, or whether it is best done by a media and press that recognise that those abuses now have to be dealt with, otherwise their own reputation will fall by the wayside.
Reference was made earlier to the campaign in which the Daily Mail was involved, in which it broke the law by naming people who had not been convicted or even charged. It took risks in that regard, and it is that kind of risk that I want to see continuing, because that is the hallmark of our rather rude and often aggressive and abrasive media who get to the truth more often than they fail.
An important correction is that it was not actually breaking the law. It exposed itself to substantial challenge in the civil court.
I take that correction. Maybe I was going a bit over the top. None the less, that is itself a measure of how far some of our media are sometimes bound to go.
I do not agree that we should go further, although I recognise that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has tabled further amendments. In recognising those, it is also important to recognise that I think that this issue is settled. I shall simply end by saying that freedom is not always perfect and that those who fight for it often need to be held to account because they go too far and abuse that privilege. That notwithstanding, I believe that we are beginning to meet the challenge. It will not be perfect, but I would prefer the mistakes to be made by a free press, knowing full well that they regulate and chase authority, and if for one moment they look over their shoulder and believe that this House has caught them and put them in a statutory bind, that would be worse for our own freedoms.
I am glad to follow the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), because I want briefly to address some of the points he has made. What is this amendment from the other place about? It is not about a new system of regulation for the press. It is about one very simple question, which is whether we should go ahead with the Leveson 2 inquiry that was promised when Leveson 1—which was intended to be a two-part inquiry—was set up. The right hon. Gentleman asks what that would achieve. I think that it would achieve three things, and that is what I want to talk about today.
First, it would answer the question, what is the truth about what happened? It is really important to answer the questions that the right hon. Gentleman asked about this. When the inquiry was set up, it was done on the understanding that, pending criminal investigations and trials, Leveson 1 could not look at who did what to whom, as Sir Brian said, and that that would happen in part 2 when the criminal investigations were over. So this second inquiry was envisaged right from the start. There are material questions to which we do not know the answers. For example, how widespread was the hacking and other criminality at News International? How many other papers engaged in such conduct? What was the role of electronic blagging and where did it take place? If we do not have Leveson 2, we will not find out the answers to those questions. So the first reason for having it would be to establish the truth about that.
Secondly, Leveson 2 would tell us why all this was allowed to happen, as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) said. There are questions to which we still do not know the answers. What were the failures in, among other things, corporate governance at News International and elsewhere that allowed this wrongdoing to go on? Did the police fail to investigate because of their close relationships with the press? Did the politicians do the same? These are highly material questions that go to the trust in some of our most important institutions. So the second question that I hope this inquiry, if it is set up, will look at is why those things were allowed to happen.
The third, and in a way the most important, question is what lessons we can learn for the future. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson) read part of a letter from Figen Murray, the mother of Martyn Hett, and I urge Members across the House to look at that letter in the 20 minutes or so that we have left before we vote. It is important to say that the majority of the press do not engage in such activities, but that letter shows that a minority of the press engage in the most abusive and intrusive activity, as they did against that mother and her family who had just lost a loved one. Those people do not know where to turn. They do not have faith in IPSO, the regulator, and they are not going to go to the courts. What are they to do? It is for people like them that we need to have this inquiry, so that we can learn the lessons and ensure that there are no more innocent victims.
I am listening carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, and I put this point to him. Does he not agree that such a case as he extols is not the sort of case that should now prove or test the IPSO process? In other words, if the media are as they say they are, such a case will, when evidence is brought, immediately bring opprobrium and retribution down on the heads of those journalists and possibly result in their being banned as journalists. I think that the right hon. Gentleman should test it in that way, rather than looking for another inquiry, which might come up with nothing more.
I have two answers to that. First, this has been tested, and there were no fines, no systematic investigations and no equivalent front-page corrections. Secondly, there is no substitute for a systematic look at these issues and for asking why that culture was allowed to exist and why in certain cases it is still allowed to exist.
Conservative Members rightly express concern about the freedom of the press, and they must vote in the way that they think is right, but this is not about the freedom of the press. The National Union of Journalists, which after all represents journalists, states:
“Not allowing Leveson 2 is bad for journalism and bad for the public”.
The NUJ’s concern is that the ongoing actions of the minority are undermining the brilliant journalism that we have in this country. It therefore believes that it would be better for our trust in the press if this inquiry were to go ahead.
But does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the media landscape has been transformed out of all recognition in recent years by social media and the internet, and that further investigation into this history will not illuminate the modern system at all or help us to deal with the difficult questions of fairness between the traditional media and the new media?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. This is why social media and fake news are at the heart of the terms of reference recommended by Sir Brian and are included in what has come back from the other place. I hope, on the basis of his intervention, that we might have his support for this process, because I see no other vehicle that could achieve what he has just said he wants to achieve.
MailOnline —which, through massive investment, has possibly become the English-speaking world’s most successful website—has opted out of IPSO. What does that say about the Mail group’s commitment to responsibility?
What it says is that compulsory arbitration, which is what is being promised as part of the IPSO process, is not compulsory, because it is not universal. That is one of the most important things that should be achieved as part of this process.
Going back to the example of the bereaved family and the gross intrusion into their privacy and grief, does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons why such families choose not to use the current system is that it runs the risk of things that have been wrongly said about lost loved ones being repeated in the media as part of the process?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point.
I hope that right hon. and hon. Members across the House will think about our responsibilities to the victims, about the promises we made and about the fact that this inquiry has a clear purpose. Only this inquiry can get to the truth about what happened and enable us to learn lessons for the future. That is why I will be supporting what has come back from the other place.
I find myself in a difficult position, because I have come into the Chamber still undecided on how I am going to vote. The right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) again makes the case for Leveson 2. The Secretary of State has spoken powerfully and made the case that the additional amendments will create more safeguards. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson), has spoken with great passion, and I agree with a lot of what he said.
My problem is this. We had this debate last week, and, with heavy heart, I voted against my party because I thought that Leveson 2 was right. I still think Leveson 2 is right—it is not about additional regulations, but about finding out what happened in the past and perhaps guidance for the future. Where I struggle is with the wonderful publication called, “Forward Together, Our Plan for a Stronger Britain and a Prosperous Future”, which, in case my colleagues do not know, was our manifesto for the last general election. I am reading it for the first time today. On page 80, it states clearly that
“we will not proceed with the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press.”
That is unfortunately in the manifesto.
I have a dilemma. What has changed since last week? The Lords have removed “local press” and the Minister has taken some of the concerns on board. The House thought about the matter and some of my Conservative colleagues voted for Leveson 2. The Bill went to the other place, which virtually sent it straight back, despite the Government manifesto commitment. The question of the Salisbury convention therefore clearly comes into play.
The manifesto appears to have had quite an effect on my hon. Friend. I hope that he will tell me where I can get a copy; I never received one. Has he discovered who wrote that document, which I do not think the Cabinet ever considered before it appeared halfway through the election campaign? I urge him not to regard it as too binding on his conscience and his valuable personal judgment about whether it is justified to keep our promises on Leveson 2.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Father of the House for that. It is true that the manifesto was published way after the general election campaign began, and may I say to whoever wrote it that it was not necessarily helpful to the Conservative party?
The hon. Gentleman is a great man and I admire his courage and fortitude in reading that manifesto, which Conservative Front Benchers and I have always considered to be a dynamic document. That is why Conservative Front Benchers are no longer in favour of foxhunting and the dementia tax. I implore the hon. Gentleman to view it not as a rule book, but as guidance.
I will end soon because others want to speak. I just wanted to make the point that I voted against the manifesto on a three-line Whip last week, but my argument and that of others lost. Should I be bound by that? I am going to think about it and make my mind up.
Like the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), I have been contemplating the relationship between what is in a party manifesto and how Members should vote. I am glad to hear the deputy Leader of the Opposition say that manifestos are just guidance because our manifesto undoubtedly committed us to Leveson 2.
When I first heard about the amendments on Leveson 2 last week, I sought guidance from much more eminent Members than me who were tabling amendments. In one case, a Member said that it was just a copy-and-paste job from the original Leveson 2 recommendations. Someone else told me that it was all to do with corrupt police. I therefore looked carefully at the terms of reference of Leveson 2 and found that about half were to do with corrupt police. That is hardly mentioned in the Lords amendment. The reason is that Lord Leveson wrote to the Home Secretary saying that, because of the extensive inquiries that had taken place:
“I am inclined to agree that there is little public interest in re-opening many of these same investigations again. I also agree that the guidance from the College of Policing regarding Media Relations represents significant change.”
In other words, all that section of Leveson 2’s original terms of reference has gone and a whole range of other things has been added.
I treat the manifesto on which I stood seriously. I assure my local Momentum branch that I have read it seven times and there were even occasions during the general election campaign when I could recite from it for purposes of debate, but the amendment envisages a very different Leveson 2 inquiry.
Let me draw attention to a couple of matters. Lord Leveson wrote to the Home Secretary and said that he was worried about the Cliff Richard case and we therefore have a clause about that. Who was involved in the Cliff Richard case? I speak as a vice-chair of the all-party group on the BBC.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will not because there is little time. I am a great fan of the BBC, but it was involved in the Cliff Richard case, yet it is exempted from the inquiry by another clause.
The Kerslake report has been mentioned at length. I have read it not seven, but a couple of times. It is damning about many practices that happened after the Manchester bombing. By the way, it praises the only journalistic organisations that it mentions. It praises the Manchester Evening News, and it praises the BBC for having only one reporter approach any victim. However, it is very damning. It may have been freelancers or people who work for the main news organisations who abused their position—it does not name them.
There is no civil servant closer to the Labour party than Bob Kerslake. When there is a problem, Bob Kerslake is sent to sort it out. It is therefore interesting that, in his recent report, which was published on Tuesday 27 March, he recommends not Leveson 2, but strengthening the IPSO code.
It was a little grudging, but I think that the deputy Leader of the Opposition said today that he cannot envisage circumstances in which we would go back to the absurd idea of imposing punitive damages on newspapers. He said that he could not speak for others, but he is the deputy Leader of the party, so I presume that he is speaking for the party.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s comments. He stood on two manifestos—for the 2015 general election as well as that of 2017. When I campaigned for him, he heralded our work on setting up Leveson. I regard section 40 as gone—I hope that gives him the reassurance that he seeks.
That is very helpful. When my hon. Friend, as well as my right hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) and for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), were in high positions in government, some of us on the Back Benches talked about the concentration of media power, and we did not do enough about it.
I will not give way because I am being urged to conclude. We should not look back in anger at all those frustrations, but plan a progressive media policy for the future and we should not subcontract that to a judge.
I will be extraordinarily brief because not much more needs to be said. The House’s view is settled and its will is clear. Those at the other end of this building are asking us to consider effectively a rehash of new clause 18, which this House debated at length, analysed and rejected. We defeated that new clause on Report prior to Third Reading. We do not need to rehearse those arguments.
Members of all parties are absolutely right to say that victims need to be at the centre. I am confident that the Secretary of State and his team, through some of the concessions that have been introduced today, even at this late stage, have the victims at the centre of their thoughts.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will not because time is so brief. The will of the House is settled and the other place should not throw the Bill back at us. We have made the decision and we just need to get the measure on the statute book.
I want to say a word about Sir Brian Leveson. The first part of his inquiry was greatly valued and welcomed by all parties. Sir Brian Leveson said that he fundamentally disagreed with the Government’s decision not to proceed with part 2 of the inquiry. We should respect his view, and we should also keep the promise made by both sides of the House to the victims of press intrusion. This is very straightforward, and we should therefore support the Lords amendment.
The role of the House of Lords is to scrutinise, to inquire and, where possible, to improve. That is not what is happening here. What is happening in this case is that the House of Lords is asking this House, which has considered this question in great detail in Committee and on Report, to go back and change its mind, thereby rejecting conventions established by Lord Salisbury and Lord Carrington. Agreeing to the amendment would set a very unfortunate constitutional precedent.
I hope this House will reaffirm the decision it took last week, and previously, and that their lordships will then recognise the democratic legitimacy of this House and the manifesto commitment made by the Conservative party, which is now in government.
I believe the other place has given us a compromise to reassure those who are concerned about section 40 and its impact on local newspapers and those who are concerned about any threat to the freedom of the press, which none of us in this House wants to see undermined in any way.
Please look at the Lords amendment as an effective way of carrying forward and adhering to the promise made to the victims of press intrusion, and of looking for a more constructive future relationship between the press and the public in this country.
One hour having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the Lords message, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83G),
That this House disagrees to Lords Amendment No. 62B proposed instead of the words left out of the Bill by Commons Amendment No. 62 but proposes amendments (za) to (a) to Clause (Review of processing of personal data for the purposes of journalism) inserted by Commons Amendment No. 109 and amendments (c) to (f) to the Bill in lieu of the Lords Amendment.
15 May 2018
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details