Leveson Part 2: Sunday Times - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:17 pm on 7th March 2018.

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Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords) 7:17 pm, 7th March 2018

My Lords, the shocking revelations in the media and some of the press earlier today about allegations of blagging commissioned by the Sunday Times are, in the words of the Secretary of State,

“totally unacceptable and potentially criminal”,

and the right thing is for them to be investigated by the police. However, the key issue is that the Secretary of State has refused to reconsider the decision to close the Leveson inquiry. Let us be clear: this decision was not supported by the vast majority of those who responded to the public consultation and it was strongly opposed by the chair of the inquiry, Sir Brian Leveson, whose letter is available in the Library.

I say again to the Government that letting down the victims of this type of press activity is breaking all the promises they were given, and is a disgrace. In light of this, I wonder if Minister can explain why it is not in the public interest to complete the Leveson inquiry, given that, far from being an isolated event from a previous age, today’s revelations confirm that phone hacking and other criminal behaviour was more widespread and affected a wider range of individuals than was disclosed in the written evidence given to part 1 of the inquiry, and that some of the oral evidence given to the inquiry was, at the very least, incomplete, so that, in Sir Brian’s words, it,

“remains unclear exactly how widespread these and similar practices have been throughout the print media”.

It may be that this sort of behaviour has ceased but it is in the public interest to be certain about that. Neither Leveson part 1 nor the civil or criminal trials have provided definitive answers about who did what to whom. Sir Brian suggests that the public interest would be served only by,

“a detailed, reasoned report which covers the whole of the available evidence”.

While there is much about the new press regulator—IPSO—that can be welcomed, the Secretary of State indicated in the other place today that more needs to be done in terms of IPSO’s as yet untested low-cost arbitration system, and in relation to the way apologies and retractions are dealt with. It is surely in the public interest to get this right so that victims of press intrusion can actually get the redress they so patently have not had in the past. Although included in the original terms of reference, there has been no proper investigation of failures of corporate governance and management at News International and other newspapers.

On how to go forward, we currently have two press regulation models, and that is clearly unsustainable. Voluntary self-regulation may well be the right approach, but it will not work unless there is public confidence, particularly when so much has been revealed about wrongdoing, including the events occurring after the publication of the first Leveson report.

When he announced last week that he was dropping the Leveson inquiry, the Culture Secretary said that he was doing do so because he felt the public interest lay in looking forward. I still believe that there is more that unites us on this than divides us. We all want a review of the future of quality journalism and for there to be an assessment of what is required to sustain that for the benefit of our democracy and polity. Where we differ is that we think that the public interest demands that the new inquiry should start with an examination of the recent history, culture and practice of the press, police and politicians. The Government clearly want to draw a veil over that. They should be very careful, particularly when they think they are acting in the public interest.