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 Foster of Bath Lord Foster of Bath Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 9:30 pm, 8th February 2017

My Lords, it is four years after the Leveson inquiry, and I certainly believe that Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 should be implemented, and should be implemented now. I voted for it in your Lordships’ House last October and I certainly support the amendments today, which have much the same effect. I also support the fail-safe amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, although I hope that it is not necessary and that Section 40 will be brought in.

Some incredibly misleading statements have been made about the impact of Section 40. Most of the newspapers, as we know, do not support its implementation and have featured some quite amazing one-sided editorials. To the best of my knowledge, none of them has permitted a right of reply. I am the former Member of Parliament for the wonderful city of Bath, which is included in my title, so I am sure that noble Lords will not be surprised that I take a particular interest and am an avid online reader of the Bath Chronicle. Three weeks ago it published one of these anti-Section 40 diatribes. I wrote a rebuttal and asked the Bath Chronicle to publish it. I have not even had an acknowledgement so far—so much for a free press.

Perhaps to explain why I support these amendments, and to ensure it is published—albeit in Hansard rather than in the Bath Chronicle—I will read what I wrote, because it sums up exactly where I stand:

“I am a strong supporter of local newspapers and the Bath Chronicle in particular. But I was surprised by your recent editorial suggesting that measures being considered by parliament will mean that ‘Any investigation in the public interest could be silenced by anyone with a vested interest’. This is a complete misreading of the proposals made by Lord Justice Leveson after the Public Inquiry which followed the appalling phone hacking scandal.

Few could deny that in the past the press had a shocking track record of setting up its own toothless regulators which failed to protect the public. Leveson has proposed that the press should now establish a truly independent regulator whose independence is checked and then ‘recognised’ by a body which is itself impartial and independent from government or the press.

This is what the public want as shown by a YouGov poll just last week. When asked ‘Do you think it is important that any newspaper self-regulator undergoes an audit to ensure it is effective and that it is genuinely independent of both politicians and the press?’ nearly three-quarters (72%) said yes and just 6% said no.

The ‘regulator’ under which the Bath Chronicle operates—called IPSO—doesn’t meet this test. It is not only funded but controlled by the newspapers it regulates.

Were the Chronicle to join a ‘recognised’ regulator, or were IPSO to demonstrate through getting recognised that it met proper standards of independence and effectiveness, the funding issues you describe would not happen. Moreover, the public would be protected and you”— that is, the Chronicle—

“would receive protection from wealthy and powerful local figures if they tried to bully you into withholding stories about them by threatening you with unaffordable court costs”.

My article ended:

“I hope Parliament will agree to support the public and back Leveson’s proposals”.

I certainly hope the Government will accept the amendments before us today.