Skip to main content

Media: News International

Volume 729: debated on Wednesday 20 July 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made in taking forward the inquiries into the practices and ethics of News International and other media organisations.

My Lords, the Prime Minister has appointed Lord Justice Leveson to lead a wide-ranging inquiry. For part one of that inquiry Lord Leveson will be assisted by a panel of experts. The Prime Minister will make a Statement later this morning and we hope that he will be able to announce then the final terms of reference and the names of those on the panel.

I thank the Minister for that response. What steps will Her Majesty’s Government take to make certain that in future not only the Murdoch empire but other media groups behave in a responsible and sensitive manner? Does the Minister agree that the present Press Complaints Commission is not fit for purpose and that, in order to regain public confidence, a new body should be established immediately, not composed entirely of newspaper personnel, but with authority to deal with traditional and new, online media in a very fresh way?

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Roberts goes right to the heart of the matter and he is right to look into the future. His most important point is on the need to regain the confidence of the public. Clearly, the current regime of the Press Complaints Commission has not been effective. That is why the draft terms of reference for Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry require recommendation for a new, more effective policy and regulatory regime which supports the integrity and freedom of the press, the plurality of the media and their independence from government, while encouraging the highest ethical and professional standards. The PCC is a self-regulatory, self-appointed, independent body and it is not for the Government to say what will or will not happen to it. That will be a matter for the press and media.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the purpose of having a free press is for the sake of citizens, not for self-expression by the media? If it is to be for the sake of citizens, the press has to communicate. If it is to communicate, there must be standards and these have to be genuinely independently overseen, not independent in the sense in which the Press Complaints Commission is independent.

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a very valid point, to which the Prime Minister will be speaking this morning.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the Cabinet Secretary carried out all the necessary checks on Andy Coulson before he was appointed to a very senior post at the heart of government? Can she clarify how and when the Cabinet Secretary’s advice to the Prime Minister on this appointment will be published?

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority. Last February, I expressed concern that senior Metropolitan Police officers were dining with executives from the News of the World at a time when the Metropolitan Police was investigating the newspaper. My concerns were brushed aside by the Met, which said: “It does not naturally follow that you cannot talk to a hierarchy if someone within the organisation has committed an offence”. Do the Government agree with this? How will they ensure that the Met’s new system of recording meetings and hospitality with the press will be open and completely transparent?

My Lords, the Metropolitan Police has promised a robust investigation, and the DPP said on 24 January that his principal legal adviser, Alison Levitt QC, would rigorously examine any evidence resulting from the recent or new substantive allegations made to the MPS. As for what the noble Baroness asked about, that will be referred to in part two of the inquiry and it is not a matter for Her Majesty’s Government until the results of Lord Justice Leveson’s report. It is absolutely right that she asks the questions, and that is exactly why we are having this inquiry.

My Lords, in the run-up to the Welfare Reform Bill there has been much misinformation in the press about benefit claimants. Does the Minister agree that the inquiry must find more effective ways to get the press to live up to its duty of accuracy?

The Prime Minister announced that there will be an inquiry in two parts, which is very important, and we hope that it will look into all those details and report back, I think, within a year.

My Lords, the noble Baroness has indicated that cross-media ownership is going to be looked at by the inquiry, but does she agree that it is of vital importance, now that we have identified material flaws in the Enterprise Act and the Communications Act, that we should now move swiftly to cure those flaws by taking advantage of the negative resolution procedure under Section 58 and amending the grounds upon which a notice can now be issued?

My Lords, I declare an interest as the former chairman of a commercial radio company. Can my noble friend please explain how and why the daily regulation of a 24-hour commercial music station varies from the oversight given to a newspaper by the Press Complaints Commission?

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Ryder asks a very interesting question regarding daily regulation. Commercial radio is covered by Ofcom, but newspapers have been protected by the Bill of Rights since 1689. That does not mean that we cannot revisit it in today’s climate. While we strongly believe in a free press as a cornerstone of our democracy, we probably need to look again at how it is all regulated in the circumstances. The inquiry, as I said before, will do just that and make the necessary recommendations.

My Lords, will the Minister answer the question from my noble friend Baroness Jones, which I think she misunderstood? The question was: when was Andy Coulson interviewed by the Cabinet Secretary and did the Cabinet Secretary pass that information on to the Prime Minister?