“(1) The Commissioner must produce and publish guidance about the steps that may be taken where an individual considers that a media organisation is failing or has failed to comply with the data protection legislation.
(2) In this section, ‘media organisation’ means a body or other organisation whose activities consist of or include journalism.
(3) The guidance must include provision about relevant complaints procedures, including—
(a) who runs them,
(b) what can be complained about, and
(c) how to make a complaint.
(4) For the purposes of subsection (3), relevant complaints procedures include procedures for making complaints to the Commissioner, the Office of Communications, the British Broadcasting Corporation and other persons who produce or enforce codes of practice for media organisations.
(5) The guidance must also include provision about—
(a) the powers available to the Commissioner in relation to a failure to comply with the data protection legislation,
(b) when a claim in respect of such a failure may be made before a court and how to make such a claim,
(c) alternative dispute resolution procedures,
(d) the rights of bodies and other organisations to make complaints and claims on behalf of data subjects, and
(e) the Commissioner’s power to provide assistance in special purpose proceedings.
(6) The Commissioner—
(a) may alter or replace the guidance, and
(b) must publish any altered or replacement guidance.
(7) The Commissioner must produce and publish the first guidance under this section before the end of the period of 1 year beginning when this Act is passed.” .—(Matt Hancock.)
This new clause would be inserted after Clause 172. It requires the Information Commissioner to produce guidance about how individuals can seek redress where a media organisation (defined in subsection (2) of the new clause) fails to comply with the data protection legislation, including guidance about making complaints and bringing claims before a court.
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government new clause 22—Review of processing of personal data for the purposes of journalism.
Government new clause 23—Data protection and journalism code.
New clause 18—Data protection breaches by national news publishers—
“(1) The Secretary of State must, within the period of three months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, establish an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 into allegations of data protection breaches committed by or on behalf of national news publishers and other media organisations.
(2) Before setting the terms of reference of and other arrangements for the inquiry the Secretary of State must—
(a) consult the Scottish Ministers with a view to ensuring, in particular, that the inquiry will consider the separate legal context and other circumstances of Scotland;
(b) consult Northern Ireland Ministers and members of the Northern Ireland Assembly with a view to ensuring, in particular, that the inquiry will consider the separate legal context and other circumstances of Northern Ireland;
(c) consult persons appearing to the Secretary of State to represent the interests of victims of data protection breaches committed by, on behalf of or in relation to, national news publishers and other media organisations; and
(d) consult persons appearing to the Secretary of State to represent the interests of news publishers and other media organisations (having regard in particular to organisations representing journalists).
(3) The terms of reference for the inquiry must include requirements—
(e) to inquire into the extent of unlawful or improper conduct by or on behalf of national news publishers and other organisations within the media in respect of personal data;
(f) to inquire into the extent of corporate governance and management failures and the role, if any, of politicians, public servants and others in relation to failures to investigate wrongdoing at media organisations within the scope of the inquiry;
(g) to review the protections and provisions around media coverage of individuals subject to police inquiries, including the policy and practice of naming suspects of crime prior to any relevant charge or conviction;
(h) to investigate the dissemination of information and news, including false news stories, by social media organisations using personal data;
(i) to consider the adequacy of the current regulatory arrangements and the resources, powers and approach of the Information Commissioner and any other relevant authorities in relation to—
(i) the news publishing industry (except in relation to entities regulated by Ofcom) across all platforms and in the light of experience since 2012;
(ii) social media companies;
(j) to make such recommendations as appear to the inquiry to be appropriate for the purpose of ensuring that the privacy rights of individuals are balanced with the right to freedom of expression.
(4) In setting the terms of reference for the inquiry the Secretary of State must—
(k) have regard to the current context of the news, publishing and general media industry;
(l) must set appropriate parameters for determining which allegations are to be considered;
(m) determine the meaning and scope of references to national news publishers and other media organisations for the purposes of the inquiry.
(5) Before complying with subsection (4) the Secretary of State must consult the judge or other person who is likely to be invited to chair the inquiry.
(6) The inquiry may, so far as it considers appropriate—
(n) consider evidence given to previous public inquiries; and
(o) take account of the findings of and evidence given to previous public inquiries (and the inquiry must consider using this power for the purpose of avoiding the waste of public resources).
(7) This section comes into force on Royal Assent.”
This new clause would require the establishment of an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 as recommended by Lord Justice Leveson for Part two of his Inquiry.
New clause 20—Publishers of news-related material: damages and costs (No. 2)—
“(1) This section applies where—
(a) a relevant claim for breach of the data protection legislation is made against a person (‘the defendant’),
(b) the defendant was a relevant publisher at the material time, and
(c) the claim is related to the publication of news-related material.
(2) 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 award costs against the claimant unless satisfied that—
(d) the issues raised by the claim could not have been resolved by using an arbitration scheme of the approved regulator, or
(e) it is just and equitable in all the circumstances of the case, including, for the avoidance of doubt—
(i) the conduct of the defendant, and
(ii) whether the defendant pleaded a reasonably arguable defence, to make a different award of costs or make no award of costs.
(3) If the defendant was not an exempt relevant publisher and was not a member of an approved regulator at the time when the claim was commenced (but would have been able to be a member at that time and it would have been reasonable in the circumstances for the defendant to have been a member at that time), the court must award costs against the defendant unless satisfied that—
(f) the issues raised by the claim could not have been resolved by using an arbitration scheme of the approved regulator (had the defendant been a member), or
(g) it is just and equitable in all the circumstances of the case, including, for the avoidance of doubt—
(i) the conduct of the claimant, and
(ii) whether the claimant had a reasonably arguable claim, to make a different award of costs or make no award of costs.
(4) This section is not to be read as limiting any power to make rules of court.
(5) This section does not apply until such time as a body is first recognised as an approved regulator.”
This new clause would provide that court costs of non-abusive, non-vexatious, and non-trivial libel and intrusion claims would be awarded against a newspaper choosing not to join a Royal Charter-approved regulator offering low-cost arbitration, but that newspapers who do join such a regulator would be protected from costs awards even if they lose a claim.
New clause 21—Publishers of news-related material: interpretive provisions (No. 2)—
“(1) This section applies for the purposes of section (Publishers of news-related material: damages and costs (No. 2)).
(2) “Approved regulator” means a body recognised as a regulator of relevant publishers.
(3) For the purposes of subsection (2), a body is “recognised” as a regulator of relevant publishers if it is so recognised by any body established by Royal Charter (whether established before or after the coming into force of this section) with the purpose of carrying on activities relating to the recognition of independent regulators of relevant publishers.
(4) “Relevant claim” means a civil claim made in respect of data protection under the data protection legislation, brought in England or Wales by a claimant domiciled anywhere in the United Kingdom.
(5) The “material time”, in relation to a relevant claim, is the time of the events giving rise to the claim.
(6) “News-related material” means—
(a) news or information about current affairs,
(b) opinion about matters relating to the news or current affairs, or
(c) gossip about celebrities, other public figures or other persons in the news.
(7) A relevant claim is related to the publication of news-related material if the claim results from—
(d) the publication of news-related material, or
(e) activities carried on in connection with the publication of such material (whether or not the material is in fact published).
(8) A reference to the “publication” of material is a reference to publication—
(f) on a website,
(g) in hard copy, or
(h) by any other means, and references to a person who “publishes” material are to be read accordingly.
(9) A reference to “conduct” includes a reference to omissions; and a reference to a person’s conduct includes a reference to a person’s conduct after the events giving rise to the claim concerned.
(10) “Relevant publisher” has the same meaning as in section 41 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.
(11) A relevant publisher is exempt if it satisfies Condition A or B.
(12) Condition A is that the publisher has a constitution which—
(a) requires any surplus income or gains to be reinvested in the publisher, and
(b) does not allow the distribution of any of its profits or assets (in cash or in kind) to members or third parties.
(13) Condition B is that the publisher—
(a) publishes predominantly in Scotland, or predominantly in Wales, or predominantly in Northern Ireland or predominantly in specific regions or localities; and
(b) has had an average annual turnover not exceeding £100 million over the last five complete financial years.”
This new clause would provide that the penalty incentives in New Clause 20 would not apply to companies which publish only on a regional or local basis and have an annual turnover of less than £100m. It sets out that only data protection claims are eligible, and provides further interpretive provisions.
Amendment (a), line 33 leave out subsection (10) and insert—
“(10) ‘Relevant publisher’ has the same meaning as in section 41 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, subject to subsection (10A).
(10A) For the purposes of this Act, a publisher shall only be a ‘relevant publisher’ if—
(a) it has a registered address in England or Wales; and
(b) its publications are published in, or in any part of, England or Wales.
(10B) A relevant claim may be made under the data protection legislation only in respect of material which is published by a relevant publisher (as defined by subsections (10) and (10A)) and which is read or accessed in England or Wales.”
Government amendments 146 to 150 and 145.
Amendment 144, page 122, line 10, in clause 205, leave out “Section 190 extends” and insert—
“Sections (Publishers of news-related material: damages and costs (Amendment 2)), (Publishers of news-related material: interpretive provisions (Amendment 2)) and 190 extend”.
Amendment 14, page 156, line 4, in schedule 2, at end insert—
“(d) any code which is adopted by an approved regulator as defined by section 42(2) of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.”
This amendment would give the Standards Code of an approved press regulator the same status as the other journalism codes recognised in the Bill (The BBC and Ofcom Codes, and the Editors’ Code observed by members of IPSO).
The Data Protection Bill sets out a full new data protection regime for Britain, giving people more control over their data.
First, I wish to address new clauses 20 and 21, before turning to the other new clauses. These new clauses are essentially the provisions contained in sections 40 and 42 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, although they would apply only to breaches of data protection law and only in England and Wales.
Let me first set out exactly what these new clauses would mean and then our approach to them. They would set new cost provisions for complaints against the press, which means that any publication not regulated by Impress would have to pay the legal costs for any complaint against it, whether it won or lost. Many would object to that and say that it goes against natural justice. It is grounds enough to reject these new clauses on the basis that the courts would punish a publication that has done no wrong, but that is not the only reason. Let us consider the impact of these new clauses on an editor. Faced with any criticism, of any article, by anyone with the means to go to court, a publication would risk having to pay costs, even if every single fact in a story was true and even if there was a strong public interest in publishing. Let us take, for example, Andrew Norfolk, the admirable journalist who uncovered the Rotherham child abuse scandal. He said that section 40 would have made it “near impossible” to do his job. He went on to say that it would have been “inconceivable” to run the front page story naming one of the abusers in a scandal that had ruined the lives of 1,400 innocent young people with disgusting crimes that had gone on for years and years and years. Without Andrew Norfolk’s story, the scandal would have gone on for years and years more.
I will come on to what has changed in the many years since 2013, not least of which is the fact that we now have a full-blown independent press regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which did not exist back then.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. First, IPSO is not a press regulator, because it does not comply with the requirements to be a regulator; it is merely a complaints handler. Secondly, he may have inadvertently misled the House, because it is not necessary to join Impress as he said earlier on. It is necessary for regulators to comply with the rules, which is slightly different.
There is no recognised press regulator other than Impress. As many journalists have pointed out, the truth is that these new clauses would have made it near impossible to uncover some of the stories of abuse, including the abuse of all those children in Rotherham. Another example is that of Mark Stephens, who represented phone hacking victims. He wrote today that the new clauses would
“return Britain to the legal Dark Ages and make it easier for wealthy people to suppress negative stories.”
The impact on local newspapers, too, risks being catastrophic. I say do not just take my word for it. The editor of the Express & Star, well known to Tom Watson, said that the new clauses could spell the end of newspaper printing in this country on a large scale and are a
“ludicrous and patently unfair…piece of legislation.”
Will the Secretary of State confirm to the House that the BBC, Channel 4 and every other broadcaster operates under much more stringent rules, and yet nothing seems to have got in the way of their powers of interrogation and investigation? Does he think that they are operating second-class investigations today?
We have three separate systems of media regulation in this country: a separate system for broadcasters; an essentially self-regulated system under IPSO for newspapers; and then there is the issue of how we make sure that what happens online is properly regulated as well. I will come on to that last point, because it is a very important part of the debate. The impact of the new clauses on the local press should not be underestimated. Two hundred local newspapers have already closed since 2005, and these new clauses would accelerate that decline. However, there is one national newspaper that is carved out in the small print of the new clauses as it only covers newspapers run for profit. Which newspaper is exempted? It is The Guardian. If those who tabled these new clauses thought that they were making friends with The Guardian, they were wrong. The Guardian has said that
“the Data Protection Bill should not be used as a vehicle for imposing an unfair and partial system on publishers.”
It did not ask for the measures, and it, too, opposes them. Indeed, in a recent consultation, 79% of direct responses favoured full repeal of section 40, compared with just 7% who favoured full commencement.
It did, yes. I am trying to ensure that we have a debate on these measures that takes into account the fact that, yes, we want a free press that can hold the powerful to account, but also that it is fair. I know—as does everyone in this House—that there has been irresponsible behaviour by the press. Although I want to see a press that is free to report without fear or favour, to uncover wrongdoing and to hold the powerful to account, I also want to see a press that is fair and accurate. I am determined that we have a strengthened system so that people have recourse to justice when things go wrong.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in many ways, there are two forms of media already operating in this country? One is printed, published and broadcast from reputable sources, which have assets in this country that we can take action against, or not, and the other form is websites that have either very low assets or no assets in this country with very different accountability. Bizarrely, could we not find ourselves in a position under this system where the only people who can get justice are those who are rich enough, such as Peter Thiel, to destroy the website Gawker, in this case, because it was acting against him, rather than those of us on more modest means who would have absolutely no recourse against these organisations, but yet all the news would have gone online because these regulations would force out our newspapers?
My hon. Friend is completely right about the gap between online and print in terms of standards of regulation. That is because IPSO was brought into force—I was glad to see it being introduced in 2014. He is also right that tackling the problems online is critical. Our internet safety strategy, which will be published in the next couple of weeks, will address that matter directly. I know that there are many Members who have concerns about the impact of content online, of abuse online, and of the ability to get redress online, and we will not let that rest. We will ensure that we take action to tackle the problems online in the same way that IPSO deals with the press and indeed that these new clauses deal with publications in the press.
I am glad that IPSO now has the power to require front page corrections as it did, for instance, just a couple of weeks ago with The Times. As the House knows, I have pushed IPSO to bring in further measures. It recently introduced a system of compulsory low-cost arbitration. This means that ordinary people who do not have large sums of money can take claims to newspapers for as little as £50. Almost all of the major national newspapers have signed up to it. That means that anyone who has been wronged by a national newspaper can, for the first time, ask for arbitration and the newspaper cannot refuse. The scheme applies not just to words, but to images. This must be the start of a tougher regime, and not the conclusion.
I have a lot of sympathy with the views of my hon. Friend. The MailOnline is, of course, an online publication, and we are looking at that as part of our internet safety strategy. I am very happy to talk to him about how that can be done. Only in the past week, however, many publications have joined the IPSO low-cost arbitration scheme, which is binding on them, and I very much hope that more will join in the future.
Will my right hon. Friend also confirm that the new scheme will allow for a higher maximum level of damages of up to £60,000 and that it can be run for as little as £100?
That is absolutely right. The minimum access cost will be £50, which means that everybody has access to justice at low cost. There is more to it than that, however. Some people argue that the £60,000 limit on damages is too low, but the arbitration scheme does not stop somebody going to court, so there is access to justice where damages should be higher. The arbitration scheme is an addition to, rather than a replacement for, going to court. It introduces a robust and fair system that is easy for everybody to access, so everyone can have access to justice.
The section 40 amendments would, ironically, have the opposite effect, because anybody with the means to take small newspapers to court could stop them publishing stories for fear of having to pay the costs, even if they get everything right.
Is it not the case that IPSO proposed its arbitration scheme only when a number of colleagues had tabled amendments that were distinctly unhelpful to the print media? Can we trust that organisation? Will my right hon. Friend be extremely careful about removing the boot from the neck of IPSO, particularly in relation to the review period? I know that he will come on to talk about that shortly, but will he consider tightening the review period, because at the moment it gives IPSO the best part of a decade before there is any prospect of further change if the industry does not behave itself?
I agree with the sentiment, which is that we have to ensure that the press remains free but also fair and reasonable, and that is the purpose of the amendment proposing a review period of four years. We will not let matters lie.
Some have asked, “What happens if newspapers pull out of the IPSO scheme?” I think that would send a terrible signal of the newspaper industry’s attitude to the standards that it rightly ought to sign up to. The review is there precisely to address my hon. Friend’s concerns.
Given that this is a Data Protection Bill, the review will consider data protection issues, but I would expect it to be as broad as necessary, to ensure that all those matters are considered.
We have listened to concerns raised during the passage of the Bill, including in this debate.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way just before he moves off the subject of IPSO. He has set out arguments in IPSO’s defence. It is not just Mail Online that is outside the arbitration scheme; that is also true of Newsquest and Archant, so a significant chunk of the press are outside it. Brian Leveson said that the regulator needed to have independent board members, independence of operation, fair remedy for complaints, the ability to carry out investigations, the ability to issue fines, and universal arbitration. None of those conditions is put in place by IPSO, so which of those principles does the Secretary of State think should be retired?
On the contrary, the scheme introduces new, compulsory, low-cost arbitration to ensure that people can have exactly the recourse to justice mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. In order to address some of the concerns, we have tabled two new clauses. First, new clause 19 requires the Information Commissioner to publish information on how people can get redress. The point is to ensure that there is a plain English guide to help anyone with a complaint to navigate the system. Secondly, new clause 22 requires the Information Commissioner to create a statutory code of practice, setting out standards on data protection. The point is that, when investigating a breach of data protection law, the commissioner has to decide whether a journalist acted reasonably. When making that judgment, a failure to comply with the statutory code will weigh heavily against the journalist.
The arbitration is binding on the newspapers, meaning that anybody who wants to get redress from a newspaper in the scheme can do so up to a limit of £60,000, and then the recourse is through the courts. The Information Commissioner’s statutory code of practice is binding with respect to data protection standards; after all, this is a Data Protection Bill, so that is what is in scope.
Taken together, the changes from IPSO and the new clauses mean that Britain will have the most robust system we have ever had of redress for press intrusion and it will be accessible to all. It will achieve that and the benefits of high-quality journalism, without the negative effect that section 40 would have.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way; he is being very generous in taking interventions. Before he finishes his peroration on the new clauses, will he confirm that they are purely procedural and will give members of the public, including our constituents, absolutely no new rights whatsoever?
No, that is not right. The statutory code of practice for journalists must be a consideration in the Information Commissioner’s judgments, and a failure to comply with the statutory code will weigh against the journalist in law. It has precisely the impact that we are trying to bring about.
New clause 18, tabled by the former Leader of the Opposition, Edward Miliband, requires the Government to, in effect, reopen the Leveson inquiry, but only in relation to data protection. I want to say something specific and technical about the new clause. Even on its own terms, it would not deliver Leveson 2 as envisaged. It focuses on data protection breaches, not the broad question of the future of the press. The new clause, therefore, is not appropriate for those who want to vote for Leveson 2.
The first Leveson inquiry lasted more than a year and heard the evidence of more than 300 people, including journalists, editors and victims. The inquiry was a diligent and thorough examination of the culture, practices and ethics of our press, in response to illegal and improper press intrusion. There were far too many cases of terrible behaviour, and having met some of the victims, I understand the impact that had. The inquiry was followed by three major police investigations, leading to more than 40 criminal convictions. More than £48 million was spent on the police investigations and the inquiry.
This is probably a good point for the Secretary of State to remind the House about Brian Leveson’s view of the future of the inquiry. Will he set that out for us?
Sir Brian was very clear in his letter to me. He stated that he wanted the inquiry to continue on a different basis. I think, having considered his view and others, that the best approach is to ensure that we do the work necessary to improve the standards of the press, but we do it based on what is needed now to improve things in the future. I will come back to that.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend acknowledges the diligence and hard work of Sir Brian Leveson in the inquiry. He highlighted the particular vice of corrupt police officers giving the names of persons—perhaps whose premises are being searched—to corrupt journalists who publish them before charge, and very often those people are never charged. No amount of redress can undo that damage. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and other concerned Members to consider revisions and what additional legal protection can be given to people post-charge to prevent this trade in muck and dirt, sometimes without anybody ever coming before a criminal court, which undermines the presumption in favour of innocence?
Yes, I will. My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We are discussing the rules around the disclosure of the names of people who are under investigation before arrest. This is a sensitive area, and we have got to get it right. I want to work with colleagues and others to explore the reporting restriction rules further, and I look forward to meeting him and any others who share those concerns.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way; it is very generous of him. Some years ago, I put forward a private Member’s Bill calling for anyone who was accused to keep their anonymity until they were charged. It is all there—it is effectively good to go. I too would very much like to meet the Secretary of State, because this is the right thing to do. People should not be named before they are even charged, unless a judge orders otherwise.
I am aware of my right hon. Friend’s proposals, and I look forward to meeting her. Getting the details of this right is incredibly important, and I am happy to take that forward.
To go back to the key question of holding an inquiry, the Secretary of State rather implies that the first Leveson inquiry is closed and we now face the possibility of starting a new one. Does he not accept that, from the moment it was set up, the Leveson inquiry was always going to be in two parts? That was the commitment of the Government in which he and I served. It was only suspended so that police operations could take place, and it was quite clearly agreed that part 2 of the inquiry would then resume. The case he has to make is: why is he cancelling a previously promised inquiry endorsed by Leveson? What on earth is the reason for stopping investigations into the kind of things we are all talking about? No one would stop investigations of this kind against any other body in this country.
I have a huge amount of respect for my right hon. and learned Friend. I was about to come on to precisely the reason for that. The reason is that inquiries are not costless, and not just in terms of taxpayers’ money; that is one consideration, but inquiries also take hours of official time and ministerial time. They divert energy and public attention—[Interruption.] Hold on. The question for the House is this: given all the other challenges facing the press, is this inquiry the right use of resources?
There is something in the calls to reopen the inquiry that implies that the problem is that we do not know what happened, but we do know what happened, and then we had police investigations and the convictions. It is fundamental that we get to the bottom of the challenges that the press face today. I want to divert our attention and resources to tackling and rising to the problems of today and ensuring we have a press that is both free and fair.
In answer to the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke, surely the question here is not that further issues should not be settled, such as those that have been raised, but how one should go about it. An open-ended continuation of this inquiry will not necessarily resolve those issues but could travel into all sorts of areas, which would take time. Will the Secretary of State commit to dealing with all these issues raised in a more effective way, rather than just opening a further point in the inquiry? That is the point.
Yes, and my right hon. Friend has pre-empted what I was about to say, which is that the choice is not between doing something and doing nothing, but between doing something and doing something better. New clause 18 calls on us to go into a backward-looking inquiry when what we need to do is ensure that we allow the press to rise to the challenges we face today.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way, not least in view of what I am going to say. Is the truth not that he has broken promises to the victims, ignored the opinions of Sir Brian Leveson and ridden roughshod over the cross-party, unanimous opinion of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee? Much has happened since Leveson 1, and one thing that Leveson 2 could establish is who told Sir Brian the truth and nothing but the truth the first time round. Why is the Secretary of State afraid of establishing the truth?
I want to focus on the challenges we face now. That is my job as Secretary of State, and it is my judgment as to what the proposals I have put forward do, and do in a better way than re-establishing the inquiry.
Has this not been decided in the jewel of our legal system—that is to say, in front of a jury? Some people accused of things that would have been part of Leveson 2 have been acquitted, and a very few have been convicted, but once someone has been tried in front of a jury, it is fundamentally unfair, unjust and a question of double jeopardy if they are then brought before another tribunal and put once more on oath to repeat evidence that they have given before and then been acquitted for. It would be against British justice to proceed in that way.
The police inquiries and the prosecutions that followed were exhaustive, so much so that in 2015, the Director of Public Prosecutions said that the end had been reached of the need to inquire further into those criminal acts. Of course, the criminal acts were punished, and people were convicted and went to prison.
Crucially, the arrival of the internet has fundamentally changed the landscape. That was not addressed at the core of the first Leveson inquiry, but it must be addressed. Later this month we will publish our internet safety strategy, as I mentioned, in which we will set out the action we need to take to ensure that the online world is better policed. Many colleagues have raised with me huge concerns about online abuse and the inability to get redress. That is a significant challenge for the future, and we must address it.
However, the internet has also fundamentally undermined the business model of our printed press. Today’s core challenge is how to ensure a sustainable future for high-quality journalism that can hold the powerful to account. The rise of clickbait, disinformation and fake news is putting our whole democratic discourse at risk. This is an urgent problem that is shaking the foundations of democracies worldwide. Liberal democracies such as Britain cannot survive without the fourth estate, and the fourth estate is under threat like never before. These amendments would exacerbate that threat and undermine the work we are doing through the Cairncross review and elsewhere to support sustainable journalism.
The terms of reference of part 2 of the inquiry have already largely been met. Where action is needed, I do not back down from taking it. The culture that allowed phone hacking to become the norm has changed fundamentally and must stay that way. We have already seen reforms of police practices, with a new code of conduct for the College of Policing. As I said, we are discussing rules around disclosure. I can confirm that we have asked Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to undertake a new review of how police forces are adhering to new media relations guidance, as recommended by Sir Brian, and we will not hesitate to strengthen the rules further if that is needed.
The Secretary of State has talked about victims of abuse, but he seems to have forgotten that Leveson was set up because of the victims of press harassment and abuse in the first place. Many of those victims have written to Members on both sides of the House, rejecting the ridiculous IPSO scheme and asking for part 2 of Leveson to proceed. He has heard concerns from Members on both sides of the House today, so why will he not think again? What has changed his mind about those victims over the last three or four years?
In the period in which people have raised concerns and said that they must be looked into in Leveson 2, every one that has been raised with me was covered in Leveson 1. Leveson 1 was exhaustive, and there were then police investigations, which went further. My judgment is about what is right now, and the challenges the press face now are fundamentally different.
Does the Secretary of State accept that many of the challenges that the press face now are the result of the behaviour that led to Leveson 1 and undermined public confidence? The fact that the victims are not perceived as having had justice further undermines the press, and we would be helping the future of the press in this country if we continued along the lines of Leveson 2 and looked at how best to implement the recommendations of Leveson 1.
I think the representations from the press themselves show that they are not looking for help of that sort. Let us, however, look at the public: there is not a great public cry for this. In response to the consultation, 79% of direct responses favoured the full repeal of section 40. It is my job to address what we face now and the needs of the country now.
The Secretary of State has made the very interesting point that he will try to address some of the grievances and outcomes by way of a review. Doing so specifically in relation to Northern Ireland was in effect precluded by the first part of Mr Leveson’s inquiry. Will the Secretary of State tell us how he will try to resolve this problem in Northern Ireland?
Through new clause 23, as I have mentioned, we will require the Information Commissioner to conduct a statutory review of media compliance with the new law over the next four years. Alongside that review, we propose to have a named person review the standards of the press in Northern Ireland, and we will take that forward as part of and alongside new clause 23.
I thank the Secretary of State for his generosity. Would it be fair for me to characterise that review as a Leveson for Northern Ireland?
I would characterise it as a review aligned with new clause 23, which we are bringing in for the whole country, specifically to look at the effects in Northern Ireland. The crucial point is that we will make sure, through the review in new clause 23, that the future of the press is both free and reasonable, that its behaviour is reasonable, and yet that it is not subject to statutory regulation. I want to see a press that is both free and fair.
I have explained that new clause 23, which I hope the right hon. Gentleman supports, will bring in a review in the future of behaviour following the new system that we are putting into place. That is true here, and it is true right across the country.
May I bring the Secretary of State back to the United Kingdom and to Manchester last year? The Kerslake review said:
“The panel was shocked and dismayed by the accounts of the families of their experiences with some of the media.”
That happened last year, so the Secretary of State should not represent the threats posed by press misbehaviour as being from the past; this is a real and pressing problem now. Will he keep his promise to the victims who have suffered from this in the past and are continuing to suffer from it?
New clause 23 is for the whole of the UK, which includes Northern Ireland. On the hon. Gentleman’s broader point, I have read the Kerslake review, and we asked to see all the evidence that fed into it, but we have not received specific allegations. The crucial point is that the low-cost IPSO arbitration is precisely to make sure that everybody has access to justice and that the press improves the way in which it behaves so that it is both free and fair, and that is what we want to achieve.
The Secretary of State may not be aware of this, but my daughter, aged seven, was spoken to and recorded by a journalist in 2016. The incident, which was in our own garden, traumatised her greatly, as has been stated by her school and by her doctor, but it was ignored by IPSO. Will he meet me and my daughter to explain how children like her will be protected by his amendments and what he is trying to do, because she has no faith in the system?
Yes, I absolutely will. This is the sort of thing that I am trying to put right. It is about making sure that the system is right now: rather than going over the past—there is an enormous amount of evidence of what happened in the past—this is about making sure that we look to the future.
Further to the point made by Ian Paisley about the special review for Northern Ireland, may I ask the Secretary of State in reference to the Hurst case—the former Army intelligence officer whose computers were hacked by newspaper journalists working for newspapers in England about his activities protecting our state in Northern Ireland—whether his review will also examine such criminal activity?
If there are allegations of criminal activity—the hon. Gentleman has just made such an allegation—then that is a matter for the courts.
A newspaper group has admitted liability for criminally hacking the computers of a former Army intelligence officer.
In a way, the hon. Gentleman has summed up my case. My case is that we want a press that is free and that is fair. Statutes already exist to ensure that, when there are cases of wrongdoing, people can be brought to account through the courts. That already exists, and we now also have a system of compulsory, low-cost arbitration to make sure everybody can get recourse.
I am focused on ensuring that we have high-quality political discourse and a press that can survive and thrive, with high-quality journalists who can hold the powerful to account, and on ensuring that we face the challenges of today rather than those of yesterday. That is what we want to work towards, and new clauses 18, 20 and 21 would make it harder to find solutions to today’s real problems.
The Secretary of State will correct me if I am wrong, but new clause 23, to which he has referred at the Dispatch Box, looks at cases going forward; it is not retrospective—I hope I am correct. Therefore, it addresses some of the deficiencies in the other new clauses before the House about having just a consultation process on what has happened previously.
New clause 23 is about ensuring that in the future there is a review of activity from now onwards, and alongside it we will ensure that there is a named person to ensure that the issues in Northern Ireland are looked into properly.
Overall, I want to ensure that the law that applies to the press is applied fairly, and that we have a free press and one that is responsible. I therefore oppose new clauses 18, 20 and 21, which would make that more difficult, not easier, and I urge every Member of the House to do the same.
The background to this is fairly well rehearsed, but it is worth remembering the level of shock we all felt when the revelations about phone hacking first became public. It is worth remembering the shock we felt when we heard that Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked. It does not often happen in this House that Members on both sides unite to try to construct a shared way forward through an extremely difficult problem, yet that is exactly what we managed to do with the Leveson inquiry.
That was very difficult, but it was always going to be a game of two halves. There were too many cases coming to court at the time; there was too much evidence still under wraps; and there was too much that had to be left in the dark. As the Father of the House so rightly pointed out, it was never a question of opening a new inquiry; this is about letting the existing inquiry actually finish its work.
When the previous Prime Minister, Mr Cameron, having spoken to victims, made a statement, the point he wanted to impress on Members on both sides of the House was the need for Leveson to finish the job:
“One of the things that the victims have been most concerned about is that part 2 of the investigation should go ahead—because of the concerns about that first police investigation and about improper relationships between journalists and police officers. It is right that it should go ahead, and that is fully our intention.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 554, c. 458.]
The then Prime Minister was not speaking simply on his own behalf; he was speaking on behalf of Government Members, including members of today’s Government Front Bench such as the Chief Whip, Julian Smith, who wrote not too long ago to one of his constituents:
“The Government has been clear all along that the status quo is not an option and I, personally, am determined to see Lord Justice Leveson’s principles implemented.”
Where has that commitment gone this afternoon?
May I add another voice? There is no journalist more respected on these shores than Sir Harold Evans, the former editor of The Sunday Times. He wrote to everybody today in support of the previous Government’s promises:
“Whatever your party, I and many of my associates, look to you to honour that commitment. To renege would be an affront to every citizen who suffered intrusion, but also the many independently-minded journalists of talent and integrity.”
Is it not time today for fair and independently minded MPs to vote as Sir Harry advises?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. What strengthens his argument is the way in which the Secretary of State has sought to bring forward one argument after another, all of which have been knocked down.
When we were first told that Leveson 2 could not proceed, we were told that there had been a day, sometime in about 2010, when magically, all of a sudden, all the abuse that we had ever heard about before categorically, unequivocally and without doubt ceased. We were all quite surprised about that. We were even more surprised, therefore, when John Ford presented his evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on
“I illegally accessed phone accounts, bank accounts, credit cards, and other personal data of public figures…
My targets included politicians of all parties. In most cases, this was done without any legitimate public interest justification.”
Mr Ford goes on to reflect on whether the practice had magically ended, as the Secretary of State asserted, or whether it was ongoing. He was asked directly to reflect on the Secretary of State’s assertion that it was all over—nothing more to see; time to walk on by. Mr Ford writes in his letter:
“I am sorry to inform you that Mr Hancock is totally wrong”.
Who can imagine such a thing? He goes on to say that
“having spent 15 years in the business, it is no surprise…that I still know people in the illegal data theft industry, and specifically,”— this is the nub of the argument—
“that I know individuals who are still engaged in these activities on behalf of newspapers.”
The idea that magically this bad behaviour suddenly stopped and is not ongoing is argument one that has been knocked down.
As reprehensible as those activities are, the fundamental point is that they are criminal acts. They are against the law. The right hon. Gentleman is wrong to conflate that point with the question of press regulation. Those are criminal acts to be dealt with by the courts.
Actually, it is not wrong to conflate press regulation with these matters, because the purpose of press regulation, in case the hon. Gentleman has not spotted it, is to try to stop such offences happening again. That is how public policy tends to be made in this country.
Is it not extremely relevant that one of the main aims of Leveson 2 was to investigate the relationship between the police and the press, because the police are the people who look into illegal acts and there has been evidence in the past of corruption involving the exchange of information between the police and the press, some of which has affected how Government Members have been presented? Independent-minded Members of the House should be looking into that, not suppressing it. Is it not right that that is looked into?
My hon. Friend is precisely right. We heard a couple of different arguments from the Secretary of State this afternoon, but they boil down to this: “Inquiries are expensive and time consuming, and officials have a lot of better work to do, unless you live in Northern Ireland, in which case we will crack on with the job now.”
Are not culture and criminality very closely linked in these matters and the changes proposed by Opposition Members fair and proportionate? I was disappointed to hear the Secretary of State’s very loose sense of history—of what is more recent and what is in the past. The families of Kirsty Maxwell and Julie Pearson, two of my constituents who were both killed abroad, were harassed by the press. In the case of Kirsty Maxwell, a particular tabloid harassed the family to the detriment of other good and decent journalists, because the family were too scared to speak to the press. Any fair-minded and decent journalist will support these changes.
That point is well put by the hon. Lady. If there is one ambition that we share in this House, it should be not only for a free press, but for a clean press. The idea that there is nothing to see and that we should all walk on by has collapsed.
I am following what the right hon. Gentleman is saying with great interest. I think he is saying that he appreciates that a lot of the activities that he is talking about are illegal, but that they have still been done by journalists and others. Where I am not joining the dots, as he clearly is, is on why Leveson 2, were it to reopen, would make journalists and others more cognisant of those things that are already illegal and change their behaviours.
For a very simple reason: we have evidence that bad behaviour is still ongoing. When the Secretary of State originally decided to cancel Leveson 2, he said that the bad behaviour was in the past. Actually, the evidence is that it is ongoing. What is more, there was much evidence that could not be considered by Lord Leveson because of the court cases that were ongoing. Crucially, that evidence included allegations of collusion between the press and the police. I would have thought that we should scrutinise that to bits in this House, not just walk on by.
Sorry, the reconvening. I do not get why the reconvening of Leveson would make things that are currently illegal any more illegal than they already are. The courts and the prosecution services have the power to bring those cases when illegality takes place. We do not need Leveson 2 to achieve that, surely.
The point of inquiries is to get to the nub of the truth. There was much that the first half of the Leveson inquiry could not consider because of the courts cases that were ongoing. As a Member of this House, I want to know whether the press regulation system that we are setting up takes account of what we have learned about the sins of the past. I do not think that those sins should be buried and forgotten, and that we should walk on by—unless, of course, people are lucky enough to live in Northern Ireland.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman thinks that people in Northern Ireland can be treated with the back of his hand with comments like that, but I should make it clear that the Northern Ireland press were exempt from proper scrutiny by Leveson. That is why people feel aggrieved. Many Members whose phones were hacked, like myself, were completely ignored by that process. Now, perhaps, we will have the chance of fairness. Quite frankly, there has been no fairness up until this point.
I am listening very jealously to the hon. Gentleman. I would like the privileges he has just secured for Northern Ireland for the rest of the country, because the victims who live in England and Wales deserve the same rights.
I understand that new clause 23 applies to the whole United Kingdom. I live in the United Kingdom.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for being so generous in giving way. I want to follow up on the point made by my hon. Friend Simon Hoare. What I do not understand about the Labour new clauses is what he and those in his party who want phase 2 of Leveson, if we want to call it that, think they will learn that they have not and could not learn from the court cases and all the evidence that is already in the open. Is there not enough evidence for us to make the necessary changes, without going through the interminable process of opening it up? Is there some specific area of the criminal law he does not understand that Lord Leveson may be able to explain to him?
What I want to learn is the truth. I want to learn the truth about police-press collusion and I want to know how we improve our press regulation in the future, so that we have not just a free press but a clean press.
Let me make some progress. The Secretary of State offered us a second line of argument that has now collapsed. I am not quite sure of the exact words he used when he came to the House, but most of us walked away thinking that Lord Leveson was pretty content that the whole thing was going to be shuttered. The House can therefore imagine our surprise when Sir Brian Leveson said that he “fundamentally disagreed” with the Government’s decision to end part two of the inquiry. When Lord Leveson said that he wanted the terms to be revised, he meant that he wanted them to be expanded, not cancelled all together. The Secretary of State says that malpractice is in the past and that there is nothing more to see, officials are busy, inquiries are expensive and so we must move on. He intimated that Lord Leveson agreed with him when that was not in fact the case.
A third line of attack from the Secretary of State was that the review looked to the past and ignored the challenges for the press in the future. That was a legitimate challenge and if he studies carefully the words of the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Tom Watson, he will see that there is a new ambition to get into some of the challenges around fake news that were looked at by Brian Leveson. That was not enough to satisfy the Secretary of State, however. In a letter to Conservative Members—I did not receive a copy—he offered some more objections, each one of which we can knock down.
The Secretary of State, in his letter to his colleagues, says that the first half of Leveson was “full and broad” when in fact it was partial and incomplete. He says that newspaper margins are under pressure, as if economic hardship is now some sort of defence against the full glare of justice. He says that the effect of the proposals will be “chilling”, when he knows that our fine broadcasters in this country operate under far more rigorous regulation than newspapers and that does not stop them pursuing the most extraordinarily brilliant investigations. He says that Sir Joe Pilling has “cleared” the IPSO scheme, but Joe Pilling was appointed by IPSO and IPSO itself says it does not comply with Leveson. He says that IPSO now has a low-cost arbitration scheme, but as Mr Bone pointed out, MailOnline, Newsquest and Archant are all outside it, so it is not a universal scheme in the way the Secretary of State has tried to present it to the House this afternoon.
The final line of argument is that officials are very busy and inquiries are very expensive, and we should therefore just walk on by. I just do not think that that is good enough.
The right hon. Gentleman is not making much progress. He is implying that broadcasters are under regulation but there is no chilling effect. The description of a chilling effect, raised by my hon. Friend Chris Philp, is the expected impact of section 40, under which anybody would be able to take a newspaper to court and get costs awarded against the newspaper even if they did not have anything in their case. The broadcasters do not have to deal with anything like that. On the point about things being brought to light, will he confirm that the case of Mr Ford, which he raised and was raised in an argument for Leveson 2, was in fact raised in the original Leveson inquiry and was therefore covered?
Mr Ford’s activity was, but not Mr Ford’s allegations that the activity is already under way.
Let me come on to the point the Secretary of State made about the future of press regulation. The scheme he voted for—it was elegantly designed, I think, by Sir Oliver Letwin—was a good scheme. There have been a couple of important objections to it made by many of our constituents, but more importantly by many journalists in our local media. The first objection is that a royal charter is somehow tantamount to a state authorised, state-operated regulator, which will somehow impede free speech. Royal charters have for centuries been the basis by which we have given stature to universities and learning societies like the Royal Society. None of them confront restrictions on free speech in any way whatever. That argument, frankly, is fanciful.
There was then the argument about the dangers of cost shifting. That is why new clause 20 would create a threshold of about £100 million, along with other proposals, to ensure that good newspapers, which would not necessarily be able to withstand these kinds of risks, are protected. We have listened hard to the debate.
The point is that this was well debated at the time and the argument presented by those on the Treasury Bench was that there was no point in setting up a new regulator and then doing nothing to create incentives to join that regulator. That was the proposal the Secretary of State voted for the first time around.
I was not in the House at the time, so correct me if I am wrong. Am I right in thinking that Brian Leveson recommended that incentivisation to encourage the publishers to sign up to an independent regulator?
Absolutely. It was a very delicate job. The structure put in place was designed to minimise any dangers to free speech but create incentives for the press to move to a scheme that gave low-cost arbitration and access to justice for victims. That is at the core of this debate.
I want to conclude with two points. The first is, I suppose, a plea to the House. If we have learned one thing from the scandals of the past 10 to 12 years—whether the expenses scandal, Hillsborough or Orgreave—it is that it is never the right thing to look at a scandal and decide that it is too expensive or that we are too busy to get to the bottom of what happened. That is the core of the argument to let Brian Leveson finish his job.
“This Government has abandoned its commitments to the victims of press abuse to satisfy the corporate interests of large newspaper groups…
This Government has lost all integrity when it comes to policy affecting the press.”
I hope that we can reflect on those harsh words this afternoon and rescue the integrity that is currently endangered by the Government’s determination to sweep aside the lessons of history.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind colleagues that this debate has to end at four o’clock and I know a lot of people want to speak.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will take heed of your reminder about the time limit.
It is now over 10 years since the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, of which I was Chair at the time, first conducted an inquiry into phone hacking. We conducted several subsequent inquiries, which helped to bring out the truth about the extent of phone hacking and other illegal practices. Without the work of the Committee, those would not have been revealed, although I pay tribute to The Guardian’s brilliant piece of investigative journalism. A lot of this debate concerns investigative journalism.
I think all of us were shocked by the revelation of phone hacking and we were determined that action should be taken to prevent anything like that happening again. In the 10 years that have passed, however, a lot has changed. The News of the World closed down as a result of the revelations. There were prosecutions, with 10 journalists convicted for illegal practices, although it is worth bearing in mind that 57 were cleared.
Obviously, we had the Leveson inquiry. Even if it did not complete all that it originally wanted to complete because of the ongoing criminal cases, it still took over a year and cost £49 million. It produced a swathe of recommendations, although the royal charter was not one of them. My right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin had the brainchild of the royal charter and accompanying that, sanctions in the Crime and Courts Act 2013 for newspapers that did not sign up to a regulator recognised under the royal charter.
Since that time, two major changes have taken place. When the royal charter was designed and the recognition panel was established, I do not think anybody in Parliament ever expected that not a single newspaper—certainly no national newspaper and virtually no local newspaper—would be willing to sign up to a regulator that applied for recognition under the royal charter. It was not just the usual whipping boys; the News International papers, the Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror. The Financial Times, The Guardian, The Independent and all the local newspapers refused. I have met the publications that have agreed to join IMPRESS, but they are micro-publishers. No major publisher was willing to go along with the royal charter. We originally invented the idea of sanctions with the view that one newspaper, or perhaps two, might stand out against the rest. We never intended to bring in a sanction that would punish, in what seems an incredibly unjust way, every single publisher. Their refusal to join is on a matter of principle, and we have to respect that.
What did happen was that they created a new regulator called IPSO, which has steadily evolved. To begin with, it was deficient in some ways. I had talks with IPSO and pointed out to it the areas where I felt that it needed to make changes, particularly through the introduction of an arbitration scheme, which was one of the key requirements under Leveson and which did not exist. However, IPSO has now made a lot of changes, including, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out, the inclusion of an arbitration scheme, which is compulsory for members who sign up to it. Those that are outside it are the local newspapers, against which virtually no complaint has ever been made, and which face the greatest peril from the economic situation that exists for newspapers.
The Select Committee, of which the right hon. Gentleman was a wonderful Chair, recently recommended unanimously, cross-party, the partial commencement of section 40 to give those publications protections—to protect investigative journalism—if they joined the approved regulator. That was one of the options in the consultation. What is wrong with that course?
The hon. Gentleman is an old friend—we sat together on the Committee for 10 years—and I have some sympathy with what he says. When I talked to the publications that had joined IMPRESS, they said that one reason they had done so was because of the possible protection offered if they were part of a recognised regulator, in that they would not have to pay costs even if they lost. That is a separate matter, but in this debate we are talking about the introduction of an amendment to provide not the carrot, but the stick—the punishment for newspapers that do not wish to sign up to a Government-approved regulator.
Deep in my heart, yes I do. As I was about to say, I believe that there is a different climate. Of course, it does not mean that no newspaper ever does something that is a cause for complaint or invades people’s private lives—I have suffered at the hands of the press, but that is the price we pay in this place. However, I believe that the imposition of sanctions of the type that are proposed under the amendments would be deeply damaging to a free press.
In terms of what has changed, I challenge those who criticise IPSO to say where it now fails to meet the requirements under the royal charter. I have been through the royal charter, and there are perhaps three tiny sections where we could say that the wording of the IPSO codes is not precisely in line with the royal charter, but those are incredibly minor. They make no substantial difference whatever. IPSO has not applied for recognition under the royal charter, not because it does not comply, but because there is an objection in principle on the part of every single newspaper to a Government-imposed system, which this represents.
The fundamentally worrying thing is that this seeks to make a connection between local media organisations having to join the state regulator and their facing, if they do not, the awful costs that they might have to pay even if they win a court case. Liam Byrne described that as an incentive, but it is not—it is coercion. It is only an incentive inasmuch as a condemned man on the gallows has an incentive not to stand on the trapdoor.
Of course, I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, and I am glad that he focused on local newspapers, because I referred to two changes. The first is the establishment of IPSO, which I believe in all serious respects is now compliant with what Lord Leveson wanted. The second is the complete change in the media landscape that has taken place in the last 10 years.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned the number of local newspapers that have gone out of business. We are seeing more continue to do so. There is likely to be further consolidation within the newspaper industry and the economics are steadily moving against newspapers. That is a real threat to democracy, because newspapers employ journalists who cover proceedings in courts, council chambers and, indeed, in this place. The big media giants who now have the power and influence—Google, Facebook and Twitter—do not employ a single journalist, so my right hon. Friend is absolutely right to have established the examination into the funding and future of the press. It is about looking forward, and that is where the House should be concentrating its efforts. It should not be looking backwards and going over again the events of more than 10 years ago; the world has changed almost beyond recognition.
My Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee colleague, Paul Farrelly—I call him my hon. Friend—raised the recommendations of the Committee last year. One was that for IPSO to be considered compliant in any way with the spirit of Leveson, it should have a compulsory industry-funded arbitration scheme. While IPSO might not be perfect, does my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) agree that this is one of the most significant areas where IPSO has responded to pressure to try to make itself more compliant?
I agree very much with my hon. Friend. Indeed, I would have found it far harder to make the argument that IPSO was basically now compliant with Lord Leveson had it not introduced the scheme that is now in place. That was the biggest difference between the system as designed by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset in the royal charter and IPSO, and that, as my hon. Friend Damian Collins said, has rightly been removed.
What we do in this debate is being watched around the world. This country is seen as a bastion of freedom and liberty, and a free press is an absolutely essential component of that. I say to those who are proposing these amendments: do not just listen to the newspaper industry, which is, as I say, united against this—that includes The Guardian, despite the efforts of Labour Front Benchers to somehow exclude them. Listen to the Index on Censorship, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists—campaigning organisations that are fighting oppression of the press around the world. They say that if this House brings in this kind of measure it would send a terrible signal to those who believe in a free press. I therefore hope that the amendments will be rejected.
I shall speak in support of new clause 18, which stands in my name and that of Mr Clarke and four Members from four other parties across the House. I have tabled the new clause for one overriding reason: to keep a promise that everyone in this House made to the victims of phone hacking and other unlawful conduct.
I well remember the day when I, David Cameron and Nick Clegg went to meet the victims—the McCanns, the Dowlers and all the others. You know what we said to them? We said, “This time it will be different. This time we won’t flinch. We promise you we’ll see this process through.” Painstakingly, with the victims, we designed a two-part Leveson process—let us be under no illusions about that. The first part was to look at the general issues around the culture and ethics of the press and the relationship with politicians, and the second part, promised back then, was to look, after the criminal trials were over, at, in the words of Sir Brian, who did what to who and why it happened. Who covered it up? Did the police? Did politicians? Did other public servants?
Leveson was to be a two-part process, and here is what David Cameron said, when part 1 of Leveson was completed in November 2012:
“One of the things that the victims have been most concerned about is that part 2 of the investigation should go ahead…It is right that it should go ahead, and that is fully our intention.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 554, c. 458.]
No ifs, no buts, no maybes—a clear promise to victims of the press. And here we come today, and we have the Government saying, “Let’s dump this promise. It’s too expensive—it’s a distraction.” How dare they? How dare they say that to the McCanns, the Dowlers and all the other victims? How can we be here? I say to Members across the House, in whatever party, that this is about our honour—this is a matter of honour, of a promise we made.
The right hon. Gentleman mentions what David Cameron, Nick Clegg and he did. It seems to have escaped his attention that David Cameron is no longer Prime Minister, that Nick Clegg is no longer Deputy Prime Minister, and that two former MPs and one still-existing MP cannot bind their successors. A new Parliament has the right to consider these matters afresh, and that is what is rightly being done today after countless police investigations and prosecutions, many of which ended in acquittal.
I give way to the hon. Gentleman’s constitutional knowledge, but I do not give way to him on morality—and this is a question of morality and of promises we made. Remember the furore about all these events? Remember how people looked at us? Remember how all of us—Labour Governments too—were too close to the press, and how we said we would learn lessons? I take my responsibility too. We should have acted earlier. All Governments should take responsibility. To break this promise would be contemptible.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case, and he is right about morality and the promises made, most importantly, to victims. I am struggling to support him, however, because while those are powerful arguments, I am actually more interested in the outcome. Is there a genuine purpose that can be achieved other than—and it is a strong argument—keeping a promise to victims? It will be a hollow promise if it is nothing more than a talking shop.
Other people have asked, “Why can’t the police just do it?” That suggests that whenever there is a police inquiry there cannot be a public inquiry. My answer is this: there is no substitute for the breadth of a public inquiry and its ability to see what happened. A lot has emerged even since Leveson 1. At that time, people said the hacking and improper behaviour were just at the News of the World. There have now been revelations at The Sun, allegations about The Sunday Times and a decade of blagging by John Ford—a whole range of allegations that we need to get to the bottom of. Crucially, we need to learn lessons for the future. The useful thing that can come out of this is to prevent there being future victims like the McCanns and the Dowlers. That is why so many victims have written to the Prime Minister, saying it is important to get to the truth—not just for them but to prevent it from ever happening again.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a very compelling argument—one that I am not turned off by—but when I read new clause 18 dispassionately I see that it offers me a consultation process with parties in Northern Ireland and an Assembly that is not functioning. It offers me very little, although it promises me something. In new clause 23, the Government from the Dispatch Box today have offered me an actual inquiry. I ask him, then, to put himself in my shoes: should we take what we have or a promise of what we might get?
If the new clause was agreed today, the Secretary of State would within three months have to trigger an inquiry covering Northern Ireland. The point about consultation is precisely to consult with Members of the Assembly, Ministers, if they are in place, and those in Scotland as well. That is simply a point about consultation. I know the hon. Gentleman cares passionately about these issues.
I believe that the case is stronger, not weaker, than it was when a two-part inquiry was envisaged. Sir Brian says we should go ahead. When else do we put a presiding judge in charge of an inquiry and then ignore his advice? Frankly, it is extraordinary. As I said to Anna Soubry, the wrongdoing turned out to be more widespread than we thought. I urge hon. Members, in the time left before the vote, to look at the Kerslake report on what happened in Manchester, because it is a shocking indictment of what a minority—I emphasise that it is a minority besmirching the good name of the whole press—did. I quote from it briefly:
“One mother, who was herself seriously injured as was her daughter, spoke of the press ringing her on her mobile whilst she was recovering in hospital…The child of one family was given condolences on the doorstep before official notification of the death of her mother.”
This is what some of the relatives of the victims said:
“By far the worst thing was the press”,
“They...are a disgrace, they don’t take no for an answer, they have a lack of standards and ethics,”
“The press were not respectful of grief.”
It is all very well people saying, “Everything’s changed”, but to my mind, I’m afraid, that report is proof that not enough has changed, because the same intrusion into the lives of innocent people is carrying on.
I remember David Cameron, as I do the right hon. Gentleman, on this subject. It was one of David Cameron’s best moments. I have not yet heard an argument from the Government to explain why we cannot have Leveson 2. If it is money, that argument is ridiculous. Why does he think the Government do not want Leveson 2?
That is a very good point, and I will come to it in a moment, because it is important to answer it.
I want to make another point about the case for carrying on with Leveson 2. I do not believe, I am afraid, that the regulator we have, IPSO, is nearly good enough. It bears too much resemblance to its predecessor, the Press Complaints Commission. Just think about this regulator: it has not imposed a single fine, demanded a single equal-prominence front page correction or launched a single systematic inquiry, as it has the power to do. The Home Affairs Select Committee heard testimony in February on Islamophobia, and I think I am right in saying that under section 12 of the editors code, on discrimination, hate speech and so on, IPSO has received 8,000 complaints and upheld one. The Chair of the Committee and its members seemed rather shocked by that.
I return now to the very pertinent question from Mr Bone. Why might the Government not be going ahead with Leveson 2? Let us look at their issues briefly. They say it is about press freedom. I believe that a free critical press is an essential part of our society, and that includes being critical of politicians, but, as everyone agreed after Milly Dowler, that freedom does not include the ability to barge into the lives of innocent people. The press themselves said that was wrong. On press freedom and Leveson 2, the National Union of Journalists said in March that the decision not to allow Lord Leveson to complete his task was
“bad for politics, bad for journalism and bad for the public.”
The NUJ says it is not an attack on press freedom!
The Government have also said that the inquiry would go over ground already coved by the police, but as I said, it was always understood that Leveson 2 could only start after the police inquiries had been completed, and that there was no substitute for a broad public inquiry. It is claimed that it misses the big important issues of Facebook and fake news, but those are in the terms of reference as recommended by Sir Brian Leveson. It is said that local papers will be affected, but we have specifically written the terms of reference to exclude local papers, so that there can be no question of their being affected. It is said that this is all backward- looking, but in any other area of public life, would the press really be saying that the truth is time-limited, and that we do not need to get to the truth because it was all a few years ago? Lastly, there is the argument about cost, which I think is a terrible argument. Leveson 1 cost £5 million. That is a substantial sum, but I have to say that, given decades of abuse and broken promises in relation to the press, I think that it is worth spending such a sum to get to the truth.
Now I will answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Wellingborough. I set out the reasons adduced by the press and, indeed, the Government for the cancellation of this inquiry, but let us be absolutely honest: there is one overriding reason for the Government’s decision to abandon it, and that needs to be discussed. It is quite simple. It is fear: fear about the wrath of the press. That is why the Government have made this decision. The press do not want the inquiry to go ahead, and the Government fear attacks on them by the press. That is why the last Labour Government did not take action against the press: they too feared the consequences. But what did we also say after 2011? We said, “Never again will we succumb to fear and make the wrong decisions, which are not in the public interest.”
Fear of the powerful is not a good reason to allow them to trample on the powerless when we have it in our hands to do something about it. It goes against everything that we promised in 2011. It goes against everything that we said to the victims and everything that we told the public. We should remember the words of the current Prime Minister—the current Prime Minister—who said on the steps of Downing Street:
“When we take the big calls, we’ll think not of the powerful, but you.”
I say, “Think of the public, not the powerful, today.” There is still a chance that this time it will be different. We can learn the lessons of failed reform and no change. We can keep our promises to the victims and make change happen, and the way to do that is by voting for new clause 18.
I rise to support new clause 18, and I shall try to do so as briefly as possible as we are running out of time. I have also put my name to amendment 14, which I hope Julie Elliott will press to a Division if she catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. However, new clause 18 and Leveson 2 are my main concern because, as the then Justice Secretary, I was personally involved in setting up the Leveson inquiry.
I have the highest regard for Sir Brian Leveson, and I share his indignation that the House is going back on previous commitments about the completion of that inquiry. Sir Brian is now the president of the Queen’s Bench division. He is the head of criminal justice in this country. He does not think that his inquiry completed its work or inquired into all the matters into which it was supposed to be inquiring. He said in his public letter that he “fundamentally” disagreed with the proposal to cancel the inquiry now and prevent it from going any further. I share his views, and I do not think that the House should lightly set them aside.
It was always clear when the inquiry was established that there would have to be a second part. In his statement when the inquiry was first announced, the then Prime Minister said:
“The second part of the inquiry will examine the extent of unlawful or improper conduct at the News of the World and other newspapers, and the way in which management failures may have allowed it to happen. That part of the inquiry will also look into the original police investigation and the issue of corrupt payments to police officers, and will consider the implications for the relationships between newspapers and the police.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 531, c. 312.]
Those are the things that we are saying that we perhaps do not want to inquire into any further, for what seem to me—with great respect to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who made a valiant effort to put forward the case on behalf of the Government— to be quite inadequate reasons.
When the first part of Leveson was completed, the then Government recommitted to holding the second part. I cannot recall anyone in the House objecting to the idea that we were waiting for the inquiry to be completed once the police inquiries were over. On
“When I set up the inquiry, I also said that there would be a second part to investigate wrongdoing in the press and the police, including the conduct of the first police investigation. That second stage cannot go ahead until the current criminal proceedings have concluded, but we remain committed to the inquiry as it was first established.”
That was the commitment of the Government of whom I was a member, of whom my right hon. Friend was a member, and of whom half the present Government were members. No one objected to that in the House. Indeed, I think that my right hon. Friend took pride in rebutting what was eloquently described by Edward Miliband as the fear—the craven fear—that most Governments have felt of Her Majesty’s press during much of the time that I have been in Parliament.
When the Prime Minister announced that there was to be a second inquiry, he quoted Lord Leveson as saying:
“over the last 30-35 years and probably much longer, the political parties of UK national Government and of UK official Opposition, have had or developed too close a relationship with the press in a way which has not been in the public interest.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 554, c. 446.]
He rejected that, and I do not think the House should put aside that rejection too lightly.
In the present mad climate of political debate, I think that quite a lot of people—for one reason or another, as has always been the case in politics—are currying favour with the proprietors and editors of newspapers, or are fearful of those proprietors and editors. It is difficult to deny that that may have played a part in the sudden decision that we do not want to know any more about matters such as relationships between the police and the press.
What my right hon. and learned Friend has said was the crux of David Cameron’s point. Political parties have got too close to the press. The only reason I can see for abandoning Leveson 2 would be if that had stopped. Does my right hon. and learned Friend think that it has stopped?
I fear that my hon. Friend is probably right, although I should give some credit to my right hon. and hon. Friends in government. I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt, but my suspicions are as strong as those of my hon. Friend.
The Government also asked the public what they thought. When they announced the results of the consultation, it quickly became clear that the Secretary of State had set aside two petitions signed by more than 200,000 people who were in favour of Leveson 2, but counted 62,000 pro forma newspaper coupons that were against it, just because they had been returned in envelopes. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that that is a rather odd way in which to judge the outcome of a consultation, and perhaps a little biased?
I personally will give my right hon. and hon. Friends the benefit of the doubt—I am sure that every representation was considered extremely carefully—but, in the end, it is for the House to decide what goes on.
The first argument that seems to be raised is about the lapse of time and the fact that we are talking about such a long time ago—2012; 2011—that we cannot spend public money on reopening former issues. It has already been said that quite a lot has happened since then. At the time of Leveson 1, I do not think that anyone knew that that The Sun was involved in hacking. I do not think that anyone realised that Trinity Mirror was as mired in criminality as News International, and that it had gone in for hacking. They have tried to cover up the details since then by settling every civil claim that has been brought against them because they do not wish to give any evidence in public, or to have any evidence heard in public against them.
The other issue that has not gone away, about which the right hon. Member for Doncaster North, the former Leader of the Opposition, spoke very eloquently, is the treatment of the victims. There have been other incidents since that time. The Manchester bombing is a plain and obvious example. Victims of tragic occasions such as terrorist outrages still find, far too often, that their gardens fill with photographers. Weeping relatives find that their doors are being knocked on so that they can be asked for comment. They are interviewed when they are plainly still badly shaken up, and probably not yet able to cope with the pressures.
I think that quite a lot has happened, but it has taken some time. It is not actually that long, in my aged recollection, since 2012. This consideration has never been applied to any other public inquiry, and we have lots of public inquiries. When trying to refute the moves against them, the press go back to 1961 in order to attack Mr Mosley and resurrect his activities as a student—they were fairly startling—with his notorious father.
The sexual offences inquiry—a very important inquiry—is making very slow progress. It is inquiring into allegations against public figures now dead, going back for decades. In any other context, shock would be expressed about a scandal of the scale we had in the case of the behaviour of the press. To say, “Oh, that’s too late now; it’s all gone by and we do not wish to know any more about it,” would be greeted with outrage and treated as a ridiculous argument, and I really do not think that we should accept it.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation is a big improvement on what we had before, but it is plainly not an independent regulator. If we had a group of people with the authority of those involved in part one of the Leveson inquiry recommending a new independent regulator, no other public body—none of the utilities, for instance—would be allowed to turn around and say, “We refuse to comply. We will be regulated, but only by a regulator whom we appoint and can change at any stage.” That would be dismissed.
The Government can address all the unworthy suspicions we have that their decision is motivated by a combination of fear and desire to curry favour. They should recover their courage and let the process go ahead, and we will see whether the press really have anything much to fear. I do not think that legitimate journalism and the very many honest journalists have anything to fear. As has been said—I am sure this is true in the House of Commons—everybody in public life in this country thinks that a free and fearless press is a key part of our liberties, and it is a joke to start presenting any moves to investigate as a threat to the freedom of the press.
The final argument that has been used against the proposal is that as the press are under great commercial pressures and face lots of challenges, we should not allow this to go ahead. I cannot think of any other body of organisations of such public importance that could claim, “We are under a bit of pressure, and there is a lot of competition; it is worse than it was a few years ago.” We should certainly tackle the digital market. I think it is quite obvious that Facebook and others are publishers. We should get away from the fiction that they are not publishers, and they should be subject to equivalent regulation as publishers, but that is another issue.
I supported Leveson when it was set up and I believe it should be completed. Leveson should not be cancelled. There are probably policemen still serving who are hoping that their corrupt relationship with the media will not be investigated further because they have got away with it so far. There are probably journalists still working—editors, even, still in post—who knew perfectly well that they were acting illegally in sourcing private information about public figures not just in politics, but in sport and theatre—anybody who achieves B-list celebrity status in this country. It is still the case that nothing sells newspapers like celebrity sex and scandal—no doubt long may that continue—but we must have a look at the ethical standards that should be applied to every possible sort of story.
This is not just about the law; it is also about ethics. We want more respect for our free press, and a proper Leveson 2 could eventually lead to that being achieved.
It is a real pleasure to follow Mr Clarke and my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband, with whom I agree entirely on Leveson 2. I shall address my remarks to amendment 14, which stands in my name and those of colleagues.
First, let us consider the situation now. We have two self-regulatory bodies for the British press and news publishers: IPSO and Impress. These regulators each have standards codes that apply to their members in the news publishing industry. One of the standards codes is listed in the Bill. The Government are happy to give publishers following that code a qualified exemption from the laws that apply to most other professions and industries. Those publishers are, in short, more free to process people’s personal data. That is right, and it allows for, and supports, investigative journalism in the public interest. The other code is not in the Bill, and publishers following that code are less free to process personal data, to conduct investigations and to hold the powerful to account.
People might be surprised to learn which regulator has that statutory recognition. It is not Impress, the new regulator that meets all the requirements of the royal charter on press regulation in the way that this Parliament hoped for after Leveson. The regulator to which the Government are giving these privileges is IPSO, the regulator that has set its face against Parliament and will have nothing to do with statutes or charters.
The cross-party amendment 14 has been tabled in the spirit of the consensus in the House five years ago. It simply says that there must be fair and equal rights for members of Impress. As the first and only regulator approved under the framework that Parliament supported, Impress has worked hard to meet the standards that Leveson set. It has an independently appointed board. It wrote its own code, after extensive public consultation, and it receives funding from a charity, the Independent Press Regulation Trust. IPSO’s arrangements have been subject to no such scrutiny.
Impress is open to the world. Its funding arrangements, appointments, code and regulatory scheme have been published and pored over. In October 2016, the Press Recognition Panel, an arm’s length public body established by royal charter, confirmed that Impress does indeed meet the Leveson standards. That decision was challenged in the courts by the News Media Association, and every single objection that it made was thrown out. That was not widely reported, because most national newspapers choose only to publish bad news, smears and innuendoes about Impress. I believe that the Government have been influenced by those news reports and have chosen to adopt a non-co-operation attitude to Impress.
No; there is not enough time.
It is because of the Government’s intransigence that we are debating the amendment. I wish that we did not need to take up parliamentary time with this issue. I wish that the Government had dealt with it long before now. However, as the Secretary of State says, we are where we are: the odd situation in which IPSO, the regulator that turns its back on Parliament and the public, is listed in the Data Protection Bill, but Impress, the regulator that is publicly accountable, is not. The Government have stonewalled every attempt by Impress for inclusion in the list of journalism codes in schedule 2 or existing legislation since 2016. For a long time, they refused even to consider the issue. Last September, they finally accepted Impress’s application. Since then, they have simply said that the issue is “under consideration”. I now ask the Government to give the case that has been made in this debate proper consideration. I will not press amendment 14 to a Division, but I would be grateful for a full response from the Minister.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I want to make a few general comments, particularly on new clause 18, where the House faces a fine judgment on which way to proceed.
The arguments in favour of new clause 18 are strong. David Cameron promised what it proposes. I was in the Cabinet at the time and remember him making that promise and it was unequivocal, which is reflected in the new clause. Brian Leveson has confirmed his belief that another inquiry should go ahead. In the House of Lords, Lady Hollins set out persuasively the three reasons why the inquiry should proceed. There was also Lord Kerslake’s powerful testimony following the Manchester tragedy that lessons have still not been learned about press intrusion. While Lord Kerslake appears to have found a new role adjacent to the Labour Front-Bench team, he remains one of Britain’s most senior and distinguished former civil servants and his views cannot be idly dismissed. In addition, as has been alluded to by several Members, the victims affected by what we are trying to address today may find it, frankly, rather distasteful that a bunch of politicians appear to be rushing to ingratiate ourselves with the media for fear that they will persistently trawl through our dustbins.
Those arguments seem to be valid reasons in support of new clause 18, but there are other points that have not yet been adequately weighed up by some of those who so eloquently proposed the new clause. We need to consider whether another all-singing, all-dancing inquiry, with the enormous public expense of teams of lawyers, will tell us much that we do not already know. We must also disaggregate issues affecting the police from those affecting the press. They are different things, and in some ways they are mutually contradictory.
First, the written media is already facing serious financial challenges, and I am not only talking about the national newspapers. My right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke made too light of that point. On the “Today” programme this morning, we heard from Marc Reeves, the editor of the Birmingham Mail. Sutton Coldfield used to have two excellent local newspapers. Our constituents trust the veracity of the local media far more than the national media, but they do not buy local newspapers. The Royal town of Sutton Coldfield lost its second newspaper some time ago, and the Royal Sutton Coldfield Observer, which is owned by Trinity Mirror, has been seriously cut. This week, the paper sees the departure of the distinguished, award-winning editor, Mr Gary Phelps, who has been in post for 16 years, and I genuinely fear for the paper’s future. The question is whether the media has learned its lessons, whether there is anything seriously new to be learned and whether yet further digging up of issues by the roots holds real public benefit.
Secondly, it is worth bearing in mind the importance to all citizens of the preservation of the right to a free press, and I do not think that the House has adequately reflected on that. In all the time that I have been involved in international development, in government and in opposition, I have learned that the key ingredient for development, good governance, stability and accountability is transparency. Last week, the House agreed that the overseas territories must accept open registers of ownership, and the information that was critical to convincing many of us came through British investigative journalism exposing corruption and dishonesty through the Panama and Paradise papers. Across the developing world, Britain has championed and strongly supported, with taxpayers’ money, the development of a free media, but it matters here in Britain, too. I think it was a US President who said that if he had to choose between democracy and a free press, he would go for the latter. I conclude that a disrespectful, raucous, cynical, irreverent, suspicious media is the ineluctable price that we pay for our freedoms and rights and also the way in which we hold the rich and the powerful to account.
There is a final point that cuts across new clause 18: a powerful press is all too often itself the way in which we hold the police to account. In Britain, we give the police great power and great trust. We also—unwisely in my view—leave them largely to police themselves. All too often it is the media that exposes police corruption, rather than the organs of the state, and there are numerous examples of that. We should remember the role of the media in exposing the truth behind the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, the appalling events at Hillsborough and the heartbreaking way in which the Lawrence family were treated by the police. The Times played a role in exposing the Rotherham child abuse scandal, and The Guardian revealed sexual predators in the police both in 2012 and more recently. Journalists and, indeed, Members of this House played a role in exposing the appalling police corruption in the fitting up of the Birmingham Six, an event which is still to achieve closure in Birmingham as the families strive to achieve justice through the ongoing coroner’s inquiry.
It is the role of the free media fearlessly to expose wrongdoing, and we would not be serving the interests of our constituents if, by our action today, we took steps that could diminish their ability to do that. Members of the House will make up their own minds on the new clause. This seems to be the nub of the issue, but it is a very fine judgment as to which way our votes should fall.
I rise to speak in support of new clause 18, which my friend Edward Miliband has so eloquently described. I would like to bring three words to the House’s attention: fairness, justice and honour. I say this not as a politician—although I hope that we would all hold those things in high regard—but because they were the things that originally attracted me to a career in journalism. That career involved challenging the establishment, questioning power and holding politicians, big business and powerful vested interests in the media to account. Standing here today, I do not believe that any good ethical journalist or publication in this country has anything to fear from revisiting the Leveson 2 inquiry. Indeed, I feel that they have much to gain.
The right hon. Member for Doncaster North talked about going with David Cameron and Nick Clegg to speak to the victims of hacking, and about the promise that was made to them. I respect the fact that this Parliament should not be held by promises made by another Parliament, but it would say a lot about this House if we were to hold to that promise. It would disappoint the public who are watching us today, hoping that we will live up to those standards of fairness, justice and honour, if we did not do so. That promise was about redressing the balance of power between the vested interests of the press and the ordinary public in this country. The ordinary public deserve the right of redress, and they deserve to have the confidence that everything has been done to safeguard their rights.
We have heard from the Secretary of State that time has moved on and that we live in a different culture, but the fact that we have moved on should not prevent us from learning the lessons of the past. If history teaches us nothing else, it teaches us that if we do not learn the lessons of the past, we will repeat our mistakes in the future. Today, we have an opportunity to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes that led to the hacking of phones, to the intrusion into the lives of innocent members of the public and to the hounding of people who were already suffering, such as the family of Madeleine McCann.
More than that, this is an opportunity to reassure members of the public who, as we have heard time and again over the past few years, feel detached from politics. They feel that we have somehow let them down and that we are not listening to them, but this is an opportunity to tell them that we are listening and that we hear their outrage at the way in which members of the public have been treated by the press—not all the press, but certain elements of it. I also understand the pressures on the press, as a former journalist and the wife of a journalist. I lived through my late husband’s employer announcing redundancies five years in a row, every year at Christmas. That is the reality of life in the modern media, but that is an economic pressure. It is not a pressure brought about by any ethical standard. It is the modern reality of the changes in technology that the industry is learning to deal with.
The Secretary of State said that we had moved on and that the culture had changed, but I would like to remind him of the Kerslake inquiry, and of the behaviour in Manchester that we have heard about. Unfortunately, the truth is that there are unethical individuals in every walk of life and in every profession. However, every other profession in this country—dentistry, medicine, the law—has a regulatory body that is underpinned by statute and that holds its members to a standard. Why should newspapers be exempt? I say that not as somebody who wants any restriction on freedom of the press; I believe that the fourth estate is a fundamental pillar of a free and democratic society. But it also has to be answerable, because freedom of the press should not mean freedom to intrude, to harass or to manufacture stories about individuals; it should mean freedom to be responsible and to be held to account, by the law and by the politicians who make the law.
Friends, the victims of the hacking scandal will be watching today to see whether we live up to the promise that was made to them by the right hon. Member for Doncaster North, by David Cameron and by Nick Clegg. I appeal to Members, please do not be found wanting.
May I say what a sad day this is? I pay tribute to the Government Chief Whip, who has worked exceptionally hard to try to protect the Government, which is particularly difficult, given that in 2013, 530 MPs voted for section 40 and only 13 voted against it. That vote was for the Courts and Crime Act 2013, which enshrined in law the low-cost access to justice that Lord Justice Leveson had agreed was necessary. That was first suggested by Lord Justice Leveson and then agreed to almost unanimously by all parties in Parliament. However, it was never commenced. Successive Secretaries of State have refused to commence the cost-shifting provisions that are so necessary for access to justice.
Section 40 is not about punishing newspapers that do not sign up to Impress; it is about ensuring low-cost access to justice for vulnerable victims of press abuse. The first part of the Leveson inquiry uncovered the horrific scale of abuse, which was endemic in the press, and there have been many court cases and convictions since. Section 40 ensures that publishers that are members of an independently approved regulator that provides low-cost arbitration do not face expensive court costs. It also ensures that victims of press abuse who have been attacked by publications that are not members of an independently approved regulator can access justice via the courts without having to be extremely wealthy.
There are myths about section 40. The first myth is that it would damage the freedom of the press. That is not true. The press recognition panel is independent and was created by royal charter. The charter enshrines press freedom into law. Criteria 8 states that any regulator
“must take into account the importance of freedom of speech, the interests of the public…
the need for journalists to protect confidential sources of information, and the rights of individuals.”
Criteria 17 states that such a regulator’s board
“should not have the power to prevent publication of any material, by anyone, or at any time”.
The only way to change the charter would be by a 66% super-majority in both Houses, plus the unanimous agreement of the press recognition panel’s board. This is not state regulation of the press, or even state regulation of the press regulators; it is the creation of an independent body that will apply Leveson’s criteria for a press regulator to potential self-funded press regulators.
The second myth is that it would threaten the existence of local newspapers. Again, that is not true. New clause 20 would protect all local newspapers that have a turnover of less than £100 million and exempt them from section 40. Local newspapers were generally omitted from the criticisms of Leveson 1, and they are rightly protected from costs shifting, which they might be unable to afford.
Does my hon. Friend recognise that condition B would still leave 85% of local newspapers covered by the costs-shifting provisions, directly threatening their ability to conduct the investigative journalism that so many of them do so well?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. What he is saying is that businesses with a turnover of over £100 million should be protected, which I think is probably not quite right.
Does my hon. Friend find it odd that the lesser-off papers, as I think he phrased it, get away with some things and the better-off papers do not? Is that not discriminatory and completely against British justice?
No, it is not, because it is designed to ensure that victims get access to justice. My hon. Friend will find the local papers that may come under section 40 are owned by large companies. The exemption is designed for the charitable sector, which I will come to in just a moment.
One myth is that The Guardian would not be covered. The Daily Mail claimed that The Guardian would be exempt from the section 40 provisions, which is not true. The Guardian would not be covered by condition A, which is necessary to protect the not-for-profit publications that cannot afford cost-shifting—that is the sector my hon. Friend is interested in protecting. The Guardian would be covered because it declares dividends to its members, so it would not be exempted as the Daily Mail suggested.
The next myth about section 40 is that newspapers would have to sign up to Impress, which again is simply not true. The press are at liberty to create their own regulator, which would simply have to fulfil all 29 of Leveson’s criteria in order to become approved. Becoming approved does not require any sort of Government or political approval. It is entirely independent, and there is nothing to stop IPSO applying to become an approved regulator, except that it does not want to provide the low-cost access to justice that is so necessary. IPSO is a press protector, not a press regulator. I say that because it has introduced what it calls a compulsory low-cost arbitration scheme, but that is not right. IPSO’s scheme is voluntary, and the Financial Times, MailOnline and other newspapers not regulated by IPSO have not signed up. Newspapers may leave the scheme whenever they choose. Although I am delighted that IPSO has admitted that low-cost arbitration is necessary, to add to the express view of both Houses and the recommendation of Lord Leveson, this version of it is not right.
If we choose not to vote for section 40 today, we will once again be trusting the newspapers to reform themselves. They say we should trust them and that IPSO is reforming, coincidentally at exactly the same time as we vote on this important new clause. The newspapers have shown again and again that they cannot be trusted, and we must vote to ensure that all victims have access to low-cost justice, which is so necessary. Lord Leveson, both Houses of Parliament and, now, IPSO have all agreed this is necessary. Section 40 has been on the statute book for five years, and it is now time it was commenced.
Time is tight, so I will be brief. I rise to speak in support of new clause 18 because the Scottish National party has been clear throughout that all individuals should be able to seek redress when they feel they have been the victim of press malpractice. It benefits each and every one of us to have a media that is both transparent and accountable.
The Scottish National party is committed to ensuring that the practices that led to the Leveson inquiry never happen again. We have been equally clear, however, that if there is to be a second part of the Leveson inquiry, the distinct Scottish legal context must be taken into account and the Scottish Government must be consulted on the scope and scale of any future inquiry.
Both my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald and I raised that on Second Reading and again in Committee, and we put on record our dismay at the wholly inappropriate, indeed lazy, amendments made in the other place that sought to impose a blanket, one-size-fits-all, Truro-to-Thurso policy without any cognisance of the devolution settlement or of the fact that matters of press regulation and criminal justice are wholly devolved to the Parliament in Holyrood. I do not think it unreasonable to expect the House of Lords to know that both criminal justice and press regulation, and all the associated issues of the culture, practice and ethics of the press, fall under devolved competence, and that any blanket UK-wide proposal could only negatively impact on devolution.
Scottish National party Members have said repeatedly that, as long as the Scottish Government are consulted and the Scottish legal system is taken into account, we would be happy to support a Leveson inquiry.
I am following the hon. Gentleman’s argument closely. He is right to say that we need to ensure the sins of the past are not repeated, which is why we need new clause 20. Can he confirm whether his party’s position is to support new clause 20 today or, as I have heard, to abstain on it?
The right hon. Gentleman may push that to the vote, but new clause 20 seeks to impose on Scotland a system of press regulation from Westminster, even though this is wholly devolved. I appreciate the work that he and others in Hacked Off have tried to do to square that circle, but it has not been able to be squared. Therefore, we cannot support a system of press regulation that will be imposed from Westminster on Holyrood. That is why I am so pleased that new clause 18 is presented in such a way that it takes on board all of our concerns. I am extremely grateful for the efforts made by Edward Miliband in fashioning the new clause in a way that allows the second part of the Leveson inquiry to take place while recognising the devolution settlement and the distinct position in Scotland. I commend the passion with which he put across his argument this afternoon.
There will be some who will say that part 2 of Leveson is now out of date—indeed, the Secretary of State said as much when he announced his plans to scrap it. People are right to say that much has changed since 2011, which was before Brexit or the fake news agenda dominated the newspapers, but we need to ask ourselves how much has really changed since the height of the phone hacking scandal. The Government are convinced that a step change has taken place, but I question whether it really has. The Secretary of State has pointed out that the world has changed, but these concerns are as relevant now as they were then.
We have seen how much social media is now part and parcel of everyday life. Surely the time is right, with this second part of Leveson, to investigate the role of social media companies—Facebook, Twitter and others—in spreading fake news and disinformation. I would like to think that this inquiry would look to build on the outstanding work being done by Damian Collins and his Select Committee in pursuing fake news and the spread of disinformation.
On behalf of the Scottish National party, I am delighted to have added my name to new clause 18 because I believe any reasonable person would agree that the terms of reference for this part of the Leveson inquiry have not yet been met.
The freedom of the press is so overwhelmingly precious that we should preserve it even if sometimes the press upsets us. It is amazing how many people who have had run-ins with the press have suddenly found that they think it should be more tightly regulated. Fascinatingly, the Daily Mail carried out a survey of their lordships House and discovered that more than a third of those who voted to shackle the press had been embarrassed by the press. May I therefore pay all the greater tribute to my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell for his impressive speech? He has suffered at the hands of the press, yet he recognises that the value of the free press is one of the great jewels in the crown of our constitutional settlement. But it is a jewel that has become tarnished because of actions taken by us; in four years, we have fallen in the rank of free nations from 30th to 40th, so that now we are behind Trinidad and Tobago, and, perhaps most insultingly, even below the French in freedom of the press. The clauses before us today should fill us with shame because they go to the heart of what we should believe in, in terms of our liberties, our freedoms and the rule of law.
New clause 18 seeks to have double jeopardy. Why did Leveson 2 not go ahead in the first place? It was because of a fear that trials could be made unfair by an inquiry going ahead at the same time. But those trials have now gone ahead and juries have returned verdicts. Interestingly, what verdicts did they return? It was not the ones the establishment expected. By and large, the journalists were found not guilty—not guilty of misusing any public office—but the police who gave them information were found guilty.
Was that not proper justice at work? The receiving of information as a journalist is your job, but the giving of information as a policeman is against the law. They have had justice, they have had the inquiry and they have been through the process, but now people want to put those found innocent through it again. They want to call them in front of a tribunal, to put them on oath, to put them in the stocks, and to let them be quizzed, questioned and interrogated so that the freedom of the press can be undermined and pressurised by those who have sometimes had the sharp lash of the press’s tongue against them. It reeks of self-interest.
I will not because time is so short.
Let me move on to new clause 20, the Max Mosley amendment. A man more cynical than I am might think that £540,000 donated to a certain political party might have had some influence on the desire to support Impress—on the desire to support the creation of a known racist, a man who went on anti-Semitic rallies with his father. A party suffering from accusations of anti-Semitism wishes to be in bed with a man who gave it £540,000 to pursue his cause, which is to make Impress the regulator of our free press, in the pocket of one of the most disreputable figures in this nation. IPSO has made leaps and bounds to ensure that it is a proper self-regulator. It is self-regulator free from the taint of state approval, state authorisation and state regulation—
The freedoms and liberties that we hold so dear should be preserved, even when they are inconvenient to us. The House may not have heard what my hon. Friend next to me just said. Baldwin’s line was that the press had the “prerogative of the harlot”—power without responsibility. That was his line, but I would rather have a free press in that condition than a Government-approved, propagandised press that took away all our ancient liberties. These new clauses must be wiped out and cut from the legislative book. We must preserve our freedoms.
This has been an excellent debate. I wish to tell the House about a victim of press intrusion. Twenty-one years ago, I represented the bodyguard who survived the crash that killed the Princess of Wales. I made clear to the press at the time that neither he nor his family wished to be pressured, followed or traced by journalists. They completely disregarded my advice and treated someone who was gravely ill, and his family, appallingly.
When I saw the statements in the Kerslake inquiry last year, I saw that, contrary to what the Secretary of State has said, the situation has not changed. Individuals who were the victims of grave crimes were abused, their privacy invaded and their lives turned around by press intrusion. That was after Sir Brian Leveson had conducted his inquiry, and after he, a greatly respected judge, had told the Government that he fundamentally disagreed with their decision not to proceed with the second part of the Leveson inquiry.
Earlier, I intervened on the Secretary of State and asked him why the Conservative party previously supported the terms of section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which it now opposes. For all the eloquence we have just heard, the position is that the Conservative party is breaking a promise that was made to victims of crime by a Prime Minister of this great country, the United Kingdom. Anyone who supports the Government today should be ashamed of themselves, because those victims of crime are the powerless who need protection from the powerful. The powerful are the people who are too close to those who have governmental power.
As my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband said, we know why this decision is being made—why the Conservative party is backing away from the promise made by a Conservative Prime Minister: it is frightened of the press and its influence. It is a shameful step that it is taking. I appeal to all individual and independent Members of this House to stand up for the powerless against the powerful and to support new clause 18. I implore the Secretary of State to be straightforward with the House.
Question agreed to.
New clause 19 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of business to be concluded at that time (
New Clause 22