My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Cavendish, made the point that there were few journalists here. As far as I know, the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, and I are the only remaining film-makers—and I think that we do know how to edit. I would very much like to support the amendment perfectly set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins. It should not be necessary to say this in your Lordships’ House but, once again, I reiterate that I am the proud son of a journalist and would die in a ditch to protect a responsible and fearless free press. But freedom of any sort brings its own responsibilities, and the greatest of these is the sustaining of trust. This short debate is all about trust.
The Minister in another place said he was being “forward-looking”. I am sure that I speak for many in this House when I suggest that the most forward-looking ambition that we share is the possibility that we might, over time, regain the trust of the people of this country in the quality and integrity of Parliament. As I see it, this ambition trumps all others—and to judge by recent coverage in our national press we are not coming from a particularly good place in that respect.
On the evidence of the past 20 years or so, much of the national press takes the position that its role in society is so important that Parliament needs to get over itself, and understand that in the real world you cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs. The view that it appears to advance is that, to remain sustainable, injustice, distortion, deception, abuse and even at times criminality are the price that society is required to pay for a robust, unfettered press. What if the Church took a similar position with regard to misconduct in its own ranks, or our judges argued that an acceptance of illegal practice in the collection of evidence was a necessary price to pay in the pursuit of justice? At the height of the financial crisis we came close to being persuaded by the banks that their reckless behaviour was justified by the pressures placed on them by their shareholders. I would argue, as has been very well put many times during the passage of this Bill, that society cannot afford the luxury of entirely unconstrained freedoms—not in the law, the Church, the financial sector, social media and even the press.
The reasons why Leveson 2 is necessary were well explained by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, in setting out her amendment. Personally, I have not the slightest doubt that such a review would reveal an extensive and entirely improper set of relationships between the press, politicians and the police, with the very real possibility that significant cases of actual obstruction of justice would come to light. It seems just possible that, in that making that suggestion, I have stumbled across the real reason for the Government’s desire to scrap this second and, to my mind, more important inquiry.
I have just two specific questions to put to the Minister. First, having checked, I can find no record of the former Prime Minister having expressed a view on the unprecedented repudiation of his commitment to Parliament, let alone the breach of his well-publicised personal promises to the victims of press abuse. Has he been asked about, and has he indeed endorsed, the recent decision by the Secretary of State? Is Mr Cameron prepared to meet the victims to explain what factors or new revelations encouraged him to change his mind on this matter—if he has? Possibly the Minister, or even the media, might choose to inquire. Further, does Minister feel that the precedent set by the decision to scrap Leveson 2 is likely to enhance or diminish the likelihood of overcoming the challenge I referred to at the outset—the ambition of all responsible politicians to develop greater public belief in the honesty and integrity of Parliament in general and of the Government that he serves in particular?