Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation Bid for BSkyB
Opposition Day — [19th Allotted Day — Half Day]
Gordon Brown (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Labour)
If we do not act now as a House of Commons, knowing what we now know, and act forcefully and with clarity, friends around the world who admire our liberties as a country will now ask what kind of country we have become. A crime has been committed against innocent members of the public; a complaint has been made to the police and no satisfaction has been given. Even when the police have had someone’s name as a likely victim, they were neither telling them nor taking action. No action from the head of the first police inquiry, Andy Hayman, whose next job just happened to be at News International; no action from his successor, who had overall responsibility for two inquiries—Mulcaire and Abelard, or what is called Southern Investigations—each with vast but unexamined archives exposing criminality on a huge scale. Inspector Yates has redefined for us the meaning of an inquiry. He not only failed to ask any of the right questions but, as became clear yesterday, he failed even to ask any of the basic questions.
I deeply regret my inability to do then what I wanted to do—to overturn the advice of all the authorities and set up a judicial inquiry. I can say for the record that, as I left office, I talked to the leader of the Liberal party and warned him that a Coulson problem would emerge, and I did so directly, and not through an intermediary who might not remember to pass on the message. At the same time, I handed him, in person, our proposal for a commission into the media, and in summer last year, I wrote to the head of the civil service to point out that the previous advice against the judicial inquiry had clearly since been overtaken by the new evidence.
I am afraid that the House must examine more recent, more damning and more alarming evidence. Because of what happened to my children, whose privacy at all times I have tried to protect, I have been sent, I have been offered, and I have had thrust upon me a great deal of evidence that is relevant to this debate, which is now for the police to examine. It is right for the House to know that the damage done in the past 10 years to innocent lives was avoidable. As early as the winter of
2002, senior police officers at Scotland Yard met the now chief executive of News International and informed her of serious malpractice on the part of her newspaper staff and criminals undertaking surveillance on their behalf. The new investigation will no doubt uncover why no action was taken within News International and what lay behind the subsequent promotion of that junior editor concerned.
In that context, and again, because of what happened to my family, I have been made aware of an additional and previously unexamined stream of orders by one of the editors at News International, Mr Alex Marunchak, to hack and to intrude—a man who was subsequently promoted to be a full editor of a regional edition of the News of the World. As we now know, a cover-up can be more damning than the original crime, and the decision of the News International chairman to pay, without reference to his board, some victims sums of around £500,000, may now be seen as the buying of silence. Given his statements to this House, that must now be the subject of full parliamentary, as well as police, scrutiny.
The freedom of the press in this country was built through the countless acts of fearless people who had done no wrong, and yet had to make huge sacrifices. Today, the freedom of the press can best be assured by full disclosure and reparation by those who know that they have done wrong. First, for the future, the press media itself should immediately press for a new Press Complaints Commission. We need one that is proactive, not passive; one that is less about protecting the press from the public, and more about properly processing the complaints of the public against the press; and one that is wholly independent, so that it can differentiate, and be seen to differentiate, between the abuse of power as a result of self-interest and what we really need, which is the pursuit of truth in the public interest.
We need to put an end to the violation of rights, but also to ensure the righting of wrongs. Secondly, therefore, News International papers, and every other responsible paper, should in future be obliged to publish—not on page 35 or 27, but on page 1—apologies to all individuals whose rights have been infringed. Perhaps in future we will know the naming and shaming of criminals inside the media by the name of one of the saddest victims, as happened with Sarah’s law. That would require News International to practise what it has so self-righteously preached to other people.
Thirdly, we must do all in our power to prevent the subversion of our basic rights again. We must therefore be ready to discuss limits to the undue concentration of ownership in the media as a whole. I must say to the Prime Minister, in response to the statement he made earlier today, that I believe that he will have to widen the remit of the commission of inquiry, so that we are sure that it will examine not just the police and general ethics, but all the evidence of the abuse of surveillance techniques and technologies, as a result of which we saw the undermining of our civil liberties.
In the long and winding evolution of our rights and freedoms, the people of this country have always been at risk from huge concentrations of power. Traditionally, they have seen the freedom of the press as a force for their freedom, but when our country’s biggest media organisation has itself become an unchallengeable concentration of power, as it was until today; when it is
has held in contempt not only basic standards of legality, but basic standards of decency, too; when it has replaced freedom with licence; when it has wielded power without ever being elected to do so; and when it has regarded itself not only as above the law, but as above the elected institutions of our country, all concerned people in this House should be able to see that what should be our greatest defence against the abuse of power had itself become an intolerable abuser of power.
History will also show that a press will not long remain free in any country unless it is also responsible. If the irresponsibility that has characterised News International is not to define the public view of the media as a whole and if continued irresponsibility is not to force Parliament to take ever stronger measures to protect the public from the press, we will need far more than the closure of a newspaper one week and the withdrawal of a bid the next.