My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 62A, which states:
“as an amendment to the Motion that this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment 62, at end insert ‘, and do propose Amendment 62B instead of the words so left out of the Bill’”.
Let me explain why I have tabled this amendment after it was considered in the other place last week and narrowly defeated.
First, the need for completing this inquiry continues to grow. The illegal conduct which led to part 1 of Leveson is now known to be far more extensive and to go beyond phone hacking. More revelations emerge every week. It is an inquiry into criminality, corruption and abuse; in any other industry the press would be demanding an inquiry, and yet their opposition is uniform. We now know that the Sunday Times employed a blagger for 15 years to unlawfully access the phone accounts, utility bills and even bank accounts of ordinary people and government Ministers. The blagger, who has become a whistleblower, also said that they organised the theft of rubbish from the houses of Cabinet Ministers, published the stories they uncovered and then blamed it on a Civil Service leak. My noble friend Lord Turnbull was, it seems, moved to call in the Security Service to investigate the Cabinet Office mole, who never actually existed. This involved the personal details of the noble Lords, Lord Prescott and Lord Hague, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and they are among hundreds of victims. This was concealed from part 1 of the Leveson inquiry by the same executives now campaigning to stop part 2. Noble Lords may have heard of similar behaviour by other newspapers.
Secondly, firm promises were made to victims of press abuse.
Thirdly, I believe that the arguments made against completion of the inquiry were misleading, and that the other place should reconsider the matter.
Finally, I have made some adjustments to the amendment which I believe will help the other place to reconsider it, if we are to pass it today. Let me explain these adjustments, made after listening carefully to the debate in the other place. The first addresses the concerns of the Democratic Unionist Party that part 1 of the inquiry could have examined the situation in Northern Ireland more closely. Just before last week’s debate, the DUP was made a last-minute offer by the Government: a non-statutory review with no powers of evidence or witnesses into press conduct in four years. Having considered the matter, I am proposing a change that addresses the party’s proper and reasonable concerns and puts it before Parliament.
Let me clarify how my amendment relates to that offer by the Culture Secretary. Last Wednesday, in response to a question from the DUP Member for North Antrim, the right honourable Ian Paisley, the Culture Secretary said that the Government plan to have,
“a named person review the standards of the press in Northern Ireland”.—[
This interchange came just before the Government, backed by the DUP, narrowly defeated the amendment that would have required the second stage of the Leveson public inquiry into media ethics to be completed. The Culture Secretary’s surprise announcement was welcomed by Mr Paisley who described it—and this is important—as a “Leveson for Northern Ireland”.
The National Union of Journalists called for absolute clarity on the scope and nature of any such review. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport later explained that there is no review planned for Northern Ireland into press standards and that the Cairncross review of quality journalism is in fact UK-wide, specifically relates to examining media compliance with new data protection regulations and is to be undertaken by the Information Commissioner’s Office. The Culture Secretary referred to having a named person for Northern Ireland, but there will also be a named person appointed for Scotland and separately for England and Wales, and they will each feed into the overall review.
The other adjustment that I have made is specifically to exclude the local press from the scope of the inquiry. That will address the concerns of those who have argued, rightly or wrongly, that a public inquiry will somehow impose a burden on local newspapers.
I will not rehearse the arguments for completing this inquiry again—we know them well—and the case for the amendment makes itself. It is an amendment to complete a public inquiry, repeatedly promised, to investigate allegations of illegality, corruption and improper conduct among newspaper corporations, the police and other media organisations responsible for holding personal data. As we all know, contrary to claims made by its opponents, these issues were excluded from part 1 and have never been properly investigated.
We are also familiar with the arguments against. These are, as I understand it, that this inquiry would be too expensive, would hurt local publications, would be a chill on free speech and would not be forward-looking. The honourable Member for North East Somerset in the other place said that the promises to victims of a previous Prime Minister can be ignored. None of those arguments has any validity.
Would any of us accept an argument that investigations into mass criminality or years of concealment in, say, social work or the building trade should be abandoned because they were too expensive? Exposing the full scale of corruption in the police and press is just as vital as are recommendations to ensure that they are never repeated. Abandoning a public inquiry will damage the credibility of other inquiries. What about the Grenfell Tower inquiry?
As for the local press, they were never the main subject of part 2 of the Leveson inquiry and under this amendment they are excluded entirely. It states:
“In setting the terms of reference for the inquiry the Secretary of State must … include exemptions or limitations designed to exclude local and regional publishers from the scope of the inquiry”.
It could not be clearer.
It is also absurd to suggest that an inquiry designed to be transparent, to expose the truth and make fair and proportionate recommendations in the public interest could possibly interfere with free speech.
Finally, the inquiry is specifically designed to look forward as well as back by exposing the full extent of wrongdoing by examining the reforms that have actually been implemented since part 1. Part 2 will be able to make practical and proportionate recommendations for the next steps.
Both parts of the original inquiry were welcomed with huge cross-party support from both Houses. The relevant Select Committee in the other place, chaired by a Conservative, recommended unanimously that Leveson part 2 should proceed. The chair of the inquiry, Sir Brian Leveson, has recommended that it should proceed. I circulated his letter to some noble Lords today as a reminder. Many respected people have written to noble Lords today. I understand that Sir Harold Evans, the former editor of the Sunday Times, believes that part 2 is needed to restore integrity and public confidence in the press. Some 126 academics from 35 institutions, including former journalists and those teaching the journalists of the future, have also written, as has the mother of a victim following the Manchester Arena bombing, where press behaviour was, quite frankly, appalling.
To cancel this amendment is an act of gross censorship. The promises to the victims of press abuse still hold. This Government are breaking those promises. What is the role of this House if not to ensure that the Government act with honour and integrity and are held to their word?