Digital Economy Bill - Committee (4th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 8th February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 9:30 pm, 8th February 2017

My Lords, this amendment deals with the preparations that will need to be made should we be in the unfortunate situation that was animadverted by Sir Brian Leveson when he finished his part 1 report, if the press self-regulation proposals made in it are not fulfilled.

The current situation is complex, and it may be slightly premature to assume that everything is going to fail, but I think that, of the two types of problem that he identified, the first—that no recognised regulator was appointed within a year of the recognition panel’s being established—has not come through. We have a recognised regulator, and it was approved very recently, within a year of the recognition panel’s being established. That is a good thing, and we should bank on that.

The second problem, however, remains. His feeling was that there would be no value in the self-regulatory proposals he was advocating if significant news publishers remained outside the recognised regulator. That has happened in spades. There is a body established by the industry and largely for the industry, IPSO, which is not seeking recognition under the existing procedures. Therefore, that would, I think, represent a failure in terms of Leveson’s original proposal. We also have a situation in which the recognised regulator is not attracting significant support from the press which might be regulated by it, although it does have some support, and that is good, and we support that. It is not, however, operating at the scale or encompassing sufficient of the broad press, which was the focus of the original report, to be considered a success.

We are facing a problem. The problem was anticipated, and the solution proposed by Lord Justice Leveson at that stage was a backstop regulator. Therefore this amendment—which is limited in terms of the exact wording to the digital media, although it could, I think, be read as more appropriate for the wider situation—is almost certainly going to be required because of the situation I have outlined. Obviously, we regret that. We wish, as we always have, that a properly self-regulatory system could be established. However, it is extraordinary that the press, as Lord Justice Leveson says, benefits from considerable support in statute for the activities that it wants, including a provision in an amendment to this Bill to protect journalists who wish to break stories that were in the public interest and who might otherwise be caught by concerns about data leakage. That is an example of the sorts of ways we have often legislated for and supported the press because everybody believes in a free press and believes that the press should be able to operate within the law and without any constraint. However, we also believe—this is particularly true of those who have been victims of press intrusion into their private lives—that the public will not settle for a situation in which the press escapes standards regulation altogether.

We will therefore face a situation within a few months where it is likely that it will not be possible that the Leveson proposals have been brought in and there is a need for a standards regulator. The standards regulator proposed by Leveson in his report is Ofcom, and there is much in the report which shows and explains why that would be a good thing. My amendment, which I hope the Government will accept, says that it is time to start to think about how this will impact on Ofcom’s work and to bring forward proposals under which that should operate. I beg to move.