My Lords, this might be a convenient moment to repeat a Statement that was made earlier by the Prime Minister in another place on the subject of phone hacking.
“Over the past two weeks, a torrent of revelations and allegations has engulfed some of this country’s most important institutions. It has shaken people’s trust in the media and the legality of what they do; in the police and their ability to investigate media malpractice; and, yes, in politics and in politicians’ ability to get to grips with these issues.
People desperately want us to put a stop to the illegal practices, to ensure the independence and effectiveness of the police and establish a more healthy relationship between politicians and media owners. Above all, they want us to act on behalf of the victims: people who have suffered dreadfully, including through murder and terrorism, and who have had to relive that agony all over again because of phone hacking.
The public want us to work together to sort this problem out, because until we do so it will not be possible to get back to the issues they care about even more—getting our economy moving, creating jobs, helping with the cost of living, protecting them from terrorism and restoring fairness to our immigration and welfare systems.
Let me set out the action we have taken. We now have a well-led police investigation which will examine criminal behaviour by the media and corruption in the police. We have set up a wide-ranging and independent judicial inquiry under Lord Justice Leveson to establish what went wrong, why and what we need to do to ensure it never happens again.
I am the first Prime Minister to publish meetings with media editors, proprietors and senior executives, to bring complete transparency to the relationship between government Ministers and the media stretching right back to the general election. The House of Commons, by speaking so clearly about its revulsion at the phone hacking allegations, helped to cause the end of the News Corp bid for the rest of BSkyB.
Today I would like to update the House on the action that we are taking, first, on the make-up and remit of the public inquiry and, secondly, on issues concerning the police service. Thirdly, I will answer—I am afraid at some length—all of the key questions that have been raised about my role and that of my staff.
First, I will discuss the judicial inquiry and the panel of experts who will assist it. Those experts will be: the civil liberties campaigner and director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti; the former chief constable of the West Midlands, Sir Paul Scott-Lee; the former chairman of Ofcom, Lord Currie; the long-serving former political editor of “Channel 4 News”, Elinor Goodman; the former political editor of the Daily Telegraph, George Jones; and the former chairman of the Financial Times, Sir David Bell. These people have been chosen not only for their expertise in the media, broadcasting, regulation and policing, but for their complete independence from the interested parties.
I also said last week that the inquiry will proceed in two parts, and I set out a draft terms of reference. We have consulted with Lord Justice Leveson himself, with the Opposition, the chairs of relevant Select Committees and the devolved Administrations. I also talked to the family of Milly Dowler and the Hacked Off campaign. We have made some significant amendments to the remit of the inquiry.
With allegations that the problem of the relationship between the press and the police goes wider than just the Met, we have agreed that other relevant forces will now be within the scope of the inquiry. We have agreed that the inquiry should consider not just the relationship between the press, police and politicians, but their individual conduct too. We have also made clear that the inquiry should look at not just the press, but other media organisations, including broadcasters and social media, if there is any evidence that they have been involved in criminal activities. I am today placing in the Library of the House the final terms of reference. Lord Justice Leveson and the panel will get to work immediately. He will aim to make a report on the first part of the inquiry within 12 months. There should be no doubt: this public inquiry is as robust as possible; it is fully independent; and Lord Justice Leveson will be able to summon witnesses under oath.
Let me now turn to the extraordinary events we have seen over the past few days at Britain’s largest police force, the Met. On Sunday, Sir Paul Stephenson resigned as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. I want to thank him for the work he has carried out in policing over many, many years in London and elsewhere. On Monday, Assistant Commissioner John Yates also resigned and, again, I want to express my gratitude for the work he has done, especially in improving our response to terrorism.
Given the sudden departure of two such senior officers, the first concern must be to ensure that effective policing of our capital, and confidence in that policing, is maintained. I have asked the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London to ensure that the responsibilities of the Met will continue seamlessly. The current deputy commissioner, Tim Godwin, stood in for Paul Stephenson when he was ill and did a good job. He will shortly do so again. The vital counterterrorism job carried out by John Yates will be taken on by the highly experienced Cressida Dick. The responsibilities of the deputy commissioner—which, the House will remember, include general oversight of the vital investigations both into hacking and into the police, Operations Weeting and Elveden—will not be done by someone from inside the Met, but instead by Bernard Hogan-Howe who will join temporarily from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. We are also looking to speed up the process for selecting and appointing the next commissioner, but we cannot hope that a change in personnel at the top of the Met is enough.
The simple fact is that this whole affair raises huge issues about the ethics and practices of our police. Let me state plainly that the vast majority of our police officers are beyond reproach and serve the public with distinction, but police corruption must be rooted out. Operation Elveden and Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry are charged with doing just that, but I believe that we can and must do more.
Put simply, there are two problems: first, a perception that when problems arise, it is still “the police investigating the police”; and secondly, a lack of transparency in terms of police contacts with the media. We are acting on both. These were precisely the two points that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary addressed in her Statement to this House on Monday. We believe that this crisis calls for us to stand back and take another, broader look at the whole culture of policing in this country, including the way it is led.
At the moment, the police system is too closed. There is only one point of entry into the force. There are too few—and arguably too similar—candidates for the top jobs. As everyone knows, Tom Winsor is looking into police careers, and I want to see radical proposals for how we can open up our police force and bring in fresh leadership. The Government are introducing elected police and crime commissioners, ensuring that there is an individual holding the local force to account on behalf of local people. We need to see if we can extend that openness to the operational side too. Why should all police officers have to start at the same level? Why should someone with a different skill set not be able to join the police force in a senior role? Why should someone who has been a proven success overseas not be able to help turn around a force at home? I think that these are questions we must ask to get the greater transparency and stronger corporate governance that we need in Britain’s policing.
Finally, I turn to the specific questions that I have been asked in recent days. First, it has been suggested that my chief of staff was behaving wrongly when he did not take up then Assistant Commissioner Yates’s offer to be briefed on police investigations around phone hacking. I have said repeatedly about the police investigation that they should pursue the evidence wherever it leads and arrest exactly who they wish. That is exactly what they have done.
No. 10 has now published the full e-mail exchange between my chief of staff and John Yates, and it shows that my staff behaved entirely properly. Ed Llewellyn’s reply to the police made clear that it would be not be appropriate to give me or my staff any privileged briefing. The reply that he sent was cleared in advance by my permanent secretary, Jeremy Heywood. Just imagine if they had done the opposite and asked for or acquiesced in receiving privileged information, even if there was no intention to use it. There would have been quite justified outrage. To risk any perception that No. 10 was seeking to influence a sensitive police investigation in any way would have been completely wrong. Mr Yates and Sir Paul both backed this judgment in their evidence yesterday. Indeed, as John Yates said:
‘The offer was properly and understandably rejected’.
The Cabinet Secretary and the chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee have both now backed that judgment too.
Next, there is the question as to whether the Ministerial Code was broken in relation to the BSkyB merger and meetings with News International executives. The Cabinet Secretary has ruled very clearly that the code was not broken, not least because I had asked to be entirely excluded from the decision.
Next, I would like to set the record straight on another question that arose yesterday—whether the Conservative Party had also employed Neil Wallis. The Conservative Party chairman has assured me that all the accounts have been gone through and has confirmed to me that neither Neil Wallis nor his company has ever been employed or contracted by the Conservative Party, nor has the Conservative Party made payments to either of them.
It has been drawn to our attention that Neil Wallis may have provided Andy Coulson with some informal advice on a voluntary basis before the election. To the best of my knowledge I did not know anything about this before Sunday night; but, as with revealing this information, we will be entirely transparent about this issue.
Finally, Mr Speaker, there is the question whether everyone—the media, the police, politicians—is taking responsibility in the appropriate manner. I want to address my own responsibilities very directly, and that brings me to my decision to employ Andy Coulson. I have said very clearly that if it turns out that Andy Coulson knew about the hacking at the News of the World he will not only have lied to me but lied to the police, to a Select Committee and to the Press Complaints Commission as well, of course, as perjuring himself in a court of law. More to the point, if that comes to pass, he could also expect to face severe criminal charges.
I have an old-fashioned view about ‘innocent until proven guilty’, but if it turns out that I have been lied to, that would be the moment for a profound apology. In that event, I can tell you I will not fall short. My responsibilities are for hiring him and for the work that he did in Downing Street. On the work that he did, I will repeat, perhaps not for the last time, that his work at Downing Street has not been the subject of any serious complaint. And, of course, he left months ago.
On the decision to hire him, I believe that I have answered every question about this. It was my decision. I take responsibility. People will, of course, make judgments about it. Of course I regret and am extremely sorry about the furore it has caused. With 20:20 hindsight, and all that has followed, I would not have offered him the job, and I expect that he would not have taken it. But you do not make decisions in hindsight; you make them in the present. You live as you learn and, believe you me, I have learnt.
I look forward to answering any and all questions about these issues and, following the Statement, I will open the debate. But the greatest responsibility I have is to clear up this mess, so let me finish by saying this. There are accusations of criminal behaviour by parts of the press and potentially by the police, where the most rapid and decisive action is required. There are the issues of excessive closeness to media groups and media owners where both Labour and Conservatives have to make a fresh start. There is the history of missed warnings—Select Committee reports and Information Commissioner reports missed by the last Government, but, yes, missed by the Official Opposition too.
What the public expect is not petty point-scoring. What they want and deserve is a concerted action to rise to the level of events and pledge to work together to sort this issue once and for all. It is in this spirit that I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made in the other place by the Prime Minister. The decision to recall the other place today to debate the issues in the phone hacking scandal was the right one. Rebuilding trust in the press, the police and our politics is essential. The most powerful in the institutions of our land must show the responsibility that we expect from everybody else. That is why the country wants answers from those involved in this crisis, so that those responsible can be held to account and so that we as a country can move forward. That is why we on these Benches welcome Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry and the announcement of the terms of reference and panel members. It is why we welcome the Prime Minister’s agreement with this party that the Press Complaints Commission should be abolished and replaced. It is why we welcome the apology from Rupert Murdoch and the withdrawal of News Corporation’s bid for BSkyB.
It is also why we respect the decision of Sir Paul Stephenson to stand down so that the leadership of the Met can move forward and focus fully on its vital work. The police in our country provide a vital service. Not only do the vast, overwhelming majority of police officers work hard for the community, but that vast, overwhelming majority will be as appalled as the rest of us—in fact, probably more so—about the flaws in policing among a tiny number of police officers which have been exposed in the last few weeks.
We are beginning to see answers given and responsibility taken in the press and in the police. In politics, the Government must now do the same if the country is to move forward. Regarding BSkyB, last Friday the Prime Minister revealed that since taking office he has met representatives of News International or News Corp, including Rebekah Brooks and James Murdoch, on 26 separate occasions. The Government must recognise that they need to be transparent, not just about the number of meetings but also about what was discussed. Can the noble Lord the Leader of the House assure the House that the BSkyB bid was not raised in any of those meetings or in phone calls with those organisations?
In his response to the Statement given in the other place earlier today by the Prime Minister, my right honourable friend the leader of the Opposition put to him a series of detailed points and questions centring on the Prime Minister's former director of communications, Mr Andy Coulson. I fully agree with and support the forensic focus of the leader of my party on these issues. My right honourable friend the leader of the Opposition in the other place has led the way on these matters—led for my party, led for Parliament, and led for the country. He is right to concentrate on the issues—serious issues—around the judgment of the Prime Minister. My right honourable friend the leader of the Opposition, in what he said to the Prime Minister in the other place earlier today, was putting those issues—about the Prime Minister's own conduct, and about his own staff—directly to the Prime Minister in person. We strongly support the clear focus of by my right honourable friend in the other place.
The events of the past two weeks have brought forward a wide range of issues. For instance, in relation to takeover bids—stemming from News Corporation's now-abandoned bid for BSkyB—careful consideration of the issues with which we have had to deal over the past period demonstrates clearly that there are significant flaws in the process which was adopted under the Enterprise Act 2002 and the Communications Act 2003 in relation to News Corp's bid for BSkyB.
There is little that we could or should do in relation to the criminal investigations. They must take their course, and we strongly support the investigations going wherever the evidence leads them. But on other issues there are things which we can do to address the ills which have been identified. The Enterprise Act provides for changes to be made, if necessary, to the conditions that apply in merger situations. We on these Benches have a number of proposals on these matters, as my right honourable friend the leader of the Opposition indicated at the weekend. Will the Leader of your Lordships’ House join with us in this party in agreeing a process to deal with those flaws? We have available to us a provision in Section 58 of the Enterprise Act which allows this House and the other place to make amendments by way of negative resolution. My noble and learned friend the shadow Attorney-General, Lady Scotland of Asthal, has proposals which I would invite the Leader of the House to consider with us.
At the end of today’s business, this House is due to move into Recess. The other place has been recalled from its Recess today to hear the Statement from the Prime Minister and to take a further debate on the phone hacking scandal. But although Parliament will not be sitting after today, unless there is a need to recall it over the Recess, that does not mean that the events surrounding these issues will be equally in recess. First, there has been an extraordinarily fast-moving sequence of events over the past few weeks. In the light of that, few if any would care to predict what will or could now happen. Secondly, the mechanisms which have been set up to examine this affair fully and properly will begin their work. Again, we welcome the appointment of Lord Justice Leveson to head the media inquiry, and we welcome too the appointment of the panel of experts announced in the Statement. The inquiry has a tough job to do and we look forward to it getting on with the job.
While we welcome the details set out by the Prime Minister in his Statement, we believe that, as my right honourable friend the leader of the Opposition made clear in his remarks, there are many more questions for the Prime Minister to answer. These are serious matters which have appalled and revolted the public, matters which have made things even worse for those who were already victims; among others, victims of crime, terrorism and armed conflict. We look to the Leveson inquiry as the right way to address all these issues. We will maintain our own scrutiny of the Government and others on these matters, and we look forward, as and when appropriate, to Parliament continuing to keep these issues properly in focus, including in your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I begin my response to the noble Baroness by referring to what she said at the end of her remarks. It is true that we are on the verge of starting the Recess, and that the House of Commons, which had already risen, was recalled today to hear the Statement and to hold a short debate on the subject. She is quite right to say that events will continue to unfold. This is a fast-moving story and anyone would have been amazed at how it has developed over the past couple of weeks. I particularly agree with what she said in welcoming all the inquiries that are taking place. We must allow them to get on with the job and to report back as soon as possible. It is also important that Parliament should be kept fully informed and play its continuing role not just in debating these issues, but also in holding the Government to account.
I agree with what the noble Baroness said about the police. Our decent, hardworking police men and women provide an important and vital service, and I agree that the vast majority deserve considerably more. Equally, I think it is right that we have announced the review on leadership. As it unfolds, I shall of course report back to the House.
The Prime Minister has announced the occasions on which he met executives, editors and proprietors from News International, and it is entirely right that he should have done so. The noble Baroness asked whether I could confirm that at no stage was the BSkyB takeover bid discussed. I can confirm that, and indeed not only can I do so, but also the Cabinet Secretary, no less, has said that there has been no breach of the Ministerial Code. Rebekah Wade said in her evidence yesterday that not one single inappropriate conversation had taken place about the bid, and the Prime Minister has set out every meeting since the last general election. I think he also wished that perhaps the Opposition might do the same about any of their meetings with News International since the election—or, indeed, with the previous Government. We all know that the relationships between News International and the last two Prime Ministers were extremely close.
I wholly accept that the leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons, Mr Miliband, had to raise questions about Andy Coulson and his relationship with the Prime Minister. In the Statement, the Prime Minister said that there will be no question about Andy Coulson’s conduct in No. 10. I now very much hope that the leader of the Opposition, Mr Miliband, can accept the assurances and very clear answers that the Prime Minister has given in his role, the reason why he was employed, what happens now and the proposition that Mr Coulson should be innocent until proven guilty.
The noble Baroness also asked a very clear question about the workings of the Enterprise Act. I am grateful both to her and to the shadow Attorney-General for her thoughts. The Enterprise Act allows the Secretary of State to issue only one European intervention notice. It is correct that the Enterprise Act does not allow for a European intervention notice to be substantively revised once it has been issued, or for a subsequent notice to be issued. There is increasingly a widely held concern, which I am sure should be looked at, whether in the communications review or in the ongoing competition policy review, about the point being relevant across different uses of the public interest test. We would be very happy to work with the noble Baroness or the shadow Attorney-General in looking further at the issue.
Likewise, the Section 58 orders contain the power to allow Ministers to intervene in mergers on the basis of public interest and to make decisions. There are currently three specified areas in which they can use their discretion: national security, the media—including plurality, broadcasting standards, the accurate presentation of news in newspapers—and the stability of the UK financial system. That there might be a gap within these public interest tests has recently been thrown up. We might also want a review when these are triggered. We slightly feel that we should await the outcome of part one of the Leveson inquiry. However, I can confirm that any changes can be made through secondary legislation and again that the Government would be very happy to work between the parties to see which is the best way forward.
I underline the complete honesty and good reputation of the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Ed Llewellyn, who seems to have acted entirely properly. I ask the Leader of the House two questions. First, although there are many extraneous issues now swirling around, do not the essential issues remain the extent of the illegal phone hacking—which is a direct threat to the public in this country—why the police and the Press Complaints Commission were unable to stop it and just how some clear water can be put between politicians and media in this country? Those are the issues. We now need action. Secondly, although I entirely welcome the judicial inquiry, on reflection would it not have been better to have set up this inquiry several months ago rather than repeatedly declining to do so?
My noble friend Lord Fowler forgot to mention that he is one of those who has been calling for an inquiry for several months. He has, therefore, been proved entirely right—better late than never. We have possibly got a more far-reaching judge-led inquiry than we would have done hitherto. It is perhaps the awfulness of the story that has developed in recent weeks that has allowed the Government and Parliament to agree so wholeheartedly between the parties and across the Houses that it should be done at such a high level.
As far as the other questions that my noble friend raised, I agree that we need to know as soon as possible the extent of the illegal phone hacking and why the police and the PCC were unable to deal with it. This is precisely what I hope the inquiry will provide for us as soon as possible. As part of that, my noble friend asked that there should be more clear water between politics and the press. I think that that position is already set fair, and not just because of the increased transparency. Ministers will now declare all their contacts with the press at a senior level. That will be to the benefit of the press and politicians alike. I very much welcome that.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement. I wish to ask him two questions. First, the Prime Minister has said that the public want us to work together to sort out this problem. In that respect, will he look at the review of the Press Complaints Commission and ensure that before the powers and functions of the new commission are determined there is adequate public consultation so that the public’s point of view is taken into account?
The second point about which I am concerned is that, whereas the first part of Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry has to report within 12 months, there is no timescale attached to the investigation to be carried out by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. As someone who has supervised a similar investigation with the former police complaints commission, I know that the timescale involved is considerable. You are talking about at least 12 months to supervise an investigation of this nature, following which criminal charges are likely to be laid. If that is the case, we are talking of a process which may go on for about two or three years. The impact of that is very serious because none of the other inquiries that have been set up can carry out their work adequately unless this investigation has been finalised. Will my noble friend look at this aspect to see whether a particular timescale is appropriate in this investigation?
My Lords, will the noble Lord the Leader of the House please remind Members to make very brief questions or comments?
The whole House will have heard what the noble Baroness has just said.
My noble friend Lord Dholakia is right: the Prime Minister thinks that we should all work together. I think that reflects the public’s mood as well. Today we published the terms of reference for the review of the press and press ethics. I am not sure that there was much public consultation but there certainly was consultation with the devolved authorities, Select Committees in another place and, of course, with Lord Justice Leveson.
As regards my noble friend’s second point, time limits are not a straightforward issue. We have asked the Leveson inquiry to report back on the first part within 12 months—we hope that it will do that—but as regards the second part, we have to leave it to the members of the inquiry to determine to what extent they can operate without affecting the police inquiry and subsequent court process, if that occurs. However, I can confirm to my noble friend that HMIC should report before the end of the autumn.
My Lords, I welcome the thrust of the Statement that the Leader has read to the House. It will come as no surprise when I say that I particularly welcome the thrust of the report on police leadership and the whole question of ethics that surrounds that. I have tried to highlight that subject repeatedly over the years. We must get this right and this is the opportunity to do so.
I wish to ask the Leader of the House two questions. First, given that the door of this issue has flown open, as it were, and given the kinetic energy that has grown up behind the events of the past couple of weeks, does he agree with me that there is a danger that we shall go too far too fast and in effect have a knee-jerk reaction and get this wrong? Coupled with that, will he also agree that to prevent that, we now need a review body established with respected and experienced individuals to look at the subjects of police leadership, ethics, morality, attitudes and so on, in depth but as a matter of some urgency? Could such a body be set up this autumn in advance of the Winsor report? The report is of course critical, but that body could quite well start taking its own evidence, coming to some conclusion, and then sweep the Winsor report up before it reaches a final conclusion.
My Lords, those are two valuable ideas. I agree that there is a tremendous opportunity but that equally there is a danger of having a knee-jerk reaction. We are all too well aware of this in both Houses of Parliament. We have an opportunity to get it right and we should go forward on that basis, particularly dealing with the issue of leadership.
Secondly, on the whole question of leadership, the Government are taking this immensely seriously and we want to move forward on it with the police. The noble Lord’s knowledge and understanding of this issue is extremely important, and I know that the Home Office will very much welcome his input.
My Lords, as one of the victims referred to, I welcome the Statement by the Leader of the House who has made clear the commitment to get to the bottom of the hacking, the inadequate police inquiry, and indeed the IPCC.
However, is the noble Lord aware that in July 2009 I sent a letter to the Prime Minister—he was the Leader of the Opposition then—warning him of the appointment of Andy Coulson as press adviser? It was clear that Mr Coulson was in the middle of the News of the World phone hacking allegations, and I advised the Prime Minister that he was not fit to enter Government as No. 10’s director of communications. Can the Leader confirm that within 12 months of that the Prime Minister was to refuse advice from the police, newspaper editors, the Guardian, the Deputy Prime Minister, and indeed his own chief of staff? All these warnings were ignored, and it is simply not good enough to hide behind the excuse of 20-20 hindsight.
Can the Leader of the House also confirm that in the dozens of social and political meetings that he held with News International, the Prime Minister now appears to have adopted the Murdoch corporate policy, best displayed by the three monkeys: hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil? Will the Leader agree that this is a definition of the lack of judgment which the Prime Minister is now rightly accused of?
My Lords, many in the House have a great deal of sympathy for the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, as one of the victims of the hacking scandal. However, he belittles himself by making these rather fetid political points. If he was writing to anybody in the summer of 2009, it should of course have been the then Prime Minister, asking him why he had failed to do anything or to respond to any of the reports from the Select Committees, the Information Commissioner and all those other people who raised these issues.
My Lords, I support the Prime Minister’s Statement which my noble friend the Leader of the House repeated, but in it he pointed out that the Prime Minister had said:
“We have consulted with Lord Justice Leveson himself, the Opposition, the Chairs of the relevant Select Committees and the devolved administrations”,
about the terms of reference of the inquiry. I am privileged to speak as the Chairman of the Communications Committee in this House. We were not consulted—does my noble friend know why?
My Lords, I have absolutely no idea—in fact I had no idea they were consulting with the Select Committees in another place either. It is a good point though, and I will raise it with No. 10: when consulting chairmen of Select Committees in another place they should similarly consider Peers in your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I have given way three times and I am not going to do it again. I welcome the Statement of the Prime Minister—not only the text but the way in which it was delivered. I watched it and he delivered it to the other place with a good tone. One lacuna worries me. There is no discussion or mention that I have seen in what the Prime Minister is saying about the decision on who is a fit and proper person to take control of parts of the media. I am sure that I carry the House with me when I say it is essential that the people who determine who has or has not a role as a fit and proper person should themselves be beyond reproach. I hope that we can have an assurance from the Leader of the House that that consideration will be in the Prime Minister’s mind, and in front of Lord Justice Leveson.
My Lords, I very much welcome the noble Lord’s support for the Prime Minister this afternoon. I, too, thought he did splendidly. The noble Lord says that there is a lacuna on the “fit and proper person” test and he particularly wants to ensure that those who are making the test should themselves be beyond reproach. That must be an ambition for us all and it is the kind of issue that may well come out of the inquiry. I know that the noble Lord will be the first to draw it to our attention as we debate these matters.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the MPA. The allegation that police officers accepted money from News International has been hugely damaging to the Metropolitan Police. It is absolutely essential that any investigation is seen to be thorough and independent. The Government have said that the IPCC will carry out a “supervised” investigation, but this means that the initial investigation will be under the control and direction of the Met. Do the Government not agree that it would be more appropriate for the IPPC to carry out a high-level independent investigation that would be completely independent of the Met?
My Lords, my noble friend is entirely right that these accusations are highly damaging to the Met and need to be dealt with extremely quickly and transparently. I do not agree with her that an IPCC-led investigation will affect its independence or ability to come up with the right result. There are so many reviews, inquiries and ongoing internal discussions that as the months go by I think we will get increasingly confused as to who is reporting on whom. This is important because, as my noble friend says, public confidence in the Met will be severely damaged unless we can clear this up as soon as possible.
My Lords, as someone who had the honour and privilege to serve as commissioner for seven years, I particularly welcome the Prime Minister’s affirmation that the vast majority of police officers are doing a very good job and that should not be lost sight of. However, does the Leader of the House agree that to avoid a meltdown in police morale over the next few months the Government must find a co-ordinating mechanism to draw together the strands of Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry, the other inquiries that have been mentioned, the police reform Bill, the Winsor review on pay and conditions and all these other matters that are interacting? In previous times a royal commission would have been the vehicle to draw together all these strands in these most difficult circumstances. However, I realise that royal commissions are not in fashion. I hope that the Leader of the House will agree that the Government are now under an obligation to bring together a careful co-ordinating mechanism to sequence the findings, recommendations and interdependence of all the inquiries that are looking at the police service.
My Lords, the noble Lord, with all his experience as seven years as Met commissioner, will know all about police morale. Clearly, everything that has happened in recent months—particularly in the past few days—will cast a long shadow. I think that the noble Lord is right to say that we need to find a way of bringing these threads together. Whether that is through a royal commission, I am less certain. We need the inquiries to get going, particularly that of Lord Justice Leveson and the police inquiries, to begin to see some of the fruits of their labour, and then take longer-term decisions. Perhaps I may echo what the noble Lord, Lord Dear, said; we should not make knee-jerk reactions, but consider with care the results of these inquiries.
My Lords, I commend what the noble Lord the Leader of the House has said in relation to the willingness to look at the revision to the law that may be necessary in the short term. Does he agree that it is very important for this House and the other place to do what we can immediately to cure the flaws that this bid has now given voice to? If the negative resolution procedure is available to us and we could, over the summer, plug the gap and fill it by September, should we not seize that opportunity? Making provision to prevent anyone taking adventitious advantage of a misrepresentation, bad faith or a mistake is essential; having the public interest at the forefront is also critical and we should move swiftly together to fill that gap without any further delay.
My Lords, we are very happy to work closely with the noble and learned Baroness and others in her party to plug that gap if we can identify it.
I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, that the tone of the Prime Minister’s Statement in the House of Commons was entirely appropriate. I strongly endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Dear, has said about leadership; it is extremely important. There is another implication flowing from these rapidly moving events and it relates to the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, about fit and proper persons. This might touch the headlines shortly were Mr Murdoch to decide, for various reasons, that he did not want to continue with his news media in this country. The issue of fit and proper persons wishing to inherit may become a major issue.
My Lords, this is an extremely good point and one which is well taken by the Government.
My Lords, my point is a very short one and it is simply to add to something said by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. Surely it would be better simply to leave it to Lord Justice Leveson and his panel to decide in what order they will take the various matters into which they are inquiring and not divide them up into part one or part two. It seems to me a pointless exercise. Why not leave it to Lord Justice Leveson?
My Lords, I understand. There are so many people inside and outside Parliament who wish to know more as quickly as possible and to take a view on how we should progress, but I very much agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. Everyone says that Lord Justice Leveson is a man of exceptional integrity and intelligence; having asked him to do the job we should allow him to get on with it and produce the result.