My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The Statement is as follows:
“With your permission, I wish to make a Statement on the Leveson inquiry and its implementation, and the freedom of the press.
Over many centuries in Britain our press have held the powerful to account and been free to report and investigate without fear or favour. These principles underpin our democracy and are integral to the freedom of our nation. Today, in a world of the internet and clickbait, our press face critical challenges that threaten their livelihood and sustainability—with declining circulations and a changing media landscape. It is in this context that we approach the Leveson inquiry, which was set up seven years ago in 2011, and reported six years ago in 2012, in response to events over a decade ago.
The Leveson inquiry was a diligent and thorough examination of the culture, practices and ethics of our press in response to illegal and improper press intrusion. There were far too many cases of terrible behaviour and, having met some of the victims, I understand the impact this had. I want, from the start, to thank Sir Brian for his work.
The inquiry lasted over a year and heard evidence from more than 300 people, including journalists, editors and victims. Three major police investigations examined a wide range of offences, and more than 40 people were convicted. The inquiry and investigations were comprehensive, and since it was set up, the terms of reference for a part 2 of the inquiry have largely been met. There have also been extensive reforms to policing practices and significant changes to press self-regulation.
IPSO has been established and now regulates 95% of national newspapers by circulation. It has taken significant steps to demonstrate its independence as a regulator. In 2016, Sir Joseph Pilling concluded that IPSO largely complied with Leveson’s recommendations. There have been further improvements since and, I hope, more to come. In November last year, IPSO introduced a new system of low-cost arbitration. It has processed more than 40,000 complaints in its first three years of operation and has ordered multiple front page corrections or clarifications. Newspapers have also made improvements to their governance frameworks to improve internal controls, standards and compliance. One regulator, Impress, has been recognised under the royal charter.
Extensive reforms to policing practices have been made. The College of Policing has published a code of ethics and developed national guidance for police officers on how to engage with the press. Reforms in the Policing and Crime Act have strengthened protections for police whistleblowers. It is clear that we have seen significant progress, from publications, from the police and also from the newly formed regulator.
The media landscape today is markedly different from that which Sir Brian looked at in 2011. The way that we consume news has changed dramatically. Newspaper circulation has fallen by around 30% since the conclusion of the Leveson inquiry, and although digital circulation is rising, publishers are finding it much harder to generate revenue online. In 2015, for every £100 that newspapers lost in print revenue they gained only £3 in digital revenue.
Our local papers, in particular, are under severe pressure. Local papers help to bring together local voices and shine a light on important local issues—in communities, in courtrooms, in council chambers. As we devolve power further to local communities, they will become even more important. Yet over 200 local newspapers have closed since 2015, including two in my own constituency.
There are also new challenges, which were only in their infancy back in 2011. We have seen the dramatic and continued rise of social media, which is largely unregulated, and issues like clickbait, fake news, malicious disinformation and online abuse, which threaten high-quality journalism.
A foundation of any successful democracy is a sound basis for democratic discourse. This is under threat from these new forces, which require urgent attention. These are today’s challenges and this is where we need to focus, especially as over £48 million was spent on the police investigations and the inquiry.
During the consultation, 12% of direct respondents were in favour of reopening the Leveson inquiry, with 66% against. We agree, and that is the position that we set out in our manifesto. Sir Brian, whom I thank for his service, agrees that the inquiry should not proceed on the current terms of reference but believes that it should continue in an amended form. We do not believe that reopening this costly and time-consuming public inquiry is the right way forward. Considering all of the factors that I have outlined to the House today, Sir Brian has been informed that we will be formally closing the inquiry. But we will take action to safeguard the lifeblood of our democratic discourse and tackle the challenges our media face today, not a decade ago.
During the consultation, we also found serious concerns that Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 would exacerbate the problems the press face rather than solve them. Respondents were worried that it would impose further financial burdens, especially on the local press. One high-profile figure put it very clearly. He said:
‘Newspapers ... are already operating in a tough environment. These proposals will make it tougher and add to the risk of self-censorship … The threat of having to pay both sides’ costs—no matter what the challenge—would have the effect of leaving journalists questioning every report that named an individual or included the most innocuous data about them’.
He went on to say that Section 40 risks,
‘damaging the future of a paper that you love’,
and that the impact will be to,
‘make it much more difficult for papers...to survive’.
These are not my words but the words of Alastair Campbell talking about the chilling threat of Section 40—and if anyone knows about threats to the press it is Alastair Campbell. Only 7% of direct respondents favoured full commencement of Section 40. By contrast, 79% favoured full repeal. We have decided not to commence Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and to seek repeal at the earliest opportunity.
Action is needed—not based on what might have been needed years ago, but action now to address today’s problems. Our new digital charter sets out the overarching programme of work to agree norms and rules for the online world and put them into practice. Under the digital charter, our internet safety strategy is looking at online behaviour and we will firmly tackle the problems of online abuse.
Our review into the sustainability of high-quality journalism will address concerns about the impact of the internet on our news and media. It will do this in a forward-looking way so that we can respond to the challenges of today, not the challenges of yesterday.
The future of a vibrant press matters to us all. There has been a huge public response to our consultation. I would like to thank every one of the 174,000 respondents as well as those who signed petitions. We have carefully considered all the evidence we received. We have consulted widely with regulators, publications and victims of press intrusion. The world has changed since the Leveson inquiry was established in 2011. Since then we have seen seismic changes to the media landscape. The work of the Leveson inquiry, and the reforms since, have had a huge impact on public life. We thank Sir Brian Leveson for lending his dedication and expertise to the undertaking of this inquiry.
At national and local levels, a press that can hold the powerful to account remains an essential component of our democracy. Britain needs high-quality journalism to thrive in the new digital world. We seek a press—a media—that is robust and independently regulated; that reports without fear or favour. The steps I have set out today will help give Britain a vibrant, independent and free press that holds the powerful to account and rises to the challenges of our times.
I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord for repeating the Statement made by his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for—is it D2CMS? I forget how you pronounce it these days, with “digital” being added to the department name.
We need to consider three main issues addressed in the Statement. First, this announcement of the Government’s formal decision, albeit it was prefigured in their manifesto, terminates the Leveson inquiry established under the Inquiries Act 2005. It also gives notice that the Government will repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. But we gather from the Statement that Sir Brian Leveson, who has rightly been consulted about this, agrees that his inquiry should not proceed but believes that it should continue in an amended form.
But is that what is happening? Could it be, as was patently clear from the huge response to the consultation carried out by the Government, that Sir Brian believes that there are still many unanswered questions? Do they include which editors and other senior newspaper executives were commissioned or otherwise responsible for data theft, phone hacking and other illegal conduct by journalists and investigators? Does it cover the full extent of hacking and data protection breaches at certain national newspapers, the extent of alleged corruption between some politicians, media representatives and the Metropolitan Police, and the nature of the relationships between the police and the press, in particular the long-term cover-up of police responsibility for the Hillsborough disaster?
The Statement gives the impression that this has all been sorted. It says that,
“the terms of reference for a part 2 of the inquiry have largely been met”.
Well, I do not think that Sir Brian agrees with that—or that the victims will agree with it. I certainly do not. It would be very helpful for your Lordships’ House if the noble and learned Lord could explain what precisely the words used by Sir Brian meant in that enigmatic phrase that he believes that the inquiry should continue in “an amended form”. Will he put copies of the correspondence in the Library so that we can all see it?
Secondly, on Report on the Data Protection Bill your Lordships’ House voted by 238 to 209 to add Amendment 127A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins. This new clause effectively requires the Government to proceed with a second part of the Leveson inquiry. The House also agreed amendments in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, which replicate Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act for data protection claims only.
It is possible that the Government will find the arguments—I have every confidence that we will listen to them with great interest—that will persuade the other place to remove these two amendments, but the parliamentary arithmetic being what it is, I am not sure that that is certain. In any case, if the amendments are reversed, they will come back here on ping-pong under considerable time pressure. After all, the Bill has to have Royal Assent by 25 May. Could the noble and learned Lord speculate about what might happen on the assumption that the Bill remains unamended? Perhaps we should explore the common ground here, because there is potential for working together on this. I look forward to discussions that were started prior to discussions on the Data Protection Act.
Will the noble and learned Lord also explain what the timetable is for the repeal of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act? The Statement says that it will not be commenced—again, that was in the Conservative manifesto—but the Statement adds that the Government will seek repeal “at the earliest opportunity”. When is that? “Soon” and “before Christmas”, which are the usual words in the lexicon used by the noble and learned Lord, will not be sufficient on this occasion. I look forward to more detail.
Thirdly, the saddest thing about this Statement is that it makes it clear that the all-party consensus that informed the Leveson report and oversaw the parliamentary process immediately after its publication has been destroyed. The Conservatives have reneged on the promises made by successive Prime Ministers not to let down the victims of press intrusion, and they are clearly setting their face against ensuring that we learn the lessons of the past. It is a disgrace that the Government are betraying the trust placed in them by the victims. Who now will stand up for them and make sure that their pain and suffering will not be repeated?
I believe that there is a willingness in Parliament to encourage an independent system of press regulation, as recommended by Sir Brian Leveson. I will go further: I am sympathetic, and I think others are, to the idea that if IPSO would clearly meet the standard for recognition establish by the PRP, it might be sensible for Parliament to revisit the complex set of interrelated measures of inducements and penalties set up under the rather baroque arrangements of the Privy Council.
Alongside this, we need to take into account the parallel developments mentioned in the Statement. Mainly because of loss of sales and the collapse in advertising revenues, the traditional press is in serious decline. The new, unregulated electronic sources of news and information are growing rapidly and the internet is constantly innovating and expanding news, fake news and other services. I agree with the Secretary of State that one result of these trends is that we may be witnessing the end of a fine tradition of serious journalism and the elimination of space for independent opinion which has always underpinned our democracy and polity in the UK. I agree with him that this is really important.
I welcome the proposal for a review of the sustainability of high-quality journalism and suggest to the noble and learned Lord that there may be considerable advantage in making the review cross-party and ensuring that its evidence and proceedings are open to the public. Perhaps he could comment on that—and if he cannot do so now, will he be ready to respond to an Oral Question on this later in the month, of which I have given him some notice?
If this marks the end of Leveson—and I echo the thanks expressed by the Secretary of State to Sir Brian for his considerable efforts—I am left with the following thoughts. The key question raised by Leveson is how in a democratic society we enshrine the press’s freedom to publish in the public interest while ensuring a proportionate balance so that individuals retain their rights to privacy and the security of their personal data. We have not got this right yet, but I do not think that we are far away from coming to a proper solution.
We must learn the lessons from the culture of abuse, illegality and criminality that has flourished for too long in our newspapers. There is no point in trying to cover over that and not look at it. We need to examine all these things and come up with reports—and we have to make sure that the victims of press intrusion can get effective redress when such abuse happens.
As I have said, there is more that unites us on this than divides us. Now would be a good time to reach out to all parties and attempt to re-establish the cross-party agreement that led to the original Leveson report and ensure that its good work is carried on.
My Lords, it is never a pretty sight to watch a Government capitulating to vested interests. At such a time, it is always useful to look around and see who is smiling. Certainly, Mr Rupert Murdoch will be smiling, as will Lord Rothermere, Mr Paul Dacre and the Barclay Brothers—owners or editors of the Times, the Sun, the Mail and the Telegraph respectively.
It was nearly 30 years ago, in 1990, that the Calcutt commission recommended the setting up of a Press Complaints Commission. The Government of the day welcomed that report and set up the Press Complaints Commission, but warned that it was a “final chance” for self-regulation, or, as the then Secretary of State, David Mellor, put it, the press were,
“drinking in the last-chance saloon”.
The trouble is, what has happened since? There was no learning of lessons or improvement of behaviour, with the addition of corruption and criminality to the cocktail of press failings under the stones that Lord Justice Leveson turned over.
This Statement is littered with high-minded declarations, such as,
“free to … investigate without fear or favour … underpin our democracy … integral to the freedom of our nation”,
“safeguard the lifeblood of our democratic discourse”,
but the truth is that none of those high-minded aspirations would be put at risk either by implementing Section 40 or by continuing with part 2 of Leveson. They are put at risk by behaviour that undermines public trust and diminishes confidence in our democracy.
Will the Minister clarify a number of points? First, will he put in the Library of the House the precise terms on which Sir Brian Leveson believes his inquiry should have continued? Secondly, when will the terms of reference and chair for the new review into the sustainability of the press be announced? Will it be that review or Ofcom that looks at the increasing overlap between print journalism, online journalism and broadcast news, which now sits with the various oversight bodies that regulate them?
The sentence in the Statement with which I agree entirely states that challenges that were only in their infancy in 2011 have now to be faced. Issues such as misinformation, fake news, malicious disinformation and online abuse all threaten both the quality of journalism and the fundamental rights of our citizens.
But this Statement is not a response equal to that challenge. For all the crocodile tears, it will do nothing to preserve local newspapers. It leaves the victims of press abuse with their hurt still raw and unassuaged by any sense of justice done. It was very interesting that a few hours after the Manchester bombing, journalists were knocking on the doors of victims, intruding into the private grief of people who had lost their children that night. So much for conscience and regret.
It leaves a self-serving regulator, IPSO, which is as ineffectual and compromised as its predecessor, the PCC. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said, it is open to IPSO to come within the Leveson recommendations, and if there were any sense of trying to meet the all-party approach that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, advocated, that is what IPSO would do. It leaves our media landscape not, as it should be, a balance of quality, diversity and choice, but again simply an accident waiting to happen, as those guilty of past abuse remain in power, with no sense of contrition or shame, and there is still no effective means of holding the perpetrators of that abuse to account.
It is not even an outcome of the consultation. It is the fulfilment of a squalid political deal between the press barons and the Conservative Party which the Secretary of State will live to regret. What is certain is that the name of Leveson will rank higher in the list of defenders of freedom of the press than any member of this Government.
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord McNally, for their responses.
I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, that she will have an opportunity to speak, but as a matter of course at this stage I should respond to the observations already made.
One of the principal points made by both the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord McNally, concerned the terms in which Sir Brian had responded to inquiries. I make it clear that the entirety of Sir Brian’s letter will be available. Indeed, I shall take steps to make sure that it is placed in the Library. It may be subject to redaction if there are particular names which have to be taken out, but I assure noble Lords that the terms of that letter will be available in the public domain and it would not be appropriate for us to give a mere summary of it. I also assure noble Lords that that was always the intention. In fact, I believe that on a previous occasion I indicated that Sir Brian’s response would be available in the public domain.
On the question of what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred to as a “political deal”, there is no such political deal; there is a matter of political judgment that has been made in the light of present circumstances. I appreciate that it is not one with which everyone would seek to agree, but that is the responsibility of government and that responsibility has been discharged by this Government in the present circumstances. As for the two amendments that were alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, it is not for me to speculate on how and in what circumstances they will be reversed, but clearly this House will have a further opportunity to consider that matter as and when the Bill comes back before this House and I fully accept that.
On the timetable for the repeal of Section 40, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, in posing his question already knew the answer. The words, “at the earliest opportunity” are as far as I am able to go at this stage. If I had further control of the parliamentary timetable, of course I would elucidate upon that response but I am not in a position to do so at present.
On the matter of cross-party approaches to a review, that will, I understand, be the subject of an Oral Question by the noble Lord and by that stage I may be better equipped to respond to his proposal; I would not seek at this stage to speculate.
On one final point, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that IPSO could have come within the Leveson recommendations. I remind the House that in 2016 Sir Joseph Pilling felt that IPSO had essentially come within the Leveson recommendations. He concluded that IPSO largely complied with the Leveson recommendations and I believe that that followed upon some adjustments it had made to its arbitration process. With those comments, I again commend this Statement to the House.
My Lords, after my successful amendment to the Data Protection Bill, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, I was misrepresented in a leader in the Daily Telegraph which seemed to imply that I had lied to your Lordships’ House. A short apology was published at the bottom of page 2 last week. It seems that manipulation of public opinion continues, and I shall look forward to progress with the Data Protection Bill in the other place.
Sir Brian Leveson considers that an amended inquiry should go ahead, as do the victims of press abuse who believe that a very large amount of abuse remains hidden. Today’s announcement breaks promises to victims made in this House and elsewhere. How can the public have confidence in any future undertakings by Her Majesty’s Government?
My Lords, I am not familiar with the details of the Daily Telegraph article to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, refers, but I note that in due course an apology was made by that publication in respect of the article in question. That in itself might be seen in some quarters as progress.
As regards how the public should see the Government regarding this matter, they have to see the Government taking a decision in the present circumstances, not the circumstances that pertained seven years ago. We have moved on so far as the press are concerned, and I therefore believe that the public can have confidence in the Government’s decision at this time.
My Lords, first, I declare my interests as set out in the register, in particular as having been the last chair of the Press Complaints Commission and as someone who was involved in setting up an independent regulator which became known as the Independent Press Standards Organisation.
I want to place on record my thanks to Sir Brian Leveson, who I believe did an outstandingly good job. On the first occasion I gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry, he gave me some wise advice. It was to call together all those involved in the publication of newspapers and other similar publications to see whether a self-regulator of the press could be created. His wise opinion was something I sought to follow, and I sought to ensure that Leveson recommendations were followed so far as the continuance of the Independent Press Standards Organisation was concerned. I was particularly pleased—although I had no part in the process—when Sir Alan Moses became the first chairman. All I will say to the Minister is that I am very pleased that he has quoted Sir Joseph Pilling’s conclusion that IPSO largely complied with Leveson’s recommendations, but as the Secretary of State points out, there have been further improvements since, and I hope there are more to come.
As we seek to find the best way forward, speaking as someone who started life as a solicitor acting for a very seriously injured thalidomide child, I shall never forget the power of the press in bringing Distillers to book as the manufacturer of that drug. Ever since then I have believed that we need a vibrant, independent and free press that holds the powerful to account and rises to the challenges of our time. I shall not give up now, but I warmly commend this Statement.
My Lords, I echo the observations made by my noble friend with regard to the work of Sir Brian Leveson. I think all of us in the Chamber can appreciate the work, the effort and the expertise that he brought to bear in respect of the first part of the inquiry, and the considerable public benefit that has enured from that work and the subsequent report.
I never cease to be amazed by the ability of the press to avoid responsibility and by their ability to persuade Conservatives to back down from the threat of proper regulation which protects press freedom. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has just indicated, quite rightly, that he was a past chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, as were other Conservative Party members in recent times, when the pressure was on the press.
We talk of press freedom, but can the Minister respond to this point? This all came about because of the abuse by the News of the World, a newspaper with a 187-year history and a readership of more than 3 million. During the course of that 187 years, it did some extremely good investigative journalism, holding the powerful to account. However, when it went down into the gutter as it did, the editor was fired and a couple of journalists were held to account before the court, but the owner, Mr Rupert Murdoch, one of the most powerful people there was, got away scot free. Is this what we call press freedom and holding—as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has just said—the powerful to account? How do we hold Mr Murdoch to account? He did not lose his job; it was the journalists who lost their jobs—all the journalists of the News of the World. Is that press freedom? I do not think so.
I note what the noble Lord says, but I would observe that he referred to the editor as having been fired, and would just underline the term “editor” as distinct from that of “owner”. A person may own many and diverse publications but have no actual belief in the content of those publications and no responsibility, directly, for what is incorporated into them. Indeed, there are many who feel very strongly that the owners of our public press, who are sometimes very wealthy, should not interfere in the editorial control of their newspapers. That has been commented on before.
My Lords, one very important aspect of Leveson 2, which is now not going to take place by all accounts, is the examination of the relationship between the press and the police. I declare an interest as a former Metropolitan police officer of 30 years’ service but also as a victim of phone hacking. The Minister talked about extensive reforms to policing practice and cited the guidance from the College of Policing. But what evidence is there that there has been a change in police practice? Noble Lords will recall that, when the Guardian lifted the lid on the real extent of press malpractice, an assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service stood in front of Scotland Yard and said there was nothing to investigate. I ask again: what evidence does the Minister have of the extent of previous corrupt collusion between the police and the press, and what evidence does he have that police practice has actually changed since then? If the noble and learned Lord has no evidence, does that not show that Leveson 2 is necessary? From his extensive knowledge of the law, he will know the difference between evidence and speculation and the difference between guidance and practice.
With respect to the noble Lord, I also know the difference between cause and effect. What we were addressing was the potential causes of police malpractice in relation to the press. They have been addressed as outlined by the noble Lord, involving the publication of a code of ethics and the development of national guidance for police officers on how to engage with the press. It has also involved the reforms in the Policing and Crime Act, which have strengthened protection for police whistleblowers. The effect will be seen in due course, but you cannot turn around and say there is evidence of effect. The causes have been addressed; the outcome will show itself in the course of time.
Is this not a good day for local democracy in our country? It needs a thriving local press, but as the Statement made clear, a large number of local papers have closed recently. Could my noble and learned friend confirm that there was a strong fear that the enactment of Section 40 would deal a mortal blow to many of those that still remain and whose continuing existence should be given every encouragement?
I entirely concur with my noble friend on that last point. We have heard repeatedly the concerns that were voiced, particularly by the local press, over the potential impact of the implementation of Section 40 and the adverse effect it would have had upon our local press and consequently upon the maintenance of our local democracy.
My Lords, do the Government still believe that the press should be regulated by a truly independent body which fully complies with the criteria laid out by Sir Brian Leveson and was supported on all sides of your Lordships’ House?
We consider that the present arrangements, particularly those reflected in IPSO, are working well with regard to the press.
My Lords, is it not the case that, as I am sure everyone around the House has demonstrated this afternoon, there is a great change in the media? The Minister has said several times that since 2011 things have changed in a great many ways. But are he and the Government really confident that the measures he has outlined this afternoon will be sufficient to deal with the questions which were raised again by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, given that of course the digital media are in some senses much worse even than the press in how they use personal abuse and personal statements about individuals to act in an entirely unacceptable way?
The noble Baroness makes a very good point. That is why we are taking forward the digital charter, so that we can have an overarching programme of work to agree the norms and rules for that online world, as well as for the printed press.
My Lords, a number of victims of press intrusion sat in a room with the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, when he solemnly promised that the Leveson inquiry would be completed. If the noble and learned Lord were sitting in the room with those same victims today, what would he say to them in the light of the Statement about that broken promise?
I am not in a position to comment upon the broken promise but, as the noble and learned Lord observed, he was referring to the position of the former Prime Minister.
Can the Minister comment on a line from the Statement? It says:
“Sir Brian, who I thank for his service”—
I concur with that—
“agrees that the inquiry should not proceed on the current terms of reference but believes that it should continue in an amended form”.
Does the Minister believe that what he has set out constitutes that amended form?
The decision made by government was that part 2 of the Leveson inquiry would not go forward, and I commend to the noble Lord the terms of Sir Brian’s own letter. I do not think it would be appropriate for me to seek to paraphrase him; it is far better that this letter, which will be placed in the public domain, should be considered in that context.
My Lords, does the Minister agree—I am sure that if he does, he will have widespread respect—that the press has a long-standing and historical role in society? It is in many ways the lifeblood of democracy itself because a democracy can function well only if the quality and truthfulness of the press can be seen and respected. It is also the guardian of human rights and individual freedoms. Commercial pressures have always been there—on how to make newspapers pay, for example—but, ultimately, it is in fulfilling that historic purpose that they will be respected in society. How can we have a society in which journalists and writers are able to act honestly, and with a real sense of commitment to truth, if they are to be seen as subjects of a regime run by irresponsible owners?
To a large extent, I concur with the observations made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. It is for society to demand from the press the sort of press that it requires in order to maintain its freedoms and its democratic traditions. We have to remember that society is also the customer for that press and therefore carries considerable weight in that context. We see that reflected in the demise of the News of the World. It was not just a question of closing down a newspaper; it was a recognition that that newspaper had so lost its way that society—its customers—would have responded in a very particular way in any event. It was not an altruistic act but, I rather suspect, a realisation of the reality of the situation that the newspaper had found itself in.
The Minister tells us, and the House agrees, that we should all want a thriving local newspaper environment. However, the Statement talks about 200 local newspapers having closed since 2015. What are the Government’s proposals to try to ensure that we continue to have an environment in which there are thriving local newspapers? In similar vein, the Secretary of State talks about issues such as clickbait, fake news, malicious disinformation and online abuse threatening high-quality journalism. What are the Government going to do to reduce the amount of clickbait, fake news, malicious disinformation and online abuse?
On the first point, the major step that we have taken in order to protect the local press is to announce our intention to repeal Section 40, which hung over the local press like the sword of Damocles. On the question of engaging with online media, which we recognise is a major issue, we are pursuing our digital charter.
My Lords, the whole House has heard what the Minister said about the victims and, in answer to the questions of my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness about the pledge by the former Prime Minister, Mr Cameron, to the victims, the Minister responded that he was merely a former Prime Minister. Would he like to take the opportunity to reflect on those words and perhaps come back to the Dispatch Box with a fuller, more compassionate and responsible answer to the question of what the Prime Minister’s pledge means to the victims of press intrusion and abuse?
I can quite understand the expectation that the second part of the Leveson inquiry would take place, but time has moved on. We nevertheless recognise the position in which these victims found themselves and the harm that was perpetrated against them. I would not seek to diminish that in any way.
It is a nonsense for the Minister to say that getting rid of Section 40 will enable there to be a thriving local press. We in this Chamber all know that the reason why there is not a thriving local press is that the value of local advertising has gone down because it has competition from online. The truth is that without the investment going in that advertising unlocks, the local press will continue to shrink. Not a shred of evidence has been produced this afternoon to suggest that with the repeal of Section 40 the local press is suddenly going to bloom and flourish.
I did not suggest it was going to suddenly bloom and flourish; it may be more a case of managed decline. There are other factors impacting on our local printed media, there is no question of that, but one of those threats was contained within the provisions of Section 40 of the Act.
House adjourned at 3.03 pm.