My Lords, I have some sympathy with the Minister’s position that this is not a brilliant place in which to legislate on press matters, but we need to put this in a bit of perspective. In the previous Parliament, there was total agreement in both Houses, among the Government and the Opposition, about what needed to be done to bring Leveson into effect. What happened after the election? Absolutely nothing. It was left to go sour outside the fridge.
The only reason we now have a lively debate on Leveson starting up again is because of the noble Baroness’s amendment and the decision of this House, which I was part of, to pass it by an enormous majority. That is the only reason we are talking about Leveson now. We would not have had a Green Paper yesterday without this debate. We would have been stuck in the Whittingdale position of not yet being convinced that the time was right.
It was quite staggering, reading the Commons debate yesterday, to see the number of Conservative MPs in particular who stood up and said, “Well, Leveson’s passed; it’s a long way behind us now and is not relevant any more. Press regulation has moved on”. Why has such a time passed by? Because the Government have done absolutely nothing to further Leveson. Meanwhile, the divides over Leveson have visibly grown.
I feel a deep sense of disappointment that Sir Alan Moses, who as chair of IPSO started off appearing to want to change it, has now become yet another of the press natives, totally defending everything IPSO does. I was disappointed in the IPSO-funded Pilling report, which seemed to me to give meaning to the word whitewash. I am disappointed by the arguments being used by the local press, claiming that the Hollins amendment in some way threatens it. The Hollins amendment is confined to phone hacking, and one thing local papers certainly never do is phone hack. It is completely irrelevant to them, yet they are doing this. This is not a way of moving things forward.
Having said those things quite strongly, I want to make it clear that, from a wholly personal point of view, I am in favour of looking for a compromise on these matters. I am an ex-journalist and know how strongly journalists feel about state interference in the press. I happen to think that these fears are exaggerated in the case of the royal charter disposition, but they do exist. I would be prepared to give some weight to that, if only the press would give some weight to the case against IPSO as it is constituted, which is set out at great length in a good document by Martin Moore, which many noble Lords will have read. Essentially, the proprietors and newspaper companies have IPSO in an iron grip called finance: they decide what finance it gets and what code is followed. They have IPSO under their control.
Some may feel IPSO is a brilliant regulator as things stand. Some, having read the recent decision in the Kelvin MacKenzie case about the newsreader who read out the news in a Muslim outfit—I will not go into it—may be less convinced that IPSO, as we now have it, is effective. The truth is that the moment it is accepted that IPSO is right, everything is settled and the Government are going to do nothing by bringing in Section 40, IPSO will start to slide back, as press regulators have on every occasion once Parliament’s eye is off them.
I would like to see the Government in an active search for a compromise and using the threat of Section 40—it is a threat—to advance that. I think they will do so with a stronger hand if, in the meantime, this House insists on the amendment being made to the Bill, so that the press representatives can see that the time has come to compromise and not insist that they must have their whole way without any concessions of any kind whatever. If we politicians do not stand up to the press, the press will walk all over us. I hope everybody in the House will therefore support the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, in her attempt to prevent this happening.