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‘(1) This section applies where—
(a) a relevant claim is made against a person (“the defendant”),
(b) the defendant was a relevant publisher at the material time,
(c) the claim is related to the publication of news-related material, and
(d) the defendant is found liable in respect of the claim.
(2) Exemplary damages may not be awarded against the defendant in respect of the claim if the defendant was a member of an approved regulator at the material time.
(3) But the court may disregard subsection (2) if—
(a) the approved regulator imposed a penalty on the defendant in respect of the defendant’s conduct or decided not to do so,
(b) the court considers, in light of the information available to the approved regulator when imposing the penalty or deciding not to impose one, that the regulator was manifestly irrational in imposing the penalty or deciding not to impose one, and
(c) the court is satisfied that, but for subsection (2), it would have made an award of exemplary damages under this section against the defendant.
(4) Where the court is not prevented from making an award of exemplary damages by subsection (2) (whether because that subsection does not apply or the court is permitted to disregard that subsection as a result of subsection (3)), the court—
(a) may make an award of exemplary damages if it considers it appropriate to do so in all the circumstances of the case, but
(b) may do so only under this section.
(5) Exemplary damages may be awarded under this section only if they are claimed.
(6) Exemplary damages may be awarded under this section only if the court is
(a) the defendant’s conduct has shown a deliberate or reckless disregard of an outrageous nature for the claimant's rights,
(b) the conduct is such that the court should punish the defendant for it, and
(c) other remedies would not be adequate to punish that conduct.
(7) Exemplary damages may be awarded under this section whether or not another remedy is granted.
(8) The decision on the question of—
(a) whether exemplary damages are to be awarded under this section, or
(b) the amount of such damages, must not be left to a jury.’.—(Maria Miller.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government new clause 22—Relevant considerations.
Government new clause 23—Amount of exemplary damages.
Government new clause 24—Multiple claimants.
Government new clause 25—Multiple defendants.
Government new clause 26—Awards of aggravated damages.
Government new clause 27A—Awards of costs.
Government new clause 29—Meaning of “relevant publisher”.
Government new clause 30—Other interpretative provisions.
Government new schedule 5—‘Exclusions from definition of “relevant publisher”.
Government amendments 121A and 122.
The Leveson inquiry shone a spotlight on the worst excesses of the press. As a result of the revelations involving the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone and all that went before it, we have seen the closure of a national newspaper and a range of ongoing criminal investigations.
Lord Justice Leveson heard evidence for more than a year. I should like to pause for a second to pay tribute—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I should like to pay tribute to those who gave evidence that involved them revisiting those harrowing experiences. I hope it will be clear today that that ordeal has not been in vain.
Today marks a turning point. We can move on from simply talking about Lord Justice Leveson’s report to starting to act on it, with a new package that is agreed by all three party leaders. The package includes a new royal charter, as announced by the Prime Minister earlier; a new costs and damages package that seeks to maximise incentives for relevant publishers to be part of the new press self-regulator; and one short clause reinforcing the point that politicians cannot tamper with the new press royal charter, which is the subject of debate in the other place.
Before I discuss the Bill, I should like to make clear what we are not talking about. The Prime Minister said to the House on the day the report was published that he had serious misgivings about statutory press regulation. He—I agreed with him—was determined to find a better way of establishing the recognition body that would oversee the tough self-regulatory body that Lord Justice Leveson envisaged. That is what our royal charter does.
Our proposals will provide the toughest system of regulation that this country has ever seen. The system will protect the public and ensure that the freedom of the press is not undermined. Alongside our proposals, we will include a three-line clause that reinforces the language within the charter and says that it cannot be changed without a two-thirds majority in both Houses. The clause ensures that, for generations to come, Ministers cannot interfere with the new system without explicit and extensive support from both Houses.
We have achieved all of that without needing to set out a system of press regulation in legislation—hence, our proposals are not statutory underpinning. The three-line clause applies to all royal charters of a particular nature from this point onwards. It is simply a safeguard.
We are in the House to debate amendments that will put in place a new, tough set of incentives for publishers. There are two such incentives—the first relates to the award of exemplary damages, and the second relates to the award of costs in litigation involving relevant publishers. The package forms a crucial part of the new regulatory regime, providing strong new incentives to relevant press publishers to join the press regulator. When they choose to join the press regulator, they will receive a series of benefits on costs and damages. However, those that choose not to join the regulator will be exposed to the tough new regime, which includes payment, in most cases, of the costs of people who bring claims in the courts against publishers on civil media laws, regardless of whether those people win or lose; and exposure to a new exemplary damages regime—we are introducing a new punitive damages regime for breaches of those media laws for those who do not sign up to the regulator.
Victims of press mistreatment will, for the first time, have access to a new toughened complaints mechanism with prominent apologies, tough £1 million fines, and access to a new arbitration system.
The hon. Gentleman knows that we are trying exactly to protect freedom of speech, so that newspapers have the ability to comment on proceedings in this place and more widely. We are protecting that important ability and maintaining and promoting freedom of speech.
I want to clarify schedule 4 of the royal charter, which states that a “relevant publisher” is
“a newspaper or magazine containing news-related material”.
Does that include, for example, newspapers published by local Conservative associations? Might we therefore have to register?
My hon. Friend is slightly jumping the gun—we will come to that in more detail later—but I can give him a sneak preview of the answer, which is no. Clear tests included in new clause 29 make it clear that such publications will not be covered.
The first group of amendments relates to exemplary damages. It will perhaps be helpful to the House to explain their effect. Exemplary damages are already available, as I am sure hon. Members know, under common law. They are, however, very rare, and reserved for the most serious cases. They are designed to punish only where there is no alternative. That general position will not change, but the new scheme will change the position for relevant publishers in certain types of cases relating to the media, namely: defamation, misuse of private information, breach of confidence and harassment. They would give effect to the recommendation in Lord Justice Leveson’s report that exemplary damages should be put on a statutory footing for media cases, with the aim of incentivising publishers to join the regulator.
New clause 21A incentivises publishers to join the regulator by making it clear that a court may contemplate awarding exemplary damages only in cases where a publisher has not joined the regulator, with very limited exceptions, on the basis that a publisher joining the regulator will already face the prospect of regulatory fines of up to £1 million, as set out in the royal charter. This approach, therefore, is designed to incentivise publishers to join the regulator by offering them protection from the award of exemplary damages. However, the clause also provides that if a court feels that a regulated publisher has acted in a way that would lead the court to award exemplary damages but for their membership of the regulator, and that the regulator has acted “manifestly irrationally” in its approach to sanctioning that conduct, then the courts may, in exceptional circumstances, make an award of exemplary damages in that case.
Will the right hon. Lady confirm that the legislation has been driven by the behaviour of certain national newspapers, and that our local newspapers and provincial press have not been responsible, but will have to pay for the sins of Fleet street?
I understand the sentiment behind my hon. Friend’s question. I can reassure him that we have been working directly with representatives of the local press to ensure that the new system does not, as he suggests, burden them unnecessarily. Perhaps Ms Harman will remark on that further; I will do so in my comments later.
Exemplary damages will be awarded only in the most serious cases, in line with both the Leveson report and the report of the 1997 Law Commission. The test for the award will be: where the defendant’s conduct has shown a deliberate or reckless disregard of an outrageous nature for the claimant’s rights; where conduct is such that the court should punish the defendant for it; and where other remedies would not be adequate to punish that conduct. The supplementary new clauses ensure that the new exemplary damages system works in practice.
New clause 22 sets out factors that the court must take into account in deciding whether an award of exemplary damages is appropriate, and whether membership of an improved regulator was available to the defendant at the time of the events giving rise to the claims. If so, what reasons the defendant had for not being a member are factors that can be considered. The court must also have regard, so far as it is relevant, to whether the defendant has internal compliance procedures of a satisfactory nature in place and how they are adhered to.
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend could provide me with some clarification. She says that the exemplary damages regime will apply as per the new clauses and so on. One of the exclusions from the definition of a “relevant publisher”, which she will find in new schedule 5, is:
“A person who publishes a title that relates to a particular pastime, hobby, trade, business, industry or profession”.
Maybe the “hobby” relates to the point made by my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg. What is the position of an irrelevant publisher, if I can describe him as that, who publishes a magazine or some other publication about a pastime, hobby or trade, but who none the less behaves within the terms of Rookes v. Barnard? Would the court still be able to award exemplary damages in that circumstance?
My hon. and learned Friend raises an issue in which he is well versed. If I do not provide a complete answer, then I will get back to him with all the details. Clearly, if somebody is not a relevant publisher then they are not drawn into the self-regulatory scheme. They would not be subject to exemplary damages or be eligible for the scheme. Therefore, they would not be caught within this remit. We have so drawn the definition of “relevant publishers” to ensure that the scheme does not catch people we do not need to catch, and that is why we have been careful to set out the three tests in new clause 29—to ensure that we are clear about who is covered. Some individual organisations might well fall close to the line, but then it would be for the courts to decide.
New clause 23 sets out matters to which the court must have regard in deciding the amount of exemplary damages appropriate, and the key principles governing the court’s consideration are that the amount should be no more
“than the minimum needed to punish the defendant for the conduct complained of” and that it should be “proportionate”. New clauses 24 and 25 ensure that those provisions will operate effectively in cases involving more than one claimant or defendant.
For completeness, I shall also mention new clause 26 and amendment 121A. New clause 26 implements recommendation 71 in Lord Justice Leveson’s report and confirms that, in cases under the new system, aggravated damages should only be awarded to compensate for mental distress and should have no punitive element. Amendment 121A provides that the provisions on exemplary damages come into force one year after the date on which the body is established by royal charter. That will be a powerful incentive to the press to establish the new regulator on a timely basis. For all their rarity, the availability of exemplary damages should send a powerful signal to publishers.
I turn to the provisions relating to costs in new clause 27A. The proposals are designed to give further real and powerful incentives and give effect to Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendation that the award of costs should be another tool to encourage publishers to join the regulator. The new clause would provide a clear presumption that where a claimant took a publisher inside the regulator to court, even if the claimant was successful, the normal rule that their costs would be met by a losing publisher would not apply. In other words, a defendant publisher that had joined the regulator should only pay a claimant’s costs in limited circumstances—if the issue could have been resolved at arbitration, had the defendant agreed to its being referred, or if it was just and equitable for the defendant to pay the claimant’s costs.
The fundamental problem is not necessarily the costs paid at the end of the case, but the costs of a litigant’s bringing an action against a publisher. I and my hon. and learned Friend Sir Edward Garnier have represented many individuals who would have struggled to bring such actions without protections. Will the Secretary of State advise the House of what protections are in place, and may I highly recommend the protective costs order regime that provides protection to an impoverished, but justified, litigant as against a very wealthy publisher?
My hon. Friend pre-empts something that I will cover in more detail later. I will not only deal with the cost regime, but explain that to comply with Leveson the new self-regulatory regime will include free arbitration, so giving those individuals the access to justice that he rightly says they should have.
New clause 27A establishes a second presumption—that a relevant publisher that chooses to stay outside the regulator would generally have costs awarded against it in proceedings for media tort, whether or not the claim is successful. In other words, a defendant publisher that does not join the regulator should always pay the claimant’s costs, unless the issue could not have been resolved at arbitration if the publisher had been a member of a regulator, or unless it were just and equitable for the defendant publisher not to pay those costs. These provisions deal with defendants and the costs they should or should not pay to claimants. The issue of claimants and the costs they might have to pay to defendants is also important and is addressed in subsection (5).
Lord Justice Leveson endorsed Lord Justice Jackson’s recommendation that qualified one-way cost shifting should be introduced for defamation and privacy cases. QOCS is a form of cost protection. The Government accepted that recommendation, and we have asked the Civil Justice Council, chaired by the Master of the Rolls, to make recommendations by the end of this month on appropriate cost protection measures to be introduced for defamation and privacy cases. The Government then expect to introduce a cost protection regime through the civil procedure rules.
Let us be clear: the new provisions on the awarding of costs, coupled with the provisions I have set out on exemplary damages, provide a powerful incentive to join the regulator and for disputes to be resolved through arbitration that meets the standards set out in the royal charter. Those defined as a “relevant publisher” for the purposes of the new legislation will, if they choose to sit outside the regulator, be exposed to the full force of the new exemplary damages and costs provisions. We want to ensure that the new provisions act as a powerful incentive—as I am sure you can hear me say, Mr Deputy Speaker—but we do not want to draw in too broad a range of publishers.
Is it not the case that the incentives are so powerful—with the exemplary damages and the requirement to pay the other side’s costs, even if their claim may be very poor —that, in essence, we are almost forcing the press into joining the new regulator and being subject to the regulation framework determined by Ministers through the Privy Council?
I gently remind my hon. Friend that the criteria used in reaching judgments will not be determined by Ministers, as he will know from the earlier debate. The reason we are establishing a royal charter is exactly so that all this is put very much at arm’s length from Ministers. I suggest to him that every publisher has a choice it can weigh up. Publishers can come inside the self-regulatory process and get the support of the regime for exemplary damages and costs, or they can choose to stay outside. That was absolutely the essence of Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendation not to have compulsion, and that is why the Prime Minister and I were so against taking a statutory approach—because we did not feel the press would want to take part in such a regime, which would be a fundamental weakness in the system.
But is it not the case that Ministers, albeit with senior members of the Opposition, have agreed the royal charter on Privy Council terms—in some ways that is worse than statutory regulation, because MPs have had no opportunity to debate it on behalf of our constituents—and that in many cases the only choice that media face will be whether to join or be bankrupted?
I would say to my hon. Friend that when I have heard people talk about the approach they want the Government to take, they say that they want regulation of the press to be very much at arm’s length from politicians. What we are talking about is a self-regulatory body for the press, set up by the press. The royal charter is a verification panel that will ensure that the press is doing what it should do. It will not be under the eyes of Ministers; it will be independent. However, I urge him to look at the detail of the charter so that he does not take just my word for it, but sees it written down in black and white.
There are lots of people who want to take part in the debate on these amendments, so if my hon. Friend lets me make a little progress, perhaps he can intervene on me a little later.
In new clause 29 we set out a definition of “relevant publisher” that captures national newspapers and their online editions, local and regional newspapers and their online editions, and online-only edited press-like content providers, as well as gossip and lifestyle magazines. Exemplary damages and costs are designed to catch larger news publishers—those at the centre of the circumstances giving rise to Leveson. As highlighted by my hon. Friend Sir Bob Russell, who is no longer in his place, many of those are not necessarily the smaller publications.
The new provisions will act as the key incentive for joining the new press regulator. However, our new clause is also designed to protect people who are not intended to be covered by the new regulator. Three interlocking tests will apply in that regard. They ask whether the publication is publishing news-related material in the course of a business, whether its material is written by a range of authors and whether that material is subject to editorial control. This provision aims to protect small-scale bloggers and the like. Together with new schedule 5, it will ensure that the publishers of special interest, hobby and trade titles such as the
Angling Times and the wine magazine
Decanter are not caught in the regime. Student and not-for-profit community newspapers such as the one mentioned by my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg will not be caught, and scientific journals, periodicals and book publishers will also be left outside the definition and therefore not exposed to the exemplary damages and costs regime.
We in this corner of the Chamber have been discussing definitions and wondering which magazines would count as hobby magazines. How, for example, would my right hon. Friend define Hello! magazine? It is surely not a newspaper, given that it indulges in the publication of gossip and celebrity pictures. Would it be covered, or would it be exempt, and who will decide where the line is to be drawn?
My hon. Friend tempts me to repeat what I have just said, but perhaps he should read Hansard or the Bill instead.
New clause 29 describes in great detail who will be caught by the definition of “relevant publisher”. The publisher would have to meet the three tests of whether the publication is publishing news-related material in the course of a business, whether their material is written by a range of authors—this would exclude a one-man band or a single blogger—and whether that material is subject to editorial control. This is specifically designed to protect small-scale bloggers. Lone bloggers clearly do not meet those criteria. I hope that that clarifies that point.
One could easily envisage a railway enthusiasts’ magazine which had a range of authors whose material was subject to editorial control but which many people would nevertheless consider to be a hobby magazine. It would fall outside the regime because it was aimed solely at enthusiasts. What would happen, however, if such a magazine were to get hold of some information, perhaps confidential information, about High Speed 2? Would it then be caught by the regime? Does my right hon. Friend not see the path that she is going down?
We have clearly set out the direction that we are going in, and it is there in the information for my hon. Friend to read. Ultimately, the court will decide whether any particular issues fall near the line. If a publication is concerned about whether it would be caught by the new regime, it can of course seek legal advice, but we have done a great deal to make this clear to individual publications. I am sorry—I did not make it clear to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset whether Hello! magazine would be caught by the provisions. Yes, it will be. People tell me that it is a gossip magazine. I am not a regular purchaser of it.
The Minister mentioned publications that would not fall into the category of “relevant publisher”. If a publication posing as a constituency newsletter—perhaps with a title like Target Marginal South—were to make a serious allegation against someone in another party, what would happen if a relevant publisher were to pick up the story and publish it? Where would they stand if they published a controversial story that had originally been published by a non-relevant publisher?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that such instances already arise and that they are covered by the normal laws of libel. That would continue to be the case because those organisations would not be deemed to be relevant publishers. The normal laws would therefore be in play. Hopefully, that provides him with some clarification.
In conclusion, getting the balance of incentives right is clearly important, as it was really important in the Leveson report. We are, I believe, striking a balance through these amendments that will present a tough new system of press regulation, but equally one that does not compromise the freedom of the press or investigative journalism. We are all clear that investigative journalism and freedom of the press should be given paramount importance in the process. Throughout cross-party talks, we agreed a set of proposals that will create a tough new system of self-regulation.
I believe the package put in front of us all today provides real incentives with real effect. It embodies a crucial part of Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals and part of the tough new regime for press regulation. These amendments have been put forward with cross-party support, so I commend them to the House.
I rise to support the Government new clauses in the group and the manuscript new clauses standing in the name of the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. The manuscript new clauses arise out of the cross-party talks, into which I thank the Secretary of State for inviting us. That explains why hon. Members have not, I am afraid, had much time to look at them. We all want to be sure that hon. Members have the opportunity to scrutinise provisions in advance, but because we worked late into the night in attempting to agree them, they have been brought before the House with inadequate notice. I offer my apologies for that.
I hope to add to the points made by the Secretary of State, with which I greatly agree. Also, because hon. Members have not had much chance to look at the manuscript amendments and consider what they mean, I shall try to explain my understanding of how they sit with the new framework set out in the royal charter.
As the Secretary of State has said, the choice Leveson made was not to impose direct regulation on newspapers as a complaints system, but to invite them instead to set up their own regulation system and to encourage subscribers to it, not only because it is a good idea as the framework is fair and reasonable, but because incentives and disincentives have been provided. That, of course, leaves the choice to them—the point of incentives and disincentives is that they incentivise and disincentivise—but encourages them to go into the new regime.
It is also crucial—this is a major change—that a new arbitration system is being set up. Over the years, people have wrung their hands about how inaccessible the courts are to people who have been defamed, while newspapers have wrung their hands about being tied up for ages with the enormous costs that can arise if some oligarch takes a newspaper to court. Importantly, therefore, arising from the Leveson report is not just a new complaints system but a new arbitration system. Media torts, defamation and privacy claims that would otherwise have gone to court will instead go into the arbitration system. The manuscript new clauses on cost will incentivise not only newspapers but individual complainants to go into an arbitration system and not straight to court. There is an incentive for a complainant who wants to bring an action against a newspaper that is a member of a regulatory body to agree to arbitration, which will be available to members of the body and which will be run inexpensively. A complainant who does not want to go to arbitration, who says “I will take my chances in court” and who then wins the case will not win the costs, and costs may be awarded against that complainant. Arbitration will involve no cost to complainants, and they will benefit from a top-rate, legally kosher procedure without having to go to court.
If the hon. Gentleman is going to ask me a difficult, complicated question, I can tell him the answer. It is “The Secretary of State will respond on my behalf.” However, he is welcome to ask the question anyway.
I am delighted to observe that the Labour party studied the legislation in such detail before presenting it.
I should probably declare that I am a qualified mediator and arbitrator. Under the current system, people involved in arbitration can appeal against the process if they are not happy with it, and the litigation can begin anew. Would that arrangement continue, and how would an individual litigant defamed by a newspaper or any other publication bring an action, given that—contrary to what the right hon. and learned Lady has just said—the costs of arbitration are very high?
The royal charter requires the regulator to provide for an inexpensively run arbitration service which will impose no costs on complainants. As the hon. Gentleman will know, things can happen further along the chain after arbitration has been agreed to, but the essence of arbitration is that both sides embark on it agreeing that the arbitrator will settle the issue.
I think that this will be a great step forward, because it will deal with the problem of inaccessibility. Most people who are defamed, or whose privacy has been invaded in what is termed a media tort, would never dream of being able to go to court, although many lawyers are prepared to act on the basis of conditional fee arrangements. A free-to-use arbitration service is therefore an important component of the Leveson package contained in the royal charter. It is good news for claimants, but it also means that newspapers will be well and truly incentivised not to remain outside the regulatory body. If they are not in the regulatory body and arbitration is therefore not available to those who may complain about them, it is possible that when the case goes to court, costs will be awarded against them even if they win.
That is how we understand that the system will work. May I invite Sir Edward Garnier to answer his question at the same time as asking it? I suspect that he thinks he knows the answer better than I do. He does not, but he probably thinks he does.
What a charming way of allowing an intervention! I should have thought that a fellow member of the former Solicitor-Generals’ club would be a little more polite to me. I shall have to take our dispute to arbitration as soon as possible.
There is no doubt that the proposal presented by the Government, and agreed to by the Opposition, to encourage people to become members of the regulatory body and to make use of an arbitration scheme has its attractions, but I think that the right hon. and learned Lady and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should be careful not to be seduced into thinking that arbitration equals no expense, no time, and simplicity. The sorts of cases that go to arbitration can be just as complicated as those which go to court and the expense involved in a fully tuned-up arbitration is no less than that of a piece of litigation. So this is a jolly good idea and let us all say how wonderful it is, but let us not seduce ourselves into thinking that arbitration is some magic answer, because there will be plenty of cases where the interlocutory procedures will be far too complicated for speedy mediation or arbitration under the regulatory scheme.
I am well aware that many arbitration cases are incredibly complex—for example, those in the construction industry. However, one thing that the recogniser established under the royal charter is charged to do is to see that the regulator, which is coming forward to seek recognition, has an inexpensive arbitration system. Obviously, it is not automatic that an arbitration system will be inexpensive—it could be very expensive—but the regulator, seeking recognition, has an opportunity to put forward a brand new system that starts off by trying to be as inexpensive as possible; it is free of cost for the complainant but there are the costs of running it. I apologise for my slightly waspish response to the hon. and learned Gentleman’s intervention; I must have been trying to get my defence in first.
That deals with the point about arbitration and costs, and I now wish to deal with the issue of exemplary damages. Obviously, the bar for those is set very high and they are rarely awarded. As hon. Members will know, they occur where the court wants not only to quantify the compensation for the claimant’s suffering and loss—mental, physical and financial—but to teach the defendant a lesson. Sometimes called punitive damages, exemplary damages are awarded to make an example; they are like a public policy intervention that gives a good bonus to the claimant, because the court wants to teach the defendant a lesson and so imposes extra damages.
New clause 21A sets the bar for exemplary damages very high, as it provides that the “defendant’s conduct” must have
“shown a deliberate or reckless disregard of an outrageous nature for the claimant’s rights”.
In addition, the conduct must have been
“such that the court should punish the defendant for it”.
We know what we are dealing with here—very extreme conduct.
We are being asked to legislate for exemplary damages here in this House, so does that mean that this really is a statutory system and that the right hon. and learned Lady won?
No, because there is no statute that says, “We are setting up a system and we are passing a law to make all the newspapers be in it.” The newspapers have a choice as to whether or not the enter the system. However, the point is that we are incentivising them to enter it and disincentivising them from staying outside. They could make a judgment that they want to stay outside. They could decide that they do not want to go to arbitration and that they will take their chances with the court. They might decide that they will be so careful that they will never commit a media tort, and even if they did, that they would never get anywhere near the “outrageous” behaviour that would justify exemplary damages and so would not need to worry about that. I hope that they will not take the view. I hope they will think that, even if they are not behaving outrageously, they would want to shelter themselves from the prospect of exemplary damages. I hope that they will go into the system willingly. Exemplary damages will still be available to the courts to award against people who are in the regulator, but it is more or less a presumption that those people will not be in it. That is a major disincentive.
There is clearly a very strong disincentive to go into the scheme for those who might qualify, but there is a grey area about which publications should fall within the scope of the scheme. Would it be possible under these arrangements for those publications that might not be sure to establish whether they should or could qualify for the scheme?
Any publication could apply to be a member of a regulator. It would find out whether it came within the purview of that regulator, as the regulator might reply saying, “Sorry, we don’t regulate you.”
Exemplary damages simply give newspapers another incentive to join the regulator. The court is left with the opportunity to award exemplary damages, only in much narrower circumstances. I hope that all the newspapers—including those that did not agree with the setting up of the Leveson inquiry, with how Lord Leveson took evidence or with his report—will propose regulators and join them now that the report has been published and all parties have agreed that we should have the royal charter and the accompanying bits of statute. I am sure that the Secretary of State, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister will want to do everything they can to say to the press, as the Prime Minister said in today’s debate, that it is impossible for the newspapers to hold the powerful to account if they are abusing their own power. A good complaints system, which is respected and has public confidence, is a good thing in principle, so it is important that the newspapers step forward and join the regulator.
After Leveson reported, he said that the ball was now in the politicians’ court. He asked us all to work together to agree and we did. Now, the ball is in the press’s court and I hope that they will rise to that challenge.
I am listening to the right hon. and learned Lady with interest, although she reminds me of George Orwell’s comment about the sort of people who play with fire without knowing that fire is hot. That comment is directed at those on both Front Benches, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is a very old friend. They have no idea what they are playing with—no idea. Does the right hon. and learned Lady not understand that one person’s outrageous behaviour is another person’s sensible and moderate behaviour? Does she not understand that after Lord Hutton issued his whitewash report, some of those who criticised it were accused of acting outrageously?
We are not talking about any old person’s view of deliberate or reckless disregard or conduct of an outrageous nature. We are not talking about my view of what might constitute deliberate or reckless disregard or conduct of an outrageous nature, or even the view of the Secretary of State. We are talking about the judge’s view—not any old person but a judicial personage—
The hon. Gentleman needs to calm down and relax. We are giving the courts an opportunity to exercise their judgment so that when something is so outrageous that they do not think that the normal quantum of damages assessed on what has been suffered is enough, they can add to it. It is right that that should apply to media torts.
As I have said, Lord Justice Leveson urged us all to work together and we have. The Secretary of State invited us to cross-party talks and I thank Lord Wallace, who was the Liberal Democrat there. It just goes to show that one should not believe what one reads in the newspapers. I had read a lot about the Minister for Government Policy, Mr Letwin,in the newspapers and thought he was an absent-minded professor type who was absolutely ditsy. I had read it in the newspapers, so I thought it must be true—[Interruption.] He is now in the Chamber. I discovered that it was not at all like that, and that he was very intelligent and purposeful. He played a key part in reaching this agreement, which is very important indeed.
We were ably assisted by a number of the Culture Secretary’s Conservative colleagues. I do not want to do what my right hon. Friend Mr Bradshaw did and blight their reputations, but we found it incredibly helpful to be joined at our very long meetings—we had one meeting that lasted seven hours—by the hon. Members for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) and Simon Hughes.
We tried to work on a cross-party basis because what the press have always done in the past is divide and rule. They have always sought to play one party off against another. We have to win elections, so having the press shining a light on us and saying how great we are is very tempting. It is hard to win the support of the voters. If we have the backing of the press, it seems much easier, especially if they are slagging off our opponents. That is what the press have always relied on—that we have never worked together to put a proper complaints system in place, but have allowed the press to divide us and rule.
Would the right hon. and learned Lady like to clarify that? Will she make it clear that when she refers to the press, she is referring to elements of the national press, not the local or the provincial press? They have got caught up in this, and they are not responsible.
The Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister all acknowledged that successive Governments have not taken action to put in place a proper, sensible, reasonable complaints system, not because of the regional or local press, but because of the power of the national press, particularly the monopolistic power of the national press. We will have to move on to the question of monopolistic ownership, but not now because we are exhausted. However, the regional and local press have nothing to fear from having good standards and having a complaints system. One of the reasons why we worked to narrow the arbitration system was the great fears of the regional and local press. We know that they are facing very tough times so we do not want to do anything to make matters more difficult for them.
I agree with Richard Drax, who is no longer in his place. He said there was something uncomfortable about dealing with matters behind closed doors. The royal charter is an agreement that is not subject to scrutiny. It does not go before a Committee or to the House of Lords. It drifts by in a flash, then it is up to the Privy Council. However, we cannot have it both ways. We can have Parliament crawling over legislation that applies to the press, which makes the press feel very uncomfortable and makes the Prime Minister apparently feel neuralgic. I do not have the same sensitivities, but apparently the Government do. We can avoid that through the royal charter process, in which case there is no parliamentary scrutiny. We cannot have both, and the choice has been to have a royal charter and a self-regulatory system, without parliamentary scrutiny of it, beyond the discussion that we have had.
In that respect, I shall mention one issue which is not the subject of the amendments but which comes into the question of the charter. I refer to conscience clauses for journalists. Many journalists gave evidence to Leveson and said, “We knew that we were being asked to do things that were in breach of the code and we wanted not to do them, but we feared that we would be sacked if we said, ‘We won’t do this.’” Journalists talked of being asked to do outrageous things but because it is so difficult, and fearing that if they lost their job they would never get another, they never dared speak up.Lord Justice Leveson proposed that the industry and the regulatory body should consider encouraging conscience clauses in journalists’ contracts. The relevant new clause has not been selected, so I will not mention it because that would be out of order. However, in schedule 2, on page 13 of the charter, which hon. Members have had scant opportunity to look at, there is what the Foreign Office calls a brush past. Basically, this is mentioned in paragraph 4.
I hope that we will see people getting cheaper arbitration. I hope that fewer people will need to go to arbitration because of media torts. I hope that the higher levels of accountability will make the newspapers more careful—not to chill freedom of speech, but just to respect the civil law and their own code of conduct. I hope that there will be higher standards so that we do not have masses of apologies all over the front pages, because they will have thought before they write a story : is it accurate, is it fair, is it truthful? That will be better for the readers as well as those who write the story. We are not at the end of the process, but at the beginning. I hope we will continue to work together to protect the freedom of the press, recognising that we can have a free press but also protect those who have suffered horribly from abuse.
I finish on the question of Hacked Off, because people have accused the Labour party of being its political wing. I would say that they should think for a moment about what it must be like to suffer the disappearance of one’s child, as happened to Milly Dowler’s family and the McCanns. Those people had never had any exposure to or relationship with newspapers, but found that they were dealing not only with the most horrific personal tragedy but that their lives were turned upside down by the newspapers. People should think about the absolute sense of grief and the inability of every family member to deal with what was happening.
By bringing together the victims of this awful press abuse, Hacked Off enabled them to support each other, to be in a network with other people who had some sense of what they had gone through. It enabled them to move from being just victims to people who were able to speak at the Leveson inquiry, which took the most enormous courage. If the thing that one wants most of all is not to be in the newspapers, stepping forward into the spotlight and giving evidence at such an inquiry was an incredibly brave thing for the Dowlers, the McCanns and the Watsons to have done and, indeed, for people such as J.K. Rowling and Charlotte Church. Hacked Off enabled them to be not just victims, trying to cope with their lives, but agents for change, to improve public policy. As the Leader of the Opposition said, I do not think we would be here today if they had not had that courage and bravery. Hacked Off helped them play that role, so I make no apology for our relationship with Hacked Off, and I pay tribute to the work that it has done.
I thank the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend Maria Miller, and Ms Harman for introducing this section of the debate. It is clear that Members on both sides of the Chamber have worked extremely hard to bring the matter to a head. As I said in the debate opened earlier by the
Prime Minister, everyone must be congratulated, but we must not oversell it or exaggerate the claims for the solution that may have been found.
I was interested in looking at some of the new clauses and new schedules to see that the statutory framework that seems to have been set down for the Crime and Courts Bill makes some changes to the law, but only up to a point. If one looks at new clause 21A, provision is made for the award of exemplary damages unless the defendant was a relevant publisher. But that is cancelled because the court can disregard subsection (2), and that is cancelled because under subsection (4) the court is not prevented from making an award of exemplary damages for other reasons. It rather disappears up its own grammar—I was about to use a rather unparliamentary term. We might need at some stage to reconsider the English used in the new clause if it is to be understood by the people we wish it to attract.
The other point we ought to think about—something my hon. Friend Guy Opperman and I were discussing only a moment ago—is that we must be careful not to set up two regimes for exemplary damages. There already exists a common law regime for exemplary or punitive damages. Broadly, it is available where a state actor has behaved in an unconstitutional or high-handed fashion, for example when the police or the Prison Service grossly misbehaves in relation to someone in custody. That example is perfectly easy to describe: the court will award punitive and exemplary damages to mark society’s disapproval of the behaviour of that arm of the state.
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that there appears to be, in effect, almost a mirror image of the common law system of exemplary damages? Under the present system, which he rightly describes, for an unlawful arrest involving a police officer verballing an innocent defendant, for example, a judge would give exemplary damages. Surely that would be mirrored in exactly the same way in the provisions proposed in the new clause. All that might be good, but surely those provisions would apply on an ongoing basis in any event. Does he agree that the concern is that the provision on exemplary damages does not necessarily change the common law?
I think that I largely agree with my hon. Friend. The first limb relates to unconstitutional state behaviour, which he described and I mentioned, but the second limb relates to situations in which, under the common law, the defendant has calculated that the gain he could make from the civil wrong he commits will lead to greater profit for him than any potential damages he might have to pay as compensation to the wronged person. The court can recognise that by punishing the defendant, and deterring others from doing the same thing, through the separate and additional award of exemplary damages. Those two limbs of the exemplary damages regime are well described in the 1964 case of Rookes v. Barnard, but I will bore the House no further on that.
What we are creating is a regime that will be similar to the common law regime but not exactly the same and that will be limited to “relevant publishers”. We need to think carefully about whether we are setting up two systems that are close, but not quite parallel, for securing exemplary damages. While we are legislating to adjust exemplary damages for the perfectly sensible and understandable motive of encouraging newspaper publishers, or those who will become “relevant publishers”, to enter a scheme under a regulator, I wonder whether we ought to bring together everything relating to exemplary damages under one statutory umbrella. I say that not simply because I think that it would be neater, but also because of what is said in subsection (4) of new clause 30, which defines a relevant claim. It states:
‘“Relevant claim” means a civil claim made in respect of any of the following—
(c) breach of confidence;
(d) misuse of private information;
(e) malicious falsehood;
Under the common law, libel, slander and malicious falsehood are already susceptible to punitive and exemplary damages, but as we know from Max Mosley’s case against Mirror Group Newspapers—I will not rehearse the facts of the case—the judge, when asked to award exemplary damages to the claimant in respect of the behaviour of the defendant newspaper, said, “Under the common law I do not think that I can extend the ambit of exemplary damages beyond the categories of libel and slander and so forth to a claim involving a breach of confidence or the misuse of private information.”
In the Bill we are extending by statute what that judge could not do, but we are extending it only to cases involving “relevant publishers”; we are not extending it to what I will crudely call “irrelevant publishers” or individual defendants who might misbehave in such a way that brings them within the regime of either of the two limbs of exemplary damages. I do not want there to be two separate types of exemplary damages. One statutory system should govern the consideration and awarding of exemplary damages, not one and a half or two systems. I urge the Government to consider this when they are thinking about how to take these matters forward. Perhaps having done so they will think that my concerns are of no importance or account, but I raise them nevertheless, admittedly in the light of having seen the document only during the course of this afternoon.
New clause 27A on the award of costs mirrors the arguments about exemplary damages. I entirely understand that the policy behind exemplary damages and the statutory costs regime as described in this set of manuscript amendments is intended to incentivise relevant publishers to come within the regulatory scheme. That is understood and perfectly sensible. However, we are in danger of misleading ourselves if we think that that is going to lead to easy and early resolution of media disputes. A moment ago I had a brief discussion with Ms Harman on arbitration and so forth. New clause 27A(2) —I will read it, if I may, because it might be helpful—says:
“If the defendant was a member of an approved regulator at the time when the claim was commenced (or was unable to be a member at that time for reasons beyond the defendant’s control or it would have been unreasonable in the circumstances for the defendant to have been a member at that time), the court must not award costs against the defendant unless satisfied that…the issues raised by the claim could have been resolved by using an arbitration scheme of the approved regulator, or…it is just and equitable in all the circumstances of the case to award costs against the defendant.”
That involves a bit of saying, “On the one hand but then on the other.” It is not quite clear which is the desired policy because there is a bifurcation.
On the question of whether
“the issues raised by the claim could have been resolved by using an arbitration scheme of the approved regulator”,
we would of course first have to see what that arbitration scheme looked like. Going back to the days of the now-no-longer-regretted Press Complaints Commission, that organisation, because of how it was set up and staffed and how the panels of adjudicators were composed, was wholly incapable of dealing with hugely complicated factual issues or with matters that required quite a nice calculation, or a nice discussion, of matters of law.
One might think that it would be very sensible that if a series of grossly defamatory allegations were made in a front-page article in a tabloid newspaper, or any other newspaper, that would lead to a dispute resolution process of the sort envisaged under this regime. Of course, it has a spurious attraction: “Let’s mediate, let’s settle, and let’s get it all dealt with quickly and cheaply and with the least possible intervention by lawyers.” As a matter of theory, that is a jolly good idea, but disputes come in different shapes and sizes. One can have the simplest possible dispute that does not require evidence or looking at complicated documents. I give the example of the meaning of words. If an article is defamatory on the face of it, a professor of English does not need to come and give a lecture about what this word means or that word means. The judge, if he is the arbiter, or the arbitration panel can say, “This, in its natural and ordinary meaning, bears the following defamatory meaning”—end of story. Then the defendant, or the respondent to the arbitration, can say, “Okay, I accept what you say and I apologise—I didn’t mean that.” If meaning is the only question that has to be considered, some form of early, non-court dispute resolution, assuming that the panel is competent, would be a perfectly sensible way to do it.
Let us assume, however, that four contended meanings can be derived from the words under discussion. The defendant newspaper, be it a relevant publisher or otherwise, may say, “We don’t think that the words have those two highest meanings, but we do think that they have the two lower, less serious and less defamatory meanings. In so far as those meanings are to be derived from the words, we say they are true and we intend to justify them. We will also go further by saying that those meanings are not only true as a matter of fact, but that, in so far as they comprise or include comment, they are honest comment.” That will require the proposed system’s mediation procedure to go into all sorts of complicated questions with regard to the disclosure of relevant evidence, documents and so on.
My hon. and learned Friend is making a very good case. Does he agree that the PCC was notoriously fallible when resolving large newspaper disputes, but very effective at resolving disputes involving local media and newspapers, which genuinely respected and obeyed its procedures? The danger with the new system, which my hon. and learned Friend is outlining eloquently, is that the local paper will be stuck with the same regulatory process, which is clearly meant to be a sledgehammer, as large national newspapers such as
The Sun and the
. I suspect that that will result in the process being more expensive for the smaller paper—
Order. The hon. Gentleman’s intervention is exceptionally lengthy. I know that he has a distinguished record at the bar. If he were being paid by the word he would be greatly enriched, but I trust that he has made his point to his satisfaction. If not, he can always have another go in a moment.
What the PCC was good at was dealing with unfairness—the hideous intrusion on private grief, the doorstepper, the camera coming through the letter box, the knock on the door demanding a photograph of the dead child and so on. The PCC dealt with that extremely well, but what it could not deal with was the multi-issue disputes that I have outlined.
It is not just a question of assessing the truth or falsity of words or of whether they are defensible and honest comment. On honest comment and certain forms of qualified privileged defence, the judge or the arbiter has to consider the question of malice and the respondent newspaper’s motive when it published the words complained of. I do not think, even with the best will in the world, that the proposed arbitration system for relevant publishers, under a recognised regulator, good though it will be, will be sufficiently well breeched and resourced to substitute itself for a disinterested judge when dealing with the case.
When it comes to disciplinary measures or the incentivisation of costs to bring people into this scheme, either as claimants or defendants—this goes back to a point that I made in the earlier debate—it will not be possible to deal with many expensive cases cheaply and quickly. They will need to go to a more formal, court-like, if not court, system. They will require proper arbitration with qualified arbiters, the sifting and assessment of evidence, the judging of witnesses and the reading of lots of documents. Those are functions of any form of arbitration dispute and it will not be quick or cheap.
Is my hon. and learned Friend saying that this proposed policy is a complete waste of time and that the system we have is perfectly workable, so long as it is more accessible to the many people who are not well off and cannot afford a listening?
I most certainly am not saying that it is a complete waste of time. I am saying that we should not seduce ourselves into thinking that it will do more than it can. It will be a far better system, all being well, than the PCC. It will have real teeth. It will have the ability to discipline respondent newspapers that are within the scheme by awarding costs and penalties of one sort or another.
The cases in which the new system will award a penalty of £1 million will be so rare as to be unthinkable. I imagine that it will deal with cases rather similar to those that are dealt with under the provisions of the Defamation Act 1996 on summary decisions, for which there is a limit of £10,000. I suspect that many of the cases that at the moment go to the High Court under those provisions will, if people are sensible, go into the new scheme. It will look at low-level damages, low-level punitive sanctions and cases that do not involve lots of complicated factual and legal issues.
Just because the new system will not look at many cases and just because the cases will not be hugely complicated does not mean that we should not do it; we should. We need access to some form of arbitration system for the people who have been bullied and disturbed by tabloid newspapers sticking their lenses through people’s letterboxes and so on. However, I urge the House not to think that we have suddenly waved a magic wand and that all future disputes will be resolved between victims or individual claimants and large media organisations through a cheap and speedy system; they will not. We ought to be a little cautious about that.
I have been enjoying my hon. and learned Friend’s speech for the past 20 minutes and I believe that the House benefits greatly from his exposition of these concepts. However, I am still unclear as to whether he supports or opposes what is proposed.
I do apologise if I did not make myself clear. I will try to do so again, but perhaps rather more speedily. I support what is in the measures. It is easy to understand that point, I suspect.
The second point is that, although I support the measures, I suspect that they will be of limited availability and limited use. However, that they will not solve every problem does not mean that we should not deploy them to solve some problems. As I said a moment ago, the sorts of problems that I think they will be used to solve are those that are currently dealt with summarily under the Defamation Act 1996 with a damages limit of £10,000. There is no suggestion of a damages limit here, but I think that it is in that area of dispute that the system will work. It will be broadly in disputes over meaning, unfairness or beastly behaviour by a newspaper that it will work.
The new system will also bring into the exemplary damages regime, to go back to my first set of arguments, causes of action for which punitive damages cannot currently be received under common law, such as breach of confidence and misuse of private information.
There is a lot to be said in favour of what is proposed. I just urge Members not to get excessively excited about what we are achieving. There will come a time when we have to look at the guts of the regulatory system, including at who is to be on the panels that decide the cases and so on. There is therefore a lot more work for the Minister for Government Policy and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to do, with co-operation, I hope, from the Opposition parties and our coalition partners.
I am probably going to the church by way of the moon, but I really do think that much of what has been said today is commendable, but that much of it is too overexcited. Yes, we should celebrate the consensus, but let us not be misled by it.
It is a genuine pleasure to follow Sir Edward Garnier, who made a considered and reasonable contribution in a mellow way. It is right to say that the royal charter is not a solution to all the problems that occurred in the past, and that it is possibly not a solution for the future if malevolent forces out there wish to break the law and the arrangements in the charter.
I welcome the Leveson-compliant solution—that is the key: it is Leveson-compliant. I did not take part in the earlier debate, although I listened to all the contributions in what one of my constituents phoned to say was a bit of a love-in in the House of Commons, given the amount of self-congratulation across the Chamber. Let us be frank—I am a very frank person as you know, Mr Speaker: my constituents and the general public know that the Government, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State were cajoled, bullied and harassed into solving the problem with a Leveson-compliant solution. Let us not avoid that. If MPs had not been present in large enough numbers to vote the Government down, there was no possibility that the weak proposal put forward by the Prime Minister would have been amended to what we have now. That must be said so that people know the truth.
I heard the atrocious comments on the radio this morning by the person I now consider to be not the Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, but the Minister for spin, about dragging the Labour party along and defending the press from the terrible things that the Labour party was going to do through statute. In fact, however, what those on the Labour and Liberal Democrat Front Benches, including the Deputy Prime Minister, sought all along was a Leveson-compliant solution, and that is what we have.
I am worried about the Minister’s approach to the amendments in her speech. She was either incentivising publishers and publications to join up to the charter—I thought that was done in a better and more balanced way by the deputy leader of the Opposition—or it sounded to me that she was trying to assure publishers and publications that if they sign up to the arrangement as amended, they will not find it much more demanding of their own self-discipline than under the discredited Press Complaints Commission. People should read her speech in some detail because lots of signals were put out that I believe were wrong.
This is an opportunity for the press to right the wrongs of the past by signing up to self-discipline through this form of charter. If, however, the system is not more demanding or effective than the Press Complaints Commission, the first time the press create another victim of a new abuse, perhaps of a different sort, Parliament will be brought into serious disrepute. That is what the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Prime Minister were trying to avoid by putting together a measure that is Leveson-compliant.
I very much hope that the charter will act as a catalyst for good behaviour, as well as everything else. My children were doorstepped in their school when I was in Bosnia and not a public figure, and my mother had her door pushed in and photographs were taken. I hope that the press will try to regulate itself and stop such things so that they never happen and the press never have to come before any regulator.
I normally lean on the optimistic side—the sun rises every morning; I am glad I am still alive and my heart is still beating. That is two-up for me and I am happy to go on with the day with a positive view. Recently, however, some of my constituents were in Algeria, one of whom was a captive and in the trucks that were bombed. He managed to run away but he had bombs hanging round his neck as he did so. The press insisted on trying to get to that person’s home. I must pay a compliment to MSP colleagues in my constituency, who both happen to be SNP. We agreed that we would not talk to the press or the media, and that we would not give out the names of the people involved. The press still found a way to the family home and tried to get into the house to interview the young people involved, one of whom was still very traumatised by their experience. The press therefore still have a form of approach to the public whereby they see them as another byline without thinking about the consequences of what they do. The charter might help with that. It might not help, as Sir Edward Garnier said, but I hope it does.
At some time, Parliament must look at the question of media ownership. That is for another day, but we still have the problem. Media ownership by people who are citizens and residents of another country is a great problem we have had to face in the past.
I am glad new clause 21A has been tabled, because new clause 21(2) states:
“Exemplary damages may not be awarded against the defendant in respect of the claim if the defendant was a member of an approved regulator at the material time.”
That is a get-out-of-jail-free clause. Thank goodness we now have clause 21A(3)— this may be the point made by the hon. and learned Gentleman and others—which says that
“if…the approved regulator imposed a penalty on the defendant in respect of the defendant’s conduct or decided not to do so”,
they can still be taken to court. The reality is that we cannot deny people the right to take matters to court, particularly if the regulator has taken a decision that there is a penalty to pay. The penalty might not be sufficient and people might look for further damages. The proposal is a great improvement and I welcome it.
New clause 27A adds to my concerns, because so many excuses are introduced in subsection (2). For example, it states:
“If the defendant was…unable to be a member at that time for reasons beyond the defendant’s control”.
How much money could a good barrister make in arguing the case that the defendant would have become a member if only it had been possible at the time? It goes on to state:
“or it would have been unreasonable in the circumstances for the defendant to have been a member at that time”.
How much money would be made by the legal profession in arguing that one? I am sure the hon. and learned Gentleman would like to give it some thought. That get-out clause is in the Bill but it was not previously, which worries me, because it is a great defence. The press can say, “Circumstances beyond our control, your honour, meant we didn’t really become part of the scheme, so please don’t treat us as outside the scheme.” In fact, as the Minister has said, they will be targeted for not being compliant and for being unwilling to be self-disciplined or to join up with the royal charter.
That measure is a great worry, and I do not know how the Minister can explain why it is in the Bill. I am sure everyone was trying to be reasonable in the negotiations on the amendments. I am sure the Opposition and the Liberal Democrats tried to be reasonable and said, “Let’s give as much leeway as possible.” We will see whether that leeway is justified. We are asking for a new way of approaching the reporting of news and acting as publishers. They should not take the measure as a get-out clause, but have a genuine reason why they took such slow steps and why their feet were dragged into the self-regulating regime.
New clause 27A(5) leads me to my main point. It refers to the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990. The point about the Act is that its writ does not run in Scotland. I am a Scottish Member of Parliament. The writ of the royal charter runs to all of the United Kingdom, which I welcome, but we have a difficult conundrum in Scotland at the moment. The Scottish Government set up their own inquiry and asked Lord McCluskey to look at the proposals that might be relevant in Scotland. The clauses and amendments we are considering all contain the term “exemplary damages”, but exemplary damages do not exist in Scotland—I am also told that “aggravated damages”, which are also referred to, do not exist in Scottish law. First, we are passing amendments that are to do with England and Wales, and possibly Northern Ireland, but not with Scotland, which has a separate legal system; and secondly, the measures do not even use terms that would be recognised in Scotland. We have a real problem because this, surely, is a charter for the whole of the United Kingdom—for my constituents, and all constituents in Scotland, as much as anywhere else. We have to find a solution in Scotland that puts into law the same protection for victims, which is the intention of the amendments. I believe they are good amendments, despite my reservations, because they will provide access, protection and redress for those who find that self-regulators are breaking the self-regulating code.
What worries me is that there are no Scottish National party Members here at all. I have spoken with the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, and had discussions today with members of the Scottish parliamentary Labour group. The statement released by the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland states clearly that we will have to table amendments in Scotland to ensure that this will cover everyone in the United Kingdom, should the Scottish Government choose the Leveson-compliant approach of the royal charter rather than trying to draft their own legislation based on McCluskey.
I hope the message will go out loud and clear from this Chamber. Just as we achieved a solution by all parties coming together, I hope that in Scotland the SNP will sit down with the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats and others, and draft the necessary clauses to change the law in Scotland to introduce the same rights, access and compensation for the people of Scotland that will not be available through these amendments because they will not apply to them. That is what I hope will happen. We have an excellent example—with some pressure, but with persuasion, in the main, from the deputy leader of the Labour party, the Leader of the Opposition, the Deputy Prime Minister and his representatives—of the Government changing to something that is an all-party solution. I hope that those solutions will be translated into legislation in Scotland, or all of this will mean nothing to the people of Scotland. It will be a charter with no ability to change behaviour. I hope that my colleagues in Scotland are listening; I know that the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland agrees with me.
Order. Just before I call Simon Hughes, I will just point out that there are four Members seeking to contribute. The Secretary of State will want briefly to wind up on the new clause, and the knife falls at 10.21 pm. I am sure all Members will wish to take account of that; it would be good to get them all in.
I rise to thank the Secretary of State for introducing this group of new clauses and amendments, and to support them. They are in the name not just of the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State, the Home Secretary and the Leader of the Opposition, but the Deputy Prime Minister. They are the additional provisions on exemplary damages and costs agreed as a result of the labours of recent days. I have paid tribute to various people, but I just want to add my tribute to my hon. Friend Richard Drax, who was more thoroughly engaged, and later into the night, than many of us throughout pretty much all of this process. He must be thanked, too.
I am relieved that agreement was reached, because otherwise it would have been my name leading on 10 amendments, new clauses and schedules, and I would have had to explain all the technical matters on exemplary damages, costs and so on, on behalf of the coalition and other parties, instead of the Secretary of State. I therefore thank those who came to the rescue and did the deal. I will make just a couple of simple points and follow your request, Mr Speaker, to make sure there will be time for the other Members who wish to speak.
As we have all done, I went back to what Lord Justice Leveson said on these matters in his report. He was clear, in paragraphs 66 to 70, about what he was seeking to do. He led into that in paragraph 57, in relation to the body he recommended. He stated that it should
“order appropriate redress while encouraging individual newspapers to embrace a more rigorous process for dealing with complaints internally…and provide a fair, quick and inexpensive arbitration service to deal with any civil law claims based upon its members’ publications.”
I agree absolutely with the deputy leader of the Labour party that an arbitration service is an indispensible part of the structure. I hear, of course, what Sir Edward Garnier said—that that does not necessarily produce a quick, speedy or cheap outcome—but to get something by agreement, rather than full-frontal litigation, is clearly a good thing.
Paragraphs 66 and 67 read:
“The need for incentives…has led me to recommend the provision of an arbitration service… Such a system…would then make it possible to provide an incentive in relation to the costs of civil litigation. The normal rule is that the loser pays the legal costs incurred by the winner but costs recovered are never all the costs incurred”— everyone who has been to law knows about that—
“and litigation is expensive not only for the loser but frequently for the winner as well. If, by declining to be a part of a regulatory system, a publisher has deprived a claimant of access to a quick, fair, low cost arbitration of the type I have proposed, the Civil Procedure Rules (governing civil litigation) could permit the court to deprive that publisher of its costs of litigation in privacy, defamation and other media cases, even if it had been successful.”
Lord Justice Leveson then sets out how that would happen in relation to exemplary damages, and concludes in paragraph 69:
“Such a system would also work the other way round. If an extremely wealthy claimant wished to force a newspaper publisher that was a member of the regulatory body into litigation (in the hope that the financial risk would compel settlement), it would be open to the publisher to argue that having provided a recognised low cost arbitral route, that claimant, even if successful, should be deprived of costs, simply because there was another, reasonable and cheap route to justice which could have been followed.”
Then there is an easy-to-understand set of recommendations at the back of the Lord Justice Leveson’s introduction on the process for damages.
The really good thing is that, without anybody, including the Secretary of State, pretending that the drafting is perfect for all time, those of us who were involved in the discussions have sought to strike a balance: if a publisher is part of the system, the presumption—I use the word in a non-legalistic way—will be that it will not be subject to exemplary damages, but if it is outside the system, the presumption will be that it could be subject to them. It is not quite that straightforward, but that was the general idea—and it was a good idea. It is an incentive-disincentive system, which was what everybody was working towards, so I join others in calling on the press to join up. If they do, there will be a system ready for them to make. This is not a pre-made system. The starting point is the existing code, but it will be up to the press to make the system work, and we all encourage them to do that. I am glad, then, that we have a platform from which to proceed.
I want to make three final points. First, I understand that further amendments might be necessary. The House of Lords has that opportunity, and the Liberal Democrat team is certainly willing to collaborate with Conservative colleagues, Labour colleagues and colleagues from elsewhere to ensure that we get it right, if we need to make further, more technical amendments in the Lords. We have time to do it. Secondly, I join others in thanking Hacked Off, which became the assembly of people speaking on behalf of victims. It was hard work at times, as all of us who were in the negotiations know, but it had a justified case. Its job was to remind us why we went down this road and, rightfully, to hold our feet to the fire and ensure that we did not forget why we were doing this. It is about the lives of people not in the public gaze.
Finally, we have referred to people—the McCanns, the Dowlers and others have been cited—who suddenly find themselves unexpectedly in the public eye. The other people referred to by at least one colleague are those who become part of the public commentary simply by their association with somebody who is in the public eye. That is equally unacceptable. It is the children, the mother, the elderly parent, the former wife, husband or partner, the friend or the associate—those people often get dragged in completely unwittingly. Perhaps they happened to be in a photograph or were at the house when somebody knocked on the door. We have to have a system that understands that if there is due cause for complaint about a politician, a sports celebrity or a business person, that is fine, but that does not mean that anyone has a free rein to go after all the other people who are absolutely innocent appendages to their lives, which happen to be public lives.
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that if a journalist goes to someone’s door and there are other people in the house, the press should be stopped from commenting on them? If that is the case, who on earth is going to make those judgments, when so many stories we read involve other people? It is never just one person; there are always other people involved in a story.
I do not want to elaborate—I want to sit down and let others get in—but let me give an example. I refer my hon. Friend to Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry—to the evidence he took and the commentary he made in his report. He made the case that people who are associated with others can get swept into the press’s undermining or attacks entirely unjustifiably. The example given by one of our Friends was that of an elderly mother who is nothing to do with the individual concerned—she lives somewhere else, in another house—but is pursued by the press, who go after her, knock on her door, go up her drive, sit outside her house and have cameras focused on it, drilling her with questions and trying to get things out of her. We are talking about people who are totally ill-equipped and unprepared for that degree of exposure and who never asked for it. Obviously I am not seeking to stop the press if they knock on the door of my neighbour, Ms Harman, the deputy leader of the Labour party, at her home in my borough or at my home. That is fine, but it is not fine if they suddenly start pursuing all sorts of other people and giving them grief.
I think we now understand much better what the parameters are. We are hoping to protect the innocent who have been the victims, not to make the press have a more difficult job to do in pursuing proper inquiries into people who are properly the subject of public interest.
There are other victims of this whole process, some of whom were revealed in the evidence to Leveson by the National Union of Journalists. They were the journalists who stood up and said, “I refuse to implement some of these strategies”—these tactics, manipulations or whatever we want to call them—and as a result lost their jobs, while others were victimised. The culture of bullying in some newsrooms was exposed in the NUJ’s evidence. That is why part of the union’s policy was to advocate a conscience clause.
I am grateful that, as my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman said, there is a “brush past” in schedule 2 to the charter, with the reference to Leveson’s recommendation that:
“The industry generally and a regulatory body in particular should consider requiring its members to include in the employment or service contracts with journalists a clause to the effect that no disciplinary action would be taken against a journalist as a result of a refusal to act in a manner which is contrary to the code of practice.”
That would add to the architecture of protection and lift the standards of journalism in our country. That is why I welcome the important reference in schedule 2, which my right hon. and learned Friend shared with us. I regret the fact that it is a brush past, rather than something more specific, but I understand the negotiations that had to take place. We will need to return to this issue in the coming months. As the board of recognition panel is established, the regulator then applies for recognition. Consideration of whether the regulator has taken the recommendations into account is critical. One of this House’s roles will be to explore whether full consideration has been given to the conscience clause.
When the idea of a conscience clause was introduced into the debate by Leveson, there seemed to be cross-party support for it. Certainly the Deputy Prime Minister made a statement in support and the Prime Minister said he would consider the matter. Since then, the NUJ has been invited to go off and negotiate a conscience clause with individual employers. Unfortunately, that has not been taken seriously by a number of the employers. Negotiations have not proceeded and so far a conscience clause has not been inserted into a single contract. This is therefore an important factor to be taken into account by the recognition panel, and the regulator needs to put it firmly on the agenda for the future. A conscience clause would be an additional bulwark of support in establishing the point that we should not go through this cycle again and that there is a standard of journalism that we do not expect any journalist, editor or publisher to resile from. This will be beneficial in the long run. It will not impose onerous conditions on employers or publishers, and it should be welcomed as it will ensure a level playing field and a high standard of journalism right across the profession.
I am grateful for the reference in schedule 2 to Leveson’s recommendation 47, but I believe that the House needs to pay close attention to the roll-out of the process to ensure that it is considered by the regulator and that it forms part of the considerations of the recognition panel when the regulator is appointed.
Our constituents want a press that does not abuse the innocent, but that exposes the wrongdoer, the charlatan and the fraudster. I pay tribute to the work of Lord Justice Leveson, and to the people who have given evidence. Anyone who has ever given evidence or conducted legal proceedings will know that giving evidence is a traumatic and upsetting process, and to give evidence to the Leveson inquiry was a brave thing to do. Credit must be given to the Prime Minister for setting up the inquiry, and to all the parties for reaching some sort of agreement. However, it is a truism in legal circles and certainly in parliamentary circles that last-minute law is normally bad law. It is a matter of concern that the provisions have been produced overnight and that, even today, we are receiving manuscript amendments—only in Parliament are manuscript amendments typed—on important issues relating to exemplary damages, costs and the like.
Is not the key to the matter the fact that this will be the law, and that it therefore constitutes statutory regulation of the press, with penalties and coercion if the press do not go along with it?
I hesitate at any stage in my parliamentary career to disagree on a matter either of parliamentary protocol or of statutory interpretation with the éminence grise that is my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg. However, on this point I would disagree with him, because although the charter has to be brought into fruition through this House, it is clear that it is part of the common law. Its ongoing interpretation will be a common-law interpretation by a variety of High Court judges, who will spend a lot of time decoding, interpreting and attempting to fathom the provisions not only in the manuscript amendments but in the original proposals for the charter and the subsequent amendments that we received overnight. So, on this particular point, I disagree with my hon. Friend.
I suggest that this is a pragmatic resolution of a difficult parliamentary dispute. It is an all-party solution that accepts the fundamental principle that the Press Complaints Commission was patently not fit for purpose and was clearly letting people down. As my hon. and learned Friend Sir Edward Garnier made clear in his well thought-out and eloquent speech, the PCC was unable to handle the large disputes of fact and law pertaining to the serious libels and slanders that take place in the media. It was extremely good at dealing with the local press and with low impact resolution-type cases such as those involving £10,000 payable for defamation, for example, but it struggled desperately to cope with the large media organisations and the particularly malign and difficult cases that, sadly, had to go to court.
That brings me, in the limited time I have, to the issue of costs. It fusses me tremendously that the position of an individual litigant in a case will not change that much. The royal charter might introduce a free process, in the sense that there is no claim form, unlike in normal litigation, but it will be free to those who are successful, because they will have some form of protection. The problem is that an individual litigant without means who lives in a suburban street in Hexham, for example, will still be unable to bring a course of action against a large media organisation. Contrary to the best efforts of those on both Front Benches, arbitration is still a complex, expensive and difficult process through which to navigate. It is also the case that while simple arbitration can and will be resolved on a relatively speedy basis, for the large cases that so concern us—everything from the Dowlers downwards—arbitration will take months at the very least, if not years, and will cost money.
That brings us back to the point of whether an individual who is so maligned by the press will be in a position to bring a course of action against a newspaper on the present basis of financial support. If that is lacking to such an individual, I struggle to see that happening. The individual would have to go to organisations such as the Free Representation unit or the Bar Pro
Bono unit. I suppose I should make a declaration not only that I was involved with those organisations as a mediator, but that, statutorily speaking, I am still owed money by the Government for the work I did on behalf of the Government over the past days. That is, however, a side matter.
Finally, speedy laws done at the last minute—despite the massive efforts over many months by the Minister for Government Policy, my right hon. Friend Mr Letwin and others—will always need improvement. The improvement ability of this royal charter is exceptionally difficult and, as was explained earlier, is part of the problem of having a royal charter. The difficulty is now passed to the House of Lords, which has a solitary day to consider all the provisions in the charter, the amendments and the manuscript amendments in circumstances in which, I suggest with respect, there cannot be reasoned debate or reasoned assessment. If we could address that particular problem, things would improve massively. The reality in the end will be that High Court judges will assess the royal charter on a common-law basis and interpret it as best they can—with all the ramifications that we would not wish to see on an ongoing basis.
I rise to challenge the hyperbole of the Government Front-Bench team on this particular measure, which will not be a great Act that will bring new liberty to the country. It describes itself as a royal charter presumably in the hope that it will gain the respect that other royal charters have. One effective example is the one under which the BBC operates. At one time in my life, I had duties as a member of the Broadcasting Council for Wales to decide on political balance in broadcasts. Everything was decided on the basis of ensuring that those broadcasters who had air time represented the views of the country—not easy when it came to deciding on Welsh language broadcasts where one party was predominantly represented by Welsh speakers. It had to be done, and we found a way of dealing with the press that was effective and balanced.
No attempt could really be made to impose a political balance on our national press, which was described by Aneurin Bevan as
“the most prostituted in the world”.
We see that that is still true if we look at today’s newspapers and examine the way in which the Daily Mail, for example, devoted six days of front-page headlines, including in The Mail on Sunday, to one subject—to attack the Liberal Democrats. Other things were happening in the world, but day after day we had this political tract seeking to affect the results of a by-election.
As my hon. Friend Michael Connarty said, we should look at the proprietors as people who have immense power—power without responsibility—so that even elected Prime Ministers pay court to them. John Major, for example, was threatened with having a bin dumped on his desk by the editor of The Sun. Tony Blair flew to Australia to pay court to the empire of Murdoch. We know that my right hon. Friend Mr Brown and the present Prime Minister were in close relationships, socially, with editors, and we have been given a very unhealthy revelation about cabals who are far too close to, and have too much interest in, the press, the police and politicians. That is a worrying situation.
We are not dealing with any of those problems, but we have a Bill which, as my hon. Friend Sarah Champion tweeted today, was settled in a way that we should perhaps try to emulate in other contexts. Although we cling to the myth that we decide policy in the House by means of debate and persuasion, we know that most issues are settled by means of deals behind closed doors.
I believe that the worst, the most egregious, objections to the Prime Minister’s proposals have been removed from the Bill, and I find it generally satisfactory, but I think that we must recall the dreadful acts of the newspapers. For 23 years, the loved ones of those who were killed at Hillsborough had to face the foul accusations, described by The Sun as the truth, that were made against their dead loved ones. We know that the agony of the Dowlers and the McCanns, who had suffered the worst possible bereavement and disappearance, was added to by a cynical press who acted with great cruelty.
We are dealing with part of the problem. This is a relatively modest proposal, and it is probably the best that we can have in the circumstances. However, we hope that the press will learn the lesson that the more hysterical and the more partial they become, fewer people will trust them. The trust of the country goes to the organs of the press that are governed by a strict royal charter and which must have a balance politically, and those are the broadcasters.
Ms Harman spoke of the importance of working together. One group of people to whom we have not yet paid tribute is the amazing team of officials at the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and the Cabinet Office. Those people have gone above and beyond the call of duty in all that they have done, and I salute them.
I entirely understand why my hon. Friend Sir Bob Russell raised the issue of the local press twice today. Leveson recognised that the local press were not the main cause of the problem, and the system that we propose allows them different and appropriate terms of membership so that they will not pay more than they do at present.
My hon. and learned Friend Sir Edward Garnier spoke of the importance of arbitration, but pointed out that it should not be expected to fix everything. Of course he is absolutely right. The provisions that we have drawn up will comply with the Arbitration Act 1996, and the arbitrators will be appropriately qualified expert lawyers, as recommended by Leveson.
Michael Connarty rightly raised the issue of Scotland. The charter is capable of applying to newspapers in Scotland that wish to be recognised under the system, and I have had discussions about that with Scottish Ministers. Lord McCluskey has now reported, and we wait to hear how his proposals will be dealt with. Like the hon. Gentleman, I hope that attention will be paid to the views that have been expressed in the debate.
John McDonnell raised the issue of a conscience clause, as he has done previously. I think it important for newspapers and the journalists who work for them to abide by the standards code of the industry self-regulator. I know that the hon. Gentleman has a long-standing interest in that. I can tell him that Leveson said that it was an issue for the industry itself to consider, and not something that the recognition body should require. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister himself said to the hon. Gentleman in November, the press do not have to wait for any further discussions or for the charter, but can start putting the system in place immediately.
A number of thoughtful contributions were made by learned colleagues, and of course we will pay great heed to the advice and thought contained in those. Although the discussion of these provisions on the Floor of the House may be somewhat brief, it clearly cannot be said that these issues have not been given long consideration, because they have been. More than a year of evidence was given to Lord Justice Leveson as part of his inquiries and since his report was presented to the House last November it has had some three months of consideration, on a cross-party basis and involving other groups, including those representing people affected by the problems of the press.
We have before us an important set of real incentives that have real effect to make sure that we can move forward, with today as a turning point where we stop talking about the theory of Leveson and start putting the practice of Leveson out for everybody to benefit from it. The provisions are a crucial part of this new tough regulatory regime and I commend them whole- heartedly to the House.
Three hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the programme motion, the debate was interrupted (Programme Orderthis day.)
The Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (
The House proceeded to a Division.
I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the Aye Lobby.
The House having divided: