Amendment 11

Media Bill - Report and Third Reading – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 23 May 2024.

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Earl Attlee:

Moved by Earl Attlee

11: Clause 50, page 116, line 26, leave out subsections (2) and (3) and insert—“(2) Section 40(3) is omitted.”

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

My Lords, in moving Amendment 11, in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, I also speak to Amendment 12, which is consequential on Amendment 11. There would be no point in agreeing 11 unless we also agreed Amendment 12, because that is the commencement provision—and actually it was the commencement provision that caused a problem with Section 40 in the first place.

This amendment was debated in Committee only yesterday afternoon. I regret that I have not been able to carefully study any of your Lordships’ speeches, but the arguments in favour of these amendments remain the same. I am grateful for the support of all noble Lords in this matter.

This amendment would retain the carrot component of Section 40—that is, the protection it affords to regulated publishers—while dispensing with the stick element, which could disadvantage unregulated publishers. I have to be honest with the House and say that I understand the dangers that publishers might see with the stick component. Suppose that, at some point in the future, our police got out of control, as if we were in a third-world, failed state; and suppose they managed to corrupt the only approved regulator. The publishers would be stuck, because there would be no escape. They would not be able to go back to where we are now. However, if these amendments were to be accepted, there would be no detriment whatever to the interests of the national or local press, even if they refused to join any form of regulator. If there are any detriments, I am sure the House would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could say what they are.

The Conservative 2019 manifesto says:

“To support free speech, we will repeal section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2014, which seeks to coerce the press”.

These amendments would achieve that objective. A newspaper signed up to IPSO would no longer be adversely affected by Section 40; it would just have to hope and pray that the courts would protect it from rich and powerful litigators. However, if a newspaper signs up to an approved regulator, it will be protected, because any person trying to sue it would pay all the court costs, win or lose. So free speech would be protected and not harmed.

My noble friend the Minister says that it is government policy not to incentivise membership of one regulator over another, even if one is superior. So can my noble friend explain why, in data protection and other areas of legislation, the editors’ code used by IPSO is recognised in statute over and above other editorial codes? Is it not the case that the Government give special treatment, not on the basis of which regulator offers better protection to the public but on the basis of which regulator represents a national newspaper whose support they crave?

The truth of the matter is that the opponents of the Leveson reforms want the only approved regulator to wither on the vine by denying it the benefits of Section 40, as envisaged by the Leveson reforms. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hollins Baroness Hollins Crossbench

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for moving Amendment 11 and for his brave and wise speech. I hope that the Minister has thought again overnight and will accept Amendments 11 and 12, which have a lot of support within the House, without our needing to divide. What message does it send to voters when a clause that has been heavily debated and voted on, and to which amendments have attracted cross-party support, is persisted with by the Government under an expedited process?

I and other noble Lords do not think that this is an appropriate way of conducting the business of this House. Our democratic system, with all its checks and balances, is sacred, and I urge the Government to respect it and either withdraw this clause or agree to Amendments 11 and 12, which propose a finely balanced compromise between competing views.

At the heart of this debate is Section 40, a measure which would protect regulated newspapers from costs in court cases against them and protect ordinary people from costs in bringing claims against unregulated newspapers. The principle of access to justice for ordinary people against press abuse, and the freedom of regulated and ethical newspapers to hold wrongdoers to account without fear of expensive litigation, is common sense. That is why we and press freedom advocates around the world, including the National Union of Journalists and the international free speech organisation Article 19, support the Leveson system. But it seems that the Government do not share these views and are seeking to repeal Section 40 in full. That is why the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and I have proposed the amendments today. They are a compromise, which would retain the protections of Section 40 while allowing that part of it to which national newspapers object to be repealed.

This is the perfect compromise for the Government: the press may remain totally unaccountable without any costs or financial disadvantage, but we in your Lordships’ House would show our support for the principles of high standards in an ethical media that would put the public first and create an incentive for newspapers to do the right thing and join a regulator that would protect the public. The press and the Government have no good reason to oppose it.

I fear that some noble Lords may have missed some of my speech yesterday, because of breaking news about a general election. Your Lordships’ House now has access to the extraordinary intervention from Sir Brian Leveson in a letter to me. His letter makes it crystal clear that the Leveson system does not constitute state regulation in any way, shape or form. His recommendations do not pose any financial risk to newspapers. Despite assertions to the contrary in Committee, Sir Brian’s letter explains why his proposals are as relevant today as they have ever been.

We have an opportunity today to do what this House does best: find a compromise between those in favour of press freedom and high standards in the press on the one hand, and those firmly opposed to introducing any meaningful accountability for the industry on the other. I address the Front Benches and say to them that the campaign for the general election has begun. The public’s eyes are on us. They recognise integrity and they recognise cowardice.

This amendment was first tabled by a former Conservative Minister in the other place. Action on this issue has the support of noble Lords on that side of your Lordships’ House. It was supported by the Opposition on Report in the other place and in debates in this House. The Liberal Democrats have been consistent and tenacious in their support of this issue. Now is the time for courage and to stand up for what is right; for respect for the conventions of this House; for the interests of the bereaved and victims of crime targeted by the press; and for journalists who want to do the right thing.

After today’s debate, we may not get the gushing write-up in a national newspaper that some may be hoping for, but there are thousands of people who have experienced the worst kinds of press abuse and are relying on us to speak up for them and to show some courage. I think of my own family and all those who have experienced press wrongdoing. We owe it to them to make progress today.

Photo of Lord Lipsey Lord Lipsey Labour 4:45, 23 May 2024

My Lords, my name appears on all three amendments in this group and therefore it is very tempting to make a long speech on all of them. But I will not do that; I am going to confine myself to the absolutely ghastly procedural and constitutional hole we are in.

I think that for a lot of this stuff to go through wash-up is a breach of the constitution and the understanding of the constitution that we all hold firm to. If this is not looked at in future, we will get into this hot water yet again and burn our toes.

I will take a couple of points, although I could say a number of things. One of the reasons why this House always accedes to the will of the elected House is that it is an elected House. One of the reasons why a manifesto pledge is regarded as game over is that it is the clearest reflection of the will of the people as expressed at the last general election. But we are about to have another general election. The people could have been given another chance to express a view on whatever is in the Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem manifestos, but instead this tag-end of a Government—going down their smoke-rising hole and out of the people’s memory, thank goodness—are still able to make decisions on this. I really am sorry that my noble friend Lord Bassam, who knows what a great admirer of his I am, and the Labour Party as a concerted whole have not put up more of a fight on this.

Secondly, this was avoided in one of the earlier speeches, but wash-up is meant to be about consensus. The Minister said that he would discuss this with the Opposition, but in this House we have more than one opposition. We also have the Liberal Democrat opposition, who take a wholly different view on Leveson and Clause 50 from the Opposition or the Tory party. When going through a procedure designed to achieve consensus, is it fair to exclude from that process an extremely important group of people whose knowledge and experience in this field is as great as that of any other party in the House? I do not find that procedure acceptable.

Some of the consequences of this are becoming known to us as we go through the Bill this afternoon. The Minister, with an apparently serious face, said: “We might have been able to sort these things out, Lady Bull, if only we had had more time”. I do not know what conversations he has had with the noble Baroness over the last few days, but I hope they have been extensive. It is because this thing has been rushed through and wash-up is being used as a cover. I do not know why the Whip is making noises. He tried to shut somebody else up before, but he will not shut me up.

Photo of Lord Watts Lord Watts Labour

Whips should be seen and not heard.

Photo of Lord Lipsey Lord Lipsey Labour

That is right. He has succeeded; I have lost my thread.

If we had had more time or if the phrase “extended consensus” had been interpreted more widely, these matters could have been dealt with. In the end, we will end up with an unnecessarily flawed Bill and a subject to which an incoming Government—as long as they are not a Conservative one—will have to devote their time. We could have wrapped all this up today and adopted the compromise put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins. If necessary, we could even now improve that compromise by amending it at Third Reading. But we will not do so. The will is not there.

We are now seeing an elected dictatorship of two parties—my own, alas, and the Conservative Party—pushing through things that have not achieved consensus support simply, as I explained at Second Reading, for political advantage. This is a sad day not only for press regulation but for Britain’s democracy.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, I rise briefly to associate the Green Party with the remarks of both the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins. The noble Baroness spoke up very clearly for the people with very little power who are being crushed by those with great power—the oligarchic press and media system, to which I have referred in previous speeches.

To pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, I often hear the phrase, “We are a self-governing House” said with great pride. “We are not ruled by the usual channels”—or at least we are not supposed to be. They do not represent large parts of your Lordships’ House.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the Minister and Members from all parts of the House for their good wishes about my health. I went into hospital yesterday morning for a procedure on a long-standing back complaint. It went very well and as I left, the doctor said, “Oh, you might find a bit of discomfort once the painkillers wear off”. Always listen to your doctor. I was really touched to read today’s Hansard. There were good wishes that you usually have to die to get in this House. I feel rather like Tom Sawyer in that respect.

The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, is right—I am only going to speak to the amendments to Clause 50—as the notes issued by the House on the wash-up period state:

“The wash-up period allows a Government to enact essential or non-controversial legislation”.

Whatever else this is, Clause 50 is neither of those things. We all know it has been put into the Bill like a sore thumb, to fix a deal between the Conservative Party and the major newspaper proprietors. That is the wicked world in which we live.

Having served in government and in this House for well over 30 years, I cannot get excited about wash-up. George Woodcock, the great trade union leader of the early 1960s, said that good trade unionism is a series of squalid compromises; so is wash-up, I am afraid. I understand what we are doing today. If we did not have this rather crude end to a Parliament, even a general election period of six weeks would be eaten up by both Houses debating Bills. It is not the end of the world; there is another Parliament coming.

I can see that the noble Lord, Lord Black, is in his place. Like Don Quixote, he is ready to charge at the windmills of state control of the press. That has never been any part of Section 40, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, explained in quoting the expert on the situation, Lord Leveson. I was the Minister in the Ministry of Justice who had responsibility for trying to put forward a solution to the problem of how you square the circle of press freedom and the power of big money in the press. I find it ironic that, at the end of this Parliament, we are being asked simultaneously to help the titans of the press to escape the bullying of SLAPPs—that is the use of big money to curb freedom—and at the same time those same press bodies are resisting attempts to give the ordinary citizen the protection from big-money press that they are asking for.

We know how it works in trying to curb that in so many individual cases, so I am really pleased that a number of my colleagues have put down amendments that could and should have been a way forward, but I do not see that in anything that the noble Lord, Lord Black, has said recently, or any of the other supporters. I do not see the noble Lords, Lord Faulks, Lord Black or Lord Hunt, as in any way on the other side of the fence. We are all in favour of press freedom; I resent very much the idea that those of us who have sought to find that balance, over many years, are still waiting for a move from the press itself.

In an earlier debate, I quoted David Mellor: it is nearly 30 years since warned the press that they were

“drinking in the last-chance saloon” yet they are still there. All that I can say to my friends on the other side, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Black, is that I know how wash-up works. We are probably not going to win, even if we forced any of the compromises, because that is the sordid compromise to which the two sides have to come to get the business over. But it is not the end, because we all know that there will be another scandal by a press that still feels that it is immune from any controls.

I just wish that those on the other side can see genuine attempts on all sides of the House to find a way forward on this, and that there will come a time when they regret not picking up the offers that were on the table. As I say, the public outside do not see this as an attack on press freedom; they see it as an attempt to bring a section of our public life within the realms of decency, and that fight will go on.

Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench 5:00, 23 May 2024

My Lords, when a judge gives a dissenting judgment, he or she often says that they have the misfortune to disagree with the other judgments. I have the misfortune to disagree with the observations made by all previous speakers in this debate. I declare my interest: I occasionally contribute to the press, as do many other noble Lords, and have acted as counsel for various media organisations, and indeed people suing the press, including in proceedings concerned with Section 40.

I can see no conceivable justification for giving special legal protection in relation to those publications which are signed up to the authorised regulator. Section 40 has not been implemented since 2013; it has long been effectively dead and it is high time for it to receive a decent burial. In the last 10 years-plus, we have seen the unauthorised Independent Press Standards Organisation act with independence, impartiality and good judgment to rule on complaints about press conduct. It has done so since 2020, since when it has been chaired by my noble friend Lord Faulks. Under his distinguished chairmanship, it has produced 800-plus rulings on thousands of complaints. Those 800-plus rulings are all contained on the website; they are entirely transparent.

What I find astonishing in this debate is that none of the speakers—who are so wedded to there being a protected, authorised organisation—has made any criticism whatever of any of the rulings made by the unauthorised IPSO. Your Lordships may know that the Times, the Telegraph and the Spectator have all complained that IPSO has been too tough on the press. If there are criticisms of IPSO, I would have expected to hear them today, but I have not. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, spoke of the need for high standards of ethical media regulation, but that is what we have from IPSO.

I am very delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord McNally, back in his place and that he is restored to good health; I wish him well. He spoke of the influence of big money. There is an independent regulator, which is under the noble Lord, Lord Faulks; his predecessor was a very distinguished, independent Court of Appeal judge, Sir Alan Moses, whom no one could accuse of being in anyone’s pocket. It is preposterous to suggest that there is no independent press regulation other than the authorised body.

The authorised body is Impress. I am sure that it has greatly impressed its new member, the organisation Responsible Reptile Keeping. Many, including the vast majority of the press, are not impressed by it to the extent that they wish to be regulated by it—and that is entirely their choice. It is wrong in principle that we should maintain any legislation that provides any advantage to anyone in relation to that body. The noble Earl wishes to intervene.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for giving way; I love debating this subject with him. I made a speech in the House of Lords in which I said that I would not name a bank, because it had been extremely helpful to me. That was reported in a newspaper, which said exactly the opposite: it named the bank and quoted all the horrible things that I had said about it. Those comments were actually from a position paper that I wrote some time before I made the speech. Can the noble Lord explain why, when I complained to IPSO, my complaint online disappeared into the ether? When I asked newspapers to publish a very nice letter from me, saying that there had been some misunderstanding and asking for the opportunity to correct the record, none of them agreed to publish it and my email just disappeared. That was because they knew that IPSO would have no effect.

Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench

The noble Earl knows very well indeed that I cannot possibly have any knowledge of the circumstances of his complaint. I am sure that if the noble Earl takes up the matter with the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, he will—as Ministers say—write to the noble Earl with an explanation. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, will be very happy to place a copy in the Library of the House, but I cannot answer that.

Let us be realistic: we all have complaints about the press. Sometimes, they say nasty things about me; I am not as important as the noble Earl, so it is much rarer, but we are all aggrieved by the press. The fact that the press sometimes—maybe often—say foolish, unjustified things is the price of press freedom. There needs to be a regulator. However, there does not need to be an authorised regulator that has special protection, unless he and other noble Lords say that the unauthorised regulator does not do its job—but that is not the case.

Photo of Lord Watts Lord Watts Labour

If the noble Lord had been in the House yesterday, he would have heard my account of a woman whose daughter was run over in a hit-and-run accident. The Mail sent a reporter down to the scene of the crime, secured the CCTV camera footage and put the link to that story in its paper. She complained but, after six months, she had made no progress whatever. When she said she was stressed out, she was told by this independent regulator that that, if she was stressed out, perhaps she should drop the case. Is that the sort of justice the noble Lord is looking for?

Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench

Again, the House cannot possibly know all the circumstances. I very much doubt it, but IPSO may have made a mistake. I am sure that there are also many complaints to the authorised regulator that do not result in the complete satisfaction of the person who is complaining. It is absurd to suggest that that is so. We have to look, do we not, at the structure—at whether there is an independent, non-authorised regulator? I do not for a moment suggest that there are not people—I am sure there are—who have complaints about the press, and perhaps even complaints about IPSO. However, there is a system, and it is a perfectly proper, effective system under independent management. In those circumstances, it cannot possibly be right that we give special legislative protection to an authorised regulator.

Photo of Lord Davies of Brixton Lord Davies of Brixton Labour

I am listening carefully to what the noble Lord is saying. Is he not amply illustrating the point that this provision is highly controversial? That is the real point of discussion in this debate, that such controversial matters should not be dealt with during wash-up.

Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench

The reality of political life—the noble Lord knows this as much as I do—is that wash-up is a very difficult constitutional concept. However, that is what we have, and it is the only way of getting business through. Since the noble Lord asks me, I do not think this is contentious at all. I thought the provision of Section 40 when it was enacted was a disgrace.

Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench

Wait a minute. I have continued to consider so since, and my views are confirmed by the fact that we have all managed perfectly well for 10 years.

Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench

Give me a moment. I said I would give way, but I would like to finish my point. If the noble Baroness does not mind, I would like to finish my answer to the noble Lord and then I will happily give way to her.

Therefore I do not consider this contentious, because there is no conceivable justification for maintaining any part of Section 40. I happily give way.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

I thank the noble Lord for giving way, and I suggest that perhaps his tone is testimony to the degree of contention in your Lordships’ Chamber at this moment. I also contest the argument he makes that lots of examples have not been given. As was pointed out, examples were given yesterday in Committee, but your Lordships’ House is also very aware of the wash-up procedure and the need for speed, and people’s desire to progress. However, just to give the noble Lord one example, the NUJ—the National Union of Journalists—ethics and disabled members councils have written to IPSO complaining about its failure to address the way in which disabled people are covered by the media organisations that it is supposed to regulate, and asking for action. I have seen no sign of action. That is just one example, since the noble Lord asked for them.

Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench

That is a very sensitive subject.

Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench

No—please let me answer the noble Baroness. The treatment of disabled people is a very contentious issue on which strong views are held, and I am not going to get into that debate. The noble Baroness also complains about my tone. I am sorry she complains about it. What I am seeking to do—I hope very properly, because we are all grown-ups here—is to deal with the substance of the arguments that have been put in favour of these amendments.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Liberal Democrat

I had misjudged this debate. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Black, would be the Don Quixote—I did not imagine that he would be the Sancho Panza. Has he ever heard of the term used in the United States, “a sweetheart union”? That is what IPSO is. It is owned by, financed by and dependent on the people it is supposed to regulate. We are always looking to get IPSO out of the clutches of those it is supposed to regulate—maybe that will be the greatest tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, during his chairmanship. Then we might believe the silken words that the noble Lord, a very experienced advocate, has been saying to us.

Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench

The noble Lord may recall, and the noble Lord, Lord Watson, will certainly recall, that Impress, the authorised regulator, was funded for a long time by the late Mr Max Mosley, who had very strong views about press regulation.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

The noble Lord lost his case on that.

Photo of Lord Watson of Wyre Forest Lord Watson of Wyre Forest Labour 5:15, 23 May 2024

My Lords, as a relatively new Member of this House, I rise with great trepidation, following the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. As a new Member, I have noticed that every time I enter the Chamber with one view, when I hear his intellectually muscular contributions and his laser-beam legal brain, I usually end up leaving the Chamber with a different view. I do not think that is going to happen today.

I say to the noble Lord that criticisms were made of IPSO made in Committee yesterday. He may not think that they were legitimate or hold water, but they were closely felt. I am not going to criticise IPSO again in this debate, except possibly to add, as I tried to yesterday, to the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, that my criticisms of IPSO are about the institutional structure and the governance arrangements. They are nothing to do with the professionalism of the staff, whom I only hear excellent things about when they deal with individual cases. Also, as a former colleague of Sir Bill Jeffrey, I understand that he is as intellectually muscular as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and I am sure that he did a very independent review of IPSO.

My concerns today are why now, and why in this debate. On the circumstances that led to the creation of Section 40 in 2013, we had numerous Select Committee inquiries, and we had several criminal inquiries. We had independent journalism investigating criminal wrongdoing, and we had a judge-led public inquiry that did quite an unusual thing. It united both Houses and all political parties to draw a line in the sand and say, “We’re going to do something completely different—we’re going to find a way of holding tabloid media to account”. What we have been asked to do today, nearly nine years later, is to repeal Section 40 because we are being told that we have a legal framework and an independent set of governance rules, which means that we no longer need the Leveson recommendations.

What we are not being told is what we know now that we did not know in 2013 when, with great urgency because there was great public concern, we decided that we needed to act. We actually know that there was much more criminal wrongdoing, that it lasted longer, and that it was not for just a few years but nearly a decade. We also know that Parliament was misled, that members of the DCMS Select Committee who were investigating criminal phone hacking were the subject of intense media criticism—some covertly surveilled by private investigators working for News International. We know that they were lied to. The “one rogue reporter” defence was held for numerous years, but there was actually a corporate consciousness that this was not true in 2005. We also know, because we have seen the criminal case and conviction of Mazher Mahmood, the “fake sheikh” in 2016, that people were framed. Celebrities and people in the public eye were accused of crimes and set up to sell stories. As far as I can see, there has been very little contrition from the newspaper groups that were responsible for that.

I really could go on and on about the wrongdoing, the deceit, the lies, the criminal behaviour and the constant intimidation, but I truly think that everyone, wherever they stand in this debate, already knows about those.

Earlier, the Minister cited Bruce Springsteen, and I was very disappointed when he did that because I was supposed to have lunch with him today. I decided it was better to stay here to try to convince him, at this 11th hour, of the errors of his ways. I know he may be “born to run”, but I feel like “we are dancing in the dark”, as we have so often in this debate. I want to convince him of the merits of these three amendments in this little basket of discussions, and—who knows?—we may even have “glory days” together, whatever the outcome of the general election.

There are some principal reasons why this clause should be opposed. First, there is a convention that controversial policy should not be rushed through in the wash-up. We have done it before and came to regret it—I mention the Gambling Act 2005.

Secondly, when it comes to media reform, we must be incredibly transparent. The public need to understand that, if we are going to concede to media barons—and let us not deny that this is what this represents—we need to be seen to do the right thing. In trying to railroad all these amendments through in an afternoon, on the day after the announcement of a general election, you cannot make the case that this is anything other than a venal deal.

Thirdly, perhaps more importantly, I believe very strongly that, wherever you sit on the ideological spectrum, whenever we talk about regulation—this is a highly regulated market—people always tell me that when you regulate things you have to be worried about the consequences of your decisions because they are very hard to map out. We appear to be dropping the creation of a new regulator for that reason when it comes to football, and I do not understand why we are interfering with a regulated market in wash-up.

There are some principal reasons why it is time that we took a pause, and what we have is either a concession that could unite us or an argument that says let us not deal with Clause 50 in the wash-up of a general election; let us pause and come back to it, whoever wins that election.

Photo of Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

We on these Benches are in favour of these amendments and think we should proceed now.

Photo of Lord Davies of Brixton Lord Davies of Brixton Labour

I would like to add something to the constitutional points which were made by my noble friend Lord Lipsey. The appropriateness of dealing with this issue in wash-up is clearly in contention. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, said yesterday that the abolition of Section 40 is a clear commitment of the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto. I am afraid it is not clear: the sentence starts by saying that but it then sets conditions. It provides additional text that confuses the issue, and raises issues which were dealt with in yesterday’s debate. I have read yesterday’s debate and clearly questions have been raised about the accuracy of the information in that particular quote from the manifesto—I see the Minister disagrees. Claiming that it is clear is incorrect.

The second issue arises from the Salisbury convention about manifesto commitments. It is quite clear that this cannot be an essential commitment because the Government have had more than four years to deal with the matter, and they failed to do so. Bringing it up in the wash-up period is an insult to this House and an exploitation of the arrangements which have been made.

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated

My Lords, I want only to reflect slightly on some of the comments that have been made about the tone of the debate, and in particular the attack against the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I have been shocked by the tone of the debate against the points of noble Lord, Lord Pannick. The argument seems to be that this is a Tory conspiracy theory, that the Tories are in bed with the press barons, and that there is all sorts of skulduggery going on. I am genuinely shocked that this is being allowed to pass. I want to at least mention that there are some of us who worry about an authorised regulator, and the politicisation of regulation, who are not in bed with press barons. I spend most of my time reading newspapers that write rubbish about me, so I am not keen on press barons—let me put it that way. I also happen to believe in media independence and freedom, which is an important point.

I want the Bill to get on and pass, but, first, there was an earlier discussion about local TV news channels. For the sake of the public and accuracy, one noble Lord sitting close to me said that GM News—he meant GB News—is constantly played on local TV news channels. It is not GB News; it is TalkTV that is played on all those channels, including in Liverpool. I get it and watch it, and that is what is played.

Secondly, the accusation was made that Ofcom, because it is run by evil Tories, is not doing anything about GB News and the way that it presents itself. It is worth reading the papers and the press on this, because then we would all know that Ofcom is in fact accused of overregulating GB News for exactly the things that the noble Lord mentioned it was ignoring—to such an extent that GB News is beginning a formal legal process against Ofcom, which it considers to be overly political in its involvement in the editorial independence of GB News.

I make these statements of factual accuracy because what is at stake is not which political party you are in. We talked about Reithian principles before, but has anyone explored Reith’s politics at any point? He was not a socialist or a Lib Dem, but I agree that Reithian principles matter. I do not care who is arguing for press freedom or who is trying to overturn Section 40. I do not think that it is a conspiracy to establish an independent regulator for the media, which is not a threat to the British public. The threat to the British public is a politicised, misinformed, ill-informed discussion that tries to suggest that the only people who care about press freedom are working with press barons. That is nonsense.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Shadow Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

My Lords, I think the convention of the House is that, on Report, a noble Lord has only one bite of the cherry.

This has been a long debate and we had a long debate yesterday. I listened to all sides of the argument and have set out the Labour Party’s viewpoint on the current situation. There is one argument with which I strongly agree, and that is that it is unfortunate that we are having this debate, on this Bill, at the end of a Parliament. It is a great shame, because this part of the Bill does not really sit easily with the rest of it, which is primarily about broadcast and audio media. We should have stuck to that subject matter.

With that said, we do not support the amendments that have been tabled by my noble friends behind me, and we are unable to give them the backing they wish. We now have a settled position and things have moved on since Leveson. I do not disagree with some of Leveson’s conclusions, but I think that the issue has moved forward. I do not think that sufficient weight and seriousness were paid to the arguments that are being made that we need to look closely at the press and examine how it works. I heard the passion of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, and of my noble friend Lord Watts, and I understand their concerns, but I do not think that this is the best way for us to continue to approach matters. That is the Labour Party’s position, and we will not support our colleagues if they push this to a vote. We are content for the Government to conclude business on this group, which we hope will enable us to make progress on the Bill.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said, this has been a long debate, as our debate yesterday was, but I am not sure that it has shed much light for us to be blinded by. The noble Lord, Lord Watson of Wyre Forest, inadvertently put it rather well when he said that this was not a debate that was likely to change anyone’s mind. This reflects an old debate, one which began well over a decade ago and on which few minds have shifted in the intervening years. We are focused on a narrow aspect of it: to repeal a provision that has never been enacted, languishes obsolescent on the statute book and, even in that dormant state, causes great concern to our free press, one of the things on which we pride ourselves in this nation. That is why it is essential that this provision is removed and why this is not a controversial debate, although some noble Lords opposite continue to disagree with it.

This matter was covered explicitly in the last two manifestos on which the Government were elected. In 2017 and 2019, we said that

“we will repeal section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act”.

The noble Lord, Lord Watson of Wyre Forest, was deputy leader of his party in both elections, and I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, was a candidate in them. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, has been an assiduous reader of our manifesto, but I disagree with him in his attempt to suggest that there is anything other than clarity in our commitment to repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act.

I will say a little about the amendments tabled today, because they deserve the courtesy of a reply. My noble friend Lord Attlee asked what the detriments are of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act and what those of the amendment before your Lordships’ House would be. In practice it would incentivise membership of Impress, as the sole UK regulator that has sought approval by the Press Recognition Panel. That would be likely to lead to a chilling effect on publishers that choose not to join Impress, which, as noble Lords know, is a great number of publishers indeed: not a single one of our national newspapers, which disagree with each other on many things and have a variety of political views between them, has chosen to join it. His Majesty’s Government are committed to protecting media freedom and the invaluable role of a free press in our society and our democracy. As part of this, we are committed to independent self-regulation of the press, and that extends to endorsing regulators of which they should become members. Incentivising a publisher to join a specific regulator is not compatible with protecting independent self-regulation of the press in the UK.

That is not just about government policy and nor, dare I say it—as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, tried to suggest—about partisan advantage. The News Media Association, Reporters Without Borders, the Society of Editors, English PEN and many other important voices on media freedom have described this as crucial legislation and said:

“Repealing Section 40 will go a long way towards strengthening the UK’s reputation as a global champion for freedom of speech”.

More broadly, as I set out at the outset of this Report stage, leading chief executives from the broadcasting industry have impressed on us

“not to let the opportunity to modernise the rules that govern our sector pass” and highlighted the broad support across the industry for the Bill, as indeed there has been on every other aspect in your Lordships’ House and another place. While I am grateful for the opportunity to revisit old debates today, I cannot accept the amendments that noble Lords have brought.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative 5:30, 23 May 2024

My Lords, I am grateful for the contribution of all noble Lords. My noble friend the Minister called in the support of many organisations that agree with government policy, but many of them do not understand how the Section 40 arrangements work due to the absolutely brilliant campaign by the News Media Association, which I think is the best trade association ever.

On the issue of wash-up, I do not think that this is satisfactory. This is a highly controversial matter. We should have dropped Clause 50 and left it for the next Parliament. There is no difficulty in that at all; there are loads of suitable Bills that could have been used. I agree that we needed to remove the sword of Damocles —the ability of the Government of the day to commence Section 40 at any time. We did need to do something about it; I just do not think we got the right solution.

I turn to the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I enjoy debating with him; I expected him to be vigorous. I would agree to debate with him only if I knew I was right.

As I understand it, the Sitting of your Lordships’ House was suspended for very senior politicians at the other end of the Corridor to try to work out what the answer is. It is clear to me that people outside the Chamber—not us lot, but others—have been working really hard to try to work out what the right answer is. I think the best thing we can do is to allow Clause 50 to go ahead unamended. If a noble Lord did want to seek the opinion of the House, I would not advise it; on the other hand, I would not call foul either.

Amendment 11 withdrawn.

Amendments 12 and 13 not moved.