This morning we saw reports in the media of a potential fraud and data protection breach by a former private investigator. The allegations are of behaviour that appears totally unacceptable and potentially criminal. Investigation is therefore a matter for the police, and the House will understand that there is only so far that I can go in discussing the specific details and allegations.
More broadly, some people have already formed the conclusion that this revelation should require us to change policy on press regulation. Policy, of course, should always be based on all available information. It is worth noting that the activity described apparently stopped around 2010, before the establishment of the Leveson inquiry. Indeed, it was precisely because of such cases that the Leveson inquiry was set up. This sort of behaviour was covered by the terms of reference of that inquiry, and Mr Ford’s activities were raised as part of the inquiry.
As we discussed in the House last week, and again on Monday, there have been three detailed police investigations. A wide range of offences were examined; over 40 people were convicted, and many went to prison. Today’s revelations, if proven, are clearly already covered by the law and appear to be in contravention of section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998. As described, they would also appear to be in contravention of the new Data Protection Bill that is currently before the House.
What is more, the fact that this activity stopped in 2010 underlines the point that the world has changed. Practices such as these have been investigated. Newspapers today are in a very different position from when the alleged offences took place. That view is in fact strengthened by today’s example, because the behaviour that we have discovered today was from before the Leveson inquiry, and existing law is in place to deal with it. Criminal behaviour should be dealt with by the police and the courts, and anyone who has committed a criminal offence should face the full force of the law.
The future of a vibrant, free and independent press matters to us all. We are committed to protecting it. We want to see the highest standards, and we must face the challenges of today to ensure that Britain has high-quality journalism and high-quality discourse to underpin our democracy for the years to come.