My Lords, as I said earlier on today, I thought that I should repeat the Statement made by the Prime Minister immediately after this debate and I should now like to do exactly that. The Statement was made by the Prime Minister a few minutes ago in the House of Commons and is as follows:
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement on today’s report from Lord Justice Leveson. As we consider this report, we should consider the victims. We should remember how the parents of Milly Dowler, at their most vulnerable moment, had their daughter’s phone hacked and were followed and photographed; how Christopher Jefferies’s reputation was destroyed by false accusations; and how the mother of Madeleine McCann, Kate, had her private diary printed without her permission and how she and her husband were falsely accused of keeping their daughter’s body in their freezer. These victims, and many other innocent people who have never sought the limelight, have suffered in a way that we can barely begin to imagine. That is why, last summer, I asked Lord Justice Leveson to lead an independent inquiry.
The inquiry had the power to see any document and summon any witness under oath to be examined by a barrister in public. It has been, as Lord Justice Leveson says,
‘the most public and the most concentrated look at the press that this country has seen’.
I thank Lord Justice Leveson and his entire team for the work that they have undertaken.
Lord Justice Leveson makes findings and recommendations in three areas: on the relationship between the press and the police; on the relationship between the press and politicians; and on the relationship between the press and the public. Let me take each in turn—first, the press and the police. Lord Justice Leveson makes it clear that he does not find a basis for challenging the integrity of the police, but he raises a number of areas which he felt were a cause for public concern, such as tip-offs, off-the-record briefings and, more broadly, “excessive proximity” between the press and the police. He makes a number of recommendations, including national guidance on appropriate gifts and hospitality, record-keeping of contact between very senior police officers and journalists and a 12-month “cooling-off” period for senior police officers being employed by the press. These are designed to break the perception of an excessively cosy relationship between the press and the police, and we support these recommendations.
When I set up this inquiry, I also said there would be a second part, to investigate wrongdoing in the press and the police, including the conduct of the first police investigation. This second stage cannot go ahead until the current criminal proceedings have concluded, but we remain committed to the inquiry as it was first established.
The next area is the relationship between politicians and the media. As Lord Justice Leveson has found,
‘over the last 30-35 years and probably much longer, the political parties of UK national Government and of UK official Opposition, have had or developed too close a relationship with the press in a way which has not been in the public interest’.
I made this point last summer when I set up this inquiry, and at the same time I set in train reforms to improve transparency.
This is the first Government ever to publish details of meetings between senior politicians and proprietors, editors or senior executives, as Lord Justice Leveson recommends in his report. He also recommends disclosing further information on the overall level of interaction between politicians and the press. This would apply to all parties and on the Government’s behalf I can say we accept the recommendation.
During the course of the inquiry, a number of serious allegations were made. I want to deal with them directly. First was that my party struck a deal with News International. This allegation was repeated again and again on the Floor of the House and at the inquiry itself. Lord Justice Leveson looked at this in detail and rejects the allegation emphatically. Let me read his conclusion:
‘The evidence does not, of course, establish anything resembling a ‘deal’ whereby News International’s support was traded for the expectation of policy favours’.
Those who repeatedly made these allegations—including Members of this House and, I have to say, the former Prime Minister—should now acknowledge they were wrong.
Secondly, it was alleged that I gave my right honourable friend, the then Culture Secretary and now the Health Secretary, the responsibility of handling the BSkyB bid in order to fix the outcome. Lord Justice Leveson states clearly that,
‘the evidence does not begin to support a conclusion that the choice of Mr Hunt was the product of improper media pressure, still less an attempt to guarantee a particular outcome to the process’.
That is another allegation repeatedly made again and shown to be wrong.
Thirdly, there was the criticism that the then Culture Secretary had rigged the handling of the BSkyB bid. Again, today’s report rejects that as well. My right honourable friend,
‘put in place robust systems to ensure that the remaining stages of the bid would be handled with fairness, impartiality and transparency’.
Indeed Lord Justice Leveson goes further, concluding that my right honourable friend’s,
‘extensive reliance on external advice … was a wise and effective means of helping him to keep to the statutory test’.
He concludes that,
‘there is no credible evidence of actual bias’.
Of course, as my right honourable friend has said himself, there are lessons to learn about how quasi-judicial decisions are made and we must learn those lessons. But let me say this: my right honourable friend, now the Health Secretary, has endured a stream of allegations with great dignity. The report confirms something that we on this side of the House knew all along: we were right to stand by him. Let me also say this: Lord Justice Leveson finds in respect to my right honourable friend the Business Secretary that he,
‘acted with scrupulous care and impartiality’.
Next—and most important of all—let me turn to what Lord Justice Leveson says about the relationship between the press and the public. As he says very clearly, even after 16 months of this inquiry, he remains,
‘firmly of the belief that the British press—all of it—serves the country very well for the vast majority of the time’.
But on the culture, practices and ethics of some in the press, his words are very stark. He finds that,
‘there have been too many times when, chasing the story, parts of the press have acted as if its own code, which it wrote, simply did not exist’.
‘press behaviour that, at times, can only be described as outrageous’.
He catalogues a number of examples of such behaviour, going wider than phone hacking. He refers to,
‘a recklessness in prioritising sensational stories, almost irrespective of the harm that the stories may cause and the rights of those who would be affected’.
He finds that,
‘when the story is just too big and the public appetite too great, there has been significant and reckless disregard for accuracy’.
And he reports,
‘a cultural tendency within parts of the press vigorously to resist or dismiss complainants almost as a matter of course’.
In a free society, the press is subject to criminal law, civil law and requirements for data protection. But there should be a proper regulatory system as well to ensure that standards are upheld, complaints are heard and there is proper redress for those who have been wronged. That is what the current system should have delivered. It has not. As Lord Justice Leveson says, the Press Complaints Commission is,
‘neither a regulator, nor fit for purpose to fulfil that responsibility’.
That is why changes are urgently needed.
We welcome the fact that the press industry has put forward its own proposals for a new system of regulation, but we agree with Lord Justice Leveson that those proposals do not yet go far enough.
In Volume IV of the report, Lord Justice Leveson sets out proposals for independent self-regulation organised by the media. He details the key requirements that an independent self-regulatory body should meet, including: independence of appointments and funding; a standards code; an arbitration service; and a speedy complaint-handling mechanism. Crucially, it must have the power to demand upfront apologies and impose million-pound fines.
These are the Leveson principles. They are the central recommendations of the report. If they can be put in place, we truly will have a regulatory system that delivers public confidence, justice for the victims, and a step-change in the way the press is regulated in our country. I accept these principles and I hope the whole House will come behind them. The onus should now be on the press to implement them, and to implement them radically.
In support of this, Lord Justice Leveson makes some important proposals. First, he proposes some changes to the Data Protection Act that would reduce the special treatment that journalists are afforded when dealing with personal data. We must consider that very carefully—particularly the impact that it could have on investigative journalism. While I have been able to make only preliminary investigations about that since reading the report, I am instinctively concerned about that proposal.
Secondly, he proposes changes to establish a system of incentives for each newspaper to take part in the system of independent regulation. I agree that there should be incentives and believe that those he sets out, such as the award of costs and exemplary damages in litigation, could be effective.
Lord Justice Leveson goes on to propose legislation that would help deliver those incentives but that would also, crucially, provide,
‘an independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body’.
This would, he says,
‘reassure the public that the basic requirements of independence and effectiveness were met and continue to be met’.
I have some serious concerns and misgivings about this recommendation. They break down into issues of principle, practicality and necessity.
The issue of principle is that, for the first time, we would have crossed the Rubicon by writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land. We should be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press. In this House, which has been the bulwark of democracy for centuries, we should think very carefully before crossing this line.
On the grounds of practicality, no matter how simple the intention of the new law, the legislation required to underpin the regulatory body would, I believe, become more complicated. Paragraphs 71 and 72 of the executive summary begin to set out what would be needed in the legislation. For example, it refers to validating the standards code and recognising the powers of the new body.
If you turn to page 1772 in Volume IV of the full report, it says this about the new law. It must,
‘identify those legitimate requirements and provide a mechanism to recognise and certify that a new body meets them’.
The danger is that that would create a vehicle for politicians, whether today or at some time in future, to impose regulations and obligations on the press—something that Lord Justice Leveson himself wishes to avoid.
Thirdly, on the grounds of necessity, I am not convinced at this stage that statute is necessary to achieve Lord Justice Leveson’s objectives. I believe that there may be alternative options for putting in place incentives, providing reassurance to the public and ensuring that the Leveson principles are put in place, and that these options should be explored.
These questions, including those about data protection, are fundamental questions that we must resolve. I have therefore invited the Deputy Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition to join me in cross-party talks, starting immediately after this Statement. But let me be clear: a regulatory system that complies with the Leveson principles should be put in place rapidly. I favour giving the press a limited period of time in which to do this. It does not need to wait for all the other elements of Lord Justice Leveson’s report to be implemented. While no one wants to see full statutory regulation, let me stress: the status quo is not an option. Be in no doubt; we should be determined to see Lord Justice Leveson’s principles implemented.
Mr Speaker, there is much that we in this country can be proud of—the oldest democracy in the world, freedom of speech, a free press, and frank and healthy public debate—but this report lays bare that the system of press regulation we have is badly broken and has let down victims badly. Our responsibility is to fix this. The task for us now is to build this new system of press regulation that supports our great traditions of investigative journalism and free speech but protects the rights of the vulnerable and the innocent, and commands the confidence of the whole country. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating a Statement given in the other place by the Prime Minister on the report published today of the inquiry carried out by Lord Justice Leveson. I also say to the noble Lord that I welcome the opportunity for cross-party discussions. For our part, we will seek to convince the Government—or indeed, the noble Lord’s part of the Government—to put their faith in all the recommendations of the report.
I start by echoing the tribute that the noble Lord has paid to Lord Justice Leveson and his team. In particular, I thank them for the painstaking, impartial and comprehensive way in which they have conducted this inquiry. I thank the Lord Justice for the clarity with which he has explained his report today. Most of all, we on these Benches want to pay tribute to the innocent victims who gave evidence to the inquiry—people who did not seek to be in the public eye, who suffered deep loss and grief and who then faced further trauma at the hands of sections of the press. We pay tribute to Bob and Sally Dowler—it is easy to forget now that without their revelations last July about what happened to them and their daughter, and their courage in speaking out, we would not be here today—and to Gerry and Kate McCann, who suffered so much and showed such courage. Kate McCann, whose daughter remains missing, saw her private diary published by the News of the World for the sake of a story. They gave evidence to the inquiry to serve the wider public interest and I pay tribute to them. It is they who should be at the forefront of our minds today.
A free press is essential to a functioning democracy. The press must be able to hold the powerful, especially politicians, to account without fear or favour. That is part of the character of our country. At the same time, we do not want to live in a country where innocent families such as the McCanns and the Dowlers can see their lives torn apart simply for the sake of profit and where powerful interests in the press know that they will not be held to account. This is also about the character of our country. There never was just one rogue reporter. Lord Justice Leveson concludes that a whole range of practices from phone hacking to covert surveillance, harassment and other wrongful behaviour were widespread—all in breach of the code by which the press was supposed to abide.
We on these Benches recognise that many decent people work in our country’s newspapers and that not every newspaper did wrong. However, Lord Justice Leveson concludes:
“it is argued that these are aberrations and do not reflect on the culture, practices or ethics of the press as a whole. I wholly reject this analysis”.
That will not come as a surprise to many people but, as Lord Justice Leveson also concludes:
“there has been a persistent failure”,
“to respond … to public concern about the culture, practices and ethics of the press”.
All politicians must take responsibility for that.
The publication of this report is the moment when we must put that right, upholding the freedom of the press and guaranteeing protection and redress for the citizen. As the Prime Minister himself said at the Leveson inquiry:
“If the families like the Dowlers feel this has really changed the way they would have been treated, we would have done our job properly”.
The Opposition agree very much with that statement.
We should be clear about Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals and why they are different from the present system. He proposes a genuinely independent regulator with effective powers to protect and provide redress for the victims of abuse. He gives responsibility for establishing the system to the press, as now, but he provides a crucial new guarantee which we have never had before. He builds in a role for the media regulator, Ofcom, to ensure that the system that is established passes the test we would all want to see applied to it—that is, that it is truly independent and provides effective protection for people such as the McCanns and the Dowlers. To make this guarantee real, he recommends that both Ofcom’s power and these criteria of independence and effectiveness should be set out in statute, a law of this Parliament, with truly independent regulation of the press guaranteed by law.
Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals are measured, reasonable and proportionate. We on this side unequivocally endorse both the principles set out and his central recommendations. We support this new system of regulation. We support the Lord Justice’s view that Ofcom is the right body to carry out the task of recognition of the new regulator. We support his proposal that Parliament should lay down in statute the role of Ofcom. We endorse Lord Justice Leveson’s proposal that the criteria any new regulatory body must meet should be set out in statute.
Does the noble Lord the Leader of the House accept Lord Justice Leveson’s analysis that his recommendations cannot be characterised as statutory regulation of the press? He argues that what is proposed is independent regulation of the press, organised by the press, with a statutory verification process to ensure that the required levels of independence and effectiveness are met by the system “in order”, as he says,
“for publishers to take advantage of the benefits arising as a result of membership”.
Does the noble Lord accept that analysis? Does the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, also not follow the point made by Lord Justice Leveson that it is essential that there should be legislation to underpin the independent self-regulatory system and to facilitate its recognition in legal processes?
Lord Justice Leveson has, I believe, made every effort to meet the concerns of the industry. There are some who will say that this will not work because the press will not co-operate. Does the noble Lord the Leader agree that this arrangement, as Lord Justice Leveson says, will work, but only if the press now come forward to sign up to it with genuine commitment? If we cannot achieve a comprehensive system involving all major newspapers then Lord Justice Leveson has set out the necessary alternative—essentially, direct statutory regulation. Do the Government agree that if the newspapers refuse to adopt the system proposed, this will be necessary and will need to be implemented?
Lord Justice Leveson has genuinely listened. He has acted with the utmost responsibility. Surely newspaper editors and proprietors should now do the same. He also reaches important conclusions on the need to prevent too much media influence ending up in one pair of hands. He proposes that there should be continuous scrutiny of the degree of media plurality and a lower cap than that provided by competition law. Will the noble Lord the Leader say that the Government will now take this forward? Lord Justice Leveson also makes specific suggestions about greater transparency about meetings and contacts between politicians and the press. He says that they should be considered as an immediate need. We agree, and we hope that they can be taken forward too.
As I said earlier, we welcome the Prime Minister’s offer of immediate cross-party talks on the implementation of the recommendations on press regulation, but those talks must be about implementing these recommendations, not whether we implement them. These talks must agree a swift timetable for implementation. They must agree to legislate in the next Session of Parliament with a new system up and running at the very latest by 2015. By the end of January next year, we should have an opportunity for Parliament to endorse and proceed with the Leveson proposals. Does the noble Lord the Leader of the House agree?
We should move forward together. After 70 years, seven reports and many last-chance saloons which have gone absolutely nowhere, now is the time to act. The case is compelling and the evidence is overwhelming. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make change that the public can trust. In doing so, we ought to remember the words of Bob and Sally Dowler at the Leveson inquiry. They said:
“there is nothing that can be done to rectify the damage that has been done to our family… All that we can hope for is a positive outcome from this inquiry so that other families are not affected in the way that we have been”.
Surely, on behalf of every decent British citizen who wants protection for people like the Dowler family, and who wants a truly free press that can expose abuse of power without abusing its own power, we must act.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, very much for his response. He has made a similar analysis to that of the Prime Minister on the virtues of the Leveson report, come to many similar conclusions and, indeed, accepted many of the same recommendations as the Prime Minister has done on behalf of the Government. The noble Lord was right to reiterate his thanks to Lord Justice Leveson and to remind us that the reason why all this came to a head was that the disgraceful way in which so many innocent victims had been affected by the press’s behaviour over a great deal of time came to light. It is right that Parliament and politicians should be part of the responsibility for allowing that to happen over many decades. The noble Lord talked about cross-party talks, and I am glad that the Labour Party will play its full part.
The report that has been published stands almost six inches high. It is an extremely authoritative document. It will take time to read and to digest. I am glad to be able to announce to the House that we will have an opportunity for a full debate on the report on Tuesday 18 December, which will give us time to digest the report and its implications before coming back to the House and making, no doubt, substantive speeches on its conclusions.
The noble Lord said that we should try to deal with this as quickly as possible. Our view, with which I hope the noble Lord will agree, is that there is much here that the press can get on with immediately. They do not need any more encouragement from Parliament or from Lord Justice Leveson to put the changes into effect, and they should do so. The noble Lord asked about the role of Ofcom. That is one of the things that we need to discuss in the cross-party discussions.
As to whether or not this is statutory regulation, I agree with the analysis of Lord Justice Leveson, as the noble Lord invited me to do. In fact, Lord Justice Leveson argued strongly that his model is not statutory regulation. He says in his report:
“Despite what will be said about these recommendations by those who oppose them, this is not, and cannot be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press”.
It is a statement of belief in independent self-regulation. However, there are aspects of statutory regulation that are required in all of this. We are not convinced that statutory regulation would be the best way of providing for these things. There needs to be some further discussion, and that is what we will continue to have in the cross-party talks.
I hope that the talks will be businesslike; there is no reason why they should not be. They will be carried on as well by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. I hope that we will be able to conclude those discussions as soon as possible.
My Lords, are there not two major points on which we can all agree? First, the campaign organised by the big newspapers before the report was even published to say that Leveson was backing a state-regulated press has been shown to be utterly false, and the newspaper advertisements suggesting that he was about to side with Mugabe, Castro and all kinds of other dictators should be condemned in the strongest possible terms.
Secondly, I think that I was the first parliamentarian to call for an inquiry. Can we also agree that Lord Justice Leveson has done the country an enormous service by exposing the corruption that has taken place in some parts of the press and by criticising the inadequacy of the Press Complaints Commission? Lord Justice Leveson has proposed a new, absolutely independent complaints body with the very minimum of statutory underpinning, which, in my view, is good for the public and good for the press. I urge the Government to take the opportunity of the inquiry that they set up and to implement these eminently sensible proposals. If we falter now, I think that we will live to regret it.
My Lords, I very much welcome what my noble friend Lord Fowler has said. He is right that there has been an extraordinary mood of hysteria in recent days and weeks about what the Leveson report would come out with. Many people will regard what my noble friend said about the report to be right. He was right to call for an inquiry and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was right to set it up. That decision has been vindicated: the report has exposed corruption and the inadequacy of the current press regulatory system, and has pointed us in the right direction to go forward from here.
My Lords, I gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry and I am very pleased to see his report. I have read only the executive summary. I gave evidence because, after my daughter was attacked, my family and I were subject to sustained harassment, press intrusion and misinformation, which continued for about five years. The coverage usually was sensational but usually kindly in tone. However, its main purpose was commercial. Will the noble Lord the Leader of the House reassure us that the Government will act swiftly to implement the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson? Victims of abuse deserve nothing less. Will he also tell us what steps the Government will take to prevent a decisive response being derailed by vociferous elements of the industry—those parts of the industry that have been thoroughly disgraced and remain remorseless?
My Lords, the noble Baroness’s words are particularly poignant because of what she and her family went through some years ago. I am sure that I speak for the whole House in saying that there is no place in ethical journalism for what happened to her; it was outrageous. It is one of the issues that have brought the reasons for this report to a head.
I confirm that we will act swiftly. We have acted swiftly already today by announcing the areas on which we comprehensively agree and in announcing cross-party talks. Perhaps I may reiterate what I said a moment ago: there is no reason why the press cannot start in this new direction as quickly as possible, providing a system of independent and transparent regulation with very firm criteria, along the lines proposed in the report from Lord Justice Leveson.
Lord Justice Leveson said today that the Black-Hunt proposal for a reformed PCC does not come close to delivering regulation that is genuinely free and independent both of the industry and political control, and has called for an independent verifier established by statute. Twenty years ago, David Calcutt QC came to virtually the same conclusion and was ignored. Are we not in danger here of repeating the mistake of 1992 of asking for advice and then ignoring it?
My Lords, the overwhelming majority of the recommendations, suggestions and thought process that Lord Justice Leveson has gone through have been accepted by us and, no doubt, by the press. I say “no doubt”—I very much hope that that applies to the press. There are issues that we believe need to be explored more thoroughly, particularly about the role that legislation should play. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister said this afternoon that he had issues on the principle, the practicality and the necessity of that. These are issues that we can explore in the near future.
My Lords, I speak as a victim of our free press. The failure of the PCC and the Metropolitan Police is well recorded in this excellent report by Lord Justice Leveson, who has given us solutions to that failure. I welcome the report, as it recommends change and accepts the recommendations that I made for change, including the voluntary and statutory framework, when he invited me to do so in giving evidence to his inquiry. Does the Minister accept that Lord Justice Leveson was well aware that there could be a failure, as there has been in the past six inquiries into the press, as to whether they would carry out their promises and make the change? In those circumstances, is the Minister prepared to consider in the legislation that will come before this House a sunset clause that makes it clear that, if the press fail to carry out their promises, we have the authority in the Bill to bring forward a statutory framework, which Lord Justice Leveson said was the only alternative?
The noble Lord was clearly wronged by elements of the press. He is right to say that Lord Justice Leveson has comprehensively exposed a failure in the PCC, which cannot continue any more. He largely absolves the police from blame, although he has made some important recommendations on certain changes relating to the relationship between the police and the press.
I know that there are a lot of speakers. I shall try not to make my answers too long so as to get in as many as we possibly can, but I remind noble Lords that there will be another Statement along in a minute.
My Lords, I shall try to follow that good example. When Lord Justice Leveson was appointed, I knew that we had an excellent judge to undertake this task. I knew from a certain amount of experience of being in Government in the past that he was dealing with an extremely difficult problem. We had the “last chance saloon” and so on over the time when I was in Government, so I know how difficult it is. Surely we have a unique opportunity at this time to go ahead with an extremely well thought-out system for giving the press the right of self-regulation that is seen to work in the public interest. The only purpose of the statutory arrangement is to ensure that that self-regulation will be properly independent in the sense that Lord Justice Leveson explained. I would have thought that the sooner we can get all-party consent to this, the better. There will be a certain amount of discussion about detail, but the principles and essentials of the legislation can surely be put in place very quickly. We owe it to people like those who have been referred to to do it as quickly as possible to prevent that kind of thing happening again.
My noble and learned friend has a great deal of experience and knowledge on this subject, and I agree with him that what we asked Lord Justice Leveson to do was extremely difficult—yet what he has done is to bring his intellect to bear and publish an extremely impressive report and analysis. I agree with much of what my noble friend said; there is an opportunity for us to work together on a cross-party basis to bring about some extremely good results as quickly and effectively as possible.
My Lords, the Prime Minister said at the beginning of his Statement that above all we should put the interests of the victims first. I am afraid that in his response to Leveson he is doing the very opposite of that: he is putting politics and the perceived power of certain sections of the press before the interests of the victims. Let us be honest, he is not the first Prime Minister to be in that position.
The Leveson report is a very moderate and realistic set of proposals that seeks to achieve two things. First, it seeks to achieve high standards of journalism in this country and the untrammelled ability of journalists to pursue those high standards, while at the same time putting in place a rudimentary protection of the rights and freedoms of individuals. It is perfectly clear that what certain sections of the press—they are by no means unified—want to put forward instead is a variation of the PCC, which, as we know, is and always has been a plaything of the Daily Mail and News International—nothing more or less than that.
Leveson is right: we need a statutory longstop to a genuinely independent system of regulation—a statute that should give privileges to the press because of the unique role that they play in our society, but should make absolutely clear that while they enjoy those unique privileges, they are none the less not above the law in how they behave.
My Lords, it is truly astonishing to hear the noble Lord complain about politicians being political. I cannot join him in his accusation that my right honourable friend is afraid of the power of the press; in fact, I think that my right honourable friend has accepted most of the criteria set out in this report. Where I agree with the noble Lord is that we should have uppermost in our minds the interests of the victims, and should judge the criteria and the new system of regulation against that. The new regulatory system, unlike the current one, will be devoid of editors and members of the Government on its governing board. That is an enormous strength to ensure that it can never again become a plaything of any newspaper group.
My Lords, in the public debate there is sometimes an assumption that the problem with the press is that of a rogue reporter distorting a story. When I chaired the Hillsborough independent panel, we became aware of the way that one news agency failed not just one national newspaper but several, which between them became cumulatively responsible for misrepresenting the events of Hillsborough for a generation. Will the Government ensure that the regulatory body is sufficiently equipped to deal with complaints against such complex and enormous misrepresentation?
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate brings a very particular experience of abuses of the press that have recently come to light. Again, it will be a test of the new regulatory system whether or not it will have the resources that he mentioned. At first reading of the executive summary, I am bound to say that I think the intention is that it will. However, that is precisely the kind of thing that we will be able to discuss in great detail.
My Lords, some people have been quick to demand that the powerful be held to account. Now is the time to hold the press to account because they have avoided that for too many years and we have all ducked the problem for too long. What troubles me about the Statement repeated by the Leader of the House today is that it calls on the press to make these changes, with which I agree, but if that means that they then do not proceed to legislate on the Leveson proposal, I will tell him exactly what will happen: in about two or three years’ time, when the spotlight of Leveson has dimmed, they will go back to their old ways. We must have Leveson.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. Lord Justice Leveson has created a new, self-regulatory system. We expect the press to put it into effect as quickly as possible. We should all be guardians to make sure that the press sticks to the new regulatory system.
My Lords, I join in with the well deserved congratulations tendered in respect of Lord Justice Leveson, but does the Minister agree that a great deal of irrelevant nonsense has been spoken on the issue of freedom of the press? The press is subject to the law of sedition, defamation, treason, contempt and dozens of other fundamental legal principles, yet remains free. In Leveson we have nothing more than a statutory framework for spelling out certain principles of human decency that should have been abided by all along.
My Lords, I do not entirely agree with the noble Lord that there has been a lot of nonsense spoken, but I do agree that there are statutes designed specifically to deal with excesses not just of the press but of other people as well. There are also instances—for example data protection—where the press has a privileged position and is excluded from the law. This is one area we need to examine.
My Lords, in another place the Prime Minister was less than precise about how a regulatory authority that was not statutorily backed would be constituted. Does the Leader of the House agree that were the regulatory authority to be financed and nominated by the press itself, it would no longer be independent?
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend on the need to get on with establishing a new system of tough, independent regulation. The Prime Minister has laid down a tough challenge to the newspaper industry to proceed quickly. I reassure him that the industry will rise energetically to the challenge, starting tomorrow. There is much in the Leveson principles that he referred to that the industry can agree with. The proposals can be fully deployed in the proposals set out by my noble friend Lord Hunt. As the report says on page 1769, there is no reason why the industry model should not be capable of adaptation to meet the requirements set down. I concur, and we can look at the various points raised.
Finally, I echo the great caution expressed about the role in the new system of the statutory regulator Ofcom. I should have prefaced my remarks by declaring my interest as executive director of the Telegraph Media Group. I draw the Leader’s attention to paragraph 6.16 in volume 4 of the report, which states that the recognition body would be required to determine whether the standards code met statutory requirements. That would put a state regulator at the very heart of the newsroom. Does he agree that if the industry can make rapid progress in the task of establishing a new system, such a move would be not just profoundly dangerous but completely unnecessary?
My Lords, I very much welcome what my noble friend said about the press welcoming this report as much as we do. It is for the press to come up with a very firm timetable for how quickly they will put this into effect. The issue of Ofcom is one that we will discuss over the next few weeks.
My Lords, I discovered towards the end of the Leveson inquiry that my daughter’s mobile phone had been hacked 10 years ago. Her intimate conversations were used in a story published in the News of the World and other publications. Will the Government and the leaders of all parties bear in mind that it is not just those in the public eye but the families of those in the public eye, including the wider families—the brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, mothers and fathers—who suffer from press intrusion even though they have never volunteered to be in public life. Will the Government also consider, in the discussions that are about to take place about the importance of the media outwith London, the culture of the media across the whole of the United Kingdom, particularly in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where the national media operate in just as influential a way as they do in London for the rest of the UK?
My Lords, I agree entirely with what the noble Lord said. He is also right about the rest of the United Kingdom, and we shall need to take into account the devolved Administrations to make sure that they are fully on board with some of these changes.