I beg to move,
That this House
has considered matter of public confidence in the media and the police.
You have heard a lot from me already, Mr Speaker, so I will keep my opening remarks brief.
I want to start by paying tribute to this House and to hon. Members who sit in it. Just a couple of years ago, at the height of the expenses scandal, people said we had lost relevance and that we no longer properly represented the constituents we served. We have got a long way to go before regaining full public trust, but the past two weeks have shown the House, in many ways, at its best.
We have seen the true worth, for instance, of our Select Committees, with the forensic scrutiny of those in positions of power, in the public interest. I particularly want to pay tribute to those chaired by my hon. Friend Mr Whittingdale, Keith Vaz and my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Beith. We have seen vigorous debate, with this House leading the public debate, finishing of course with News Corporation’s withdrawal of its bid to take over BSkyB, and we have seen cross-party support and action to get to the bottom of what happened and learn lessons for the future.
We now have in place a judge-led, independent public inquiry. It will have all the powers necessary, and I want to start the debate by saying that we must be careful not to pre-empt all its deliberations or seek in advance to answer all the questions it must address. There is a good reason for setting up this inquiry, and we must let it do its work. That does not mean that we should not be clear about the big picture of what needs to be done. As I said a moment ago, all this has got to begin and end with the victims; it is they who have suffered the most, and we must do right by them.
In opening this debate, I simply want to set out the four vital questions that we need to answer, which in turn lead to four vital things that we, as a House of Commons, must resolve never to let happen again. The first question is how we can secure a free and vibrant media, completely unafraid to challenge authority but operating within the law. We must never again see this widespread lawbreaking, including the terrible crimes committed against people who have already suffered. We should not assume that those practices extend across all media, some of which have an excellent reputation, but neither should we think that this is isolated in just one institution.
The second issue is how we can secure strong, well-led, independent yet accountable police forces that are able to pursue the powerful without fear or favour. Yes, they must be able to work constructively with the media, but never again should they be at risk of being corrupted by the media.
I can only speak for myself: I had no notice of it. I know full well that Andy Coulson’s resignation, and the timing of it, were not connected to any event like that. The timing of it was simply a result of his recognising that he could not go on doing his job with that swirl of allegations going on. To be fair to Andy Coulson, he recognised that the second chance that I had given him had not worked. That is why I have been so clear about that issue today.
The third issue is how we can bring about a situation, which he have discussed a lot today, in which governing parties eager to hold on to power or opposition parties yearning to win power can have a sensible, healthy relationship with media groups and owners without ducking the regulatory issues that need to be addressed. We must never again get into a situation in which the issues of effective media regulation are left on the shelf year after year.
In response to the Prime Minister’s call for party leaders to join him in publishing their dealings with the media, the Leader of the Opposition heckled “No, you’re the Prime Minister”. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this situation would be greatly helped if those who aspired to be the Prime Minister behaved like one?
I am sorry that my hon. Friend did not get in to speak among the first 138, because that was an absolute cracker.
We have seen that cosiness with the media is clearly a problem for the police, but it might be a problem for other walks of public life as well. I have therefore asked the Cabinet Secretary to write to all permanent secretaries to ask them to review the way in which contacts between the media and their staff, and other professional groups that work with their Departments, are regulated and recorded. We see that there is a problem with the police and the media, and we need to get ahead of there possibly being problems with other groups as well.
Given that the Prime Minister has today dismissed the evidence set out in The New York Times that caused the police to reopen the investigation into phone hacking, does he have confidence in their decision-making processes? Or does he think that press reports should not be part of police investigations?
Of course everything that is published should be brought to my attention and to the police’s attention. The point I am making is that if I had been given evidence that Andy Coulson knew about hacking, I would not have hired him, and if I had had evidence that he knew about hacking, I would have fired him. I cannot put it any simpler than that.
I will give way in a moment; I want to make some progress.
The fourth and final challenge is how we address the vexed issue of media power. We need competition policy to be properly enforced. We need a sensible look at the relevance of plurality and cross-media ownership. Above all, we need to ensure that no one voice—not News Corporation, not the BBC—becomes too powerful. We should be frank: sometimes in this country, the left overestimates the power of Murdoch, and the right overdoes the left leanings of the BBC. But both have got a point, and never again should we let a media group get too powerful.
Order. I want to learn about this private and confidential letter.
I accept that there is a certain paradox involved here.
The letter says:
“The reason that a new investigation has been commenced and the situation has subsequently changed so markedly”— that is, since the advice given to me as Home Secretary—
“is that in January 2011 News International began to co-operate properly with the police. It is now evident that this was not the case beforehand.”
The point I was going to make, which is important, is that in my understanding, the reopening of the investigation was in response to new information from News International, and that it was not in response to the April article. The point about Andy Coulson’s resignation, which had been under discussion for some weeks, was that he recognised that he could not go on doing his job. It was not, to the best of my memory, connected with any single event. It was literally: “I can’t go on being an effective communications spokesman. I have to resign. Let’s just make sure we get on with it and do it in an orderly way.” [ Interruption. ] I know that that does not fit the many conspiracy theories that hon. Members have tried to produce, but that is actually what happened.
Let me make three suggestions on media plurality and power. One: it is right that there are good and proper legal processes for considering media mergers, but we should ask whether politicians should be abstracted from them altogether. Two: it is right that there is a plurality test, but we should ask whether that test should be ongoing, rather than just considered at the time of takeover. Three: plurality is difficult to measure, especially in the modern internet age, but we should not rule out the idea of limits, and it is right that the inquiry should look at this issue.
What the Prime Minister has said about plurality is extremely interesting and important, and it will have a bearing on the future structure of Ofcom, but does he agree that we need to think carefully before tearing up the main provisions of the Enterprise Act 2002, which keeps Ministers out of decisions on takeovers and mergers?
I certainly agree with that. Indeed, I think that there might be a case, when it comes to media mergers, for trying further to remove politicians. In regard to all the issues that have been raised so many times today, that might be one way of putting all this beyond reproach.
It might sound decisive to talk about never letting these things happen again, as I have done, but let us be frank: it is far more difficult to deliver that outcome. We in this House need to recognise some home truths about the subjects we are discussing. First, none of these questions—for instance, about media influence and power—is new. There has been a debate about undue influence that stretches from Beaverbrook to Rothermere to Murdoch. Ironically, with newspapers declining and the internet booming, this should be becoming less of a problem. Nevertheless, a problem it remains. In my view, this simply underlines the need for the inquiry, because it will help to jolt us politicians into action, and that is no bad thing.
Sue Akers, who is now in charge of the investigation, says that what broke the logjam of the cover-up was the civil cases that were taken by individuals forcing disclosure by News International. Part of the problem, and one of the reasons we have all failed in this over the past 20 years, is the fact that News International and Metropolitan police officers directly lied to Parliament, and the Select Committees were either unable to or did not do anything about it. One of the problems with the Leveson situation is that, because of the Bill of Rights 1689, he will not be able to consider whether Parliament was lied to. We are the only people who can decide that. Will the Prime Minister ensure that there is a point at which we in this House can make that decision?
The hon. Gentleman is making an important point. His recognition that this is a 20-year issue in which politicians of all parties have not stepped up to the mark is wholly to his credit. I want to take away his question of parliamentary privilege and the Bill of Rights and give him a considered response to it, because I do not want the inquiry to be prevented in any way from getting to the truth. Our constituents would not understand if there were some process, however important it might be historically, that could prevent that from happening.
The second home truth is that none of these questions is restricted to Britain. Right across the world, there is a problem of ensuring that police forces are accountable to the Government yet independent from them. We must never compromise operational independence. This goes to some of the questions that I was asked earlier. We must not move to a system in which politicians can step in to say, “Why haven’t you re-run this investigation?” or “Why haven’t you arrested that person?” We need to think for a moment where that would lead. But that makes it all the more important that police leadership is strong, and that the police are called to account when they fail. That is why we are introducing directly elected police and crime commissioners, to bring proper accountability to policing.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and I agree very much with the point he has just made. However, does he not agree that he needs to be absolutely clear beyond any doubt that no elected police and crime commissioner can direct that an investigation should not begin, or, indeed, should begin?
That is absolutely right—we must maintain operational independence. The point about the police commissioners is calling the police to account for the work that they do, but the operational independence point is extremely important.
Let me make a bit of progress, and then I will give way to the hon. Lady.
The relationship between the police and the media is a problem the world over, too, but we have to ask—and hon. Members have been asking this today—why ours seems to have become quite so cosy, so leaky and so potentially compromised. Similarly, there is nothing peculiar to Britain about the potentially unhealthy relationship developing between media proprietors and politicians.
That leads to my third point, about trying to turn these noble sentiments of “never again” into action. None of this is easy, and a point that must not be lost in this debate is that to over-regulate the media could have profoundly detrimental effects on our country and our society. We must not miss this in the frenzy about the dreadfulness of hacking at this point. Without a public interest defence, the so-called “cod fax” that uncovered Jonathan Aitken’s wrongdoing might never have emerged. To give another example, are we seriously going to argue in this House that the expenses scandal should not have come to light because it could have involved some data that were obtained illegally? So, we need to step very carefully into this area.
I have got a feeling that it will be a question about the Bill of Rights that I will not be able to answer—but I am going to try it anyway.
I am glad to say that it is about not the Bill of Rights but the terms of reference that are now in the Library. I simply wanted to ask the Prime Minister to answer this question, if he would be good enough, on the recommendations that can be made by the judge-led inquiry with reference to the question of media policy, regulation and cross-media ownership. Is this intended to cover the whole media, in a way that would ensure that the kind of standards expected of the media in relation to future regulation would be included in the judge-led recommendations?
I think the terms of reference are pretty clear. The point about cross-media ownership is not about conduct; it is about not just market power, but power of voice. What you are trying to do with cross-media ownership is, if one organisation has a very powerful television station, a number of newspapers, and perhaps some radio stations and some internet sites, how do you agglomerate that and try to measure its power? I can bore for Britain on this subject because
I used to work for ITV, in competition with BSkyB and the BBC. It is a very difficult thing to do, but that does not mean we should not try. On the terms of reference, that is what the cross-media ownership part is about, but clearly it is looking at media regulation more broadly, specifically of the printed press, but it can go further.
I am going to make some progress, and then I will give way a couple more times before I close.
So, Mr Speaker, the question is, given the difficulties I have mentioned, how do we maximise the chance of making a clean break with the past? I want to set out some very clear lessons. First, we have got to try to proceed on a cross-party basis; otherwise, we will have each party trooping off to media organisations and promising the lowest common denominator. If I say “independent regulation”, there is a danger someone else will say “self-regulation”, and so on. We could end up constantly competing with each other in a kind of regulatory arbitrage over who can be the softest and most appealing to newspapers, television stations and their owners. I do not think we should pretend this is simply about tabloids or even simply about newspapers. I am a huge supporter of the BBC and the licence fee, but, frankly, I think there did come a time in recent years when the income of the BBC was so outstripping that of independent television that there was a danger of BBC news becoming rather dominant. So, there are dangers right across the piece here.
The offer to work together with all parties on this agenda is indeed a genuine one.
However critical I may be of the press, and however biased in many ways, I am totally opposed to any form of gagging, and that, I am sure, is the view of most of my right hon. and hon. Friends. However, does the Prime Minister accept that self-regulation has been totally inadequate from day one? It has been a total farce, so if we are to have self-regulation, which I hope will continue, it must be far more effective than it has been.
I do agree with the hon. Gentleman that the current system of self-regulation has failed, not least because it did not properly respond to all these warnings. That is why I choose to talk about independent regulation. I do not want to see statutory regulation—the heavy hand of the state. We have got to try to find a way to make sure that the press is regulated in a way that is independent from them, but not by the state and the Government. I think it is doable.
I am going to make some progress and then I will come back to my hon. Friend Robert Halfon.
The second key to success in translating all this into action, I believe, is restraint. The media will see politicians agreeing with each other about the need for regulation, for plurality and all the rest of it, and they will fear a stitch-up. Indeed, they are already talking about one. So, I do believe that politicians need to show some restraint in what they say and do about the media. There are many in this House, I know, who have been victims of a media that have been prepared to break the law or behave in a bullying fashion. But we must not forget that this scandal, like so many others, whether we are talking about expenses or the FIFA scandal, which I feel particularly exercised about—they were uncovered to the fullest degree by the media, by newspapers, not by regulators. Let us not forget that. So, the balance we must strike now is to allow an aggressive, challenging and independent media, however much that might sometimes frustrate us, while halting the abuses that all decent people find unacceptable.
Let me make a bit more progress.
The third key to success is that, while we cannot commit in advance to legislate simply for whatever comes out of this judicial inquiry, we should, I believe, invest all possible faith in this inquiry, because it is our best chance of making a fresh start.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. Given what he has just said, is he aware that the BBC accounts for 70% of TV news, and that on the internet it has 10 times as much market share as Sky? Is not an answer to this to democratise the licence fee, and to give licence fee payers a vote on the board and structure of the BBC?
It is an interesting idea, which my hon. Friend can put to this inquiry. I think the key is—I am biased, as I worked in ITV for many years—that you do need strong, independent television to give people a choice of news. I have made many mistakes in my life, and I think one of them was agreeing, briefly, that it was a good idea to move the “News at Ten”. I think it was a very bad decision, and a proper plurality in news is very important.
Let me make a bit more progress.
In anticipation of what might come out of a judicial inquiry, we are planning a communications Bill this Parliament that can take into account the recommendations of the inquiry.
Finally, painful though it can sometimes be, there is no doubt in my mind that when it comes to the best way to achieve the more healthy relationship between politicians and the media, transparency is the absolute key. Clearly, that is vital in contact between political leaders and media groups. I have set out, as I have said today, all my contacts since the election; I look forward to others doing the same. I am sure that Tony Blair and the last Prime Minister will soon follow suit for their time in office.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. Returning to the issue of the police’s operational independence, he rightly emphasised the important principle that politicians cannot tell the police whom to investigate and what to pursue, but that cuts both ways. What message does he think the Mayor of London was sending out when he said, in the same weeks when John Yates was scoping his inquiry, and just days after John Yates sent his e-mail to the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, that any inquiry and any allegations were codswallop, politically motivated and not worthy of discussion?
The point I would make is that it is quite clear that the police have operational independence, because they have pursued, without fear or favour, these issues and they have arrested everyone they have thought it necessary to arrest. What is interesting is that I think that operational independence is so embedded into the psyche of British policing that, whether it is the Mayor of London or whether you have police commissioners, I do not think it would interfere with that.
Finally, Mr Speaker, in this debate let us not lose sight of the big picture. The people who send us here want some pretty straightforward things. They want their media free and punchy, but they want them within the law. They want their police independent and strong, but honest and incorruptible, and they want their politicians to sort out a mess that has sapped their faith in the key institutions of our country. Whatever our differences in this debate, we should be clear today: we will not let them down.
I welcome this debate and in starting it, all of us should remember what brings us here. Parliament would not have been recalled today had it not been for the revelations about the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone. That revelation shocked our country and turned something that had seemed to be about the lives of politicians, footballers and celebrities into something very different about the lives of others who had never sought the public eye. It is the courage of Bob and Sally Dowler, and Milly’s sister Gemma, in speaking out, that has been the spur for much that has happened in the last fortnight. I pay tribute to them for their courage in speaking out about these issues.
People’s anger about what has happened with phone hacking has been real, but some people will no doubt ask—indeed, we heard a bit of this in the statement—why, when we have so many other problems facing the country in relation to the economy, the NHS, defence and all those issues, the House of Commons is debating this issue in particular. It is true that this issue does not directly concern our jobs and living standards, but it does concern something incredibly important on which all else depends—the fabric of our country. We do not want to live in a country in which the depraved deletion of the voicemails of a dead teenager is seen as acceptable, in which the police’s failure to investigate that is seen as just the way things are and in which politicians’ failure to tackle it is seen as the way things are.
I do not think there is one person in the country—well, maybe there are a handful—who thinks the depraved deletion of a voicemail, as the right hon. Gentleman describes it, is acceptable. What people are wondering about is whether politicians find it acceptable when people are not honest—this is across the House—about dealings between politicians, the press and the police. That is why we are here today. I do not want him to think that anyone in the House would think those deletions were acceptable.
I agree completely with the hon. Lady’s comments. As the Prime Minister said in his speech, there are issues here for the press, the police and, indeed, politicians.
This debate goes to the heart of the country we should aspire to be. It goes to the integrity, responsibility and accountability of some of our established institutions. At the heart of the debate is the issue of how these institutions and the people who head them act. Can the press be trusted, in the words of the Press Complaints Commission’s first chairman, Lord McGregor, not to dabble
“their fingers in the stuff of other people’s souls”?
Can the police be trusted to investigate wrongdoing without fear or favour? Can we, as politicians be trusted—as I have said and as Nicky Morgan has just said—to speak out when wrong is done?
For the Dowler family, let us be honest, until just two weeks ago the answer to all those questions was no—and the fact that it was should shame our country. So when I read in the newspapers that this is the angst or obsession of a few people in Westminster, I say that it is not, because it goes to the kind of country we are.
It also goes directly to something else that we on both sides of the House hear and talk about a lot: the responsibilities of those without power in Britain, such as those on benefits. We all use words such as “cheats” and “abusers” and we saw that language in the News of the World; some of it is even true in respect of a minority, but how much—let us be honest about this—do we talk about the responsibilities of the powerful? What message does it send to the rest of our society when the established institutions of our country behave without responsibility? It sends the message that anything goes because no one seems to care about right and wrong.
This debate goes to one more, final issue: just as the expenses issue undermined the reputation of the good, decent majority on both sides of the House, so too this scandal affects the vast majority of good, upstanding police officers on whom all our communities rely and affects the vast majority of decent journalists who are doing their job and are, as the Prime Minister said, necessary for a free and fair society. It is also in their interests that we sort this out.
When people say that this does not matter they are not just saying, “Let’s talk about something else”, but something far more serious. That cynicism about the country we live in is almost inevitable—that nothing can be done. I say to Members on both sides of the House. and I am sure that I speak for Members across the House when I say it, that if we fall prey to that, nobody will trust established institutions in this country—or, indeed, anyone else.
The Labour party’s director of communications, Tom Baldwin, is accused of having been involved in the unlawful accessing of banking records to establish details of payments made. May I ask the Leader of the Opposition, who himself aspires to lead this country, what checks he made and what assurances were given to him about Mr Baldwin’s conduct before he appointed Mr Baldwin to that high office?
I take all allegations against members of my staff seriously, which is why I checked these out with The Times newspaper, which specifically confirms what the gentleman to whom Mr Stuart refers said, which is that he did not commission illegal investigations into Michael Ashcroft. [ Interruption. ] I have to say to the Prime Minister, who is chuntering from the Front Bench, that we should rely on some of those people because Tom Baldwin’s line manager was the current Education Secretary for much of the time in question. He is not in his place today, but for much of the time that the investigation was going on into Lord Ashcroft—remember him?—Tom Baldwin’s line manager was the current Education Secretary. I see the Prime Minister is smiling. This issue has been raised a number of times and I have to say to hon. Members, “Remember Lord Ashcroft and his assurances. Remember his assurances about his tax status, which were relied on by the current Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister.” I have to say to Conservative Members that if I were them, I would shut up about the allegations regarding Lord Ashcroft.
I have been listening to the passion with which the right hon. Gentleman has been making his case, but if that passion for reform really is there, can he tell me why the previous Government did nothing but talk between 2002 and 2007 about reform of the Press Complaints Commission?
The hon. Gentleman is completely right that we did not do enough and we should have done more. I am absolutely clear about this. Of course this was a collective failure on both sides of the House—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] I do not know why hon. Members say, “Ah.” I take our responsibility for this—of course that is right. Part of what is required is that we all account for our actions. That is absolutely right.
Will hon. Members give me a moment?
The former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Alan Johnson, who might talk about this in the debate, did seek to reopen the inquiries both with the police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission, but that did not happen. No one in the House can say that we should not have spoken out earlier.
The Leader of the Opposition started by striking, as the Prime Minister did earlier, a tone of statesmanlike non-partisanship, and he had the attention of the House. Will he, as the Prime Minister did earlier, acknowledge the sins of his party, as ours, in the past 20 years and give a small apology for the excesses of media manipulation on his side of the House?
I thank the Leader of the Opposition for that. May I take him back to the beginning of his speech when he talked about faith in institutions? Does he agree that credit should be given to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who felt that the issue of leadership was at stake in the Metropolitan police and therefore resigned so that that service could move on? Surely the former Commissioner should be given credit for what he did.
I agree. Sir Paul Stephenson acted with great honour in this matter and I am sure that is recognised on both sides of the House.
Let me make progress and then I might give way to the hon. Gentleman.
We need to change our press, our police and our politics. First, on the press, the questions we must all ask as we debate this are not just about who acted illegally and when, which is properly a matter for the police investigation. They must get to the bottom of what happened. The inquiry led by Lord Justice Leveson must do its work, but we cannot just ask why it happened—we also need to ask why that culture was so widespread. In my view, the answer is relatively simple.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will just listen to my speech for a bit longer.
Some of the institutions involved thought they were above the law and beyond responsibility. A police inquiry and a judge-led inquiry should not be the only way for an ordinary citizen to get effective redress when the press do them wrong. One of the symptoms of what happened is the fact that Press Complaints Commission—the Prime Minister and I both recognise this—was a wholly ineffective body in giving the ordinary citizen redress. I do not want a country where there has to be a police inquiry or judge-led inquiry to give redress to that citizen.
Let me say something about press regulation. Why did the PCC fail? This is important, because the PCC was aware of the allegations that were being made. It failed because it had no powers of investigation, so although it now believes it was lied to, it could do nothing to check the veracity of what it had been told. It failed because despite the evidence of bad practice, nothing was done by an organisation that—let us be candid about this—was not sufficiently independent of current editors.
I do not believe—I echo the words of the Prime Minister on this point—that it should be for politicians to decide what our press reports. That is an important principle of a free society and of our society.
I want to make some progress.
It is commonly agreed that we need a new system of regulation. Whether we call it self-regulation or independent regulation, which is a term the Prime Minister coined and that I like, in substance it is about ethics being overseen by an independent group of people who are not current editors, with investigatory powers so that the regulatory body cannot simply be lied to as the PCC says that it was and—this is an important point—with the power to enforce compensation and prominent redress. That point is really important. The standards of accuracy in our press will be much encouraged if there is prominence of apology and admission of error rather than their being buried on page 42, which is what happens.
The issue, which the Prime Minister touched on in his speech, goes beyond press regulation. Indeed, Government Members have asked me about this. Why did not more of us speak out earlier? The answer is what we all know and used to be afraid to say: News International was too powerful. It owned 40% of the newspaper market before the closure of the News of the World. It owns two thirds of the pay TV market through 39% of the Sky platform and Sky News. The Communications Act 2003 rightly stops an organisation holding an ITV licence and more than 20% of newspapers, but it does not apply to digital channels. One might say that it was an analogue Act in a digital age. The Act needs to be updated as such a concentration of power is unhealthy. If one thing comes out of what we have seen in the past two weeks and over many years, it must be that we understand the point about concentrations of power in our society because large concentrations of power are more likely to lead to abuses of power.
My concern is that we preserve the freedom of the press. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned News International specifically, but we know that Mirror Group and the Daily Mail were equally culpable according to the 2006 report. He talks about the media market, but we know that the BBC has a dominant position. His comments are beginning to look like he is conducting a vendetta against News International when we need to consider the media as a whole.
Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman on that point. Of course, the police inquiry and the judge-led inquiry must look across all the newspapers. I want to pick him up on his point about the BBC, however. The BBC is much more tightly bound by public interest guidelines than newspapers. That is right, because there is a distinction—I disagree with the former Labour leader, Lord Kinnock, on this point—between broadcasting and newspapers. I think that distinction is likely to be maintained and I support that. We should be careful, however, about lumping the BBC in with all this because it is in a different category.
In yesterday’s Committee, Rebekah Brooks said that she had not had a single meeting with the Prime Minister in Downing street but that she had visited the former Prime Minister, Mr Brown, six times each year. The Leader of the Opposition was a key member of the previous Government. Did he share his concerns about the power of News International with the former Prime Minister?
I do not think that was the most helpful intervention from the point of view of the Prime Minister. The reason Rebekah Brooks was not coming to Downing street was that she was seeing him in Oxfordshire and elsewhere. It is fairly obvious, is it not? I think we should save the Prime Minister embarrassment and move on.
Let me turn to the police. Confidence and respect in policing is vital. Recent events have created a cloud and it is important that the excellent work being done by police officers is not tarnished.
I will make a little more progress, if the hon. Gentleman will be patient.
The independence and impartiality of the police has been a cornerstone of the force stretching back to Sir Robert Peel. That is why recent events are so disturbing: allegations of payments to police by the press; a culture where it appears the relationship between press and police is too close and information is passed inappropriately; and questions about why the first police investigation failed and why it has taken so long to put things right.
There are now four different investigations considering these issues. That is a good thing and I hope they proceed as speedily as they can given all the inquiries. If they can be co-ordinated or brought together, I am sure that would be a good idea, too. Let me make one observation, though. There are cultural issues that must be looked at in our police. Just like in newspapers, there will always be things that go wrong. The question we must answer for victims such as the Dowlers is whether the right system of redress is in place for the victims and whether they have confidence in it. The situation is similar to that in the PCC and that is why we need a stronger Independent Police Complaints Commission. It is currently a complaints body with limited powers and a huge case load that has clearly not been able or willing—probably able—to act proactively enough. As well as reforms to our press and to our complaints system for the press, we must also reform the police.
The Leader of the Opposition rightly talks about the independence of the police, yet he seems to have expected that, during the course of a police inquiry, the assistant commissioner would go and see the Prime Minister and talk about the emerging evidence. It seems, extraordinarily, that the assistant commissioner had a similar expectation. Can the Leader of the Opposition tell us whether that is the way it went on in Labour years? Is that what was happening? If not, will he say now that he thinks the police should be truly independent?
This is not about the operational independence of the police and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman wants to return to these issues because it is the wall of silence that was erected around the Prime Minister that meant that he did not hear the facts about Andy Coulson, which were facts that he should have heard. We need reforms—
I am going to make some more progress, if I may.
We need to reform our press and politics and we need also to reform the dealings between politicians and the press. I welcome the Prime Minister’s—
I think I might get to the point on which the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene, if he gives me a moment.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s decision to be more transparent about meetings with executives and editors. I have published all my meetings since I became leader of the Labour party and I say to the Prime Minister that of course I will go back to the general election.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman will publish all the meetings he had with the media before he became leader, because transparency is the greatest disinfectant. Will he confirm to the House whether, when he was running to lead his party, he met any of the Murdochs or anyone from News International?
I am going to make some more progress. I want, if I may, to come back to two or three outstanding issues raised earlier in the statement, because they go to questions of transparency.
On the question of relationships between politicians and the media, what lessons does the Leader of the Opposition think we should draw from the fact that when the Prime Minister published the list of the meetings that he had, 26 were with people from News International, but just one was with a person from the BBC?
People will draw their own conclusions, and my hon. Friend has put the point on the record. I want to deal with two or three important points about transparency. The Prime Minister, in his statement, surprised me by talking about the very important article—I raised it in my statement—that The New York Times published on
“One former editor said Coulson talked freely with colleagues about the dark arts, including hacking. ‘I’ve been to dozens if not hundreds of meetings with Andy’ when the subject came up, said the former editor…The editor added that when Coulson would ask where a story came from, editors would reply, ‘We’ve pulled the phone records’ or ‘I’ve listened to the phone messages.’”
That goes to a very important issue, because my charge against the Prime Minister is that there was lots of information publicly available. There were warnings from the Deputy Prime Minister, who sat very glumly during the Prime Minister’s statement. There were warnings given that the Prime Minister ignored. I will happily give way to the Prime Minister if he wants to correct the record about The New York Times, because this was a very serious, major investigation by a global newspaper, and the Prime Minister’s comments earlier do not reflect the gravity of the allegations in The New York Times article. The Prime Minister seems otherwise engaged.
I want to make some progress. There are unanswered questions about all the allegations, all the credible evidence that was given to the Prime Minister, including in The New York Times, and the warnings from the Deputy Prime Minister. I will even give way to the Deputy Prime Minister if he wants to tell us about the warnings that he gave. It would be nice to hear from him, because he has not looked very happy during this debate, and if he wants to share his unhappiness with us, I am sure that we would all love to hear it. He is saving it for his memoirs.
There are unanswered questions about BSkyB. There are real questions about what conversations—important conversations—the Prime Minister had about BSkyB with James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks; he should have raised that. These questions are not going to go away. They will continue until he answers them.
Today the House rises for more than six weeks for the summer recess. We will debate other issues, and rightly so, but we all have a collective responsibility to ensure that this is not an event where the whirlwind blows through and nothing really changes. We have to bring about lasting change. That is the duty we owe to the victims of phone hacking. It is a duty we owe to the people of this country.
Order. In view of the number of Members seeking to take part in the debate, I have imposed an eight-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches with immediate effect, but I emphasise to the House that that limit is reviewable.
Today’s debate is part of a long saga that probably still has some way to go. That saga began, arguably, with the arrest of Clive Goodman, and before that, possibly with the Operation Motorman inquiries to the Information Commissioner, or before that, with the inquiry held by my predecessor as Chairman of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, Sir Gerald Kaufman, in which Rebekah Brooks first spoke about payments to police officers.
The Select Committee spent a long time yesterday taking evidence from Rupert and James Murdoch, and from Rebekah Brooks—something like five hours in total. I apologise to the House for the fact that, unlike Keith Vaz—my colleague who chairs the Home Affairs Committee—we have not yet managed to produce a report. We may well still do so.
We have not produced a report, but we have had some success. Yesterday, as the hon. Gentleman will recall, the Murdochs admitted for the first time that News International was paying the legal fees of the private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire. It is now being reported that that has stopped. Does he agree that that is absolutely right and proper, because one cannot apologise to the Dowler family on the one hand and still pay the fees of the private investigator who hacked their phones on the other?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I was going to deal with that matter. He is absolutely right to identify it. I thought it important that Rupert and James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks came to Parliament. We were warned about legal difficulties and their inability to answer questions. I have to say that I think they genuinely tried to prove as helpful as they could be within those constraints, but the important thing is that they, the leaders of the company at the time, came to give an account of that company—in Parliament, in public. That could only have happened in this place, and that is one of the reasons why Select Committees have an important role. I was therefore particularly sad that their appearance was marred by the incident to which Mr Speaker has referred. It did not serve the interests of those who dislike Rupert and James Murdoch; it distracted attention from the very important matters about which we were attempting to probe them, and the fact that they were treated in that way reflected no credit on Parliament or the Committee. The inquiry that Mr Speaker has spoken about is extremely important.
We asked very detailed questions. There are three areas where there are still significant questions to be asked. One, which was raised by a number of my colleagues, is why the payments to Gordon Taylor and Max Clifford were so large, and why subsequent payments to other victims of phone hacking were considerably smaller. The second is on the issue that Paul Farrelly raised: the continuing payment of Glenn Mulcaire’s legal fees. I am delighted to hear from the hon. Gentleman that that has now stopped.
The third issue—another one that the hon. Gentleman was very robust in pursuing—concerns the e-mails handed over to the solicitors Harbottle & Lewis for examination, which led to Harbottle & Lewis writing to News International to say that the e-mails contained no evidence that any other person was involved. This morning I received a letter from Harbottle & Lewis, which says that it
“asked News International’s solicitors at BCL Burton Copeland whether their client is prepared to waive the confidentiality and legal professional privilege which attaches to their Correspondence”.
That request has been refused. I understand that that refusal was made before Rupert and James Murdoch gave evidence to the Committee. I hope that in the light of the assurance that Rupert and James Murdoch gave us of their wish to co-operate as much as possible, the firm will review that decision and perhaps release Harbottle & Lewis from the arrangement, so that we can see the correspondence.
It is not just Harbottle & Lewis; an inquiry was also undertaken by Burton Copeland—we have not seen the outcome—and the inquiry that News International undertook, in which it said it looked at 2,500 e-mails and failed to find any evidence. It would be interesting to learn further details of the rigour of that particular investigation. At the end of the day, it all boils down to whether one believes the evidence given to us. The Select Committee does not have access to e-mails on servers, or to the papers that were seized from Glenn Mulcaire, Jonathan Rees and other people. All we have is the testimony given to us by the witnesses. We certainly tested them yesterday for five hours. I think that testimony is now on the record, and people can judge.
I just worry that perhaps the hon. Gentleman is accepting at face value rather too readily what the Murdochs said yesterday in relation to corporate governance. The answer seemed to be that they did not know anything—that the company was too big for them to know about anything that was going on in the News of the World. It seems to me that that is a failure of corporate governance in the company, because the whole point of a non-executive director, or a director, is that they have to make sure that they know enough about their company to ensure that there is no criminality and that it always works within the law. The argument that they knew nothing is no defence.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. There was undoubtedly a failure of corporate governance, and that may well exercise the minds of the shareholders of News Corp, and perhaps even the American authorities.
Reference has been made to The New York Times article, which I remember well. Part of the problem was that the quotation that I think the Leader of the Opposition read out was from an unnamed former editor. Sean Hoare was named. He was the only individual who was. Sadly, the late Sean Hoare was an individual whose testimony some people felt might not be wholly reliable.
I know that it was widely believed that Sean Hoare’s testimony would not stand up in court.
I want to raise one other matter that relates to the actions that could have been taken by the previous Government. The one recommendation from the Information Commissioner, right back at the time of the “What price privacy?” report, was that the maximum penalty for breach of the Data Protection Act 1998 should be a custodial sentence. Press freedom is protected because there is a public interest defence in that Act. My understanding is that Mr Straw, who was the Home Secretary at the time, accepted that recommendation and it was Government policy to impose a custodial sentence as a maximum sentence, but he was then overruled by the then Prime Minister following pressure from the media.
The answer, which I will explain in more detail if I catch Mr Speaker’s eye, is that provisions to do both are on the statute book. They are in section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, and it is a matter for the Government to implement them. It is quite wrong for the Government to assert that we took no action. We did act, consistently, with the Information Commissioner’s report.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will elaborate, because he is right to say that the measure is on the statute book, but it would have required a statutory instrument, I think, to implement, and that SI was going to be introduced, but was then dropped following meetings that took place in Downing street between members of the media and the Prime Minister.
The two issues that we are debating this afternoon—freedom of the media and the honesty of the police—are both absolutely fundamental to a free society. Therefore, I welcome the inquiries and the judicial review. I urge a slight note of caution on my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he says that he is contemplating whether politicians should be entirely removed from the process of assessing whether newspaper, press or media acquisitions or mergers should take place. There is a public interest test, and it is elected and accountable politicians who, ultimately, should determine the public interest. If politicians are entirely removed from the process, you have people who are unelected and unaccountable, and I am not sure that that is wholly desirable. However, I am sure that that is something that the review will wish to examine in due course.
I would also like to say a brief word in defence of the Press Complaints Commission, which does good work for many individuals who have specific complaints against single reports that have appeared in newspapers. It is a good complaint-handling organisation, but it was never intended to deal with the regular systemic breaches of the code, indeed breaches of the law, that are now being exposed. However, the fact that it did the job that it was asked to do well does not mean that we do not now need a stronger and more independent regulator, and I do believe that we have reached that time.
Does my hon. Friend think that it would be helpful, when a newspaper makes an apology, if the apology were on the same page and took up the same amount of space as the original offending article?
There is a requirement in the Press Complaints Commission code that an adjudication of the PCC should be given due prominence. Three years ago the Select Committee recommended that that meant that it should at the very least be on the same page as the original article, or even earlier in the paper, but certainly not later. So yes, I agree with my hon. Friend.
It is right that we examine these matters, but we need to bear in mind that the media in this country are changing beyond recognition. The power of online distribution of news, which is where the advertising is going and where people wishing to find out the news are going, is changing the media landscape. The truth is that we may not have newspapers for very much longer in this country. Certainly there will be a number of closures because of the dramatic shift, the structural change, taking place in the media. Therefore we need to be careful that when we set up a regulatory structure it takes account of the new landscape, not the old.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr Whittingdale. I congratulate him and his Committee on the excellent work that they have done in their inquiry. I thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing the House to sit for this extra day, and the Prime Minister for coming to the House and making such a very long statement and answering so many questions.
Yesterday was a good day for Parliament. Along the corridor of the Grimond Room and the Wilson Room, the Select Committees for Culture, Media and Sport and for Home Affairs were simultaneously holding hearings. We in our Committee did not have the drama of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearing, and I know that you, Mr Speaker, have instituted a security investigation. Perhaps there were no police officers around because most of them were giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee. We took evidence from both the former commissioner and the former assistant commissioner, and there were a lot of police officers there.
I pay tribute to the work of my Committee Clerks, and to the Committee. We basically locked the doors in the Grimond Room to ensure that we agreed the report that is before the House today. I will speak only briefly about these issues. The report has 122 paragraphs and it was published at 5 o’clock this morning. But there is an opportunity for those participating in this debate to look at the report’s conclusions, which we began as early as last October. I thank members of the Committee, three of whom—the hon. Members for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) and for Northampton North
The report’s conclusions centre on three areas—first, the police, secondly, the mobile phone companies, and thirdly, we touched on News International, only in respect of its co-operation or lack of co-operation with the police. We found a catalogue of failures by the Metropolitan police. We looked at the first investigation and we took evidence from Mr Clarke, a senior officer, very distinguished in relation to counter-terrorism. But Mr Clarke felt that he could not proceed with his inquiry, the first inquiry—we provided a useful timeline for hon. Members just after the first chapter, which sets out when these inquiries took place—because he felt that he was deliberately thwarted by News International. We took evidence from Mr Hayman, and the report speaks for itself in respect of his cavalier attitude to the Committee, and indeed to his relationship with News International. We questioned the relationship between the police and New International whereby there appeared to be a revolving door. Former senior police officers ended up writing articles in News International titles, and former employees of News International ended up working for the Metropolitan police and advising the commissioner for £1,000 a day.
The second inquiry, we felt, was also very poor. To give him his credit, John Yates was very clear. He used more colourful language when speaking to Sunday newspapers, but we thought that it was a serious misjudgment that on
May I take the right hon. Gentleman back to 2006? Did he find as part of his investigation that the Attorney-General had been informed in 2006—on
No witness who came before the Committee has said that to us, but I am happy to write to the previous Attorney-General to ask whether in fact he or she—I have forgotten who it was at the time—was informed.
I will not give way a second time, but I am happy to talk to the hon. and learned Gentleman later, or if he catches Mr Speaker’s eye he could make his points then. I shall be happy to write to the previous Attorney-General if that helps.
We come to the end of the second police investigation and the failure of the police to inspect the evidence in their possession adequately and thoroughly. The risk was that waiting for a certain length of time with, as Mr Yates described it, bin bags full of evidence, there is the possibility that the Metropolitan police would have disposed of that evidence. Just in time, Operation Weeting was established. We all agreed that Sue Akers gave excellent evidence to the Committee. We want to ensure that she has all the resources she can possibly need. That is one of our recommendations. Although when I last pressed the Prime Minister on the issue, at the Dispatch Box a week ago, he said that he was leaving it up to the Metropolitan police to decide on resources, Sue Akers really does need more resources. There are 12,800 names; she has cleared 170 and is clearing them at the rate of 30 a month. We made a calculation, which is not in the report, that that process could go on for several decades. It will take at least a decade unless we give her the resources that she needs. We have confidence in Sue Akers. We believe that she will complete her investigation properly.
There are many issues in the report, but I want to highlight two relevant points. The first concerns the arguments that went on throughout the whole process between the Director of Public Prosecutions and the police. The hon. Member for Rochester and Strood pursued that issue vigorously with all our witnesses, and I am sure if he catches your eye Mr Speaker, he will be able to enlighten the House on what he and the Committee saw as the problem. Suffice to say that it is not helpful when such things happen. We should like to see the Crown Prosecution Service and the police working closely together.
We have heard that there was a culture of too much closeness between those in power and those in News International. Did the Committee hear evidence that a political steer was given to the police to direct them away from investigations? I say that in the light of the fact that Members on the Opposition Front Bench today seem to think it appropriate for the Prime Minister to engage in operational discussions with the police while they are carrying out an inquiry.
We heard no such evidence, as the hon. Gentleman can confirm if he reads the report.
My final point is about mobile phone companies. They have a responsibility to inform their customers if they have been hacked. We saw a difference of approach between the big providers; Members may want to check their contracts. Only O2 informed customers when their phones were hacked. The others either did not inform their customers or waited for the police to tell them that the inquiry was over. Their customers remained uninformed about the hacking, which is why there is such a build-up of information.
I agree with what the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have said today. Our concern is that the victims were not put first. If we had put the victims first in 2006, if Mr Hayman, Mr Clarke and Mr Yates had done that, we would never have got into the position where all the evidence was not thoroughly looked at. I welcome the inquiry and I have no objection to any member of the panel mentioned in the House today. Putting Shami Chakrabarti on the same panel as a former chief constable is a very good idea; it contains a good balance. I hope that recommendations will be made as quickly as possible. I am sure the Prime Minister is the last person in the world to want this to drag on.
The victims want closure. After such a long debate, and such a long statement and endless questions, we all want closure, so the sooner we get the investigations completed the better—but as the Committee says, we must never forget the victims. They are the people who have suffered the most.
I want to raise three points. Although I congratulate Keith Vaz on his Committee’s report, one or two loose ends seem not to have been followed up. On
“a vast number of unique voicemail numbers belonging to high-profile individuals (politicians, celebrities) have been identified as being accessed without authority. These may be the subject of wider investigation.”
In a memorandum dated
“It was recognised early in this case that the investigation was likely to reveal a vast array of offending behaviour.”
However, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police concluded that aspects of the investigation could be focused on a discrete area of offending relating to two officials at the palace and the suspects Goodman and Mulcaire.
From those documents, it is absolutely manifest that the Attorney-General in the previous Government, who sits when appropriate in the Cabinet, was informed that there was “a vast array” of offending behaviour in which hundreds of celebrities, Members of the House and of the other place and others had had their phones accessed without authority. Why was nothing done?
The Leader of the Opposition has left the Chamber. Can he or former members of the Cabinet tell us whether the Attorney-General in 2006 brought to the attention of his colleagues the fact that a vast array of offending behaviour had been committed by News International but it was not intended that it be investigated by the police? The Attorney-General has a solemn duty to draw to the attention of the Cabinet such matters if they affect the public interest. The Attorney-General has a right of oversight of the CPS—the ultimate resort—and could at least instruct that advice be given to the police on such matters. Why was nothing done?
I invite the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee to call for that evidence and to examine it closely, because it seems to me a matter of the most pressing public interest.
The hon. and learned Gentleman invites members of the then Cabinet at large to say whether the information was ever shared with them by the then Attorney-General. I can only speak for myself. I served in that Cabinet and subsequent ones and on no occasion do I recall that Attorney-General, or any Attorney-General, ever informing members of the Cabinet either at a formal meeting or informally, of an ongoing investigation. Even when I was Home Secretary, the Attorney-General of the day would never have informed me about an investigation and decisions he or she had made, nor would I have sought that information.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that information, but the fact remains that the Attorney-General under the previous Government appears to have countenanced a prosecution strategy when he and the then Director of Public Prosecutions knew that the voicemails of hundreds of individuals had been accessed.
When the former Home Secretary spoke a moment ago, he used the words, “or informally”. Does my hon. Friend think that one aspect that may need examining is whether the matter was another subject that fell into the “sofa Government” category, and that the Attorney-General may have spoken to the Prime Minister or one or two others, but it was not brought before the full Cabinet?
The matter needs to be closely examined, and the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee has taken it on board. With the greatest respect to the Attorney-General at the time, if he was informed of the matter, he should have interested himself in exactly how the investigation would be conducted. On the face of it, an enormous amount of wrongdoing was simply ignored. The police appear to have proposed a strategy, which would, as the briefing paper put it to the Attorney-General, “ring-fence” Mulcaire and Goodman and exclude a whole raft of serious criminal wrongdoing from investigation. That may well have affected Members.
I do not know to whom the Committee refers when it says that neither Ministers nor the police escalated the matter. As the Committee put it, if Ministers at the time had taken those issues sufficiently seriously, the matter would have been investigated. The truth would have been discovered then and we could have avoided a whole series of events that we now know unfolded.
My second point is about the review suggested by then Deputy Assistant Commissioner Yates. The Home Affairs Committee has rightly judged, in tone and substance, its criticisms of Mr Yates and Mr Hayman. There are serious questions to be asked about why an investigation or a review—I appreciate that it was not a formal review—that was carried out in eight hours apparently failed to read material that, as the former Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions was able to determine in a few minutes, gave rise to the gravest illegalities. On the face of it, that is either wilful blindness or rank incompetence. Whatever the reason, Mr Yates’s resignation was right and done for proper reasons. It is inconceivable that, if the exercise had been carried out properly, the material would not have come to light in 2009. Questions arise about the closeness of officers of the Metropolitan police to News International and whether that deflected and deterred them from a rigorous analysis of the evidence that had been in their possession since 2006. It was not only in their possession, but, as the memorandum of
“a vast array of offending behaviour.”
I do not know many of the details that my hon. Friend has given to the House, but the Select Committee heard that a great deal of the evidence was never examined, either in the original investigation or in the course of the review, so it could not be known what possible criminal behaviour had occurred, in addition to the hundreds and thousands of names involved. The e-mails that my hon. Friend mentioned are slightly different. News International supplied them internally and they had not been held by the police. They were supplied to the solicitors who gave them in May to the former DPP, who quickly saw wrongdoing in them.
My hon. Friend is right that new material was supplied by Harbottle & Lewis, but I am referring to material that was in the possession of the police in 2006—mobile phone records, about which they told the then Attorney-General, “Look we’ve got a vast array of offending behaviour here. What are we going to do?” The instruction—or at least the approval—that came from on high appears to have been, “Confine it. Keep out the penumbra of offending behaviour you could examine and confine it to Mulcaire and Goodman.” That was wrong. With hindsight, we now see that that judgment was fundamentally flawed. The matter should have been investigated. Why was it not?
One cannot resist the conclusion that, until it became apparent that ordinary members of the public—Milly Dowler, soldiers who fought for this country—had also been subject to hacking, the Labour Government’s approach was that politicians and celebrities were fair game, so it was not a serious matter. The Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee reported that Mr Clarke gave as his justification the fact that he did not have many resources and that he was also dealing with terrorism at the time. Frankly, the clear impression is given that the matter was not very serious. One suspects that that is why no action was taken.
It has been suggested that the Prime Minister’s chief of staff was wrong to decline an invitation to be briefed in 2010. The surprise is that the offer was ever made, not that it was declined. The chief of staff did exactly the right thing. In 2010, when The New York Times published the report, the Prime Minister was right: he needed evidence. He could not act on anything else.
In his speech, the Prime Minister reminded us of his previous incarnation working for ITV. That reminded me of the first broadcasting measure that I considered while in opposition last time round, when the technical director of ITV told us what was happening about convergence. I do not often agree with Mr Cash but I support his early-day motion, which I willingly signed because it is important to deal with the issue on a multi-media basis. The world in which we live—indeed, the world in which we lived in the early 1990s, though no Members of Parliament had adequately recognised what was happening—means that the nature of our relationship with broadcasters and the providers of other media outlets has fundamentally changed. That is a hugely important aspect, on which the House needs to reflect.
A couple of issues have cropped up that, I think as a result of that observation, are increasingly important. We need to ensure that during the inquiry, all records, particularly electronic records, are made available at all stages. I was disappointed to hear, in a response earlier, that Harbottle & Lewis have not been given freedom by News International to release documents that have come their way. Putting restrictions on Harbottle & Lewis undermines the credibility of the apology given by News International. I urge my colleagues in the Culture, Media and Sport Committee and the Home Affairs Committee to keep on pressing that one, and push News International to change its position.
I want to focus my remarks on the technical issues of hacking. When, on
“To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will make a statement on the Metropolitan police investigation into phone hacking by the News of the Worldnewspaper.”—[Hansard, 6 September 2010; Vol. 515, c. 23.], a very productive exchange took place. After the Home Secretary’s response, my hon. Friend, responding to three claims, corrected the Home Secretary’s understanding. Claim No. 1 was that there was no new evidence; there was. Claim No. 2 was that people were cleared by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee; they were not. Claim No. 3 was that a single, rogue reporter was responsible; clearly he was not. That was known in September 2010 and that knowledge has developed since.
In questions following the statement I asked the Home Secretary whether she had any knowledge of how many of the—at that stage 91—PIN numbers that had got into the public domain were default numbers and how many were obtained as a result of what, technically, I would call a hacking exercise as distinct from an invasion of privacy, but the answer was not forthcoming. At that time alarm bells should have rung, because the Home Secretary, and certainly her advisers, must have been aware that there were not 91 default PIN numbers available; only a handful of default numbers were used, one each by the major operators and perhaps a couple more in special account situations. At that stage it was clear that a substantial number had been hacked by sophisticated means, not just by knowledge of default numbers.
We knew at that time, from a response given to my right hon. Friend Alan Johnson, the previous Home Secretary, that nearly 3,000 people were on the list of possible hacked victims. We hear that the figure is now 12,800. A substantial number of those operations have clearly been undertaken by extremely sophisticated means, and the seriousness of that point is that it brings us back to several fundamental questions.
First, and very obviously, where did the phone numbers come from? A lot of colleagues who might be victims give their phone numbers out willy-nilly; more fool all of us for being so publicity-hungry. Perhaps we too readily give out our mobile numbers, but an awful lot of people, like the Dowler family, or victims of the 7/7 bombings and other potential victims, have had their basic telephone number—not a PIN number—released by a third party. There is a very serious point, which goes to the heart of part of the investigation—to what extent should we look at the role of the police in releasing those numbers? Some numbers were accessed by using published numbers plus the default system, some were technically hacked at a very sophisticated level, and some must have come from the police.
In the report that the Culture, Media and Sport Committee released, there is a transcript of a conversation that took place between Glenn Mulcaire and the mobile operators, which shows that force is not used; it is blagging, where investigators pass themselves off as someone else and get the mobile company to reveal the PIN number. Obviously, we need to address that problem with the mobile companies.
The hon. Gentleman is right, because the fourth strand is indeed the way in which the mobile companies operate security. He attended a demonstration that I staged recently on one use of malware. We have a lot to learn in this place, and it is incumbent on us to look at all four strands as part of these inquiries and ensure that we are better informed, to ensure that when we consider legislation in future, we get to the bottom of these extremely serious issues.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East has, by his persistence, done not just the House a favour, but the country. He and I have had disagreements on how technical legislation ought to be formed, but this is one matter on which the House can unite. We should ensure that every strand of inquiry is properly undertaken, and that the subsequent legislation, which will undoubtedly be necessary, covers all those points.
My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I are very grateful that Mr Speaker has given us the opportunity of these debates. I follow Andrew Miller in saying that I understand exactly the arguments for proper technical investigation.
The House knows that on at least two occasions, and by two different newspaper organisations, I was the subject of the illegal acquisition of information. The second time, my phone was hacked. I was one of the people who gave evidence in the trial that led to the conviction and imprisonment of Mr Mulcaire and Mr Goodman, but I hope that nothing I say today is prejudiced by vengefulness. I have a view, and have always had a view, that the issue is not about us—Chris Bryant and I have often made the point that we can easily defend ourselves—but about our constituents, friends and families, and the people who left and received the messages. We now discover that it is also about ordinary people who were not just in the public eye, but at their most vulnerable and in their time of greatest need, when they least deserved to have their privacy invaded in the most gratuitous and offensive way.
In a second—I shall continue, if I may.
I welcome what the Prime Minister said about the inquiry being extended to all police forces and not just the Metropolitan police, and to all forms of media. I am clear that it should also include looking at appropriate Cabinet papers—I hope that the appropriate releases will be made—party papers, and papers held by previous Ministers in all Administrations. Why? The Prime Minister said that, “There are issues of excessive closeness to media groups and media owners where both Labour and Conservatives have to make a fresh start”, but my Liberal Democrat Friends and others feel that there are not just “issues”, but evidence of dangerous and unhealthy “closeness” in Administrations for at least the past 20 years. Colleagues in both Houses—I am not claiming this for myself—have made that point at every available opportunity. All Liberal Democrat party leaders of the past 20 years, from Lord Ashdown, my right hon. Friend Mr Kennedy and my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Menzies Campbell, to my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, have made that point continuously with other colleagues, on the record, for the past 20 years.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that sometimes, that closeness might have led Governments to take policy decisions that they would not have taken otherwise?
My right hon. Friend is right, and there is clear evidence for that, and I can perhaps use his intervention to elaborate.
The Competition Bill that was introduced by the Labour Government in 1997 dealt with predatory pricing, including among petrol retailers and supermarkets. My colleagues in the other place, led by Lord McNally, who is now a Justice Minister, managed to pass an amendment that would have included newspapers. The amendment was taken out by the Labour Government—although there were some Labour rebels—when the Bill returned to the Commons. It was absolutely clear that the Labour Government did not want to touch the media empires when they were imposing a tougher competitive regime on other sectors of British industry. I am very clear that that relates to the obvious and evidenced relationships that started under the Thatcher and Major Administrations and continued under the Blair and Brown Administrations. Obviously, such relationships also continued into the beginning of this Government as far as the Conservative party is concerned.
My colleagues and I were clear about that and we tried to do something about it. Lord Taylor of Goss Moor tried to deal with the competitive pricing issue in the House of Commons, and in 1998, Lord McNally said very clearly:
“Concentration of power, married with the advance in technologies, offers a challenge to democratic governments and free societies which we have scarcely begun to address.”
How right he was. Those debates also went to the dominance of particular newspaper titles and the influence of their owners, particularly in relation to the Murdoch empire.
I agree absolutely with the right hon. Gentleman about ensuring that we have a suitable spread of media ownership so that we do not have a concentration of power, but does he agree that a concentration of media power in no way excuses the powerful from exercising their own moral sense and making the right decisions? The idea that a public inquiry might have been put off because of party interest, rather than the national interest, is nothing short of disgraceful, if true.
I absolutely agree. The speech that Mr Brown made in the other day’s debate was not at all persuasive about that point. There were calls for a judicial inquiry from my right hon. Friend Chris Huhne, my hon. Friend Mr Sanders and others. That was on the previous Government’s agenda, so it could have been held, just as legislation could have been implemented following the Information Commissioner’s report and recommendations. However, we had neither an inquiry nor the implementation of higher penalties.
I will not, because I want to make some progress, but if I have any spare time, of course I will.
We gave warnings from 2009 that the fit and proper person test needed to be applied more robustly and that we needed to be aware of the abuse of positions. I just record that right up to last year’s general election, and indeed to December 2010, my right hon. Friends the Deputy Prime Minister and for Twickenham (Vince Cable) assiduously made the case that there was something very rotten in the way in which we regulated the media industry.
The warnings from our party about Andy Coulson started in May 2009. They were made on record and off the record. We regret that they were not heeded, but the decision was not for us, but for the Prime Minister, and he explained it today. As a postscript, however, let me say that from all that I know, have read and have heard, Ed Llewellyn’s role has been entirely beyond reproach throughout. I do not think that anything that he did or did not do can be regarded as inappropriate in the context of the investigations.
I wanted to make some comments about where we should go, so let me start with the media and Ofcom. The existing legislation needs to be improved because the way in which a fit and proper person test—either corporate or individual—is formed is not clear, so it is difficult to apply. My hon. Friend asks me whether the test is assiduously applied over the period for which a licence is held. In theory it is, because Ofcom will say that it does that, but it is not obvious that there is a process of regular review. In addition, things can change, such as if people commit criminal offences, so we need a more transparent process.
I will see if I have time, but I want to set out what needs to be done.
We need to look again at the question of excessive market share, and we need separately to consider broadcasting, television, the new media and the written press. We must be absolutely clear that that does not mean that we should be hostile to international ownership —that would be an inappropriate and nationalistic view—but the same rules should apply to elements of the press whether they are domestically or internationally owned.
We need to be absolutely clear that the media must put their house in order—the Attorney-General recently had to intervene on such a matter—by stopping any reporting that presumes that people are guilty when that has not been proved. That applies to all of us—I have tried to be careful about such issues—whether in the political context or otherwise. There have been scandalous examples of people being presumed guilty before the courts have considered their case. In addition, as has been said, there is no proper complaint process with a right of reply. It is imperative that any withdrawal is published by the press in the same size and place as the inappropriate allegation.
As my hon. Friend Stephen Williams argued, I hope that the Government will review their future advertising policy. Whoever is in government should not place adverts with media outlets that have been found to be guilty of offences, or breaches of codes of conduct, because that would be entirely inconsistent.
Finally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay said in the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport yesterday, we must get to the bottom of the term, “wilful blindness”. The evidence that we heard yesterday, as has been argued, suggested that the people at the top were saying, “I knew nothing” and were not even asking about what was going on further down the chain. That is unacceptable. Chief executives, chairmen and executive directors have responsibility and they should exercise it.
As my hon. Friend Tessa Munt has argued, we must end windfall payments, bonuses and pay-offs when people leave the service because they have broken the rules. We must end the way in which the police tip the media off about arrests so that the media turn up to film them or photograph them. We must make sure that the police do not brief people so that individuals who have not been proved guilty are in the headlines as if they were. We clearly need a better complaints procedure. The police service, not just the Met, must have much better corporate responsibility.
I want to deal with three issues, the first of which is the Prime Minister’s opaque answers to the very straight question about whether in the course of his 26 meetings with representatives of News International the BSkyB bid was discussed.
The Prime Minister is trying, understandably, to develop a reputation for straight dealing, but I am afraid that that was not what we saw. He was all over the place, relying on suggestion. In one answer, he said that he had not acted outside the ministerial code—that was not the question. In another, he relied on an answer given by Rebekah Brooks. The answer to that question is very straightforward—it is either yes or no—and I hope that the Minister will provide it when he winds up the debate.
Secondly, I want to consider what followed the Information Commissioner’s report on breaches of data protection rules in 2006. It is incorrect to state, as the Conservative research department did in its briefing this morning, that we took no action. It is important that the House understands that we did take action, as we agreed with the report, and in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 we introduced powers to increase the penalties for a breach of section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998 from a fine to up to two years’ imprisonment on indictment. There was a substantial objection to that provision from the media, who said that there was no proper public interest offence. Above all, may I tell the Conservatives, particularly the briefers in their research department, that a powerful objection was expressed by Members on the Conservative Front Bench? Mr Garnier, said in Committee:
“The facts and arguments that I have presented to the Committee suggested that existing penalties”— which, as I said, were a fine only—
“are more than sufficient to deal with offences under section 55.”––[Official Report, Criminal Justice and Immigration Public Bill Committee,
I hope that we hear no more from Government Members suggesting that we did not take action.
There was then a negotiation between the Information Commissioner, media representatives and me. We tabled new provisions that provided for the public interest defence, entirely correctly, and we provided new penalties of imprisonment under section 76 of the 2008 Act, to be imposed by affirmative order. I consulted on that towards the end of the previous Parliament. We lost the election, and the duty to consider the consultations and make decisions fell to my successors. I assume that the consultations have concluded—if not, they should be concluded immediately—and the Secretary of State for Justice should come to the House to bring both parts of that provision into force.
I do not answer for the Conservative Front Bench, but I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport called unanimously for the Information Commissioner’s recommendation to be implemented. We welcome the fact that the Ministry of Justice has issued a consultation paper, but it is still my understanding that representatives of The Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and News International went to meet the Prime Minister to argue forcefully that that consultation should be dropped and that custodial sentences should not be imposed.
If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the previous Administration, what he says is exactly correct. It is certainly true that representatives went to see the Prime Minister. They also came to see me. I had a discussion with them—they were entitled to their view—and I said, “We will have a public interest defence, but we will also have this increase in penalties to two years’ imprisonment on the statute book,” and both happened. It is there on the face of the Act. I would have introduced—
It was not implemented at the time because we were required by the provisions which the Conservatives were desperate for—they would have done nothing. It was in the face of not only press opposition but Conservative opposition that I moved in the way I did to consider the matter. Both provisions went on the statute book, and both are there. I would have introduced both of them, had we won the election. Sadly, for this and other reasons, we failed to do so. It is up to my successor to follow that up.
In practice, in those circumstances, it probably could not have done. My only regret is that I listened too much to the Conservative Opposition. It is not a mistake I will make again.
On press regulation, I listened carefully to what the Prime Minister had to say. His formulation of independent regulation is a sensible one, if I may say so. As I wrote in an article in The Times on Monday, which was a synopsis of a lecture I gave last week, it is important that we do not frame the debate about press regulation in terms of four legs good, two legs bad, so to speak—between self-regulation, which is apparently good, and imposed regulation, which is apparently bad. We must have a balance between the two.
The press will always be subject to the general law—the law of defamation, the law of copyright, and the emerging law of privacy. That is entirely correct. It is also the case that there should be a high degree of self-regulation, but self-regulation, as we now know, cannot operate by itself because ultimately self-regulation is self-serving. The best proof of the failure of self-regulation is the fact that the Express newspaper group withdrew altogether from the Press Complaints Commission structure in January this year, rendering any possibility of sanction by the PCC nugatory.
So there has to be a statutory framework, but I suggest that that statutory framework can strengthen the freedom of the press if it is properly imposed. An independent press commission should be established, which should have a duty to protect and enhance the freedom of the press, as well as to protect the rights of individuals, particularly in respect of their privacy.
The membership of that body should not be appointed by Ministers or by Parliament. Instead, what should be established by law is an appointing committee at arm’s length from both that, in turn, on a formula, would appoint the independent members of that committee, and the majority of those members ought to be independent, not media representatives. As we have heard, the powers of that commission should include powers of investigation, powers to require a retraction and, in extremis, powers of financial penalty.
I profoundly disagree with my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Kinnock. There is not a parallel here between the broadcast media and the print media. That is a profound error. The broadcast media have to be statutorily regulated—apart from anything else, there is a shortage of spectrum and a high value on it. Of course, it has to be regulated, and in our culture, that regulation is subject to a requirement of balance. However, it would be antithetical to a democratic society to place a requirement of balance on the print media. Doing so, in turn, would also require newspapers to be licensed, which would be anathema.
Instead, we need the commission to establish these high standards. The Government should do what neither the Labour Government nor previous Governments going back more than 40 years did: follow the recommendations of the Younger commission and the late Sir David Calcutt’s committee in 1991 and put in place a tort of infringement of privacy, in addition to the development of a privacy law under the Human Rights Act 1998. Many will think that a slightly technical point, but it is of great importance. Each of us as citizens has direct rights if we are defamed or if our intellectual property rights to what we write are transgressed, but we do not have direct rights if our privacy is invaded. We should. The reforms that I have suggested, which I think can command support across the House—by the way, I am glad that the Press Complaints Commission said in The Times yesterday that it supports them too—could provide a basis for this House to make strong recommendations to Lord Leveson’s inquiry about the way forward.
I served on the Home Affairs Committee inquiry into this matter. I came to the inquiry straightforwardly; I had no previous involvement or personal interest in it. I heard the evidence given to the Committee and shared the conclusions that it came to and which I felt were justified by the evidence. I say with sadness that I am not satisfied with all the evidence that we heard from the police. I say that with sadness as somebody who has the greatest respect for the police. I do not believe that any taint has been put on the integrity of Sir Paul Stephenson or on the thousands of Metropolitan police officers who serve on the force, many of whom live in my constituency. However, questions remain unanswered about the conduct of the investigation, including the original investigation, which, as we now know, seems to have had catastrophic effects on the reputation of the police and, as we now know, on many individuals.
I heard the contribution from my hon. and learned Friend Mr Cox and agreed with many of the questions that came to his mind. As he said—and this was the evidence that the Committee heard—a considerable amount of material was seized from Mulcaire and Goodman, but the police did not properly pursue investigations with the material that they had. Indeed, some of the large quantities of material was not investigated or read at all, it would appear. Nor did the police look for further potentially relevant material in the normal way by searching premises, seizing documents and interviewing people. We now know that such material might have been at hand because we heard the evidence from the former Director of Public Prosecutions—as it happens, he now works for News International as its counsel—who, when asked to advise on this matter, saw some of the material that had been in the hands of News International and after brief consideration advised that it contained criminal matters that had to be referred to the police. I think that that was in May 2011—that is what the chronology suggests—not in 2005-06 when the matter first came to light.
I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said. I can show him the evidence if he wants. On
I have to say, having heard the evidence, that the answer to my hon. and learned Friend’s point remains hanging in the wind. I am not satisfied with the explanations that we have heard, which will appear in the evidence that will be published by the Home Affairs Committee. One explanation that was given by a senior investigating officer in the case was that the police had other priorities, and this matter was not regarded as sufficiently important when set beside them. We have to accept that police resources are limited and the police have to determine their priorities, but their credibility on the matter is not assisted by what the senior investigating officer of the case wrote about it—incidentally, in a News International newspaper of which he had subsequently become an employee. I am referring to Mr Hayman, who said:
“In the original inquiry, my heart sank when I was told the accusations came from the Palace. This was not the time for a half-hearted investigation—we put our best detectives on the case and left no stone unturned as officials breathed down our neck.”
I believe that was inconsistent with the evidence that we heard from the police about the priorities that they set themselves at the time. That is the honest conclusion that I have come to on the basis of that evidence.
The Committee has gone as far as it can. I believe we have gone to the limits of what a Select Committee can achieve in carrying out an investigation. These questions now remain to be resolved by others in the course of the Leveson inquiry, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has rightly set up, and further criminal investigations must go forward under the direction of Sue Akers in Operation Weeting. In view of the evidence that we have now heard from the former DPP and others, I will not be surprised if evidence is uncovered of further phone tapping, further payments to officers and, I am afraid, possibly other offences involving the corruption of police officers. I hope that that is not the case, but the important thing for the reputation of the police, the good reputation of many honest officers and the public interest is that these matters are now fully investigated impartially and independently, and that those investigations are carried through to their conclusion.
We have heard a great deal about the press. One catastrophic effect of the original failed investigation, along with the failed review carried out by Mr Yates in 2006, was that senior police officers went to see representatives of The Guardian, which had been carrying out an investigation, effectively to try to put them off further investigations by persuading them that their investigation, which was based upon matters that were seeping out through the civil courts, was exaggerated and unjustified. It is to the credit of The Guardian, and particularly its journalist Nick Davies, that it persisted with the investigation. I say that as somebody who is no great sympathiser with The Guardian—I do not expect to receive an invitation to lunch there any time soon, and I do not know the people concerned. However, that was to their credit, and it was an illustration of the value of a free press.
That brings me to my next point. It is very important to keep the criminal side of this separate from the issues that arise in respect of the regulation and ownership of a diverse, free and robust press. The matters that we have been talking about are criminal matters, not just matters of comment or of insufficient comeback from the Press Complaints Commission. They are serious criminal matters involving a wide range of people—politicians, celebrities and, as we have heard, many ordinary members of the public often in tragic circumstances. Each case has to be properly investigated, and anybody who has committed offences has to be brought to justice.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we must not forget that there is a presumption of innocence right at the core of our criminal justice system? It is all very well for us to debate matters and examine what speculation there is, but people are entitled to a fair trial in our country.
My hon. Friend is right, and that is why I have been very careful to refer to investigations that should take place, and which we now believe are taking place. We should not do anything that will either interfere with the proper course of those investigations or prejudice a fair trial for anybody who is brought to trial as a result of them. However, the question of a free and robust press is separate from that. An under-reaction would not be in the public interest, but neither would an overreaction, would could even be more damaging. We need a diverse, free and robust press that is unmuzzled.
Too great a concentration of broadcasting, which is so important, in one set of hands can be against the public interest. I heard what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in his statement, and I agree completely with him. He made some very valuable contributions, particularly when he referred to the position of the BBC, which is a sensitive matter. I feel—I suppose I would, as a Conservative—that there has at times been a certain amount of bias, or a predisposition, in the editorial line of the BBC, and that certain matters that should have been investigated or highlighted have not been given proper attention. It is to the credit of the BBC that its present director-general has said that, looking back, the BBC did not do full justice to the issue of immigration.
My hon. Friend is right, and this is particularly true in the case of immigration. It is now accepted on all sides—including by the Leader of the Opposition and some of those who advise him—that proper immigration control is a matter of the greatest public importance, but it has not been sufficiently highlighted in the past. It is not the broadcasters but parts of the print press that have reflected public concern on that issue. The broadcasters were prepared to leave it alone, but some newspapers have had the courage to highlight the issue and reflect the public concern that is felt in many places.
I should like briefly to give the House a further example of an issue that is of huge interest to our constituents and huge importance to the future of our country, but that is not dealt with properly by the BBC—namely, this country’s relationship with the European Union. The BBC’s coverage of the treaty of Lisbon and the debates on that matter in the House of Commons was pitiful. It pays no attention to many of our debates on European matters, and there seems to be a predisposition on the part of the BBC when it comes to matters relating to the European Union.
We must not merge the issues of the criminal conduct that has taken place with those relating to the freedom of the press. We need a free, robust and diverse press that can properly reflect the full range of opinions in this country, not just those that are predetermined by the BBC or by the narrow group of people who form the metropolitan elite and who fail to reflect the views of the overwhelming majority. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke for the country today on this subject. His reputation remains completely intact as a result of all this, and he has taken exactly the right approach to the investigations that he has set in hand and to the question of media ownership. I unreservedly commend his approach on those matters.
During the Prime Minister’s statement, several hon. Members, especially those seated on the Government Benches, asked whether this really matters. Let us face it, there are many other issues that are probably far more pressing and significant to our constituents, including jobs, the economy and the state of the national health service. For some, I admit, that list might also include Europe, although in my experience, Europe tends to be a long way down the list of things that really matter to my constituents.
Crime is normally at the top. However, the tendency to downplay this issue over the past few years has fed into the cover-up that was originally done by News International, and that was a mistake. I fully understand why it has happened on occasion. Boris Johnson was very foolish to say that this was
“a load of codswallop cooked up by the Labour party” for party political gain.
In the end, we have seen the two most senior police officers in this country lose their jobs—one of whom, I think, was falling not on his own sword but on the Prime Minister’s. We have also seen some very senior journalists and company executives lose their jobs, and serious questions have been asked about the way in which the police operate. This has called into question the integrity of the police, which in turn strikes at something that really matters to our constituents.
Earlier in the year, Mr Clappison was a little more sceptical about much of this, when he was questioning me and others about it. However, I think that he has seen, over the past few months, that the evidence from senior officers such as Assistant Commissioner Yates has been risible, and has not met the standards that we expect of a senior police officer in charge of counter-terrorism. I had never meet Andy Hayman until I saw him in the Home Affairs Committee the other day, and, frankly, I was shocked that someone of that calibre—or rather, lack of calibre—was in charge of counter-terrorism in this country. The heart of this matter is therefore probably not the original criminality, which undoubtedly was extensive but was in one sense relatively minor, in terms of the criminal law; far more significant is the cover-up that has taken place. I very much hope that people will not feel from yesterday afternoon that we have got to the bottom of what went on at News International.
Let us be clear about what happened. In the criminal case that was brought against Goodman and Mulcaire, both pleaded guilty. We already know that Mulcaire’s fees were paid by News International, even though he was not a full-time employee of the organisation. I presume that Clive Goodman’s legal fees were also met by News International, and that it encouraged them to plead guilty because it did not want this to go to full trial. It did not want all the evidence to come out into the public domain, because then, what the judge said at the end of the process might have been proved: that this was probably just the tip of a very large iceberg, and it certainly did not want the rest of the iceberg to be seen.
The reason why News International continued to pay Glenn Mulcaire’s legal fees, until this afternoon, as I understand it—I thought it was bizarre that James Murdoch still did not know whether it was paying them yesterday; anyway, today he said that it is not paying them any more—was that it wanted to keep control of the case and to make sure that he did not say anything additional that further incriminated other people at the newspaper, or in the wider company.
When the civil cases were brought, there was the next part of the cover-up. News International would have had to provide full disclosure of all the e-mails, all the transactions within the organisation and the whole way in which the scheme was put together whereby Mr Mulcaire engaged in all this activity. I believe that News International was absolutely desperate to make sure that that never came into the public domain, so the most important thing for it to do was to make sure that that never went to trial.
Yesterday afternoon, James Murdoch said that his lawyers had advised him at the time that they had to offer £700,000 to Gordon Taylor—I repeat, £700,000—because they were advised by their lawyers that if the matter went to litigation and the court found against them, they might have to pay £250,000 in damages, and in addition, they would have the costs of having run the case. However, James Murdoch must surely know—unless he is using really bad lawyers—of the part 36 procedure. Under it, when an offer is made—of £200,000, let us say—it is put into court and if the court itself does not offer more, the claimant has to pay the legal costs subsequently incurred, which in this case would be the greater part of £500,000. I am afraid that Mr James Murdoch yesterday was either extremely poorly briefed on the legal situation, or, frankly, he was still dissembling. I believe that in practice, what they were doing was paying £700,000 to Gordon Taylor—and also to Max Clifford—expressly to maintain the cover-up.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend noticed that James Murdoch used in his evidence a very ambivalent phrase that has a particular meaning in law and another in common parlance:
“Subsequent to our discovery of that information in one of the civil trials”.
That reinforces exactly the point my hon. Friend is making.
Then there were the subsequent civil cases, which could only be brought once The Guardian had run its story suggesting that there were many more victims of phone hacking. Some people started writing in to the Metropolitan police and then suing the police to force them to give them the information, so that they could then take action against News International and get full disclosure from it. It is only as a result of those cases that the cover-up has effectively been smashed apart.
There remains this issue of the material that was gathered and put into a file in 2007, including various e-mails and other pieces of paper, and given to Harbottle and Lewis. Only this year, it was shown to the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Macdonald, who said that, within three minutes of looking at it, he could see that there was material relating to the payment of police officers that should always have been given to the Metropolitan police. That seems to me a far greater criminal offence than the original criminal offence of phone hacking. That is why my concern is about the cover-up at the heart of this.
Yesterday, Rupert Murdoch was asked whether he was responsible and he said, “No,” but I am afraid that in this country we have to have a much stronger concept of responsibility. It is not just about whether something happens on one’s watch—that is ludicrously broad. If someone has taken all due diligence steps to try to ensure that criminality has not happened, then of course they are not personally responsible. But if someone’s argument is, “Our company is so big that I could not possibly be expected to know whether my journalists were being arrested for criminal activity or whether I was paying out £2 million in hush money,” then one must question whether they have a proper corporate governance structure or system in place to make sure that the same thing does not happen again next year or next week—or even that it is not happening now.
This is the difference between responsibility and fault. Rupert Murdoch was responsible for what happened in his corporation, but he may not have been at fault for what happened. However, that responsibility includes the real responsibility for checking that things were done properly. I think I support what the hon. Gentleman is saying.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, whom—this will ruin his career—I think of as a friend. He knows that if the colonel of a regiment had not done everything in his power to make sure that his privates understood the law on how somebody in Abu Ghraib was dealt with, for example, that colonel would be negligent and therefore, in part, responsible for that.
Did the hon. Gentleman share my incredulity about the attempts that were made yesterday when evidence was being given to play down the importance of the News of the World to the Murdoch empire? It may have been a small proportion of the overall empire, but I understand that it was the title with the largest circulation.
Indeed. In the end, if News Corp cannot provide better corporate governance, it needs to be split apart so that investors can have confidence in it and so that other, non-executive, members of the board can have confidence that they are not going to be held responsible in law for the failures of their company.
I agree wholeheartedly with all those who said that we do not want to muzzle the press. A very good point was made about Nick Davies, whose work in The Guardian has been a phenomenal piece of investigative journalism. This country is undoubtedly better because of that quality journalism. I am sure that there are times when such people have to skirt around the edges of legality but that does not mean they should do illegal things, especially given that half the time all they are looking for is minor tittle-tattle that is of no significance to the nation.
Many other issues need to be dealt with, but the final issue I shall raise today is about the 3,800 victims who have to be contacted. That is going to cost the taxpayer a fortune and I believe that News International should be paying the bill.
It is a pleasure to follow the very thoughtful speech of Chris Bryant about the phone hacking scandal and the work he has done. I know that he took a strong interest in our Select Committee hearing yesterday.
Although he is not in his place, I also want to thank my hon. Friend Mr Whittingdale, the Chairman of the Committee, for the great skill and care he showed in chairing yesterday’s very challenging Committee meeting. I thank also the Clerks of the Committee, who have done a huge amount of work in the past couple of weeks in preparation for that meeting.
The Prime Minister mentioned FIFA reform as an example of a story that has been generated by challenges to that organisation that have been made by the media and others outside it. I have taken a huge interest in that story, and I think it is absolutely right that that external pressure has been put on an organisation that would not otherwise reform itself. It does not have any kind of proper internal governance structure or other means for reporting and holding to account senior people within it. Although we might admire the kind of journalism that points the finger at organisations such as FIFA, media organisations have to learn from some of the internal governance structures and faults within such organisations. I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Member for Rhondda that it is not acceptable to have a situation in which, when wrongdoing is discovered, proprietors can say that they had no idea what had been going on at one level, and neither did the relevant person in the newsroom. If we believe what we were told by Rebekah Brooks in the Committee yesterday, stories were going into the News of the World without the editor, the news editor or that newspaper’s lawyers having full knowledge of their source. That is clearly not acceptable.
It is also unacceptable, when an organisation’s employees are under police investigation, when some are being sent to prison and when millions of pounds of compensation are being paid out by that organisation, for people at a senior level not to be fully aware of the seriousness of what is going on, and to be unable to act. That is a serious issue because one would hope that when people at the top of a professional organisation became aware of wrongdoing they would become the drivers for internal change and reform, and be the ones who make sure that things happen. The report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs shows that there are great concerns about how the Metropolitan police pursued this case and about the fact that evidence lay unchecked and unresearched for a good amount of time, which might have delayed the investigation for some years.
There is also a big challenge for News Corporation. Whatever comes out of the inquiry that has been set up to look into the work of the media and the police inquiry, News Corporation should reform its corporate governance structures so that it has a mechanism to ensure that this never happens again, and that people at a senior level can take the appropriate action at the appropriate time or be held to account at the highest level for the failure of that action.
My hon. Friend is making a strong point, as Chris Bryant did, about corporate governance needing to be changed. That is absolutely correct. Would my hon. Friend not also say that the culture and the mindset within which executives, even those at the lowest levels of these organisations, are working needs to change? It is not enough not to know what people in an organisation are doing; they need to know what they should and should not be doing.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The point I raised with Rupert Murdoch in the Committee yesterday was about where the boundaries of investigative journalism lie, and whether they are clearly understood. Most people who have worked with news organisations—particularly former employees of News International who have spoken out—would say there was tremendous pressure for scoops and news. Some former
News of the
World journalists, such as Dave Wooding, who was on “Newsnight” last night, would say that there was that pressure, but that does not mean that they broke the law to go and get stories, they just did their job very hard. There are allegations about other people in the organisation who might have broken the law to satisfy their paymasters, editors and proprietors.
There is clearly a great need for investigative journalism in this country. It gives us a transparent society, and there is a lot more to being a democracy than simply holding elections.
On this point about investigative journalism, will the hon. Gentleman disassociate himself from the disgraceful attempts that we heard earlier to smear Tom Baldwin for his role in a perfectly legitimate investigation that has been defended not only by The Times but by its then news editor, who now serves in the Government as the Secretary of State for Education, and who, following that investigation, described Lord Ashcroft as
“Ambassador for one foreign country and a tax exile in another”.
He also said that the credibility of the Conservative party was not enhanced by its then leader
“acting as the paid lobbyist for your own title-hungry Treasurer”.
All I would say is that I would apply the same rule as the Prime Minister: people are innocent until proven guilty. If there are charges and an investigation, that is one thing, but no charges have been brought against Mr Baldwin, so he is innocent until proven guilty, just as anyone else would be.
There is a great challenge of looking at the boundaries of investigative journalism and at what is right and what is wrong. There must surely be a cultural failure within many news organisations if people believe they are being pushed to do things that might lead to their breaking the law, and that must be addressed. What has been said in the debate so far about the regulation of the press is key and part of that involves internal regulation, the corporate governance of news organisations and how they regulate themselves. Mr Straw, who is no longer in his place, talked about his concerns about self-regulation. Although it is different in different industries, it can be made to work.
My experience working in the advertising industry was that a code enforced by the industry on itself would work. One of the big differences between advertising and the press is that there are real financial penalties for advertisers who break the code. If a company has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds producing commercials and advertisements that then get pulled, there is a big financial loss, and a big loss of face for a number of organisations that might have their messages pulled, too, which damages them in the eyes of consumers.
I declare an interest as the Member of Parliament representing News International in Wapping. Although we all support the principle of “innocent until proven guilty”, some victims of the hacking scandal—employees of News International—have lost their jobs; they are victims who will suffer, regardless of their guilt or otherwise.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and that is an important point. Going back to what I said about the importance of good structures of corporate governance there are victims within organisations that fail the test of corporate governance—innocent people who have done their jobs well lose out as a result of the mistakes of others. That is why it is so important that those structures should be there. Whatever lessons have been drawn from the scandal so far, that surely must be one lesson that the Murdochs have to learn from it; that is of the greatest importance.
Models of self-regulation can work, but clearly there is a need for total reform of the regulation of the press. The principle of a free press is, of course, of the highest importance. That must continue, but that does not mean that journalists can operate outside the law.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the self-regulation of the press in the 21st century has to be regarded as self-regulation, or regulation, of the media as a whole?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes an important point. The media and the news, in particular, work across multiple platforms; people get their news not just from newspapers, but from television and the internet, so there is a case for that, although that is quite a big and broad challenge. Certainly, among the regulators there should be people who have experience of multiple media platforms, and an understanding of what is acceptable. That is something to consider.
In the short time left to me, I want to raise a second point. We all agree that there is a good, strong, important case for free media and a free press, but there is also a strong role for the regulators with regard to mergers involving media organisations. There was discussion earlier about whether politicians should be taken out of the process. It would be wrong for politicians to exercise independent judgment outside of legitimate advice about what companies are fit and proper, and what companies should, or should not, be merged. That should be based on a good high degree of technical and professional knowledge.
Simon Hughes spoke, in answer to an intervention, about the application of a “fit and proper person” test. We on the Select Committee had a briefing about that from Ofcom, in whose eyes it is a real test. It has applied it in the past, and has removed broadcast licences from digital broadcasters in the past. I am sure that if Ofcom is monitoring this debate, it would be happy to send information about that to any hon. Members who have an interest in the issue.
We have an obligation to ensure that there is a free and open marketplace for media. The Leader of the Opposition raised his concern about the dominance of Sky in the pay TV market, but we have to look at that market as a whole, and not just one area of it. Yes, Sky is dominant in pay TV; ITV is also dominant when it comes to traditional advertising revenue generated from television. Most people probably get their news and content from the BBC. In the digital media age, all those will be accessible from one platform. When YouView launches next year, there will be more choice more easily available to consumers than ever before.
Although media companies are very different, it is right that we consider them as part of the same entity. We also have to consider that in the internet age, people will increasingly get their news from powerful online organisations such as Google, and social networking sites such as Facebook, which are out of the scope of the regulation of the UK media. We have to consider how media organisations in this country can compete with added pressure from those platforms, so we have to look at the totality of the media market.
We should recognise that newspapers are an enormously important part of our national life; many millions of people still enjoy buying and reading physical newspapers every week, as well as accessing them online, but newspapers, as a business model, struggle. They often succeed better when they are part of integrated media companies with the financial muscle to support them. To refer to remarks made earlier, that is why it is important that there should be oversight of the whole market, and that we consider the competitiveness and regulation of the whole market, and see it as a single entity producing news and taking it to people. When it is well run, healthy and respectable, it is of the greatest importance to a free society and a great democracy.
I declare to the House that I was in Oxford university Labour club with Rupert Murdoch, that when I was chairman of the club he was unseated as secretary for breaking the campaigning rules, but that our relationship was sufficiently repaired that by the time I worked for Harold Wilson at No. 10 Downing street and was his host at lunch, he had by then purchased the News of the World and The Sun, and both of those supported the Labour party in the 1970 election—for all the good that did!
The title of the debate demonstrates the Government’s shifty efforts to evade any sort of accountability for the events that have disgusted the nation over recent weeks. It is of course undeniable that there has been corrupt, possibly criminal, behaviour by senior figures at New Scotland Yard, and it is essential that these wrongdoings, both institutionally and by individuals, should be dealt with in the sternest way, particularly for the sake of the thousands of police officers doing a challenging job on behalf of the community.
It is undeniable too that there has been criminality in the News of the World,and that that criminality should be investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted. Senior figures in News International and News Corp have, however belatedly, expressed their contrition and, convincingly or otherwise, claimed ignorance of the worst excesses that have been revealed. I have to say that that reveals their inadequacy in holding the jobs that they did. When I worked at the Daily Mirror, which I did for nine years, and Hugh Cudlipp, that great journalist, was editorial director, he would have known what was going on—except that he would have stopped it going on before it happened. The standards have deteriorated in newspaper proprietorship.
It is difficult to reconcile what Rebekah Brooks told the Culture, Media and Sport Committee yesterday about payments to the police with what she told the Committee under my chairmanship on
“We have paid the police for information in the past.”
That was pretty categorical. She argued yesterday that it was not inappropriate for her to have the Prime Minister as a friend, and that is acceptable. On the other hand, it was entirely inappropriate for the Prime Minister to have Rebekah Brooks as a friend. The list of his meetings with journalists, dragged out of him in recent days, demonstrates an extraordinary cosiness with executives of News International newspapers, with nearly twice as many meetings with them as with all other media groups combined, including three stays at Chequers for Rebekah Brooks.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who is a distinguished Member of the House, for giving way to me. If he is saying that it was wrong for the Prime Minister to have that close a relationship with Rebekah Brooks, by the same token would he say that it was wrong for the last Prime Minister to have had such a close relationship with Rupert Murdoch, to the extent that their children played together?
He did not have that kind of relationship with Murdoch. He did pursue Murdoch too much, I grant the hon. Gentleman that, but he did not have that kind of close personal relationship that the present Prime Minister has had with Rebekah Brooks. No Prime Minister, almost certainly ever, has had such disproportionate contacts with one newspaper group and in such a short time. Heath, Thatcher and Major never had such chummy relationships with the media. Stanley Baldwin, referring in the 1930s to press excesses, spoke—the words were supplied to him by Rudyard Kipling—of
“Power without responsibility—the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.”
This Prime Minister has proved both incorrigible and suspect in his relationships with News International executives. The most notorious, of course, was his hiring of Andy Coulson as his head of communications. He played round that this afternoon when he answered questions, but the fact is that he should have been aware before appointing Coulson of Coulson’s 2003 admission to the Select Committee of payments to the police, followed by his claim that such payments to the police were within the law—which is impossible, since bribing the police is a criminal offence. To take on someone who has confessed to criminal activity and then lied about it is utterly culpable, especially since numerous warnings were sent to the Prime Minister not to take him on. I repeat what was said earlier: Rebekah Brooks made it very clear that Coulson was appointed by the Prime Minister on the recommendation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Odd things have gone on under the Prime Minister’s leadership of the Conservative party. He was imprecise and evasive when asked about the employment of Coulson’s former deputy Neil Wallis, who has been arrested by the police as part of the hacking investigation, and who did work for the Tories in the run-up to the general election.
The warnings to the Prime Minister about Coulson seem not to have been passed on by Ed Llewellyn, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff. That was a grave dereliction of duty. No previous Prime Minister would have accepted such conduct, but as we know, Wallis’s conduct was even more bizarre.
When John Yates, then assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, in advance of an arranged meeting with the Prime Minister, offered to brief him on phone hacking, Llewellyn rejected it, saying:
“We will want to be able to be entirely clear, for your sake and ours, that we have not been in contact with you about this subject.”
People go on about the inappropriateness of briefing the Prime Minister about operational police matters, but the offer was not to brief him about operational police matters, and if anyone tells me that the police do not brief the Prime Minister about operational matters relating to action against terrorism, which Yates was also in charge of, I say, “Pull the other one.”
Llewellyn was seeking to claim deniability on the issue, but no Prime Minister ought to need to claim deniability on any subject. The Prime Minister’s attitude to this entire imbroglio has been unacceptable. He has made statements about it outside the House and then had to be dragged to the House. This debate is the latest example. He held meetings with Rebekah Brooks right in the middle of the process of Government consideration of the News International bid for BSkyB, which was until recently regarded as a wave-through, and it would have been waved through if this scandal had not broken.
Today the Prime Minister was questioned again and again, including by my hon. Friend Mr Skinner, about whether he had discussed the BSkyB takeover with Rebekah Brooks or anyone else from News International. He did not answer. He dodged the question. It is perfectly clear from his failure to respond that he discussed the BSkyB bid with News International, and if he wants to intervene now to deny it in categorical terms, I shall be delighted to give way. But he has not, and he will not.
The Government have behaved to Parliament and the country as no Government have behaved since the Profumo scandal. Their priority has been appeasing one brand of press baron. That has to come to an end; the Government cannot get out of it.
I have great respect for Sir Gerald Kaufman, but I regret his speech today. It was in marked contrast to the tone throughout the debate, which was rightly set by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in their opening remarks. They made it clear that both major parties have made huge mistakes in their dealings with the media over the past 20 years. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton seemed to want to suggest that it was entirely one-sided, but I could refer to a long list, from Tony Blair’s flight to see Rupert Murdoch on Hayman Island in 1995 to Sarah Brown planning a party for Rebekah Wade. Surely the right hon. Gentleman accepts that today we have heard both major political parties saying they have made mistakes and that they are willing to work together to sort out the mess.
I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman that there are wonderful police officers—as there are in my constituency—and outstanding journalists, who have played an important part in this episode. I said to Andrew Selous that if Tony Blair had misbehaved, and that includes the visit to Australia, I disapproved. However, the current Government have had a greater cosiness with one newspaper empire than any other Government I have known.
I regret allowing the right hon. Gentleman to intervene because, yet again, he is trying to engage in the party political knockabout for which the public will not forgive us. They want us to get on and sort out the mess. They want the police inquiry to get under way and be done properly this time around. They want the judge-led inquiry that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has set up to do its work as quickly as possible.
Yesterday we saw the excellent work of both Select Committees in their investigations. Sadly, we learned relatively little from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. We got the welcome, but well-rehearsed contrition. We found that The Sun cannot tell the difference between a custard pie and a paper plate full of foam. We discovered that, bizarrely, Glenn Mulcaire’s legal fees continued to be paid. Thank goodness it has been announced that, as of today, those fees are no longer being paid. Above all, we discovered that there should be genuine concern about the corporate governance of News Corporation. We need to address that concern and its implications for us.
The Prime Minister rightly said that we must consider competition legislation—we certainly must. He also rightly said that we must consider plurality. I say to my right hon. Friend that we must consider not only when the test is applied—the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport has already committed the Government to doing that—but what the plurality rules cover. I think that all hon. Members recognise that we currently base the definition on news and current affairs. Yet surely all hon. Members also acknowledge that a powerful drama can transform how we view our world and each other, and that a powerful comedy can have the same effect. When we consider plurality, we need to widen the remit of what is covered so that it is not confined to news and current affairs.
The right hon. Gentleman may have been coming to the point that I am about to make, in which case, I apologise, but does he also agree that strong media companies have the budgets to invest in new creative content and talent, which are important to the entire industry?
My hon. Friend is right, but the other point that I want to make is that we need to reconsider the fit and proper persons test. If we have real concerns about corporate governance, we should be able to test whether a corporation—an owning organisation—is fit and proper to own, for example, BSkyB or parts of it. I think that we should consider whether News Corporation is fit and proper to own not only more shares in BSkyB, but its existing 39% of shares.
I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is here because I have some concerns about one aspect of his announcement today. He announced the possibility—depending on certain circumstances—of extending the judge-led inquiry’s remit to cover other forms of broadcasting and social media. Before the debate, my concern about that was relatively simple. The issues are so complicated that extending the remit would lengthen the time of the inquiry for such a long period that we would not get on and tackle matters. We should consider some of the concerns that people have raised separately, as part of developing the communications Bill in the next 18 months or so.
What really worried me today, however, was the fact that it became increasingly clear from some of the comments made by colleagues on the coalition side of the House that there was another motive, potentially, for what was to be added to the remit. Some of the remarks attacking the BBC and its independence and its high-quality work make me wonder whether some people on the coalition Benches are seeking to—wrongly, in my view—clip the wings of the BBC. I hope that is not the case.
Let me briefly mention some comments that have been made about the need for what the Prime Minister called independent regulation. The whole House would accept that the Press Complaints Commission has been a failure. Many examples of its failure have been cited. The fact that the Richard Desmond newspapers—the Express and the Star—can simply walk away of their own volition is a pretty good reason for saying that it has failed. The fact that it cannot conduct investigations is another, as is the fact that it cannot fine.
Today we have heard some very helpful lists of ideas of how we can move forward. I particularly welcome the speeches by Mr Straw and the Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. It is crucial that the new, independent body that replaces the PCC has the ability to carry out investigations, and that it has a much more powerful system of redress, including requiring the payment of fines, but I would warn the House about the way in which “independence” can be interpreted by some people.
I recently looked back at the MacTaggart lecture given by James Murdoch, who only yesterday appeared before the Select Committee to give evidence. The House might be interested to hear a small extract from what he said in that lecture:
“Yes, the free press is fairly near the knuckle on occasion—it is noisy, disrespectful, raucous and quite capable of affronting people—it is frequently the despair of judges and it gets up the noses of politicians on a regular basis. But it is driven by the daily demand and choices of millions of people. It has had the profits to enable it to be fearless and independent.”
He goes on:
“The only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit.”
I fundamentally disagree with him, and I would urge people who are looking at how we progress, for example, our creative industries, not to believe that the removal of all regulation will enable the right sort of growth—the growth that we want. It is crucial that we have, for all parts of the creative industries, including and in particular the press, appropriate regulations. That is why the Prime Minister is absolutely right to talk about regulation—yes, by an independent body, but that regulation is needed.
We have spent a lot of time discussing the way forward in terms of regulations and new structures, but it is crucial to remember that we are at present gravely concerned about illegal activity that has taken place, and that is why it is crucial that everyone be required to contribute fully and provide full evidence to the investigation. Let us hope it is a better investigation than the one by the police last time around.
Order. As hon. Members can see, there are still a lot of Members who wish to get in. I want to accommodate as many as I possibly can, so the time limit is being reduced to six minutes, and it may even be reduced further later on.
I will try to be as brief as possible. The debate is very welcome; it is good for the public to see that we are taking these issues seriously. In the past few weeks we have seen perhaps an unprecedented interest from members of the public, who have suddenly realised, perhaps because of the Milly Dowler situation, exactly what has been going on in some sections of the media.
I want to add a couple of remarks on the family of Milly Dowler. When a scandal becomes associated with the victim of a crime, it is extremely difficult for them to move on and live their lives. I hope that when all these matters are dealt with, that family will recognise that we have tried to do the best thing in their interest and in the interests of other victims of crime, so that they are allowed to move on.
As hon. Members may be aware, I was not able to participate in the evidence given to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee yesterday, but I watched it carefully. I was astonished to hear some of the evidence from both Rebekah Brooks and the Murdochs. By any stretch of the imagination, in the capitalist world, that corporation is a successful one in terms of profit and turnover, but those people simply did not know who had authorised the spending of money at various points. That beggared belief. It also beggars belief that within that system, they could not identify who had authorised illegal payments to the police. It seems that there was no oversight or governance in relation to those payments.
At any time, an intrusion into people’s privacy is a delicate matter. There will be times, in the interests of national security or of tackling serious and organised crime, when intrusions will be made. Hon. Members will know that when those serious actions are taken, a range of measures must be in place. They are right and proper, because responsibilities go with such intrusion.
In the interests of allowing the press to conduct investigations and so on, the press must take its responsibility seriously. However, I cannot conceive of a situation in which any reasonable person would say that it is proper for the press to undertake some of the so-called investigations that have been undertaken, or that it is proper for the press to make illegal payments to do so. It worries me when we slip into the shorthand and talk of “hacking” or “blagging”, because “hacking” is accessing people’s private information illegally, sometimes by paying money. The word “hacking” should not slip off the tongue without further consideration. Blagging, of course, is trying to obtain people’s private information—usually financial information such as bank account details—illegally by assuming someone else’s identity.
I mentioned that I found it difficult to understand why nobody in News International seemed to know who had done what. I agree with my hon. Friend Chris Bryant, who asked this question: if News International and News Corp have got so big that nobody knows what is happening, how could they possibly countenance taking on another company and looking after it with any proper governance?
I welcome the inquiries that have been set up and the Prime Minister’s assurance today that the inquiry will cover Scotland. Of course, this is not simply about one part of the UK, and neither is it just about News International, so I welcome the fact that the inquiry will extend to other police forces and that it will look at all newspapers and media. However, I am a bit of a pedant for the detail. The Prime Minister said that “relevant forces” would be included in the police inquiry. In his winding-up speech, will the Minister confirm whether all police forces are relevant in that context?
I asked a question earlier in relation to the Scottish Government, who I am sure will want absolutely to co-operate with the inquiries. I hope that they immediately publish information about their contacts with News International.
I would never seek to put words into the mouth of the normally loquacious Mr Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland—I am sure he can speak well for himself—but it is important that that information is put into the public domain and that it forms part of the inquiry.
I conclude by making a couple of points about the Press Complaints Commission and whatever will replace it. A member of the public—not a politician, a lawyer or someone involved in this from day to day—who finds themselves on the wrong end of a newspaper report will find it extremely difficult to take that matter up. Whatever we do, we must ensure that the body is accessible to the public.
It will, of course, take time for the inquiries that are under way to report to the House. However, it is important that that does not send the signal that nothing should change in the meantime. I therefore call on all police forces to go through their records to ensure that there has been no illegality regarding the receipt of payments. I also call on newspaper editors and owners to do exactly the same. If they find that illegal payments have been made, they should cease that practice forthwith. If any of their reporters or staff have been involved in so-called blagging, they should make it clear publically that that illegal operation will cease. Politicians have a role in this, but so do the press and the police. It is up to us all to take our responsibilities seriously so that we give back to the public the confidence that they deserve.
Sadly, the phrase “Don’t believe everything you read in the press” now seems to be true. In addition to dealing with criminality, I hope that this process will ensure that we can believe everything that we read in the press, just as we can believe the phrase “You can always trust a policeman”.
A great cross-party approach has led to the inquiry, so I commend the Leader of the Opposition for working with our Prime Minister and the other party leaders. However, I wish that Labour Members had acted when they were in government, as I am sure they agree.
I associate myself with the apology that my hon. Friend Mr Whittingdale made to Mr Rupert Murdoch yesterday, and I give Mr Murdoch some credit for staying on to answer Committee members’ questions. My hon. Friend also referred to outstanding points for the inquiry. As the Committee has not yet concluded its report, I do not intend to make specific comments about what was said yesterday, but I encourage hon. Members to read the transcript and to note that we will set out written follow-up questions.
Chris Bryant suggested that at least two people had lied to Parliament in the past 24 hours. I assume he was referring to Sir Paul Stephenson’s comments about his resignation, and perhaps to Mrs Brooks and the Murdochs.
I do not know to whom the hon. Member for Rhondda was referring.
We have to be careful when we say that people have lied to Parliament. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we have not got to the bottom of the matter—as Cathy Jamieson said, some of the testimony was frustrating—and to do so we need to call further witnesses to our inquiry. However, I now know that the Committee’s intention is that the police and the judicial inquiry see further witnesses rather than us.
I welcome a lot of the suggestions that have been made about equal prominence for apologies and about fining and compensation powers. I asked Mr Murdoch yesterday whether, given his experience in the media spotlight, he would think again about his newspapers’ headlines and some of the targets of their investigative journalism. I appreciate that a headline such as “Up Yours Delors” is quite entertaining and unlikely to cause damage, but The Sun once published the headline “Bonkers Bruno Locked Up”. At that time, Mrs Brooks learned a lesson straight away because the following day she published a front-page editorial from the charity SANE, as well as making appropriate restoration. I see that Steve Rotheram is not in the Chamber, but I should point out that
The Sun has made no such restoration of reputation for the Hillsborough 96, which I think would be welcomed by the people of Liverpool.
Newspapers and the Press Complaints Commission itself do not need to wait for the creation of a new regulator because they could change the code of conduct by bringing in several ideas that have been suggested. Although, sadly, the PCC’s credibility has been somewhat destroyed, that does not mean that it should be sulking, as I perceive that some of its comments suggest is the case, although I am sure that that is not its intention. People should look in the mirror before they write those headlines and decide what they are going to put out there. As I said, some of the treatment that editors, both past and present, have recently received will, I hope, make them think again.
Both in the testimony that we heard yesterday and in the Home Office report, there was extremely heavy reliance on lawyers’ advice, for example, on the sum for which people should settle. The Home Office report considered the question of whether former Deputy Assistant Commissioner Clarke relied on lawyers’ advice about undertaking more investigation if News International was not co-operating, and whether he was told that the police could not really exercise certain powers because it would be seen as fishing. From my own experience of corporate life, lawyers always take the lowest-risk approach, and one has to decide whether one wants to take that advice. Indeed, the House decided earlier this year that it was not happy with advice about prisoners’ votes. People should not necessarily hide behind lawyers’ advice. They should listen to it, but they should be prepared to make different decisions.
I was about to conclude, so, in deference to other hon. Members who wish to make a speech, I shall not give way.
I applaud the cross-party approach that some hon. Members have taken, but I deplore the tribalism demonstrated by others. I am afraid, however, that I might introduce a little bit myself. It was Mr Yates who led the investigation into cash for honours in which an official serving the then Prime Minister was arrested. I am not aware that people were calling on the then Prime Minister to apologise—I think that there was surprise—and, as has been said by the Prime Minister and by other Members, we should wait until people are charged and, indeed, found guilty before we condemn the decisions of those involved in employing them. On that matter, I commend the motion, and particularly the desire of everyone to make sure that we have a cleaned up press and a police force whom we are confident can lead such investigations.
A number of Members have said that we all bear some responsibility for our relations with the press, which are sometimes uneasy. That is also true of our relations with the police. At times, Members are anxious about criticising the police lest they appear to be expressing a lack of support. At other times, we are fulsome in our praise when there is a need for criticism.
I think of myself as someone who supports the police, but there are lessons to be learned from what happened at the Met in this unhappy episode. There are serious questions about managerial control at the Met, and that will be a consideration when the next commissioner is appointed. I was struck by the way in which Lord Blair, the former commissioner, wanted immediately to distance himself from the original inquiry, and did not want to have anything to do with it. I accept that he did not have operational control, but he was the guy in charge. I was struck by the way in which Andy Hayman seemed to be in charge of the inquiry, but not remotely in control of what was happening. John Yates did not seem to be at all clear about what Sir Paul Stephenson had asked him to do when he conducted an eight-hour mini-review. Mr Fedorcio seemed to run the public affairs directorate as an odd-job man might recruit customers—it was almost unbelievable.
We need better managerial control at the Met. It is astonishing that no one thought to ask a question about the fact that 10 of the 45 employees in the public affairs directorate were ex-News International. Anywhere else, that would be a question worth asking. The way in which Mr Wallis was awarded a contract worth £1,000 a day is open to question, too. The fact that in the midst of investigations senior officers could have dinners with people who might be directly relevant to their inquiries seems astonishing.
I do not see that the Mayor has played a particularly useful role, with his reference to codswallop and his attempt to roll back. I mention this because the Mayor is the model for police commissioners that the Home Secretary wants to impose on the rest of the country, and the Mayor seems to have played no useful part in terms of accountability during this process. What looks like one of the least accountable forces in the country is set to become the model for the rest of the country. There is an argument that, even at this late stage, the Government should think again about the problem.
That is not really the point. The point that I am making is that in the face of this enormous scandal, the man who was supposed to make the police more accountable did nothing about it.
If Lord Macdonald is right about what he saw in the file, sadly some officers will have to go to jail to restore public confidence. There is no way in which that can be swept under the carpet now.
I echo the points made by the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz, and by my colleague on the Committee, Mr Clappison, about victims. At the core of the problem is the way people were treated. Unless additional resources are devoted to identifying the victims and something is done about that, the stench associated with these events will never go away. While there is doubt whether all the people who have been mistreated have been accounted for, the problem will not go away. There will be no closure until we identify all the victims and they are properly and fairly treated. I urge the Government to think about that aspect.
In criticising the police, we should not forget the pressures they were under at the time, with the incredible terrorist threat that was sweeping the country. We should not underestimate the pressures that ordinary rank and file officers feel they are under because of the cuts and the relentless pace of change that the Government are imposing on them. We need to recognise that wrongdoers must be punished and failure in all its forms in the police must be addressed, but ordinary officers need a break from the relentless attack on honourable policing traditions, which is the problem now afflicting police forces throughout the country.
In the light of what we have experienced in this horrible affair, there is a chance to pause and think again about some of the things that are happening to other forces at this time. It would be a tragedy if we did not learn anything from the experience and went on to create conditions in other forces that mean that the same problems are repeated elsewhere at some point in the future.
I welcome the recall of Parliament. I am only sorry that we are not being recalled to discuss the problems of the eurozone, the slowdown in the world economy in the face of higher energy prices, and the famine in east Africa. We may well have to be recalled in August to discuss the first of these issues.
We are here today to discuss, among other things, the relationships between politicians and the media. It behoves us all, therefore, to declare any connections with the media in general and News International in particular. I was going to say that I had none, but my wife reminded me that in 1997 The Times supported my bid for the leadership of the Conservative party. In view of the fact that, as my right hon. Friend
There has been great outrage in this country over the hacking scandal and Milly Dowler, but I am worried that it is being used by some people who want to shackle the freedom of the press, which would put not only our freedom in danger but a major industry and employer in this country at risk. Politicians tend to suffer from the delusion that the press and the media have far more power than they do—the power to swing votes. In fact, readers do not take instructions from editors. When The Sun had been backing the Tories for a decade and claiming, “It’s the Sun wot won it”, a survey found that a majority of readers of
The Sun thought that it was a Labour-supporting newspaper. Readers who are interested in politics choose their newspaper because it has congenial political views; the rest are largely uninfluenced by an editor’s views. Successful editors follow their readers, not vice versa.
None the less, we in the House tend to be subject to this delusion, and none more so than those on the left of politics. The reason is that the left needs an explanation for why the majority of ordinary people do not share its views on the EU, crime, family, welfare and taxes. Those on the left conclude, as they have to, that people must have been indoctrinated, and clearly the indoctrinator-in-chief is Rupert Murdoch and News International. I have looked through the literally hundreds of e-mails that I have received on this issue. Only one mentioned Milly Dowler; one other expressed outrage about hacking. All the others were about Rupert Murdoch, News International and even Fox News, which does not even operate over here, and about its size, its share of the market, its views and its foreign ownership. These are legitimate concerns, but they are partisan.
Like the right hon. Gentleman, I have received numerous representations this year on the BSkyB takeover. As a councillor, I was always advised that in matters that might involve a conflict of interest, perception was everything. Does he agree that it would have been better had the Government from the outset—at the end of last year—referred the bid to the Competition Commission, and not got involved with undertakings from an organisation that had already proven itself to be untrustworthy on undertakings? That would have improved the public’s perception of the Government.
I do not believe that perception is all; substance is the most important thing, along with following the law, which is what I believe the Government did.
Labour Members have expressed no concern today about the media share held by the BBC, about the behaviour of The Mirror, which was often implicated by Nick Davies in his investigation, or about the ownership of the Standard or The Independent. I think that we need to recognise that the press do not have the power that people suppose. It does not swing votes—perhaps a few—and it does not determine popular views but follows them. The one important power that the press have is the power to tell the truth. All credit should go to Nick Davies of The Guardian for his investigations, both on this particular issue and more widely. Sadly, his searing critique of the media, “Flat Earth News”, received remarkably little coverage from his colleagues in the media and appallingly little interest from the political class in the House. At its launch in this House, I was one of only two Members of the House of Commons who attended to hear his views. But we should listen, because he says that there is wrongdoing in many organs of the press other than News International.
Having listened, we should be extremely wary of believing that the solution is to burden the media with more regulation and with statutory controls. Hacking is already illegal—we do not have to pass laws to make it illegal. However, such things as intrusion on personal grief, though repugnant, are not justiciable. Bias and distortion are regrettable, but they are not really justiciable unless we are to set up censorship of the press. We should be very wary of going down that road, and we should not get carried away or allow partisan concern about the views expressed by one player in the media to be used in the political process to damage that player or the freedom of the press.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt the House, but I have just learned that the BBC journalist, Mr Paul Lambert, who reported yesterday on the egregious breach of security during the Culture, Media and Sport Committee sitting, has had his parliamentary press pass removed by the House authorities. I hope the House will agree that it is appropriate that we support the freedom of the press, particularly when the press are reporting on serious failures of security in this House.
I am sure that this will be looked into in more detail as news of what the hon. Lady has just spoken about arrives. It is news to me, but I am sure that it will be fully looked into and may be properly addressed later on.
Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. There are clearly a number of concerns about who gets press passes. I wonder whether, when the matter that Louise Mensch has raised is looked into, some consideration might be given to publishing who has press passes. At the moment, we do not know that.
Again, I am sure that will be looked into. I am not absolutely sure whether the names of those who have press passes are not already in the public domain in the directory that is made available to the House, but I will look into the matter myself to see what the truth is.
Today’s debate is entitled “Public confidence in the media and police”, but whatever the shortcomings of that title, everyone who is in the Chamber can agree that both of those have been shaken to the core by recent events.
The evidence offered by senior police officers yesterday and by senior Met officials could be assessed either as a demonstration of unprofessional and naive behaviour or as a wilful neglect of the integrity that we normally associate with those who have been given the privilege of holding high public office. Whichever conclusion we draw, it ain’t good. In particular, I draw attention to the evidence of Dick Fedorcio, which was unintelligible to me. That is more worrying when we consider that he is the man responsible for the Met’s message. Although John Yates has carried out distinguished work during his career—of that there is no doubt—I fear that he will be remembered for a Mr Magoo-style botched and bungled phone hacking investigation.
Like many others, I watched with great interest the theatre of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearing yesterday. At times, Rupert Murdoch cut a figure of an amalgam of all the caricatures that we have seen of him over the years, but it was the young pretender, James Murdoch, who revealed the most through half-answered questions. At times Mr James Murdoch looked on in terror at Mr Rupert Murdoch, wondering what he was going to say next. However, it was James Murdoch’s revelation about Mr Glenn Mulcaire’s legal costs being paid that brought Rebekah Brooks’s prophetic words into sharp focus. Members will remember that she said to
News of the World staff that
“in a year’s time every single one of you in this room might come up and say, ‘OK, well I see what you saw now’.”
James Murdoch’s disclosure that Mulcaire’s legal fees were paid will, I believe, unlock Rebekah Brooks’s prediction. We must wait and see whether that is the case, but people do not pay for a criminal’s legal defence if they have nothing to hide.
My main purpose in contributing to today’s debate is to call on the Government to extend their investigations to every part of the media, not just the print media. Yes, there is no doubt that the behaviour of News International was indefensible and beyond the pale, but anyone who believes that it stops there displays Olympian detachment from reality. The behaviour of the printed news media in this country has, with few exceptions, been appalling at various times, and it is not until we enter the political arena that we see the worst of it. That behaviour has been sanctioned by a Press Complaints Commission that is paid for by the newspapers. I am reminded of the words of Luke 4:23, “Physician, heal thyself.” Self-regulation has to end. Mr Deputy Speaker, you were in the Chair on the evening of my Adjournment debate on
It is my view, however, that the review of the regulation of the media must be extended to include the broadcast and electronic media as well. When debates on statutory control and self-regulation took place in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, the printed news media was the public’s primary source of information. Now, however, it is Sky News, the BBC News channel and the electronic media. The behaviour of those media must also be investigated, and the public must be afforded the opportunity to contribute to that investigation. I personally would be more than happy to contribute evidence on the behaviour of BBC Scotland, an organisation that I believe has broken its editorial code at our expense. It is currently under investigation following three separate complaints that I have made to Ofcom.
Debates about regulation have raged for decades. Royal commissions have come and gone, general councils have been set up and failed, and, as I pointed out on
The Home Affairs Committee commenced its report on a cross-party basis 10 months ago. That report shows that the relations between the police and the media, particularly News International, are too close. Indeed, there were so many lunches and dinners that I am surprised that senior police officers had time for anything else. Despite that, I do not incline to the view that there is high-level corruption or conspiracy at the top of the police. Given the evidence that I have seen, as far as the police are concerned, I think that this is more about cock-up and perhaps incompetence in some places, although Lord Leveson might find otherwise. I take that view because of the evidence that our Committee saw on the role of the Crown Prosecution Service and the way in which it clearly let down the police.
I asked John Yates yesterday whether he thought that blame had been fairly ascribed between the police and the CPS, and he said that he most certainly did not. He felt that he had been bumping his head against the proverbial brick wall in trying to get people to understand the role of the CPS. It might be more interesting for the media to look at the relationship between the media and the police, but it is the relationship between the police and the CPS that gets us to the heart of this matter.
We must ask why those 11,000 pages of Mulcaire’s documents were not looked at and why the police did not do anything about them, but we must also ask why the CPS did nothing. Even yesterday, Kier Starmer was not quite clear as to whether the CPS had seen them all; he said that it had seen only the ones up to August 2006. We have now heard from my hon. and learned Friend Mr Cox, however, that, on
“vast array of offending behaviour” and the material to back that up. What happened? They do not seem to have done anything about it.
The current DPP looked at this issue in July 2009. He was new to the job. He went through all the materials and tried to find out what happened at the time. He concluded that nothing happened because of the law:
“To prove the criminal offence of interception the prosecution must prove that the actual message was intercepted prior to it being accessed by the intended recipient.”
It was on that basis that the CPS constrained the police investigation.
Whether the noble Lords Goldsmith and Macdonald were asleep on the bridge, just gave incompetent legal advice, or in some way prevented this police investigation are very serious questions. I am delighted that the Prime Minister has revised the terms of reference of his Lord Leveson inquiry, and that it will look at the role of the prosecuting authorities and why the CPS gave this in my view extraordinary and clearly wrong advice that it had to be proved that the message was intercepted before it was listened to.
“storing it in a manner that enables the intended recipient to collect it or otherwise have access to it.”
So, there is no basis for the CPS saying that the police had to prove that the message was intercepted before it was listened to. However, it seems that that is what stopped the investigation back in 2006. The noble Lords Macdonald and Goldsmith have to answer for themselves on that: why did they give that advice, which is clearly wrong in the light of section 2(7)?
Keir Starmer of the CPS is acting loyally, and as far as I can see acted properly in trying to look into this matter in July 2009. He has now recanted from the evidence that I just quoted, which he gave to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. He is saying at best, “Well, perhaps it is uncertain. Perhaps there could be a prosecution.” However, even that would have hugely constrained the police, because it made matters much more difficult for them. The advice of the CPS was much clearer at the time: it said that prosecution was not possible on that basis.
That is the problem we are left with, and I want to know why the CPS did that. The CPS needs to be more accountable, and I look forward to seeing stage 2 of these elected commissioners—and not just for the police. As with police, the Royal Commission in 1981 said that the CPS should be put under elected control and oversight.
This is clearly an extremely important debate for the future and quality of our democracy and the nature of our country. Across the House, Members are in agreement that we want a free press, but at the moment we are not quite agreed on what we mean by freedom of the press. A free press is obviously part of the rights we have under the European convention on human rights to free speech and free expression, but I remind Members that the exercise of this freedom also carries duties and responsibilities. The convention says that the exercise of these freedoms is “subject to” limitations
“in the interests of national security…public safety…the prevention of…crime”— ironically—
“the protection of health or morals” and so on. So, this freedom of expression is not a freedom from all constraints or legalities, and nor is it a freedom to chase stories using any technique possible. Significantly, it is also limited by article 8 of the European convention, on the right to privacy. As we move forward and look at the appropriate regulation, we need to have in mind article 8 as well as article 10.
It really is not reasonable for people to pretend that uncovering the sex lives of footballers is equivalent to the fight for freedom of expression we have seen in north Africa and the middle east in recent months. It is also disingenuous for so-called celebrity columnists to pretend they are some latter-day combination of Bob Woodward and Dean Swift. I do not agree with Lord Kinnock about the rules on balance for the broadcast media being taken across into those for the press, but I do think that the Leader of the Opposition was absolutely right that the problems we have faced over a long period of time have been because of a very significant concentration of power, which led to a web of corruption.
It is not acceptable that a quarter of the Met press office had formerly worked for News International. It is a matter of concern that Andy Hayman went to work for News International from the police, that the former DPP went to work at News International and that News International has also employed, as a so-called independent adjudicator, a former High Court judge, Sir Charles Gray. I am not suggesting that all those cases involve impropriety, but we must know what the rules are. I hope when the Secretary of State winds up he will be able to tell us the truth about what happened in the autumn of 2009, when, it is widely rumoured, the broadcasting policy that he wanted to publish was held up because the Chancellor of the Exchequer had to clear it with James Murdoch.
What I really want to remind hon. Members is that those who have suffered most as a result of these abuses are ordinary people. What has been uncovered very recently has been extremely shocking, and there is a long history of ordinary people being abused and not having proper recourse because they did not have the money to employ lawyers and because the PCC is such a toothless tiger. Let me tell hon. Members a couple of stories about that. A boy in my constituency, who was obviously badly behaved, was described in one of the tabloids as “terrorising” the town, which was a total exaggeration and is not a way in which any of us would allow our children to be described. In another case, a woman I met who was a victim of domestic violence was also denigrated—in The Sun in this instance—because her neighbours had been blagged. There was complete deceit about the nature of the inquiry and how the story would be written up. We are talking about extremely vulnerable people and we must take them into account in any new regulations that are set up.
First, I add my voice to the unanimous view of the House that the phone hacking scandal is a total and utter disgrace and that those who are found to have broken the law should face the consequences. Hacking, blagging and any similar illegal activities are absolutely despicable and we all feel for the vulnerable individuals and their families who have been subject to this illegal activity and awful intrusion at some of the most difficult times of their lives.
In the past few days, it has been reported that my predecessor, the former Member for Reading West, was one of those targeted by a private investigator implicated in the News of the World scandal, and that he was targeted because he had refused to support a News of the World campaign to allow parents access to the sex offenders register. It is shocking that any hon. Member, or indeed any member of the public, should be subject to such an invasion of their privacy just because they choose not to support a media campaign. If the allegations prove to be true, I hope that justice will be served.
Secondly, I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement this morning giving further details of the judicial inquiry. I also welcome the very forthright views that he has set out in the past few weeks and today on this issue. His frankness about the collective failure of politicians, the press and the police to get to grips with this whole issue much earlier has been very much in line with the mood of the House and of those outside it. The Leader of the Opposition said in the House last week that “all of us” should
“accept our share of responsibility for not having spoken out more on these issues.”—[Hansard, 13 July 2011; Vol. 531, c. 391.]
He was right. The Labour Government of the day did not act on the Information Commissioner’s reports of 2006 or on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report of 2003. To be fair, the Prime Minister has also said that the then Opposition did not make enough of those reports either.
We know that phone hacking was discussed in Cabinet by the previous Labour Government, but they did not act. Last week, Mr Brown came to the House and spoke at length, absolving himself from responsibility for not taking action on his watch. I do not know whether he forgot, but he was Chancellor and then Prime Minister. He was in charge but he did not act.
By contrast, this Prime Minister has acted decisively. He has taken weeks to set up a public inquiry, not years. I should also add that the freedom of the press is a hugely important part of our democracy. We all want to see a clean press, but we do not want to see a cowed press. I hope that, as the inquiry gets under way, that will be uppermost in the minds of those leading the inquiry.
There has been lots of focus, quite understandably, on News Corp and the Murdochs in recent weeks, but we must also keep it in mind that the issues we are discussing have a bearing on the media as a whole, not just the Murdoch press. As has been mentioned, the 2006 Information Commissioner’s investigation spoke of
“a widespread and organised undercover market in confidential personal information.”
In the Operation Motorman case, the police and the ICO found evidence that there were about 300 journalists working for a wide range of newspapers that had used a variety of techniques to obtain personal information and stories. This morning’s report from the Home Affairs Committee was pretty clear. It said:
“Some of the information could have been obtained only illegally”.
It is clear that it is not only the Murdoch press that has questions to answer and the inquiry needs to take a long hard look at all those issues.
I also welcome the fact that that the judicial inquiry will consider relevant police forces other than the Met, but we need to remember that the vast majority of police officers are good, upstanding and honest. One thing we certainly want to ensure is that, as with former Ministers, former senior police officers do not simply traipse into certain private sector roles just weeks or months after leaving office.
Finally, over the past weeks there has rightly been huge focus in the House on the hacking scandal. That is absolutely right and the way it should be, but we have several inquiries under way right now and we should let them get on with their work. We also need to get back to talking about the economy and jobs: the bread-and-butter issues that matter greatly to our constituents. Last week, we saw a drop in inflation and a drop in unemployment. It is all welcome news, but there are on-going concerns in the eurozone and other issues that also need the attention of the House.
I welcome all that the Prime Minister has done to set up the judicial inquiry and to create cross-party consensus. It is the right way forward.
I welcome this debate and, like others, I want to talk about corporate governance. The Murdoch newspapers had 37% of the UK newspaper market—slightly less now, of course, because Murdoch had to sacrifice the News of the World to buy time—and by any standards that is far too great a concentration of power, above all in such a sensitive area as agenda setting in a democracy. Worst of all, that power was used not to disseminate information and opinion but to intimidate individuals and pressurise Governments to conform to his will. The need for major reform and media governance is now overwhelming.
Should any one person or organisation control more than one daily and one Sunday paper? I think not. Should the law restricting monopolistic cross-media ownership between the broadcast and print media, which Mrs Thatcher swept to one side in the early 1980s, setting Murdoch on his way to power, be consolidated and strengthened? I certainly think it should. Should a right of reply be instituted here in this country, as in so many other countries, given space and prominence equal to that of the offending article? How best can new entrants to the media market be encouraged to increase diversity and improve balance in the press? I certainly do not think it should be done by licensing, but more balance would be helpful. The question of how that can best be done needs a lot of examination.
Since self-regulation for the press has proved such an abject failure, how can the right balance be found between statutory regulation, if it is strictly necessary in certain areas, and—most important of all—preserving the freedom of the press to pursue its proper role? We have already seen sanctimonious warnings against any interference with press behaviour, which is exactly what happened 20 years ago when David Mellor, then the Minister with responsibility for the media, warned that the press was drinking in the last chance saloon, since when things have got steadily worse.
Even more disturbing is the continual drip of damning revelations about the shadow power structure made up of the police, News International and No. 10; that is part, I suppose, of the secret governance of Britain. We learned yesterday that a quarter of Scotland Yard press officers had worked at News International, and we learned that the News of the World’s chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck, was an official police informer. Of course, it was already known that the hiring by Scotland Yard of Neil Wallis, the former deputy editor of the News of the World, was unbelievably casual, with no due diligence at all, as though the Met and News International were symbiotically intertwined. Perhaps most damagingly of all, we now know that Wallis acted as an informal adviser to Andy Coulson, even when Coulson was ensconced at No. 10, so the clean break that the Prime Minister has always said Coulson made from the News of the World was not really so clean at all.
The Home Secretary’s proposals for dealing with the situation are not adequate. Establishing an inquiry into setting up a new code of police-media ethics will not resolve the issue of the recently exposed profound dereliction of duty by police at the highest level, which includes taking bribes estimated to total £130,000 for illegally passing on private information. Dealing with such abject irresponsibility and deep-seated and pervasive corruption requires much more stringent and proactive strategic supervision.
There has been talk about whether the Independent Police Complaints Commission should have more power, but the fact is that the IPCC remains a body for investigating complaints. It is not about proactive strategic supervision. What is needed is a much more powerful new supervisory body that not only reorients the police towards what we all want, which is more reduction of crime, but pursues criminality in high places, where the damage is really done. We need much more profound far-reaching reforms that can prevent the corruption in the power structure that is at the root of this whole scandal.
All of us should approach this debate with a degree of humility before we stand in judgment over the press and the police, given the collective black mark that we MPs received in the last Parliament because of the expenses scandal. We are right to comment on these matters, and to draw and learn lessons, but we should remember and put on record that our collective performance in the previous Parliament was not terribly good on certain scores.
It is wholly unacceptable that Rupert Murdoch was attacked in the Committee yesterday. If we want witnesses to come before Select Committees of this House—it is important that they do—they must have the assurance that there will be no repetition of such incidents. I am pleased to learn of the Speaker’s inquiry into the matter.
I have to raise a few points put to me by my constituents, who are urging us collectively to learn the lessons, move on, and deal with the serious bread-and-butter issues that face them day in, day out—jobs, public services, the economy, and what is happening in Europe. We are right to focus on the issue and learn lessons, but I think that they are collectively saying to us, “Remember what’s happening in our lives, day in, day out.” I just want to put that firmly on the record.
We need to accept that it is not a crime for politicians and journalists to talk to each other, and it will not be in future. Politics matters; it is about the conveyance of important ideas. We want politics to be in the newspapers, and the media and journalists enable our message to get out to our constituents. We want a healthy, open, and transparent relationship in future. No more entering Downing street through the back door. It is not a crime for a journalist to go into No. 10 Downing street; it just needs to be transparent and open, and I hope that we are moving into an era in which it is.
I remain extremely concerned about payments to the police from journalists, about which we have heard a certain amount today. I want briefly to illustrate that with three true stories that have been brought to my attention recently. A former Member of the House who went on to have an important position in public service was accused of fraud. At the time of his arrest at 6 o’clock in the morning at his family home there were television crews around his house. He was later found to be innocent and there were no charges to answer. It became obvious that an officer involved in the investigation had tipped off the press and camera crews to record what was obviously a traumatic event for him and his family. That is absolutely wrong.
Another person known to me over the last few years did fantastic service by fostering difficult teenage children in his home. One night there was an incident and one of the teenage children whom he had fostered made an accusation that he had been molested by my friend, who was then arrested by the police. Next day that matter was on the front page of the Daily Star in very lurid terms. There was no charge against my friend; he was wholly innocent. No action was taken, but considerable damage was done. Again, a quick backhander from a journalist to the police to get that story. That is absolutely not right. I am focused on ensuring that we have complete transparency and ensure that payments from journalists to the police do not continue. We need real systems to ensure that such payments cannot be made in future. That is something that the police and the press need to concentrate on.
We have heard about apologies made by newspapers. When the press do admit that they have something wrong or have maligned someone, there is a tiny reference to that on page 2 or 3—a small column on the side of the page—when the original story was on the front page—
Yesterday Rebekah Brooks described The Sun as a “very clean ship”, and the Murdoch family appears to be suggesting that now that the News of the World is defunct we can move on. The Sun has had some remarkable scoops for which people do not appear to have gone to court and been convicted. These are scoops by one reporter; there are others, of course, under The Sun. The following footballers have been the subject of scoops, usually front page scoops, in The Sun by the same reporter, all of which can only have come from the Metropolitan police. There is no other possible source for any of these stories.
This is my squad for the World cup: Frank Lampard, Jay Bothroyd, Carlton Cole, Manuel de Costa, Paul Gascoigne, Armand Traoré, Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Merson, Tony Cascarino, Stan Bowles, Bobby Zamora, Quincy Owusu, Jack Wilshere, Kieron Dyer, Nicklas Bendtner, David James, Didier Drogba, Juan Verón. Manager: José Mourinho—that was in 2007. Captain: Wayne Rooney—on
But this does not just involve footballers. Do not be a police officer, either. On
“One source said: ‘Thousands of letters were arriving’.”
The only possible source for that story was the police—the Metropolitan police. There were dozens of such examples while Brooks was in charge of The Sun, all involving the Met—no other police force—doing in their own.
Murder cases are involved too. I have written to Sue Akers about them, and I shall not go into them now, as this is a time to tread delicately around them. Suffice it to say that I am asking her to look into texts to or from murder victims that have mysteriously appeared in the media. Who gave the media those texts? There is a range of cases that the House will be familiar with, but they have not been mentioned in relation to phone hacking. Texts need to be part of the inquiry, not least those that appear in The Sun.
London’s celebrities are not just footballers: Hugh Grant, Ms Dynamite, Lily Allen, Peaches Geldof, Adam Ant, Jude Law, Liz Hurley, Rod Liddle, Keira Knightley, Leslie Ash, Elliott Tittensor, Mohammed al-Fayed, Woody Harrelson, Joe McGann, Christian Bale, Sean Bean and Mike Tindall; it could even be someone marrying the Queen’s granddaughter. They are all in London. If you want to have a car crash, have it outside London. If you want to have a drink and an issue with a photographer, have it outside London. If it happens in London, someone in the Met will be handing over or selling your information to The Sun .
Relatives of the famous are affected too: John Terry’s father, Cristiano Ronaldo’s cousin, Ashley Cole’s brother, Jermain Defoe’s brother, Sadie Frost’s sister, Tony Blair’s son, Patricia Hewitt’s son and Nelson Mandela’s grandson. On
“It would have revealed a lot of conversations between Mike”—
Sullivan, The Sun’s crime reporter—
“and senior officers and they didn’t want to open that can of worms.”
It is always a great pleasure to follow my fellow Nottinghamshire MP, John Mann. Only two weeks ago we held a similar debate, although it seems much longer, and much has changed since then. Like many Members, I was struck by the desire on both sides of the House that we work together in the spirit that was properly and well outlined by Chris Bryant, who talked about the need for honesty and courage.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on his statement and his speech today. I certainly took the view that courage and honesty were the major words underpinning his speech. I hope that on both sides of the House we continue to speak courageously and with honesty about the mistakes made in the past so that we learn from them and, as the Prime Minister said today, that we take this golden opportunity—the opportunity of a generation —to clean up our media and our police and the way we do politics.
As ever, time is against me. I do not want to speak for too long, and in any event I shall probably not be allowed to. I am pleased that the terms of the inquiry include all the media. Mr Foster was concerned that the inquiry might be used to knock the BBC. The point being made from the Conservative Benches is that there has been concern that the BBC is in some way in a privileged position. In my view, competition in all sections of the media, notably in broadcasting, means that we have better and much healthier media.
I declare an interest. Before I returned to the Bar, I worked for Central Television for many years, so I am a passionate fan of ITV. I know its value, especially as a genuine and true alternative to the BBC. It did a great job in regional news. It is also worth reminding the House of the figures. About 5 million people watch the BBC’s “Ten O’Clock News”. Invariably, fewer than 200,000 watch Sky, but 2.5 million people watch ITV’s news at that time. Those who are in real competition are the BBC and ITV. Long may that continue. I know that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has been in consultation about the sort of changes that ITV wants so that they are on a level playing field. I urge him to consider them, because I know that ITV wants to reinvest money in British television, which is good for our economy.
ITV also wants to encourage regional news. At least two other Members here, perhaps more, from the east midlands will have seen the demise of Central news in recent years. Keith Vaz and Vernon Coaker are nodding in agreement. In the good old days it was an equal fight between the BBC’s “East Midlands Today” and “Central East”. Now, as the right hon. Gentleman and others know, “Central East” compromises a 10-minute opt-out, with the news coming from Birmingham. We want to revert to good healthy competition.
Good, healthy competition throughout our media means that people have real choice. We must never forget that, at the end of the day, the people who can determine the future and enable our media to be cleaned up are those who choose whether to buy, to tune in, to use the internet for news, and so on. I made the point two weeks ago, but it is worth making it again: we should urge people not to buy newspapers that breach all the codes. Never mind the written codes: people do not need a code to tell them that they should not hack into the phone of a dead child.
My hon. Friend is right to mention the responsibility of the public for their purchasing decisions. It is not just a case of regulation or law, but a cultural issue. Although the public are revolted about people hacking into Milly Dowler’s phone and the phones of other victims of crime, why do we have such a prurient interest in other people’s private lives? Do not we all have to hold up a mirror to ourselves and ask why we buy those papers and feed a beast that we now want to slay? Have we not all got questions to answer?
I could not have put it better than my hon. Friend has done, and I am sure that we are all grateful for his wise words. He is right. I hope that we will seize the opportunity as a people to change our culture and values. As my hon. Friend says, we should think much more carefully about why we buy papers and enjoy looking at some of the photographs in them. I include celebrities, because it is not fair to say that they, or indeed Members of Parliament, should somehow be outside the code governing the way in which people should operate. When looking at certain photographs, we should think, “That must have been a gross intrusion into that person’s privacy; a long lens must have been used. I won’t buy that newspaper.”
As I said in my question to the Prime Minister earlier, a process of cultural change needs to happen. It involves not just people and the papers they buy, but the way in which the media and the press operate today. That process can begin today. That is why, as has already been said, we should ensure that our police officers no longer divulge details about people who have been arrested. Papers should not print such details or behave in the grossly irresponsible and disgraceful manner that we saw in Bristol.
I had hoped to talk about the police too, but I shall simply say that in my view the police should not have any social contact with any journalist. The press plays an important part in the work of the police in preventing and detecting crime, but Nottinghamshire police employ five press officers. They do not need to employ that many. Police officers should use the press, but they should not dine and sup with them.
I believe that I am the first London Member from the Opposition Benches to speak in the debate. That is unfortunate, given the prominence of the Metropolitan police in our discussions, but I hope that my colleagues from London will catch your eye later, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I would like to say a lot, but we are constrained by time at the tail end of our discussion. Suffice it to say that I believe that the power of News International and many other media organisations, as many hon. Members have said, has distorted the way in which politicians and others in public life go about their daily business, but what is wrong is the fact that the ownership of our media is out of kilter. It should not just be an issue about BSkyB and whether News International increases its influence in it; it should be about whether News International is a fit and proper company and should be allowed to continue to hold sway over such a large part of our national media.
In what is left of my time allocation, I wish to speak about the influence of the Mayor of London on the Metropolitan police. I think it was wrong for him to say that the phone hacking issue was “codswallop”—that it was a plot
“cooked up by the Labour party”, that it was
“a song and dance about nothing”, and that he was not going to become involved in the issue, only as far back as September 2010. The Metropolitan police were under pressure from people outside the House and some hon. Members, as we all know, to reopen the investigation and look into the phone hacking scandal. It was bound to influence the views of those police that the Mayor of London, who is supposedly given influence over issues relating to policing matters on behalf of people in London, had already made public statements to say that he did not think such an inquiry worth while—that he thought it was a load of rubbish. It was bound to influence their thinking about whether to reopen that inquiry.
I sincerely hope that the Leveson inquiry will look into that fact, because it will be an important factor in whether we decide to go forward with elected police commissioners throughout the country, because when the Government advocate elected police commissioners, they always use the Mayor of London as an example. Well, actually, the Mayor of London is accountable to the Metropolitan Police Authority for what he does with the police. The Members of the MPA have a great deal of influence in London, and it is a democratically based body, with other co-opted members to make it broadly representative of London. We are diluting the influence of the MPA and converting it into a panel. We are not giving it any teeth whatever to enable it to have oversight, and we are placing all the influence and power in the hands of a directly elected Mayor or his appointed deputy Mayor.
The problem that we have faced is the over-burgeoning power of the media and their ability to twist and manipulate individuals, particularly politicians at times. I would stand here and criticise the former leader of my party for going halfway around the world to pay court to Rupert Murdoch—I made that criticism openly at the time and I do so now—but that is because those individuals’ power has been too great. We have seen the tentacles go deep into the Metropolitan police and into our political life. We have officers who are now probably facing prison because they were corrupted by journalists throwing money around; we have politicians who have been too close and embarrassed themselves with their relationships with the media. It is extremely corrupting.
The Mayor of London said that this matter was “codswallop” only days after the article appeared in The New York Times which resulted in the reopening of the Metropolitan police inquiry. So we have to look at how the Mayor has been influenced by the media and the way he has used the media.
Would my hon. Friend be astonished to learn that one of his constituents, as a police officer in 2005, received a suspended jail sentence for selling information to The Sun for a mere £200? Does that show how endemic the problem has become?
I think it does, and it shows why Parliament was recalled so that we could have this debate. I am sure that that police officer, for that small sum of money, seriously regrets his judgment, but what underlies such transactions is the power of the media to suggest that their influence stretches so far that they are not accountable, and will never be accountable, because they are under the umbrella and shield of our protection because they think themselves so great and so mighty. The fact that
Rebekah Brooks thought she could walk into Parliament and say, “Yes, we pay the police,” and walk out again without being held to account for it was an absolute disgrace. The Met must never return to that again.
The Mayor of London, however, used his influence to try to stall the inquiry. His reasons for that will have to come out as these matters are investigated, but without question his attitude to the investigation into phone hacking could only have had influence on the thoughts and decisions of the police, and that must be investigated.
My old friend Clive Efford is right in one respect: there are faults in all parties in the House and successive Governments in not tackling this issue early enough. However, I completely reject his criticism of the Mayor of London, because the Mayor’s comments pre-date the most recent allegations.
No, I will not, because I have so little time. That is the way it is tonight.
I shall make three points. First, people in this country have a fundamental right to live under the rule of law, but Members on both sides of the House must look back on this period and ask themselves this: did we uphold the rule of law? As the hon. Gentleman said, journalists felt that they could break the law willy-nilly, and people felt that they could talk to Select Committees about breaking the law, and nothing would happen. That is a failure of this Parliament over a period of time to uphold one of the basic rights of our people.
That is why it is right that the Prime Minister has agreed to a full, judge-led, independent inquiry, and why it is right that we have a proper police investigation under Sue Akers to go after the evidence. Our Select Committees did a good job yesterday in showing that even the most powerful people in the land, and even the world, can be questioned before a Select Committee just like anyone else. That is how it should be in our country. People should not feel that they can get away with it.
Let us ask how we got into that position. Many hon. Members have said that after 1992, Labour politicians were desperate for the good opinion of the media. They went out to the Canary Islands and all sorts of places—[ Interruption. ] They went to the Cayman Islands and Australia too. They were out to curry favour with the media regardless. The combination of currying favour with the media and the sofa-style government that we had under Tony Blair meant that we ended up with the sort of situation that was described by my hon. and learned Friend Mr Cox, who said that the Attorney-General was told in a letter from the police that a vast quantity of private information and criminality needed investigation, but nothing happened.
How did that happen? It should not have been possible, and there should have been a report to the Cabinet. Mr Straw said that no such report ever occurred. That reminds us of what the Butler inquiry said about sofa-style government, when there are no formalities. We ended up going off to war in Iraq without members of the Cabinet seeing all the papers. That same, sloppy approach is not the way to run a country. It is right that we have the inquiries, but the House must get together to ensure the proper rule of law.
My second point is that the separation of the criminal justice system from politicians is very important. I was surprised to hear the Leader of the Opposition say that he expected the Prime Minister to be briefed by an assistant commissioner about an ongoing police inquiry. The assistant commissioner actually offered that service to No. 10, but Edward Llewellyn was absolutely right to say no, because we want that separation. The cosiness of the police and the media, and sofa-style government, blurs the formalities that protect our constitution.
Finally, I want to mention the presumption of innocence. When in opposition, it is easy to cast stones and to rely on bits of gossip and speculation as if they are evidence, but in this country, thank goodness, we have a fair system of trial with the presumption of innocence at its core. I would not want that to change. All those who throw stones and pretend that someone is guilty just because a newspaper says so ought to think about where that leads. Let us stick up for the constitutional principles of the rule of law and the separation of powers, and let us ensure that we continue to have fair trials.
We heard yesterday from people who said that they did not know about hacking and that they did not authorise payments for it. It is extraordinary that those executives did not take their responsibilities for corporate governance seriously enough to determine who did know about hacking, who authorised it and who paid for it. This question is not just for the House, but for the shareholders of News Corp and News International. How can those shareholders have confidence in a management that, six years on, has failed to find out those simple facts and to hold people to account?
The £500,000 settlement to Gordon Taylor was discussed at the time by James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in a meeting with other officers of News Corp and News International. They were discussing a payment to someone who was the victim of the company’s illegal practices, so the House must consider whether it is at all credible that at that meeting James Murdoch did not put one simple question: why do we have to pay this money? Any chairman would want to know the full details of why he was being asked to make such a payment, so of course he was told the details of the breaches of privacy suffered by Gordon Taylor and others. However, any semi-conscious corporate lawyer would ask a further question: what is the full extent of our liability? When James Murdoch asked that question, it is inconceivable that he would have accepted anyone answering, “We don’t know,” or, “We haven’t bothered to find out,” yet in effect that was the response that he and his father gave to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee yesterday. Had he received such a response, I think that his answer would have been swift and sharp.
If the House accepts that that question must have been asked and then fully and honestly answered, it follows that James Murdoch knew that Jon Chapman and Daniel Cloke had full knowledge of the extent of the phone hacking because, of course, they reviewed the files given to Harbottle & Lewis. James Murdoch told the Select Committee that he did not tell his father about the £500,000 payment to Gordon Taylor until after it had been made in 2009. He did not explain why he had failed to tell his father that he knew what Chapman and Cloke knew, namely that widespread hacking and illegality had taken place, and that that was why they had to buy Gordon Taylor’s silence.
The files at Harbottle & Lewis are crucial. Yesterday, James Murdoch told Parliament that the actions of News Corp did
“not live up to the standards that our company aspires to…and it is our determination to put things right”, yet News Corp has refused to allow Harbottle & Lewis to release those documents to the police. Being determined “to put things right” starts with releasing those files.
Why, in 2009, did Deputy Commissioner Yates decide that there was no new evidence in The Guardian’s revelations about the hacking of Gordon Taylor? Mr Yates has been at pains to insist that this was not a full-scale review. I accept that, but it takes not even eight minutes, never mind eight hours, to appreciate that the reason why there was new material evidence was that a royal correspondent—the subject of the original investigation—would not have been doing an investigative story on the chief executive of a football association. In other words, that gave the lie to the widespread assumption that this was just one rogue reporter.
Sir Paul Stephenson’s evidence yesterday stated that Mr Yates was put under no time limit, so if he had needed more than eight hours, he could have had it.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, who has carried out excellent work on this, for that comment. My point is that Mr Yates did not need even eight hours. He needed eight minutes, because all he had to consider was the central fact that the latest information in The Guardian revealed that there was not one rogue reporter, but more than one.
Paul Stephenson, in his resignation statement, made a distinction between his appointment of Mr Wallis and the Prime Minister’s appointment of Mr Coulson. A distinction has repeatedly been made in the House by the Home Secretary and others, who have tried to say that an important line has to be drawn between the investigated and the investigator. I agree: that is absolutely right, but it is equally right and it is of fundamental importance in our debate about public confidence in the media and the police that we should consider public confidence in the Government and in the Prime Minister. If there is a proper line between the investigator and the investigated, there should be a proper line between the law maker and the law breaker.
There have been many constructive and thoughtful contributions to the debate. The tone that we need to strike, and which, in the main, has been struck, is one of great humility. There is nothing worse than the British Parliament having a periodic fit of morality, particularly bearing in mind the context of the debate and the disastrous cocktail of criminality and neglect that has resulted in appalling acts committed as long ago as 2003 coming to light in only the past few weeks. That should be the tone of our remarks, and we should remember that the vast majority of the police and of journalists are doing their best. They do a good job. A small minority in both cases have, unfortunately, brought both professions into disrepute.
Much has been made of the Harbottle & Lewis file, and the assertion of legal professional privilege. My understanding is that privilege would apply to correspondence between solicitor and client, but that if third-party documents disclose the furtherance of a crime, for example, they would not be subject to such privilege. The truth—I have not seen the file, and I do not know what it contains—is probably that there is a case for a thorough review of the file to ascertain whether privilege can be asserted by its owner, News International. If documents in the file clearly disclose the furtherance of a crime, they should be disclosed. My strong advice to News International is that if the spirit of the Murdochs’ evidence yesterday is to be followed through, disclosure of the file would be in their interests and the wider public interest.
The events of the past two weeks have caused us to focus on phone hacking, but the spectrum is much wider than that. Only a few months ago—perhaps even more recently—we were looking at super-injunctions and privacy, which are part of that spectrum. At one end are people, usually with fame and means, who can assert their privacy by the use of injunctions and occasionally super-injunctions. At the other are ordinary members of the public—innocent people—who are living quietly and getting on with their lives, sometimes subject to tragedy, who find themselves at the butt-end of criminality and abuse by powerful media operations.
We must also consider something else that has not been raised in our debate. Does my hon. Friend agree that communications companies have a role in ensuring that communications are kept secure so that people who wish to transgress and break the law cannot do so?
Absolutely right. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point.
There is a sense of something old and something new about this debate. The old aspect of it is the ever-present role of the press baron in our public life. A hundred years ago it was Lord Harmsworth, then it was Beaverbrook, then Maxwell and Murdoch in latter times. That is not new. It is lamentable and wrong, and the House seems to agree that it is time for a change. I welcome that.
There is also something new—the unprecedented vulnerability of private data. Information is the new valuable property of the modern age. We have spent our years guarding our homes and our possessions against theft and burglary, but have forgotten and neglected the sometimes even more valuable private information that can be used in a way that can seriously prejudice the lives of ordinary people. My hon. Friend is right to mention communications companies and the ease of access that there seems to be to telephone data and other personal information. That is wrong, and there is now an historic opportunity to get things right.
I welcome the judicial inquiry, and I remind the House that we have set up a Joint Committee of both Houses to look at privacy, super-injunctions and the future role of the Press Complaints Commission and the media in that context.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the terms of reference of that Joint Committee refer to media regulation as a whole? We therefore need to concentrate on that in relation to the inquiry as well, as set out in part 1, paragraph 2(b) of the terms of reference.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He makes the point that I was about to make. There is a link. There is a direct role for both Houses of Parliament through the Committee to do some valuable work to produce recommendations for changes to media regulation. The Committee has been set up and will report by the end of February 2012. We have an opportunity as parliamentarians in the Chamber and in Committee to make constructive and proper proposals.
I was interested in the suggestions and observations of the Leader of the Opposition earlier about the form of some of the changes that could take place. He rightly talked about redress of grievance. The question is how we build that. If it takes the form of damages, we have to think about how that will be funded. Will there be a contingent fund organised by the newspapers and the media? We must bear in mind that for all the big beasts in the jungle, there are small local newspapers that are struggling to make ends meet. We must be mindful of the ability of the industry to fund a proper system of damages. The right hon. Gentleman and the Prime Minister are right to emphasise the need for a new regulatory body to have teeth and to give ordinary people the chance to see their grievances properly redressed.
For far too long, it has been a case of the big beasts of the jungle trampling over the rights of ordinary people. I do not say that in a spirit of arrogance or anger. I say it in a sense of deep humility and sadness that we have reached this stage in our public life. We have an opportunity. Let us seize it together.
I shall be brief. I make a plea to put an item on the Leveson agenda. As a result of the work of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, Leveson will be looking at the ethics of journalism. There have been calls in the House today and throughout the debate over the past three weeks for greater adherence to the Press Complaints Commission code of conduct.
The commission’s code of conduct is based on the National Union of Journalists code of conduct, which was first developed in 1936. Every NUJ member has to sign the code when they become a member of the union. It is policed by the ethics council, and there is an ethics hotline to advise journalists. The code includes the principle that a journalist
“strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair”.
Journalists must obtain their material
“by honest, straightforward and open means” and do
“nothing to intrude into anybody’s private life, grief or distress unless justified by overriding consideration of the public interest”.
There is also a conscience clause in the code of conduct, which says that
“a journalist has the right to refuse an assignment or be identified as the author of an editorial that would break the letter or spirit of the code.”
Where the NUJ is organised, that code has worked.
Some Members will remember when, back in 2006, the Daily Star tried to produce a racist front page, but the workers, backed by their union and Members on both sides of the House, refused to publish it because of the damage it would do to community relations. The code of conduct did not work at News International because the NUJ was cleared out. News International used a loophole in the law. It set up the News International staff association, which was not certified as an independent union by the Government’s certification officer, yet it was still used to argue that there was a pre-existing union agreement, so the NUJ was not recognised. As a result, the journalists were not protected by a union.
We heard the description of the working atmosphere in Wapping—the bullying, the victimisation and the pressure put on journalists to produce material by whatever means. Someone described it as the development of a culture of sewer journalism. The House was warned. In 2004, when the Government were considering the last but one employment Bill, the NUJ briefed us all and urged us to introduce a conscience clause that would enable journalists to be protected when they refused to do anything against the code. That was rejected. I moved the amendment at the time, but it was rejected. The argument made by the previous Government was that it went
“too far in constraining employers.”—[Hansard, 29 March 2004; Vol. 419, c. 1364.]
It was opposed by Members on both sides of the House.
We were warned again by the NUJ, though. It came back in 2009 to present evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. It urged the Committee to reconsider the introduction of a conscience clause that would protect journalists standing up against bullying employers who sought to introduce work or material into their work that was against the code of conduct. The Committee ignored that evidence and request, however, and made no recommendation on it. I urge the Leveson inquiry to examine the introduction of a conscience clause backed by statute to protect journalists who refuse to go into the sewer and use the methods that we have all condemned in these recent debates.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the public largely believe what they read in the newspapers and what they see on the television and internet, and that one of the most important things that can come out of this whole sorry affair is a media that now tell the truth?
I think that we will arrive at that situation only if we enforce the code of conduct and if journalists and employers know where they stand and that, if they breach the code, journalists can stand up and be protected in law if they refuse to practise the sort of journalism we have seen recently. The Leveson inquiry should consider anti-trade union legislation, which has been used to undermine employees’ rights at places such as News International when unions have tried to protect members who have simply stood up for quality and ethical journalism.
There are a number of things that need to be done to restore public confidence in the media and the police, and many right hon. and hon. Members have touched upon them. We need to investigate without fear or favour—indeed, the Government have announced such an investigation—and, as Chris Bryant said, we need people at the top of their organisations to take responsibility. I shall touch on that in a moment. Finally, we need to underline the important work that the press and the police do, day in, day out, in our constituencies up and down the country—certainly in mine.
I have a particular interest because I lived for a number of years in a country that was a one-party state. The press had no chance to criticise, there was a lack of investigative journalism and, frankly, the newspapers were extremely dull. The police faced operational interference from politicians, they were often corrupt and there was a lack of attention to the needs of ordinary people. Let us reflect, then, on the wonderful things we have in this country and compare them to what many around the world have. It is a matter of pride that we have a press that by and large does an excellent job and police forces that do the same. However, freedoms are hard-won and easily given away.
Along with freedom, as Chris Bryant so eloquently said earlier, we need responsibility. That is at the heart of this debate. The public know that all of us—politicians, police or press—are not angels. They realise that there are always individuals who will do wrong. However, what I believe they want to see is leaders taking responsibility for their actions and those of the people who work for them. Ultimately, public confidence rests on those in power taking responsibility. That means a number of things that have been reflected on throughout the debate. It means first that the systems in organisations have to be correct; secondly, that the standards and culture of an organisation have to be true; and, thirdly, that integrity is required from those in positions of leadership. I pay tribute to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police for the integrity that he showed this weekend.
I want to reflect a little on how the press could examine themselves from time to time. In my constituency we have of course had the tragedy of Stafford hospital, and recently there was an article in The Sunday Times that was generally well researched and balanced, but for which the headline was “The killing wards”. There was no killing going on there. There was neglect, and there were deaths. The reflection, whether conscious or unconscious, of the film of 20 or 30 years ago about the Cambodian genocide, was very unfortunate. As my hon. Friend Dr Coffey said earlier, newspapers need to reflect carefully on the headlines they use.
That is why I welcome what is happening now and the investigations. They show that those in positions of leadership are beginning to take up their responsibilities.
I say “beginning” because only by people taking fully on board their responsibilities as leaders of organisations and, as Sir Gerald Kaufman and others have said, knowing what is going down right at the bottom their organisations, will the freedoms that we all cherish be preserved.
For many members, there have been many defining points in the past two weeks. For me there were two such moments. One was when we heard about what had happened to the Dowler family, and the second was yesterday when Rupert Murdoch said to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee that he was something along the lines of “fed up” and wanted Prime Ministers to leave him alone. That sent a shiver down my spine, and I am sure that other Members must have found it incredibly uncomfortable as well.
I want to thank my hon. Friends the Members for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) and for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for their tenacity in the past few weeks and for pursuing the matter for many months. I also wish to thank the leader of my party for asking for a judicial inquiry and an inquiry into the police activities, and of course the Prime Minister for agreeing to hold those inquiries.
They say that, sometimes, good comes out of a tragedy, and the good here seems to be that we can now look properly at some of the distasteful and illegal activities carried out by certain sections of our media over a number of years. Many Members alluded to the fact that it is not just News Corporation that has carried out such tactics.
I believe in a free press, as I am sure all Members do. It should be free to investigate and expose wrongdoing, however embarrassing it might be to the individuals in question. What people rightly get upset about is when complete lies are printed in the media and the retraction appears in two lines at the back of the paper, as in the recent case of Mr Chris Jefferies, who was arrested and released by the police in relation to the murder of Joanna Yeates. The media headlines basically had him tried and convicted.
Such vilification also applies to many different ethnic, racial, religious and cultural groups. Often, the media attribute statements or actions to those groups that are complete lies. All that does is encourage bigotry.
I am enjoying my hon. Friend’s impassioned speech. Does she join me in thinking that when the worst elements of the media attack people and put forward ideas that they have committed crimes when they actually have not, one of the biggest groups of people who are damaged are the victims of crime?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The lies can often lead to phobias and bigotry against different groups of people. For example, the onslaught on asylum seekers led to an increase in the number of assaults on them, and that level of bigotry also extends to other groups.
The confidence of the public will be restored only when an independent, regulated press complaints body with proper powers comes into being. The powers should include the power to call for remedies to put right the harm that has been done. For example, when someone has had their reputation tarnished because lies have been told about them, exemplary damages should be considered. More importantly, an equal amount of space and time should be given to the printing of a retraction as was given to the creation of the original story.
I am following my hon. Friend’s argument closely, as is the whole House. Does she agree that there are few things in life more utterly scandalous and indefensible than, when the press foully traduce an individual and are proved to have lied, they print an apology on page 64 underneath the gardening tips? Should not the apology be of equal prominence?
My hon. Friend has just taken my next sentence from me. I was going to say that if two front pages are given to a story that is a lie, two front pages should be given to the retraction.
We do not expect the media to be politically balanced; nor do I ask for that. What everyone in the House and the country wants is for the media to print the truth, not lies. We do not want to gag the media. We want them to carry out investigative journalism, and to expose wrongdoing. We want them to search and to quest for the truth, but we want them to print the truth as well. This is what the big debate has been about. Over the course of the years we have had examples such as the Watergate scandal, and the media have on many occasions been a force for good. They have held many people, corporations and Governments to account, and it is right that they should do so. No one here is suggesting that when we talk about regulation of the press, we are talking about preventing it from carrying out proper investigations. We are, however, concerned about the despicable and illegal means used to carry out some of the investigations, and about the printing of lies. Like many other Members, I have been following the debate for the past two weeks, and I am glad that there are now going to be investigations. I hope that the commissions will report very soon.
Many hon. Members have referred to the strength of the media, but we should recognise that the corollary of that is the weakness of politicians. Many people want to see an end to the cosy relationship between the media and our most senior politicians. They want to know that the Prime Minister is his own man, or her own woman. We recognise that that cosy relationship has grown up over the past 20 years, but most particularly under the premierships of Mr Blair and Mr Brown. The present Prime Minister has now called time on those arrangements, and he is absolutely correct to do so.
That cosy relationship is not in the British tradition. In fact, it is more of a European tradition. Let me give two quotes to illustrate that assertion. Napoleon said:
“Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.”
The Duke of Wellington said, “Publish and be damned”. What the public want to see from their Prime Ministers is more of that Duke of Wellington spirit, and I am pleased to see that our Prime Minister gets that. The truth is that it was not The Sun “wot won it”; it was the political arguments that won the case in 1992. It was a conceit on the British public to put the press in such a powerful position.
I am very grateful that the Prime Minister is now setting the direction of greater accountability. The Leader of the Opposition, who is back in his place, mentioned that one of the important issues was for people in positions of power to protect those who are not. He is a powerful man—the leader of the Labour party—so will he use his position as party leader to call for his two predecessors to contribute fully to the inquiry on the media? Will he ask and persuade them to release all the records of their meetings when they were in office as Prime Minister, so that we can get a full and transparent disclosure of this overly cosy relationship?
What the people want is to move away from a culture of deniability to one of accountability in our institutions. It is not sufficient to say that we do or do not have the right governance procedures in place. The public can see that there is a difference between knowing something is wrong, and allowing a culture in which bad things take place without their knowledge; they know they are different, but they know they are both wrong. They know that if we create a culture whereby we put pressure on people to provide results and do not ask them how they got to those results, that is wrong, and we need to change that. The executives in all our institutions in the media need to understand that.
If we can get those two things right, by ending this cosy relationship, as the Prime Minister rightly said today, and by creating a structure in which responsibility and accountability are to the fore, we will have had a good day in Parliament.
Obviously, I will have to truncate my speech greatly. We recognise that there has been a cover-up going on, and we have to look at whether it is too easy in this country to cover things up. I want to consider a couple of other examples of cover-ups, and then look at how the rules for judicial review could be changed. I will try to get it done quickly, so that Margot James can speak.
Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board employs Dr Paul Flynn, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist. From 2002 to 2005, he performed over 100 operations on cancer patients against national guidelines. Concerns about Dr Flynn had been passed since 2003 to Dr John Calvert, the medical director who had hired him. However, Dr Flynn was only prevented from treating cancer patients in May 2005, after six surgeons complained directly about his poor respect of tissues, questionable knowledge of anatomy, lack of appreciation of what is on X-rays, and lack of a realistic surgical approach to cancer.
That is very much like the situation with the News of the World: there is a very serious problem and the management’s response, rather than to put their hands up, is to go for a cover-up. Rather than tell patients that they had been operated on by an untrained surgeon, the trust spent over £375,000—the equivalent of 20 nurses’ salaries—on gagging the original whistleblower, Dr Ihab Korashi, who was threatening to contact patients and expose what is a cover-up. Unlike the News International case, in this instance the court hearings were held in secret and held no fear for those who wished to keep the truth from public view.
Dr Korashi had reported his concerns to South Wales police—so we have a similar problem with the police—and the regulator, but the police ignored CPS advice that officers should pursue further lines of inquiry. The sad situation is that his wife, Dr Toulan, who was also a gynaecologist and suffered from cancer, wrote to the trust’s chief executive in March urging them to tell patients and relatives “the truth”. The response of the trust’s lawyers was remarkable. They said that patients would not be informed and served Dr Toulan, while she was in hospital, with an injunction, warning that she could go to prison if it was broken. She died from cancer 10 days ago.
What we have here is an example of a cover-up, and we need to change the rules so that ordinary people can challenge the state and successful companies. News International could have got away with all this if somebody had not taken the chance of taking it to civil proceedings. There are big cost risks associated with that. We also need to review the costs rules, particularly at the permission stage for judicial review, so that people can challenge public authorities without taking major risks.
I will now sit down, so that the hon. Member for Stourbridge can speak.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend John Hemming. Let me make two points. First, some terrible things have happened and I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and his resolve to sort these things out. I am also grateful for his assurance about protecting investigative journalism and the free press. Our free press has unearthed, over time, miscarriages of justice, the misappropriation of public money, and abuse and lawbreaking on a grand scale. I remind hon. Members that a few weeks ago we were in here debating the tragic Winterbourne View case. The BBC Panorama team’s work on that had to involve false documentation, misrepresenting one of their journalists as someone else, and going in to film secretly. How else would we have known about that terrible situation? I am delighted about that.
If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will not—the wind-ups start in one minute.
My second point concerns the Culture, Media and Sport Committee session yesterday. There are lessons to learn from the Enron case about wilful blindness and when a company’s leadership could have known, should have known and sometimes chose not to know. I have worked in such environments at times in my career: there was an awful business of senior leadership turning a blind eye and the management thinking they could get away with things. Instead of that, we should have a culture in the media in which organisations’ boards and leaders really look to their journalists to abide by the regulations.
The gravity of the issues we are debating cannot be overstated. They raise fundamental questions about our society and our democracy. A story-at-all-costs, no-limits culture at one newspaper and almost certainly beyond started as a means of getting private information about public figures and culminated in the tragedy and horror of Milly Dowler’s phone being hacked, with yet more unspeakable suffering for her family. If nothing else, we owe it to them to make sure that that can never happen again. We have seen failures of corporate governance on a scale that continues to beggar belief and an initial police investigation that failed to meet even the most basic standards of professionalism. With the honourable exceptions of my hon. Friends the Members for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) and for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and the former Deputy Prime Minister, politicians have, frankly, been too timid in the pursuit of the truth.
Over the past two and a half weeks, Britain’s newspaper with the largest circulation has been shut down, the BSkyB deal has been abandoned, senior journalists and executives from News International have been arrested and yesterday two Select Committees of this House held evidence sessions that humbled the most powerful media proprietor in the world and forensically examined the issues surrounding the resignation over the weekend of two of the most senior officers at the Metropolitan police. I pay tribute to the Chairs of those Select Committees, my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz and Mr Whittingdale, who enjoy respect on both sides of the House for the independence and integrity with which they fulfil their responsibilities.
As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said at the beginning of the debate, we welcome the appointment of Judge Leveson and support the terms of reference for his inquiry. The priority for us all has to be to rebuild public confidence and trust in the newspaper industry, police and politicians—three key pillars that determine the nature of our democracy and the character of our country. That will happen only if we learn the big lessons from this scandal. Those guilty of criminal conduct must be brought to justice, a new independent regulatory system must be created for the newspaper industry and new rules on media ownership are needed to ensure that no single private media company can have excessive market and democratic power.
On newspaper regulation, my right hon. Friend Mr Straw is right to highlight that a choice between self-regulation and state regulation is a false choice. We need a system with greater independence, more investigative powers and serious redress, including compensation. A new media framework will have to respond to the challenges of a digital age, which is revolutionising consumer choice and challenging existing business models. As Mr Foster said, public interest must include not simply plurality but also market power. In future, the application of a fit and proper person test should be as much about corporate governance as about criminal conduct.
On lessons for the police, we welcome the announcement of the measures in the Home Secretary’s statement on Monday that we had recommended, but we think she should have gone further. She needs to call for immediate openness and transparency across the Met in respect of all dealings between senior officers and members of the press, including those at News International. The urgency of that was reinforced by the comments of my hon. Friend John Mann today. We also need her to review her decision to go forward with elected police and crime commissioners. As my hon. Friend Clive Efford stated, the Mayor of London provides ample evidence of the risk that they pose to independent policing. We need total transparency about the relationship between senior media figures and the police and the same must apply to the relationship between the media and politicians. Only then will people believe that we are acting in the public interest at all times without fear or favour.
The Prime Minister, whom I am pleased to see in his place, has become embroiled in a tangled web entirely of his own making and still appears to be unable to give straight answers to reasonable questions. I wrote to him on
As regards Andy Coulson, the Prime Minister has said all along that he received no additional information about serious allegations against Mr Coulson, yet today he acknowledged being aware of the article in The New York Times that revealed significant new information. We are also aware that the Deputy Prime Minister raised serious concerns about Mr Coulson directly with the Prime Minister. In the interests of transparency, surely the nature of the Deputy Prime Minister’s concern should now be made public.
The Prime Minister’s introduction to his new ministerial code, which was launched amid great fanfare after the election, promising a more transparent Government, stated:
“We must be…Transparent about what we do and how we do it. Determined to act in the national interest, above improper influence. Mindful of our duty.”
The first section of the code states:
“Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament and the public, refusing to provide information only when disclosure would not be in the public interest”.
If the code is to be worth the paper it is written on, the Prime Minister must lead by example.
I also have questions for the Culture Secretary. When the BSkyB bid was referred to Ofcom by the Business Secretary, why was it referred only on public interest grounds and not on broadcasting standards grounds? Why did he not accept Ofcom’s recommendation to refer the bid to the Competition Commission for an independent inquiry? When I called for that to happen, the Secretary of State said it would not be appropriate time and time again, yet last week when he found himself in a corner of his own making, he was quick to get the bid off his desk and into the Competition Commission as quickly as possible.
The hon. Gentleman is fully aware that the original police investigation was flawed. We now know that we were lied to by executives of News International in the Select Committees of this House. The Press Complaints Commission has accepted that it was lied to by representatives of News International and it is therefore completely disingenuous to hold the previous Government responsible for a failure to act on phone hacking.
I must acknowledge that the Prime Minister has responded positively during the crisis, every time in response to demands from the Leader of the Opposition, the only leader in this House who has provided true leadership throughout the crisis.
In recent times, we have experienced a global financial crisis and the MPs’ expenses scandal and now public confidence in our newspapers and police has been seriously eroded. We have a solemn duty to understand that business as usual will simply not do. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said, we have no right to claim the mantle of responsibility if we are unwilling to apply that responsibility without fear or favour at every level of society. Let the crisis signal a new beginning where there is no ambiguity that the public interest must always come first.
We have had excellent speeches this afternoon from the majority of Members, who chose not to be partisan but to try to find a constructive way forward so that we can address the problems. Time is short, but I should like to mention some of the excellent contributions made. I start with the superb contribution from my hon. Friend Mr Whittingdale. This is the moment for the whole House to recognise his superb chairmanship of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. He is probably the hon. Member who, of all of us, has done the most in recent weeks to restore the reputation of Parliament to its proper place. He made an important contribution; in particular, along with my right hon. Friend Simon Hughes, he urged News International to co-operate in releasing the files that are with Harbottle & Lewis, so that the investigation can proceed to its proper destination.
We have more independent Select Committees in this Parliament, thanks to the decisions taken by this Government, and that has been shown to have been absolutely the right thing to do. [Interruption.] Will hon. Members let me proceed, please? My hon. Friend raised the important question of whether politicians should be removed from future decisions on media plurality. There is a difficult tension, because those decisions need to be impartial, and they need to be seen to be impartial. In recent months we have found how very difficult that is, whatever independent reports one gets, and however much we follow independent advice from independent regulators. We need to look at how we get the balance right between the accountability of elected officials and making sure that impartial decisions are seen to be made.
I pay credit to Keith Vaz, who has done an excellent job and produced today an excellent but very disturbing report, which talks of a catalogue of failures by the Metropolitan police. What he said about the importance of Sue Akers having all the support that she needs to deal with this very important investigation is absolutely right. He will be reassured by the letter that he has just received, which he kindly showed to me and the Prime Minister, in which Sue Akers says that she has increased the number of officers and staff on the case to 60; that is one of the biggest investigations in the country, and she is constantly reviewing the support that she needs. The whole House will have been slightly amused by the right hon. Gentleman’s comment that the breach of security in the other Committee yesterday may have been the result of police officers appearing before his Select Committee.
An excellent contribution was made by my hon. and learned Friend Mr Cox. He made a compelling case, and the Prime Minister said to me in the Tea Room shortly afterwards that every time my hon. and learned Friend speaks, the House of Commons gets thousands of pounds-worth of free legal advice. He made a very important point: it appears that in 2006 the Attorney-General may have known about what my hon. and learned Friend described as a vast array of offending material. His case was powerfully backed up by my hon. Friend Mark Reckless, who also talked about the potentially inaccurate legal advice given by the Crown Prosecution Service. Those are all things that the inquiry will look into in great detail.
Andrew Miller made an important point about understanding, when making any changes to media regulation, that we are in a new media age, and that it is no longer relevant to look at the concentration of power in only one particular platform or type of media; we have to look at how that power extends across different platforms—a point echoed by my hon. Friend Damian Collins, my right hon. Friend Mr Foster and Mr McCann—I hope I pronounced that last place correctly.
Among a number of important points, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark talked about the “fit and proper person” test. I can confirm that Ofcom applies that test continuously and assiduously. It ruled on a company called Bang Media in November 2010. But I accept that one of the lessons of what has happened in recent weeks is the need for more transparency about how the test is applied, so that the public can have confidence in how it operates. Like John Mann, my right hon. Friend made an important point about the necessity to stamp out completely the whole business of police tip-offs and pay-outs, which has concerned so many people as the issues have arisen.
Mr Straw returned to the question that the Prime Minister addressed continually in his earlier statement about whether there had been discussions about the BSkyB deal. The discussions that the Prime Minister had about the BSkyB deal were irrelevant. They were irrelevant because the person who had the responsibility—[ Interruption. ] If hon. Members will listen, I will answer the question. [ Interruption. ]
Order. Members can try to intervene, but the Secretary of State has the floor.
They were irrelevant because the person who was making the decision was myself, and I was making it on my own. This was not a matter of collective responsibility. This was a quasi-judicial process. I wish I could take more decisions completely on my own without any reference to the Prime Minister, the Chancellor or other Cabinet colleagues. This is the only such decision I have ever been privileged to make.