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Leveson Inquiry

Volume 744: debated on Monday 18 March 2013

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made in their response to the Leveson report.

The all-party talks have been a productive process. It is appropriate to acknowledge the many hours, day and night, that all parties and interests have devoted to these discussions. As your Lordships will appreciate, the Prime Minister hopes that Mr Speaker will allow him and the other party leaders an opportunity later this afternoon to set out what has been agreed. Until then, I can say little more but I know that my noble friend the Chief Whip proposes to make a short statement after Questions about our own business today.

My Lords, as we have been told by the media during the course of the morning and by leading Members of Parliament that the cross-party talks have been successful, I feel entitled to put my Question and to have an Answer from the Minister today. Therefore, will the Minister assure the House that the proposed royal charter will be protected by statutory regulation? With great respect, I ask the Minister to answer me clearly on this point: will the charter be legally underpinned against future changes without the consent of Parliament?

Finally, last week, the Prime Minister told us:

“There’s no point in producing a system that the press won’t take part in”.

How many publishers or editors were kept informed of the proposals and have agreed to them? Can they opt out if they wish to do so?

My Lords, I am sorry to disappoint the noble Baroness but, as I said earlier, this will be the subject of debate in the other place, and it would be unreasonable to answer now. It would be a courtesy to the Prime Minister and the other leaders if those matters were left for later this afternoon.

My Lords, perhaps I may ask a question on Leveson that is not dependent on this afternoon’s events. My noble friend will remember that there was a majority of more than 130 on the Leveson-related amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, to the Defamation Bill. He will also remember that a number of people totally overreacted to that and alleged that the Government would withdraw the whole Bill. Will my noble friend confirm that that is not the intention of the Government; that it never has been their intention; and that the Defamation Bill will go through its normal parliamentary process?

My Lords, I well understand the point that my noble friend raises about the Defamation Bill and its progress, and I am sure that these matters will be clarified.

My Lords, first, I place on record our welcome for the cross-party agreement that was announced today. In the light of that and following the Question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, may I push the Minister a little further? Does he agree that it is important that this House debates the contents of the royal charter, which was published only today so many noble Lords will not have seen it? Will he give us an indication of the scheduling of whether and when we might be able to debate the whole of the royal charter, and not just parts of it in other Bills that have already been scheduled for debate?

I am afraid to say that, again, this is rather above my pay grade. It is obviously a matter for the usual channels in the first place. I am not in a position to suggest business for your Lordships’ House and that is where the position will have to remain for today.

I put it to the Minister that the royal charter, a draft of which I read today, is statutory underpinning. I understand the problem that he has about the timing, but we should not worry too much about that. The central message is that we need the agreement of the whole of Parliament to take this forward, if only to give the public the confidence in the press that they need. We also need to remind the press that this is an opportunity for it to change the culture that has done it so much damage over the years. I say that as someone who introduced the Freedom and Responsibility of the Press Bill 23 years—nearly a quarter of a century—ago. Much of what was in that Bill is in a combination of the royal charter and the Leveson report. Therefore, let us work together jointly and give the press the opportunity that it needs to improve its standards.

What the noble Lord has said is a powerful statement of a view that many will share; I certainly do. This is an opportunity for the press to change some of the practices that have occurred but should never have occurred. The important thing is not just that we think of the victims but that we ensure we have in place something that means these things do not happen again. What the noble Lord said certainly chimes with me. I am sorry that the timing of this Question is such that I am not in a position to discuss the detail. It would be a courtesy to the leaders of the two political parties in the other place—

Three parties—there is no guessing which two I mean. Forgive me, my Lords. It is a courtesy that I would like to retain: the leaders of the three political parties should have their opportunity very shortly.

I fully understand my noble friend’s reticence in this matter, but will he confirm at least that the Hacked Off campaign, which mainly represents the victims, has apparently accepted the outline framework of the deal, which should make it easier for all the newspaper proprietors to join in?

I saw some of the Hacked Off press conference and I understand that, as the noble Lord said, there is agreement all round. I hope that is the spirit in which your Lordships, and indeed those in the other place, will take this. We need to unite around the proposals if we possibly can and take the matter forward.