Phone Hacking — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:36 pm on 6th December 2011.

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Photo of Lord Fowler Lord Fowler Conservative 2:36 pm, 6th December 2011

To ask Her Majesty's Government what estimate they have made of the number of people affected by newspaper phone hacking.

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, the number affected is being assessed as part of the current investigation by the Metropolitan Police Service. At this stage, no final estimate has been made, but the Met recently reported that it has contacted more than 1,800 people, of whom around 600 are identified as victims or potential victims of phone hacking.

Photo of Lord Fowler Lord Fowler Conservative

My Lords, even that figure of course understates the true position. Is my noble friend aware that the Metropolitan Police itself has now said that it has identified the names of 5,800 people in the notebooks of a private investigator who for six years was employed by the News of the World to hack into mobile phones? Is there not now conclusive evidence that some journalists have perverted the traditional role of the press-to expose injustice and wrongdoing-by a total determination to expose private lives? What is needed now is an effective and, above all, independent means to ensure that such abuses never happen again.

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, my noble friend is right when he quotes the figure of 5,795 people who the police have said may-I stress, may-have had their phones hacked. The police stressed that at this stage they cannot give a figure, which is why I gave the other figure of 1,800 people who the police have identified as potential victims, and the 600 with whom they have been in contact. I note what my noble friend said about setting up some independent body as a result of these matters. At this stage, I cannot possibly comment and we must await the outcome of the inquiry by Lord Justice Leveson. When that happens, I am sure that we will act.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, when giving evidence recently to your Lordships' Communications Committee inquiry on the future of investigative journalism, the Culture Secretary, Mr Jeremy Hunt, said that newspapers are likely to come under the auspices of a new regulatory body that is,

"better at enforcing standards of accuracy", than the Press Complaints Commission. Can the Minister confirm that this is now the policy of Her Majesty's Government?

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, my right honourable friend was giving his view correctly to that committee, but I am sure, as the noble Lord is aware, that we cannot make any firm decisions-and it would be wrong to do so-until the Leveson inquiry has concluded. That is what we will do at the appropriate time.

Photo of Lord Soley Lord Soley Labour

Do the Government have any knowledge of any other newspapers being involved in phone hacking?

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I do not, but if the noble Lord wishes to provide some information, I am sure that the Leveson inquiry would be grateful. Whether or not the noble Lord's phone has been hacked, I cannot comment.

Photo of Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that the abuse has not just involved hacking? I sit on the Commons and Lords Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions and heard what Hugh Grant said yesterday about the behaviour of the paparazzi. Is it not wrong that, as Sienna Miller told the Leveson inquiry, 10 burly men can pursue a young woman down a dark alley spitting and hurling abuse at her with impunity because they are carrying cameras?

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, again my noble friend makes a very good point and was right to emphasise that this evidence was adduced to Lord Justice Leveson's committee. No doubt he will consider that and, after that, the Government will-as I said earlier, and I repeat-consider any reports made by the inquiry, particularly where it seeks legislative changes by the Government.

Photo of Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate Labour

My Lords, given the emerging evidence of the employment of private investigators by the press involved in phone hacking, can the Minister give us an idea of when the Government intend to license such people?

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley The Minister of State, Home Department

Again, my Lords, I would not want to take these matters further at this stage. I suspect that I shall repeat the same answer quite a few times during the course of this Question; we want to wait until Lord Justice Leveson has reported.

Photo of Baroness Trumpington Baroness Trumpington Conservative

My Lords, the Minister has answered various points on numbers. How do people know if they are being hacked?

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, that is a technical problem on which I am afraid I cannot assist my noble friend. I am sure that many people throughout the country, and no doubt many Members of this House, think that they may have been hacked. If they think that they have, I suggest that they let the police know and ask them to make appropriate inquiries.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour

My Lords, is the noble Lord stating that the Government have no interest in what is happening with any other newspapers unless individuals produce evidence themselves?

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, that is nonsense. Of course we have an interest in these matters, but at this stage it is right and proper that the Government wait until Lord Justice Leveson has reported. In the mean time, if any noble Lords or others think that they are having problems and that there has been criminality, I suggest that they get in contact with the police.

Photo of Lord Martin of Springburn Lord Martin of Springburn Crossbench

My Lords, when the BBC acquires ex-directory phone numbers, does it have a responsibility to tell the subscribers of those numbers where it got the numbers from?

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, the noble Lord is going slightly beyond the Question on the Order Paper, but I shall certainly make inquiries for him and write in due course.

Photo of Lord Inglewood Lord Inglewood Chair, Communications and Digital Committee, Chair, Communications and Digital Committee

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the fact that the Government have set up the Leveson inquiry is proof positive that they recognise that the existing arrangements are inadequate for regulating the press and that something needs to be done to improve matters, the detail of which, as yet, is not clear?

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, as evinced by the number of questions that my noble friend Lord Fowler and others have asked in this House, as well as by questions asked in another place and concerns raised elsewhere, there has been considerable concern about the degree of phone hacking. Quite rightly, the Government responded to that concern and set up the inquiry by Lord Justice Leveson. They will respond in due course.

Photo of Lord Maxton Lord Maxton Labour

My Lords, Maxton is the name. Why are this Government quite happy, as is Parliament and as previous Governments have been, to regulate television, radio and even the internet but are not prepared to undertake the statutory regulation of the print media?

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I repeat what I said earlier: we will consider the results of this report and make the appropriate response at that stage.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, does my noble friend accept the gravamen of the Justice report last month-a comprehensive report into hacking of all sorts-that this issue goes far, far wider than the press? Will the Government kindly consider reviewing the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to try to bring it up to date and make it effective?

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I always take notice of any report produced by a body such as Justice, and we will always keep the operation of RIPA 2000 under review. However, again, that will be a matter to be dealt with at the conclusion of this inquiry.