The Prime Minister: As I have said, I had a number of conversations all the time during his employment. In the end the swirl of allegations is why he left. What we have now is not only a criminal investigation, where people are being interviewed by the police and the

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police can go without fear or favour, but a public inquiry. None of these things happened properly under the previous Government; they are happening now, and no one will be immune from them.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. May I remind Members that as a matter of basic courtesy, Members standing and seeking to catch my eye should not simultaneously be fiddling with their electronic devices? I should have thought the point was so obvious as a matter of courtesy, but apparently not.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): Will the Prime Minister ensure that the activities of Damian McBride, the king of smears and spin under Labour, will also form part of the investigation that he undertakes?

The Prime Minister: The Opposition do not like hearing about it because they know that they had people working in Downing street whose conduct was absolutely despicable. That is a contrast they cannot avoid.

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): The Prime Minister seems to be suggesting that his appointment of Andy Coulson was a huge success. In fact, Sir Paul Stephenson has made it clear that that appointment prevented him from giving information to the Prime Minister that he would otherwise have given. Is it not fundamentally obvious to everyone that the Prime Minister made a dramatic error of judgment in appointing Andy Coulson, not with the benefit of—

Mr Speaker: Order. Questions are becoming longer and longer, and they need to get shorter.

The Prime Minister: I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that he should check the transcript of what Sir Paul Stephenson and John Yates said yesterday. They think that Edward Llewellyn behaved entirely appropriately, as do I, and as does the person sitting next to the hon. Gentleman, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz).

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): In 2006 the Information Commissioner published two reports expressing concerns about the risk of phone hacking. For the sake of the victims, does the Prime Minister regret that no action was taken at that time?

The Prime Minister: I think that it is a matter of regret. Frankly, both Front-Bench teams have to accept that warnings from the Information Commissioner and Select Committees were not heeded. We have to recognise that there were issues about relations with media groups that made that happen, and we have to get to the bottom of how we prevent it from happening again. I hope we can address that point in the debate.

Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister tell the House the details of any appropriate conversations he had about the BSkyB bid, specifically with Rebekah Brooks and James Murdoch on 23 December and with Rebekah Brooks on Boxing day 2010?

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The Prime Minister: What I have done that no Prime Minister has done before is set out all the details of the meetings and explained that all the conversations were appropriate. That was backed up by Rebekah Brooks yesterday. If the hon. Lady wants to help, she could ask the leader of her party to be equally transparent, which he is not being at the moment.

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): Following on from the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), will the Prime Minister join me in hoping that this will be the end of the ever-increasing rise of the press officer paid for by police constabularies across the country?

The Prime Minister: I would be a little careful about this. The police have to have a relationship with the media, both at the top level to communicate what the police are trying to do strategically, and at the operational level to work with the local press to help beat crime. There is therefore an appropriate relationship. We have to try to ensure that they do not have an inappropriate relationship.

Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): Has the Prime Minister ever uttered the word “BSkyB” in the presence of Rebekah Brooks, Rupert Murdoch or James Murdoch?

The Prime Minister: You know—urgh!

Matthew Hancock (West Suffolk) (Con): Does it not raise serious questions about how the previous Government operated that Labour Members seem to think it would have been appropriate for the Prime Minister to be briefed on operational police matters? Do not the e-mails released show just what a professional his chief of staff is?

The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for putting that on the record because it is right. The judgment that my chief of staff reached was backed in advance by the permanent secretary at No. 10 and has been backed subsequently by leading police officers and the head of the Home Affairs Committee.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): The Prime Minister said that it was only on Sunday that he found out about Mr Wallis’s role, but others around him knew of it well before that. Does the Prime Minister not feel let down by them, including by Mr Coulson?

The Prime Minister: To the best of my knowledge, the first I knew of it was on Sunday. We are now getting to the bottom of what this informal advice was, and when we have the information, we can make it available, just as we have been transparent about all the media meetings and all the meetings with the moguls about everything else. In the meantime, the hon. Gentleman should have a word with his party leader and ask him to be equally transparent.

Mrs Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): Does the Prime Minister agree that the vast majority of people in the country, whom we in the House represent, are absolutely fed up with this party political point scoring in the Westminster village, and that they will warmly welcome his setting up of the inquiries today and will

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hope that those inquiries can get on with their work and that the Prime Minister can get on with his work of improving the country’s economy and representing this country in the international field?

The Prime Minister: The British public are wise about this. They want us to get on with it and fix this problem. Frankly, they know that both parties have done a lot of sucking up to the media in their time. They want us to get on with it, work together and sort it out.

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): In his statement, the Prime Minister said that “if it turns out that I have been lied to, that would be the moment for a profound apology.” I say this more in sadness than in anger, but is it not exactly such phrases that lead the public to hold our profession in contempt? I invite him now to give an apology, even if it might not be politically expedient.

The Prime Minister: I said that I am extremely sorry and that I deeply regret the whole furore that this has kicked up. [Interruption.] I did. I said that. Opposition Front-Bench Members ought to listen. The second point I made was that with 20:20 hindsight, knowing everything that subsequently happened, I would not have offered him the job, and to be fair to Andy Coulson, he would not have taken it. However, I do not believe in politicians trying to shuffle off their responsibilities. I made this decision. I employed this person. I defend his record working in government. If it turns out he lied to me about what happened before, that would mean an even deeper apology and even deeper regret than I have expressed today. I am telling hon. Members what I feel about this; how I act as a politician about this. I cannot do more than that.

Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): The Prime Minister has challenged us all to deal with the consequences of these events. Does he agree that a good start would be if the Opposition were to be a little more realistic about the extent of their own recent contacts with News International, especially considering that on 22 April, the Leader of the Opposition, in a feature-length interview with a national newspaper, said in response to a question about whether he could yet unveil his new policies:

“You will read it first in The Sun”?

The Prime Minister: That is my point. We have all engaged in this activity. The public know that we have all engaged in it and we should all be honest about it so that we can try and move on.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): Was Mrs Brooks lying yesterday when she said that it was the Chancellor’s bright idea to hire Andy Coulson?

The Prime Minister: The Chancellor has many bright ideas and he and I discuss many things, but in the end I never seek to shuffle off my responsibilities. This was my decision and I am accountable for it.

Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): One of the Leader of the Opposition’s main charges in his statement was that the commissioner did not tell the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister about the appointment of Neil Wallis because of the position of Andy Coulson. Ten

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minutes later, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) said that when he was Home Secretary, he was not informed about the appointment either. Does that not blow the Leader of the Opposition’s argument out of the water?

The Prime Minister: Even from Nigeria I could follow the Home Secretary’s excellent statement in which she made precisely that point, referring to the point made by the former Home Secretary. I think that that blows away part of the Leader of the Opposition’s flimsy case.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Since being elected, constituents have contacted me regularly about the BSkyB takeover and their concerns about it, particularly about undertakings being given or offered by an organisation that has been proven to break its undertakings. At any point, did the Prime Minister discuss with anyone from News International the possibility of undertakings being given?

The Prime Minister: I have answered this question. I took myself out of the whole decision-making process on BSkyB. Having looked at what has happened, I would argue that the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport has taken a series of absolutely correct decisions on the basis of the legal information that he received.

Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West) (Con): There are very few places in the world where the leader of the Executive would subject himself to two hours of questioning. One thing that shames our democracy, though, is that there are elements in the House that seem to want to make political capital out of the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone.

The Prime Minister: As someone once famously said, I’m enjoying this. The point is that my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that at the heart of all this is the issue of Milly Dowler. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. I have been enjoying listening to the questions and answers as well, but I want to continue that enjoyment and to hear what the Prime Minister is saying.

The Prime Minister: I simply wanted to make the point to my hon. Friend that he is right. At the heart of all this, as we have all these debates and discussions, we must bear in mind the victims of phone hacking, chief among whom are the family of Milly Dowler.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): Nigel Pickover, a constituent of mine, is editor of the Evening Star and recently wrote to the Prime Minister, and was grateful for his response. Is it not fair to say that local newspapers have not so far been implicated, that we should welcome their campaigns and local journalism, and that we should support the local press wherever they are?

The Prime Minister: They play a vital role in the health of our local democracy, our constituencies and what I call the big society. Clearly, the inquiry has to go

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wherever the evidence leads and to all newspapers, but I think that regional and local newspapers play an important role in our country.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): I believe that most Members will welcome and greatly support the inquiries that the Prime Minister has announced to get to the bottom of issues that have faced this Government and previous Governments. However, will he emphasise the urgency with which we must deal with these issues so that we can get back to dealing with the other matters that are so important to our constituents?

The Prime Minister: I think my hon. Friend is right. We have to crack this, we have to deal with it and we have to do it in a way that restores public confidence, but then we must get on to the other things our constituents care passionately about.

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): Given the importance of the BSkyB decision to the balance of broadcasting in this country, why did the Prime Minister think it necessary to take himself outside the decision-making process?

The Prime Minister: I am going to go further in a minute in my speech and suggest that it may be the case that we should take politicians out of all decisions about media mergers altogether, but I was recognising the fact that if you are the leader of a party, you are trying to win over newspapers, television and all the rest of it, so the more you can take yourself out of decisions about future media structures, frankly, the better for all concerned. I do not understand why the right hon. Gentleman does not get that.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): It is quite clear that relationships between our political leaders and leadership in the media are going to continue, so does my right hon. Friend agree that it is up to our political leaders, and this House, to get as soon as we can a system for dealing with this that is sound, proper, transparent and healthy?

The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am going to address that directly in the speech that I will make in a moment. This is an opportunity to reset the clock, and we should take it.

Margaret Curran (Glasgow East) (Lab): May I ask the Prime Minister, in all sincerity, to dissociate himself from the comment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Paul Uppal)? I can assure the Prime Minister, despite the debates that are going on here, that there is not one Member on the Opposition Benches who is seeking to make political capital out of the—[Interruption.] Can I ask the Chancellor in particular to pay attention to the last part of my remarks? I can assure this Chamber in the deepest sincerity that I do not believe there is one person in the Chamber seeking to make political capital out of the phone hacking—[Interruption.] I am deeply

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disappointed that I am not being heard. Let me tell the Prime Minister directly that there is not one person who is willing—


Mr Speaker: Order. I must just ask the hon. Lady now to ask a single question in a sentence.

Margaret Curran: Will the Prime Minister dissociate himself from comments that allege that Opposition Members are seeking to make political capital out of the phone hacking of Milly Dowler?

The Prime Minister: I do not question the hon. Lady’s motives, but the point about this place is that people can watch what has been said, and they can form their own judgments.

Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): As a matter of public record and as part of the public inquiry, will the Prime Minister ask Sir Gus O’Donnell to publish any record of meetings held between special advisers at Nos. 10 and 11 Downing street since the year 2000?

The Prime Minister: Tempting as it would be, under our system politicians in one Government cannot order the publication of papers in another Government, fascinating though it might sometimes be.

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): The Home Affairs Committee issued a report at 5 o’clock this morning that was critical of police whose evidence yesterday and last week included attempts to pass the buck to alleged wrongdoers for not co-operating with the police. Does the Prime Minister agree that alleged wrongdoers often do not co-operate with the police, and that the police should follow the evidence where it takes them?

The Prime Minister: The police must absolutely do that. They know that that is what everyone in this House wants and what the country expects. They now have a properly resourced police investigation, it is under new leadership, and we all wish them well with what they are doing.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): One group of people that we have not discussed today is the hugely powerful trade union bosses, who have an extraordinary influence over the Leader of the Opposition. Will the inquiry look into their contacts with Rupert Murdoch and his organisations?

The Prime Minister: I think it is ingenious, after 136 questions, to come up with something entirely new, so I pay tribute to my hon. Friend. I am sure the judge will be able to look at all vested interests and the power that they wield in our country.

Mr Speaker: I thank the Prime Minister and all Members. I was advised that there were 138 Members, but we will settle for 136, who have had the opportunity to question the Prime Minister, and I thank everyone for participating.

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Points of Order

1.54 pm

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. We want to move on to the debate pretty speedily, I think, but I shall briefly attend to points of order.

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During his statement, the Prime Minister said that Alastair Campbell had falsified Government documents. I am sure that many people would like to see the evidence for that. Will you ask the Prime Minister to arrange for it to be placed in the House of Commons Library?

Mr Speaker: The reason I will not is that the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, though very important to him and possibly to others, represents a continuation of the debate, and we must not use points of order for that purpose.

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it in order for a witness to refuse to answer a Select Committee question, as the noble Lord Macdonald did yesterday when I asked him how much he was being paid by News Corporation? Is it not in the public interest that he disclose that, given his role, as Director of Public Prosecutions, in limiting the police inquiry?

Mr Speaker: What I would say to the hon. Gentleman—this is the first I have heard of this—is that witnesses before Select Committees should seek to be as helpful as possible to Committees, and they have a general obligation to furnish Committees with answers to the best of their ability. I hope that answer is helpful to him.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister said earlier that The New York Times revelations contained no new information, but the police considered the information new enough to reopen their inquiries. Would he care to correct the record?

Mr Speaker: That, too, is a continuation of the debate, for which I remind the House there will be full opportunity in the debate that is about to follow.

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Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: I hope it is a point of order.

Mr MacShane: So do I, Sir, so do I. In general, is it in order for any right hon. or hon. Member, Prime Minister or Back Bencher, to make a defamatory statement in the House?

Mr Speaker: Members should take responsibility for their own statements, and of course they should not make defamatory statements about other Members, but the right hon. Gentleman is raising his point of order in the abstract, so for me it becomes hypothetical. The Speaker, I think wisely, does not seek to respond to hypothetical questions.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: Point of order, Mr Robert Halfon. I hope it is the last.

Robert Halfon: Following your earlier remarks about reviewing security given the incident yesterday, Mr Speaker, will you ensure that the public continue to have the right to go to Select Committees, and that their right is not restricted?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The right to attend meetings in the way that he describes is a very long-established and precious freedom. I think it would be quite wrong for me to seek to constrain or circumscribe what an independent investigation can cover and recommend, but the point he makes is an important one. I have underlined its importance, and I think many people will share his point of view.

Business without Debate

Sittings of the house

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 25),

That this House, at its rising this day, do adjourn until Monday 5 September 2011.—(Sir George Young.)

Question agreed to.

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Public Confidence in the Media and Police

[Relevant document: the Thirteenth Report of the Home Affairs Committee, Session 2010-12, on Unauthorised tapping into or hacking of mobile communications, HC 907 . ]

1.57 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): I beg to move,

That this House has considered matter of public confidence in the media and the police.

You have heard a lot from me already, Mr Speaker, so I will keep my opening remarks brief.

I want to start by paying tribute to this House and to hon. Members who sit in it. Just a couple of years ago, at the height of the expenses scandal, people said we had lost relevance and that we no longer properly represented the constituents we served. We have got a long way to go before regaining full public trust, but the past two weeks have shown the House, in many ways, at its best.

We have seen the true worth, for instance, of our Select Committees, with the forensic scrutiny of those in positions of power, in the public interest. I particularly want to pay tribute to those chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith). We have seen vigorous debate, with this House leading the public debate, finishing of course with News Corporation’s withdrawal of its bid to take over BSkyB, and we have seen cross-party support and action to get to the bottom of what happened and learn lessons for the future.

We now have in place a judge-led, independent public inquiry. It will have all the powers necessary, and I want to start the debate by saying that we must be careful not to pre-empt all its deliberations or seek in advance to answer all the questions it must address. There is a good reason for setting up this inquiry, and we must let it do its work. That does not mean that we should not be clear about the big picture of what needs to be done. As I said a moment ago, all this has got to begin and end with the victims; it is they who have suffered the most, and we must do right by them.

In opening this debate, I simply want to set out the four vital questions that we need to answer, which in turn lead to four vital things that we, as a House of Commons, must resolve never to let happen again. The first question is how we can secure a free and vibrant media, completely unafraid to challenge authority but operating within the law. We must never again see this widespread lawbreaking, including the terrible crimes committed against people who have already suffered. We should not assume that those practices extend across all media, some of which have an excellent reputation, but neither should we think that this is isolated in just one institution.

The second issue is how we can secure strong, well-led, independent yet accountable police forces that are able to pursue the powerful without fear or favour. Yes, they must be able to work constructively with the media, but never again should they be at risk of being corrupted by the media.

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Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The Prime Minister will know that Operation Weeting began just four days after the resignation of Andy Coulson. Can he therefore confirm to the House that no one at No. 10—neither he nor any of his officials or advisers—had any notice of the commencement of Operation Weeting?

The Prime Minister: I can only speak for myself: I had no notice of it. I know full well that Andy Coulson’s resignation, and the timing of it, were not connected to any event like that. The timing of it was simply a result of his recognising that he could not go on doing his job with that swirl of allegations going on. To be fair to Andy Coulson, he recognised that the second chance that I had given him had not worked. That is why I have been so clear about that issue today.

The third issue is how we can bring about a situation, which he have discussed a lot today, in which governing parties eager to hold on to power or opposition parties yearning to win power can have a sensible, healthy relationship with media groups and owners without ducking the regulatory issues that need to be addressed. We must never again get into a situation in which the issues of effective media regulation are left on the shelf year after year.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): In response to the Prime Minister’s call for party leaders to join him in publishing their dealings with the media, the Leader of the Opposition heckled “No, you’re the Prime Minister”. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this situation would be greatly helped if those who aspired to be the Prime Minister behaved like one?

The Prime Minister: I am sorry that my hon. Friend did not get in to speak among the first 138, because that was an absolute cracker.

We have seen that cosiness with the media is clearly a problem for the police, but it might be a problem for other walks of public life as well. I have therefore asked the Cabinet Secretary to write to all permanent secretaries to ask them to review the way in which contacts between the media and their staff, and other professional groups that work with their Departments, are regulated and recorded. We see that there is a problem with the police and the media, and we need to get ahead of there possibly being problems with other groups as well.

Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): Given that the Prime Minister has today dismissed the evidence set out in The New York Times that caused the police to reopen the investigation into phone hacking, does he have confidence in their decision-making processes? Or does he think that press reports should not be part of police investigations?

The Prime Minister: Of course everything that is published should be brought to my attention and to the police’s attention. The point I am making is that if I had been given evidence that Andy Coulson knew about hacking, I would not have hired him, and if I had had evidence that he knew about hacking, I would have fired him. I cannot put it any simpler than that.

Alan Johnson (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

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The Prime Minister: I will give way in a moment; I want to make some progress.

The fourth and final challenge is how we address the vexed issue of media power. We need competition policy to be properly enforced. We need a sensible look at the relevance of plurality and cross-media ownership. Above all, we need to ensure that no one voice—not News Corporation, not the BBC—becomes too powerful. We should be frank: sometimes in this country, the left overestimates the power of Murdoch, and the right overdoes the left leanings of the BBC. But both have got a point, and never again should we let a media group get too powerful.

Alan Johnson: John Yates wrote to me, as previous Home Secretary, last week. He wrote me a private and confidential letter, in which he said—[ Laughter. ]

Mr Speaker: Order. I want to learn about this private and confidential letter.

Alan Johnson: I accept that there is a certain paradox involved here.

The letter says:

“The reason that a new investigation has been commenced and the situation has subsequently changed so markedly”—

that is, since the advice given to me as Home Secretary—

“is that in January 2011 News International began to co-operate properly with the police. It is now evident that this was not the case beforehand.”

January 2011 was when Andy Coulson resigned. Does the Prime Minister think that that is just a coincidence?

The Prime Minister: The point I was going to make, which is important, is that in my understanding, the reopening of the investigation was in response to new information from News International, and that it was not in response to the April article. The point about Andy Coulson’s resignation, which had been under discussion for some weeks, was that he recognised that he could not go on doing his job. It was not, to the best of my memory, connected with any single event. It was literally: “I can’t go on being an effective communications spokesman. I have to resign. Let’s just make sure we get on with it and do it in an orderly way.” [ Interruption. ] I know that that does not fit the many conspiracy theories that hon. Members have tried to produce, but that is actually what happened.

Let me make three suggestions on media plurality and power. One: it is right that there are good and proper legal processes for considering media mergers, but we should ask whether politicians should be abstracted from them altogether. Two: it is right that there is a plurality test, but we should ask whether that test should be ongoing, rather than just considered at the time of takeover. Three: plurality is difficult to measure, especially in the modern internet age, but we should not rule out the idea of limits, and it is right that the inquiry should look at this issue.

Mr Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): What the Prime Minister has said about plurality is extremely interesting and important, and it will have a bearing on the future structure of Ofcom, but does he agree that we need to think carefully before tearing up the main provisions of the Enterprise Act 2002, which keeps Ministers out of decisions on takeovers and mergers?

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The Prime Minister: I certainly agree with that. Indeed, I think that there might be a case, when it comes to media mergers, for trying further to remove politicians. In regard to all the issues that have been raised so many times today, that might be one way of putting all this beyond reproach.

It might sound decisive to talk about never letting these things happen again, as I have done, but let us be frank: it is far more difficult to deliver that outcome. We in this House need to recognise some home truths about the subjects we are discussing. First, none of these questions—for instance, about media influence and power—is new. There has been a debate about undue influence that stretches from Beaverbrook to Rothermere to Murdoch. Ironically, with newspapers declining and the internet booming, this should be becoming less of a problem. Nevertheless, a problem it remains. In my view, this simply underlines the need for the inquiry, because it will help to jolt us politicians into action, and that is no bad thing.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Sue Akers, who is now in charge of the investigation, says that what broke the logjam of the cover-up was the civil cases that were taken by individuals forcing disclosure by News International. Part of the problem, and one of the reasons we have all failed in this over the past 20 years, is the fact that News International and Metropolitan police officers directly lied to Parliament, and the Select Committees were either unable to or did not do anything about it. One of the problems with the Leveson situation is that, because of the Bill of Rights 1689, he will not be able to consider whether Parliament was lied to. We are the only people who can decide that. Will the Prime Minister ensure that there is a point at which we in this House can make that decision?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is making an important point. His recognition that this is a 20-year issue in which politicians of all parties have not stepped up to the mark is wholly to his credit. I want to take away his question of parliamentary privilege and the Bill of Rights and give him a considered response to it, because I do not want the inquiry to be prevented in any way from getting to the truth. Our constituents would not understand it if there were some process, however important it might be historically, that could prevent that from happening.

The second home truth is that none of these questions is restricted to Britain. Right across the world, there is a problem of ensuring that police forces are accountable to the Government yet independent from them. We must never compromise operational independence. This goes to some of the questions that I was asked earlier. We must not move to a system in which politicians can step in to say, “Why haven’t you re-run this investigation?” or “Why haven’t you arrested that person?” We need to think for a moment where that would lead. But that makes it all the more important that police leadership is strong, and that the police are called to account when they fail. That is why we are introducing directly elected police and crime commissioners, to bring proper accountability to policing.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and I agree very much with the point he has just made. However, does he not

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agree that he needs to be absolutely clear beyond any doubt that no elected police and crime commissioner can direct that an investigation should not begin, or, indeed, should begin?

The Prime Minister: That is absolutely right—we must maintain operational independence. The point about the police commissioners is calling the police to account for the work that they do, but the operational independence point is extremely important.

Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab) rose

The Prime Minister: Let me make a bit of progress, and then I will give way to the hon. Lady.

The relationship between the police and the media is a problem the world over, too, but we have to ask—and hon. Members have been asking this today—why ours seems to have become quite so cosy, so leaky and so potentially compromised. Similarly, there is nothing peculiar to Britain about the potentially unhealthy relationship developing between media proprietors and politicians.

That leads to my third point, about trying to turn these noble sentiments of “never again” into action. None of this is easy, and a point that must not be lost in this debate is that to over-regulate the media could have profoundly detrimental effects on our country and our society. We must not miss this in the frenzy about the dreadfulness of hacking at this point. Without a public interest defence, the so-called “cod fax” that uncovered Jonathan Aitken’s wrongdoing might never have emerged. To give another example, are we seriously going to argue in this House that the expenses scandal should not have come to light because it could have involved some data that were obtained illegally? So, we need to step very carefully into this area.

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

The Prime Minister: I have got a feeling that it will be a question about the Bill of Rights that I will not be able to answer—but I am going to try it anyway.

Mr Cash: I am glad to say that it is about not the Bill of Rights but the terms of reference that are now in the Library. I simply wanted to ask the Prime Minister to answer this question, if he would be good enough, on the recommendations that can be made by the judge-led inquiry with reference to the question of media policy, regulation and cross-media ownership. Is this intended to cover the whole media, in a way that would ensure that the kind of standards expected of the media in relation to future regulation would be included in the judge-led recommendations?

The Prime Minister: I think the terms of reference are pretty clear. The point about cross-media ownership is not about conduct; it is about not just market power, but power of voice. What you are trying to do with cross-media ownership is, if one organisation has a very powerful television station, a number of newspapers, and perhaps some radio stations and some internet sites, how do you agglomerate that and try to measure its power? I can bore for Britain on this subject because

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I used to work for ITV, in competition with BSkyB and the BBC. It is a very difficult thing to do, but that does not mean we should not try. On the terms of reference, that is what the cross-media ownership part is about, but clearly it is looking at media regulation more broadly, specifically of the printed press, but it can go further.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister give way?

Ms Buck: Will the Prime Minister give way?

The Prime Minister: I am going to make some progress, and then I will give way a couple more times before I close.

So, Mr Speaker, the question is, given the difficulties I have mentioned, how do we maximise the chance of making a clean break with the past. I want to set out some very clear lessons. First, we have got to try to proceed on a cross-party basis; otherwise, we will have each party trooping off to media organisations and promising the lowest common denominator. If I say “independent regulation”, there is a danger someone else will say “self-regulation”, and so on. We could end up constantly competing with each other in a kind of regulatory arbitrage over who can be the softest and most appealing to newspapers, television stations and their owners. I do not think we should pretend this is simply about tabloids or even simply about newspapers. I am a huge supporter of the BBC and the licence fee, but, frankly, I think there did come a time in recent years when the income of the BBC was so outstripping that of independent television that there was a danger of BBC News becoming rather dominant. So, there are dangers right across the piece here.

The offer to work together with all parties on this agenda is indeed a genuine one.

Mr Winnick: However critical I may be of the press, and however biased in many ways, I am totally opposed to any form of gagging, and that, I am sure, is the view of most of my right hon. and hon. Friends. However, does the Prime Minister accept that self-regulation has been totally inadequate from day one? It has been a total farce, so if we are to have self-regulation, which I hope will continue, it must be far more effective than it has been.

The Prime Minister: I do agree with the hon. Gentleman that the current system of self-regulation has failed, not least because it did not properly respond to all these warnings. That is why I choose to talk about independent regulation. I do not want to see statutory regulation—the heavy hand of the state. We have got to try to find a way to make sure that the press are regulated in a way that is independent from them, but not by the state and the Government. I think it is doable.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Ms Buck rose

The Prime Minister: I am going to make some progress and then I will come back to my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon).

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The second key to success in translating all this into action, I believe, is restraint. The media will see politicians agreeing with each other about the need for regulation, for plurality and all the rest of it, and they will fear a stitch-up. Indeed, they are already talking about one. So, I do believe that politicians need to show some restraint in what they say and do about the media. There are many in this House, I know, who have been victims of a media that have been prepared to break the law or behave in a bullying fashion. But we must not forget that this scandal, like so many others, whether we are talking about expenses or the FIFA scandal, which I feel particularly exercised about—they were uncovered to the fullest degree by the media, by newspapers, not by regulators. Let us not forget that. So, the balance we must strike now is to allow an aggressive, challenging and independent media, however much that might sometimes frustrate us, while halting the abuses that all decent people find unacceptable.

Several hon. Members rose

The Prime Minister: Let me make a bit more progress.

The third key to success is that, while we cannot commit in advance to legislate simply for whatever comes out of this judicial inquiry, we should, I believe, invest all possible faith in this inquiry, because it is our best chance of making a fresh start.

Robert Halfon: I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. Given what he has just said, is he aware that the BBC accounts for 70% of TV news, and that on the internet it has 10 times as much market share as Sky? Is not an answer to this to democratise the licence fee, and to give licence fee payers a vote on the board and structure of the BBC?

The Prime Minister: It is an interesting idea, which my hon. Friend can put to this inquiry. I think the key is—I am biased, as I worked in ITV for many years—that you do need strong, independent television to give people a choice of news. I have made many mistakes in my life, and I think one of them was agreeing, briefly, that it was a good idea to move the “News at Ten”. I think it was a very bad decision, and a proper plurality in news is very important.

Several hon. Members rose

The Prime Minister: Let me make a bit more progress.

In anticipation of what might come out of a judicial inquiry, we are planning a communications Bill this Parliament that can take into account the recommendations of the inquiry.

Finally, painful though it can sometimes be, there is no doubt in my mind that when it comes to the best way to achieve the more healthy relationship between politicians and the media, transparency is the absolute key. Clearly, that is vital in contact between political leaders and media groups. I have set out, as I have said today, all my contacts since the election; I look forward to others doing the same. I am sure that Tony Blair and the last Prime Minister will soon follow suit for their time in office.

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Ms Buck: I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. Returning to the issue of the police’s operational independence, he rightly emphasised the important principle that politicians cannot tell the police whom to investigate and what to pursue, but that cuts both ways. What message does he think the Mayor of London was sending out when he said, in the same weeks when John Yates was scoping his inquiry, and just days after John Yates sent his e-mail to the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, that any inquiry and any allegations were codswallop, politically motivated and not worthy of discussion?

The Prime Minister: The point I would make is that it is quite clear that the police have operational independence, because they have pursued, without fear or favour, these issues and they have arrested everyone they have thought it necessary to arrest. What is interesting is that I think that operational independence is so embedded into the psyche of British policing that, whether it is the Mayor of London or whether you have police commissioners, I do not think it would interfere with that.

Finally, Mr Speaker, in this debate let us not lose sight of the big picture. The people who send us here want some pretty straightforward things. They want their media free and punchy, but they want them within the law. They want their police independent and strong, but honest and incorruptible, and they want their politicians to sort out a mess that has sapped their faith in the key institutions of our country. Whatever our differences in this debate, we should be clear today: we will not let them down.

2.18 pm

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): I welcome this debate and in starting it, all of us should remember what brings us here. Parliament would not have been recalled today had it not been for the revelations about the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone. That revelation shocked our country and turned something that had seemed to be about the lives of politicians, footballers and celebrities into something very different about the lives of others who had never sought the public eye. It is the courage of Bob and Sally Dowler, and Milly’s sister Gemma, in speaking out, that has been the spur for much that has happened in the last fortnight. I pay tribute to them for their courage in speaking out about these issues.

People’s anger about what has happened with phone hacking has been real, but some people will no doubt ask—indeed, we heard a bit of this in the statement—why, when we have so many other problems facing the country in relation to the economy, the NHS, defence and all those issues, the House of Commons is debating this issue in particular. It is true that this issue does not directly concern our jobs and living standards, but it does concern something incredibly important on which all else depends—the fabric of our country. We do not want to live in a country in which the depraved deletion of the voicemails of a dead teenager is seen as acceptable, in which the police’s failure to investigate that is seen as just the way things are and in which politicians’ failure to tackle it is seen as the way things are.

Nicky Morgan (Loughborough) (Con): I do not think there is one person in the country—well, maybe there are a handful—who thinks the depraved deletion of a

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voicemail, as the right hon. Gentleman describes it, is acceptable. What people are wondering about is whether politicians find it acceptable when people are not honest—this is across the House—about dealings between politicians, the press and the police. That is why we are here today. I do not want him to think that anyone in the House would think those deletions were acceptable.

Edward Miliband: I agree completely with the hon. Lady’s comments. As the Prime Minister said in his speech, there are issues here for the press, the police and, indeed, politicians.

This debate goes to the heart of the country we should aspire to be. It goes to the integrity, responsibility and accountability of some of our established institutions. At the heart of the debate is the issue of how these institutions and the people who head them act. Can the press be trusted, in the words of the Press Complaints Commission’s first chairman, Lord McGregor, not to dabble

“their fingers in the stuff of other people’s souls”?

Can the police be trusted to investigate wrongdoing without fear or favour? Can we, as politicians be trusted—as I have said and as the hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) has just said—to speak out when wrong is done?

For the Dowler family, let us be honest, until just two weeks ago the answer to all those questions was no—and the fact that it was should shame our country. So when I read in the newspapers that this is the angst or obsession of a few people in Westminster, I say that it is not, because it goes to the kind of country we are.

It also goes directly to something else that we on both sides of the House hear and talk about a lot: the responsibilities of those without power in Britain, such as those on benefits. We all use words such as “cheats” and “abusers” and we saw that language in the News of the World; some of it is even true in respect of a minority, but how much—let us be honest about this—do we talk about the responsibilities of the powerful? What message does it send to the rest of our society when the established institutions of our country behave without responsibility? It sends the message that anything goes because no one seems to care about right and wrong.

This debate goes to one more, final issue: just as the expenses issue undermined the reputation of the good, decent majority on both sides of the House, so too this scandal affects the vast majority of good, upstanding police officers on whom all our communities rely and affects the vast majority of decent journalists who are doing their job and are, as the Prime Minister said, necessary for a free and fair society. It is also in their interests that we sort this out.

When people say that this does not matter they are not just saying, “Let’s talk about something else”, but something far more serious. That cynicism about the country we live in is almost inevitable—that nothing can be done. I say to Members on both sides of the House. and I am sure that I speak for Members across the House when I say it, that if we fall prey to that, nobody will trust established institutions in this country—or, indeed, anyone else.

Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): The Labour party’s director of communications, Tom Baldwin, is accused of having been involved in the

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unlawful accessing of banking records to establish details of payments made. May I ask the Leader of the Opposition, who himself aspires to lead this country, what checks he made and what assurances were given to him about Mr Baldwin’s conduct before he appointed Mr Baldwin to that high office?

Edward Miliband: I take all allegations against members of my staff seriously, which is why I checked these out with The Times newspaper, which specifically confirms what the gentleman to whom the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) refers said, which is that he did not commission illegal investigations into Michael Ashcroft. [ Interruption. ] I have to say to the Prime Minister, who is chuntering from the Front Bench, that we should rely on some of those people because Tom Baldwin’s line manager was the current Education Secretary for much of the time in question. He is not in his place today, but for much of the time that the investigation was going on into Lord Ashcroft—remember him?—Tom Baldwin’s line manager was the current Education Secretary. I see the Prime Minister is smiling. This issue has been raised a number of times and I have to say to hon. Members, “Remember Lord Ashcroft and his assurances. Remember his assurances about his tax status, which were relied on by the current Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister.” I have to say to Conservative Members that if I were them, I would shut up about the allegations regarding Lord Ashcroft.

Several hon. Members rose

Edward Miliband: Who is next, Mr Speaker? I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): I have been listening to the passion with which the right hon. Gentleman has been making his case, but if that passion for reform really is there, can he tell me why the previous Government did nothing but talk between 2002 and 2007 about reform of the Press Complaints Commission?

Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman is completely right that we did not do enough and we should have done more. I am absolutely clear about this. Of course this was a collective failure on both sides of the House—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] I do not know why hon. Members say, “Ah.” I take our responsibility for this—of course that is right. Part of what is required is that we all account for our actions. That is absolutely right.

Several hon. Members rose

Edward Miliband: Will hon. Members give me a moment?

The former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), who might talk about this in the debate, did seek to reopen the inquiries both with the police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission, but that did not happen. No one in the House can say that we should not have spoken out earlier.

Several hon. Members rose

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Edward Miliband: Who is next? The hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) seems very excited so I will take his intervention.

George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): The Leader of the Opposition started by striking, as the Prime Minister did earlier, a tone of statesmanlike non-partisanship, and he had the attention of the House. Will he, as the Prime Minister did earlier, acknowledge the sins of his party, as ours, in the past 20 years and give a small apology for the excesses of media manipulation on his side of the House?

Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman obviously was not listening to what I was saying in my speech. We need to change—

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Edward Miliband: I give way to my distinguished and right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee.

Keith Vaz: I thank the Leader of the Opposition for that. May I take him back to the beginning of his speech when he talked about faith in institutions? Does he agree that credit should be given to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who felt that the issue of leadership was at stake in the Metropolitan police and therefore resigned so that that service could move on? Surely the former Commissioner should be given credit for what he did.

Edward Miliband: I agree. Sir Paul Stephenson acted with great honour in this matter and I am sure that is recognised on both sides of the House.

Ben Gummer (Ipswich) (Con) rose

Edward Miliband: Let me make progress and then I might give way to the hon. Gentleman.

We need to change our press, our police and our politics. First, on the press, the questions we must all ask as we debate this are not just about who acted illegally and when, which is properly a matter for the police investigation. They must get to the bottom of what happened. The inquiry led by Lord Justice Leveson must do its work, but we cannot just ask why it happened—we also need to ask why that culture was so widespread. In my view, the answer is relatively simple.

Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Edward Miliband: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will just listen to my speech for a bit longer.

Some of the institutions involved thought they were above the law and beyond responsibility. A police inquiry and a judge-led inquiry should not be the only way for an ordinary citizen to get effective redress when the press do them wrong. One of the symptoms of what happened is the fact that Press Complaints Commission—the Prime Minister and I both recognise this—was a wholly ineffective body in giving the ordinary citizen

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redress. I do not want a country where there has to be a police inquiry or judge-led inquiry to give redress to that citizen.

Let me say something about press regulation. Why did the PCC fail? This is important, because the PCC was aware of the allegations that were being made. It failed because it had no powers of investigation, so although it now believes it was lied to, it could do nothing to check the veracity of what it had been told. It failed because despite the evidence of bad practice, nothing was done by an organisation that—let us be candid about this—was not sufficiently independent of current editors.

I do not believe—I echo the words of the Prime Minister on this point—that it should be for politicians to decide what our press reports. That is an important principle of a free society and of our society.

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Edward Miliband: I want to make some progress.

It is commonly agreed that we need a new system of regulation. Whether we call it self-regulation or independent regulation, which is a term the Prime Minister coined and that I like, in substance it is about ethics being overseen by an independent group of people who are not current editors, with investigatory powers so that the regulatory body cannot simply be lied to as the PCC says that it was and—this is an important point—with the power to enforce compensation and prominent redress. That point is really important. The standards of accuracy in our press will be much encouraged if there is prominence of apology and admission of error rather than their being buried on page 42, which is what happens.

The issue, which the Prime Minister touched on in his speech, goes beyond press regulation. Indeed, Government Members have asked me about this. Why did not more of us speak out earlier? The answer is what we all know and used to be afraid to say: News International was too powerful. It owned 40% of the newspaper market before the closure of the News of the World. It owns two thirds of the pay TV market through 39% of the Sky platform and Sky News. The Communications Act 2003 rightly stops an organisation holding an ITV licence and more than 20% of newspapers, but it does not apply to digital channels. One might say that it was an analogue Act in a digital age. The Act needs to be updated as such a concentration of power is unhealthy. If one thing comes out of what we have seen in the past two weeks and over many years, it must be that we understand the point about concentrations of power in our society because large concentrations of power are more likely to lead to abuses of power.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): My concern is that we preserve the freedom of the press. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned News International specifically, but we know that Mirror Group and the Daily Mail were equally culpable according to the 2006 report. He talks about the media market, but we know that the BBC has a dominant position. His comments are beginning to look like he is conducting a vendetta against News International when we need to consider the media as a whole.

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Edward Miliband: Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman on that point. Of course, the police inquiry and the judge-led inquiry must look across all the newspapers. I want to pick him up on his point about the BBC, however. The BBC is much more tightly bound by public interest guidelines than newspapers. That is right, because there is a distinction—I disagree with the former Labour leader, Lord Kinnock, on this point—between broadcasting and newspapers. I think that distinction is likely to be maintained and I support that. We should be careful, however, about lumping the BBC in with all this because it is in a different category.

Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) (Con): In yesterday’s Committee, Rebekah Brooks said that she had not had a single meeting with the Prime Minister in Downing street but that she had visited the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), six times each year. The Leader of the Opposition was a key member of the previous Government. Did he share his concerns about the power of News International with the former Prime Minister?

Edward Miliband: I do not think that was the most helpful intervention from the point of view of the Prime Minister. The reason Rebekah Brooks was not coming to Downing street was that she was seeing him in Oxfordshire and elsewhere. It is fairly obvious, is it not? I think we should save the Prime Minister embarrassment and move on.

Let me turn to the police. Confidence and respect in policing is vital. Recent events have created a cloud and it is important that the excellent work being done by police officers is not tarnished.

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con) rose

Edward Miliband: I will make a little more progress, if the hon. Gentleman will be patient.

The independence and impartiality of the police has been a cornerstone of the force stretching back to Sir Robert Peel. That is why recent events are so disturbing: allegations of payments to police by the press; a culture where it appears the relationship between press and police is too close and information is passed inappropriately; and questions about why the first police investigation failed and why it has taken so long to put things right.

There are now four different investigations considering these issues. That is a good thing and I hope they proceed as speedily as they can given all the inquiries. If they can be co-ordinated or brought together, I am sure that would be a good idea, too. Let me make one observation, though. There are cultural issues that must be looked at in our police. Just like in newspapers, there will always be things that go wrong. The question we must answer for victims such as the Dowlers is whether the right system of redress is in place for the victims and whether they have confidence in it. The situation is similar to that in the PCC and that is why we need a stronger Independent Police Complaints Commission. It is currently a complaints body with limited powers and a huge case load and it clearly has not been able or willing—probably able—to act proactively enough. As well as reforms to our press and to our complaints system for the press, we must also reform the police.

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Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con) rose

Edward Miliband: I give way to the hon. Gentleman; he and I are old sparring partners.

Oliver Heald: The Leader of the Opposition rightly talks about the independence of the police, yet he seems to have expected that, during the course of a police inquiry, the assistant commissioner would go and see the Prime Minister and talk about the emerging evidence. It seems, extraordinarily, that the assistant commissioner had a similar expectation. Can the Leader of the Opposition tell us whether that is the way it went on in Labour years? Is that what was happening? If not, will he say now that he thinks the police should be truly independent?

Edward Miliband: This is not about the operational independence of the police and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman wants to return to these issues because it is the wall of silence that was erected around the Prime Minister that meant that he did not hear the facts about Andy Coulson, which were facts that he should have heard. We need reforms—

Several hon. Members rose

Edward Miliband: I am going to make some more progress, if I may.

We need to reform our press and politics and we need also to reform the dealings between politicians and the press. I welcome the Prime Minister’s—

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con) rose

Edward Miliband: I think I might get to the point on which the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene, if he gives me a moment.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s decision to be more transparent about meetings with executives and editors. I have published all my meetings since I became leader of the Labour party and I say to the Prime Minister that of course I will go back to the general election.

Nadhim Zahawi rose

Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman is so over-excited that I feel I must give way to him in case a nasty accident befalls him.

Nadhim Zahawi: I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman will publish all the meetings he had with the media before he became leader, because transparency is the greatest disinfectant. Will he confirm to the House whether, when he was running to lead his party, he met any of the Murdochs or anyone from News International?

Edward Miliband: I did have one lunch with News International and it was profoundly unsuccessful, as people will have gathered. I can be accused of many things, but I do not think that a cosy, sweetheart relationship with The Sun newspaper—Red Ed and all that—is one of them.

Several hon. Members rose

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Edward Miliband: I am going to make some more progress. I want, if I may, to come back to two or three outstanding issues raised earlier in the statement, because they go to questions of transparency.

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): On the question of relationships between politicians and the media, what lessons does the Leader of the Opposition think we should draw from the fact that when the Prime Minister published the list of the meetings that he had, 26 were with people from News International, but just one was with a person from the BBC?

Edward Miliband: People will draw their own conclusions, and my hon. Friend has put the point on the record.

I want to deal with two or three important points about transparency. The Prime Minister, in his statement, surprised me by talking about the very important article—I raised it in my statement—that The New York Times published on 1 September. He said—of course, the record should be checked on this—that there was no new information in The New York Times. I do not believe that to be correct. Indeed, I have The New York Times article here; I want to read a brief extract from it:

“One former editor said Coulson talked freely with colleagues about the dark arts, including hacking. ‘I’ve been to dozens if not hundreds of meetings with Andy’ when the subject came up, said the former editor…The editor added that when Coulson would ask where a story came from, editors would reply, ‘We’ve pulled the phone records’ or ‘I’ve listened to the phone messages.’”

That goes to a very important issue, because my charge against the Prime Minister is that there was lots of information publicly available. There were warnings from the Deputy Prime Minister, who sat very glumly during the Prime Minister’s statement. There were warnings given that the Prime Minister ignored. I will happily give way to the Prime Minister if he wants to correct the record about The New York Times, because this was a very serious, major investigation by a global newspaper, and the Prime Minister’s comments earlier do not reflect the gravity of the allegations in The New York Times article. The Prime Minister seems otherwise engaged.

Several hon. Members rose

Edward Miliband: I want to make some progress. There are unanswered questions about all the allegations, all the credible evidence that was given to the Prime Minister, including in The New York Times, and the warnings from the Deputy Prime Minister. I will even give way to the Deputy Prime Minister if he wants to tell us about the warnings that he gave. It would be nice to hear from him, because he has not looked very happy during this debate, and if he wants to share his unhappiness with us, I am sure that we would all love to hear it. He is saving it for his memoirs.

There are unanswered questions about BSkyB. There are real questions about what conversations—important conversations—the Prime Minister had about BSkyB with James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks; he should have raised that. These questions are not going to go away. They will continue until he answers them.

Today the House rises for more than six weeks for the summer recess. We will debate other issues, and rightly so, but we all have a collective responsibility to ensure

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that this is not an event where the whirlwind blows through and nothing really changes. We have to bring about lasting change. That is the duty we owe to the victims of phone hacking. It is a duty we owe to the people of this country.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. In view of the number of Members seeking to take part in the debate, I have imposed an eight-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches with immediate effect, but I emphasise to the House that that limit is reviewable.

2.43 pm

Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Today’s debate is part of a long saga that probably still has some way to go. That saga began, arguably, with the arrest of Clive Goodman, and before that, possibly with the Operation Motorman inquiries to the Information Commissioner, or before that, with the inquiry held by my predecessor as Chairman of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), in which Rebekah Brooks first spoke about payments to police officers.

The Select Committee spent a long time yesterday taking evidence from Rupert and James Murdoch, and from Rebekah Brooks—something like five hours in total. I apologise to the House for the fact that, unlike the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz)—my colleague who chairs the Home Affairs Committee—we have not yet managed to produce a report. We may well still do so.

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): We have not produced a report, but we have had some success. Yesterday, as the hon. Gentleman will recall, the Murdochs admitted for the first time that News International was paying the legal fees of the private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire. It is now being reported that that has stopped. Does he agree that that is absolutely right and proper, because one cannot apologise to the Dowler family on the one hand and still pay the fees of the private investigator who hacked their phones on the other?

Mr Whittingdale: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I was going to deal with that matter. He is absolutely right to identify it. I thought it important that Rupert and James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks came to Parliament. We were warned about legal difficulties and their inability to answer questions. I have to say that I think they genuinely tried to prove as helpful as they could be within those constraints, but the important thing is that they, the leaders of the company at the time, came to give an account of that company—in Parliament, in public. That could only have happened in this place, and that is one of the reasons why Select Committees have an important role. I was therefore particularly sad that their appearance was marred by the incident to which Mr Speaker has referred. It did not serve the interests of those who dislike Rupert and James Murdoch; it distracted attention from the very important matters about which we were attempting to probe them, and the fact that they were treated in that way reflected no credit on Parliament or the Committee. The inquiry that Mr Speaker has spoken about is extremely important.

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We asked very detailed questions. There are three areas where there are still significant questions to be asked. One, which was raised by a number of my colleagues, is why the payments to Gordon Taylor and Max Clifford were so large, and why subsequent payments to other victims of phone hacking were considerably smaller. The second is on the issue that the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly) raised: the continuing payment of Glenn Mulcaire’s legal fees. I am delighted to hear from the hon. Gentleman that that has now stopped.

The third issue—another one that the hon. Gentleman was very robust in pursuing—concerns the e-mails handed over to the solicitors Harbottle & Lewis for examination, which led to Harbottle & Lewis writing to News International to say that the e-mails contained no evidence that any other person was involved. This morning I received a letter from Harbottle & Lewis, which says that it

“asked News International’s solicitors at BCL Burton Copeland whether their client is prepared to waive the confidentiality and legal professional privilege which attaches to their Correspondence”.

That request has been refused. I understand that that refusal was made before Rupert and James Murdoch gave evidence to the Committee. I hope that in the light of the assurance that Rupert and James Murdoch gave us of their wish to co-operate as much as possible, the firm will review that decision and perhaps release Harbottle & Lewis from the arrangement, so that we can see the correspondence.

It is not just Harbottle & Lewis; an inquiry was also undertaken by Burton Copeland—we have not seen the outcome—and the inquiry that News International undertook, in which it said it looked at 2,500 e-mails and failed to find any evidence. It would be interesting to learn further details of the rigour of that particular investigation. At the end of the day, it all boils down to whether one believes the evidence given to us. The Select Committee does not have access to e-mails on servers, or to the papers that were seized from Glenn Mulcaire, Jonathan Rees and other people. All we have is the testimony given to us by the witnesses. We certainly tested them yesterday for five hours. I think that testimony is now on the record, and people can judge.

Chris Bryant: I just worry that perhaps the hon. Gentleman is accepting at face value rather too readily what the Murdochs said yesterday in relation to corporate governance. The answer seemed to be that they did not know anything—that the company was too big for them to know about anything that was going on in the News of the World. It seems to me that that is a failure of corporate governance in the company, because the whole point of a non-executive director, or a director, is that they have to make sure that they know enough about their company to ensure that there is no criminality and that it always works within the law. The argument that they knew nothing is no defence.

Mr Whittingdale: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. There was undoubtedly a failure of corporate governance, and that may well exercise the minds of the shareholders of News Corp, and perhaps even the American authorities.

Reference has been made to The New York Times article, which I remember well. Part of the problem was that the quotation that I think the Leader of the Opposition

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read out was from an unnamed former editor. Sean Hoare was named. He was the only individual who was. Sadly, the late Sean Hoare was an individual whose testimony some people felt might not be wholly reliable.

Mr Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con): Is it not also true that Mr. Hoare was unwilling to back up the allegations that he had made to The New York Times?

Mr Whittingdale: I know that it was widely believed that Sean Hoare’s testimony would not stand up in court.

I want to raise one other matter that relates to the actions that could have been taken by the previous Government. The one recommendation from the Information Commissioner, right back at the time of the “What price privacy?” report, was that the maximum penalty for breach of the Data Protection Act 1998 should be a custodial sentence. Press freedom is protected because there is a public interest defence in that Act. My understanding is that the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), who was the Home Secretary at the time, accepted that recommendation and it was Government policy to impose a custodial sentence as a maximum sentence, but he was then overruled by the then Prime Minister following pressure from the media.

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): The answer, which I will explain in more detail if I catch Mr Speaker’s eye, is that provisions to do both are on the statute book. They are in section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, and it is a matter for the Government to implement them. It is quite wrong for the Government to assert that we took no action. We did act, consistently, with the Information Commissioner’s report.

Mr Whittingdale: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will elaborate, because he is right to say that the measure is on the statute book, but it would have required a statutory instrument, I think, to implement, and that SI was going to be introduced, but was then dropped following meetings that took place in Downing street between members of the media and the Prime Minister.

The two issues that we are debating this afternoon—freedom of the media and the honesty of the police—are both absolutely fundamental to a free society. Therefore, I welcome the inquiries and the judicial review. I urge a slight note of caution on my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he says that he is contemplating whether politicians should be entirely removed from the process of assessing whether newspaper, press or media acquisitions or mergers should take place. There is a public interest test, and it is elected and accountable politicians who, ultimately, should determine the public interest. If politicians are entirely removed from the process, you have people who are unelected and unaccountable, and I am not sure that that is wholly desirable. However, I am sure that that is something that the review will wish to examine in due course.

I would also like to say a brief word in defence of the Press Complaints Commission, which does good work for many individuals who have specific complaints against single reports that have appeared in newspapers. It is a good complaint-handling organisation, but it was never intended to deal with the regular systemic breaches of the code, indeed breaches of the law, that are now being

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exposed. However, the fact that it did the job that it was asked to do well does not mean that we do not now need a stronger and more independent regulator, and I do believe that we have reached that time.

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend think that it would be helpful, when a newspaper makes an apology, if the apology were on the same page and took up the same amount of space as the original offending article?

Mr Whittingdale: There is a requirement in the Press Complaints Commission code that an adjudication of the PCC should be given due prominence. Three years ago the Select Committee recommended that that meant that it should at the very least be on the same page as the original article, or even earlier in the paper, but certainly not later. So yes, I agree with my hon. Friend.

It is right that we examine these matters, but we need to bear in mind that the media in this country are changing beyond recognition. The power of online distribution of news, which is where the advertising is going and where people wishing to find out the news are going, is changing the media landscape. The truth is that we may not have newspapers for very much longer in this country. Certainly there will be a number of closures because of the dramatic shift, the structural change, taking place in the media. Therefore we need to be careful to ensure that when we set up a regulatory structure, it takes account of the new landscape, not the old.

2.54 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale). I congratulate him and his Committee on the excellent work that they have done in their inquiry. I thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing the House to sit for this extra day, and the Prime Minister for coming to the House and making such a very long statement and answering so many questions.

Yesterday was a good day for Parliament. Along the corridor of the Grimond Room and the Wilson Room, the Select Committees for Culture, Media and Sport and for Home Affairs were simultaneously holding hearings. We in our Committee did not have the drama of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearing, and I know that you, Mr Speaker, have instituted a security investigation. Perhaps there were no police officers around because most of them were giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee. We took evidence from both the former commissioner and the former assistant commissioner, and there were a lot of police officers there.

I pay tribute to the work of my Committee Clerks, and to the Committee. We basically locked the doors in the Grimond Room to ensure that we agreed the report that is before the House today. I will speak only briefly about these issues. The report has 122 paragraphs and it was published at 5 o’clock this morning. But there is an opportunity for those participating in this debate to look at the report’s conclusions, which we began as early as last October. I thank members of the Committee, three of whom—the hon. Members for Rochester and

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Strood (Mark Reckless) and for Northampton North (Michael Ellis), and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe)— are in the House today, for the work that they have done. Others, I am sure, will come into the debate.

The report’s conclusions centre on three areas—first, the police, secondly, the mobile phone companies, and thirdly, we touched on News International, only in respect of its co-operation or lack of co-operation with the police. We found a catalogue of failures by the Metropolitan police. We looked at the first investigation and we took evidence from Mr Clarke, a senior officer, very distinguished in relation to counter-terrorism. But Mr Clarke felt that he could not proceed with his inquiry, the first inquiry—we provided a useful timeline for hon. Members just after the first chapter, which sets out when these inquiries took place—because he felt that he was deliberately thwarted by News International. We took evidence from Mr Hayman, and the report speaks for itself in respect of his cavalier attitude to the Committee, and indeed to his relationship with News International. We questioned the relationship between the police and New International whereby there appeared to be a revolving door. Former senior police officers ended up writing articles in News International titles, and former employees of News International ended up working for the Metropolitan police and advising the commissioner for £1,000 a day.

The second inquiry, we felt, was also very poor. To give him his credit, John Yates was very clear. He used more colourful language when speaking to Sunday newspapers, but we thought that it was a serious misjudgment that on 9 July he spent only eight hours looking at the evidence. He denied that that was a review and said that it was the establishment of facts, but we were clear when we took evidence from Sir Paul Stephenson that no time limit was placed on John Yates. He could have taken longer. Indeed, when we saw the DPP, Keir Starmer, afterwards, he was very clear that John Yates had contacted him after 9 July, because Keir Starmer, in preparing his evidence for the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, had asked John Yates to come and talk to him, with leading counsel, to decide whether there was a case to reopen the matter on 9 July. Sadly, the lack of co-operation from News International continues. As the hon. Member for Maldon has just said, it is refusing to waive client confidentiality, and refusing to allow Harbottle & Lewis to release the exchange of correspondence.

Mr Cox: May I take the right hon. Gentleman back to 2006? Did he find as part of his investigation that the Attorney-General had been informed in 2006—on 30 May, to be precise—that a vast array of numbers had been tapped by investigators employed by News International? The then Attorney-General’s approval was sought for a much narrower focused investigation, which plainly, by implication, was given. Is it not clear that Ministers knew in 2006 that there was a great array of tapped phone numbers that could have given rise to a wider investigation, but they never allowed the police, or instructed the police to carry it out?

Keith Vaz: No witness who came before the Committee has said that to us, but I am happy to write to the previous Attorney-General to ask whether in fact he or she—I

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have forgotten who it was at the time—was informed. Clearly the Director of Public Prosecutions was informed, and the Attorney-General has superintendence over the DPP.

Mr Cox rose

Keith Vaz: I will not give way a second time, but I am happy to talk to the hon. and learned Gentleman later, or if he catches Mr Speaker’s eye he could make his points then. I shall be happy to write to the previous Attorney-General if that helps.

We come to the end of the second police investigation and the failure of the police to inspect the evidence in their possession adequately and thoroughly. The risk was that waiting for a certain length of time with, as Mr Yates described it, bin bags full of evidence, there is the possibility that the Metropolitan police would have disposed of that evidence. Just in time, Operation Weeting was established. We all agreed that Sue Akers gave excellent evidence to the Committee. We want to ensure that she has all the resources she can possibly need. That is one of our recommendations. Although when I last pressed the Prime Minister on the issue, at the Dispatch Box a week ago, he said that he was leaving it up to the Metropolitan police to decide on resources, Sue Akers really does need more resources. There are 12,800 names; she has cleared 170 and is clearing them at the rate of 30 a month. We made a calculation, which is not in the report, that that process could go on for several decades. It will take at least a decade unless we give her the resources that she needs. We have confidence in Sue Akers. We believe that she will complete her investigation properly.

There are many issues in the report, but I want to highlight two relevant points. The first concerns the arguments that went on throughout the whole process between the Director of Public Prosecutions and the police. The hon. Member for Rochester and Strood pursued that issue vigorously with all our witnesses, and I am sure if he catches your eye Mr Speaker, he will be able to enlighten the House on what he and the Committee saw as the problem. Suffice to say that it is not helpful when such things happen. We should like to see the Crown Prosecution Service and the police working closely together.

Mr Graham Stuart: We have heard that there was a culture of too much closeness between those in power and those in News International. Did the Committee hear evidence that a political steer was given to the police to direct them away from investigations? I say that in the light of the fact that Members on the Opposition Front Bench today seem to think it appropriate for the Prime Minister to engage in operational discussions with the police while they are carrying out an inquiry.

Keith Vaz: We heard no such evidence, as the hon. Gentleman can confirm if he reads the report.

My final point is about mobile phone companies. They have a responsibility to inform their customers if they have been hacked. We saw a difference of approach between the big providers; Members may want to check their contracts. Only O2 informed customers when their phones were hacked. The others either did not inform their customers or waited for the police to tell them that

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the inquiry was over. Their customers remained uninformed about the hacking, which is why there is such a build-up of information.

I agree with what the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have said today. Our concern is that the victims were not put first. If we had put the victims first in 2006, if Mr Hayman, Mr Clarke and Mr Yates had done that, we would never have got into the position where all the evidence was not thoroughly looked at. I welcome the inquiry and I have no objection to any member of the panel mentioned in the House today. Putting Shami Chakrabarti on the same panel as a former chief constable is a very good idea; it contains a good balance. I hope that recommendations will be made as quickly as possible. I am sure the Prime Minister is the last person in the world to want this to drag on.

The victims want closure. After such a long debate, and such a long statement and endless questions, we all want closure, so the sooner we get the investigations completed the better—but as the Committee says, we must never forget the victims. They are the people who have suffered the most.

3.5 pm

Mr Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con): I want to raise three points. Although I congratulate the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) on his Committee’s report, one or two loose ends seem not to have been followed up. On 30 May 2006, a Crown Prosecution file note recorded that the police had written a briefing paper informing the Attorney-General and the then Director of Public Prosecutions that

“a vast number of unique voicemail numbers belonging to high-profile individuals (politicians, celebrities) have been identified as being accessed without authority. These may be the subject of wider investigation.”

In a memorandum dated 8 August 2006, a senior Crown Prosecution Service lawyer wrote:

“It was recognised early in this case that the investigation was likely to reveal a vast array of offending behaviour.”

However, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police concluded that aspects of the investigation could be focused on a discrete area of offending relating to two officials at the palace and the suspects Goodman and Mulcaire.

From those documents, it is absolutely manifest that the Attorney-General in the previous Government, who sits when appropriate in the Cabinet, was informed that there was “a vast array” of offending behaviour in which hundreds of celebrities, Members of the House and of the other place and others had had their phones accessed without authority. Why was nothing done?

The Leader of the Opposition has left the Chamber. Can he or former members of the Cabinet tell us whether the Attorney-General in 2006 brought to the attention of his colleagues the fact that a vast array of offending behaviour had been committed by News International but it was not intended that it be investigated by the police? The Attorney-General has a solemn duty to draw to the attention of the Cabinet such matters if they affect the public interest. The Attorney-General has a right of oversight of the CPS—the ultimate resort—and could at least instruct that advice be given to the police on such matters. Why was nothing done?

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I invite the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee to call for that evidence and to examine it closely, because it seems to me a matter of the most pressing public interest.

Mr Straw: The hon. and learned Gentleman invites members of the then Cabinet at large to say whether the information was ever shared with them by the then Attorney-General. I can only speak for myself. I served in that Cabinet and subsequent ones and on no occasion do I recall that Attorney-General, or any Attorney-General, ever informing members of the Cabinet either at a formal meeting or informally, of an ongoing investigation. Even when I was Home Secretary, the Attorney-General of the day would never have informed me about an investigation and decisions he or she had made, nor would I have sought that information.

Mr Cox: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that information, but the fact remains that the Attorney-General under the previous Government appears to have countenanced a prosecution strategy when he and the then Director of Public Prosecutions knew that the voicemails of hundreds of individuals had been accessed.

Keith Vaz: I will write to the previous Attorney-General today to ask for that information.

Oliver Heald rose—

Mr Cox: I will give way to my hon. Friend.

Oliver Heald: When the former Home Secretary spoke a moment ago, he used the words, “or informally”. Does my hon. Friend think that one aspect that may need examining is whether the matter was another subject that fell into the “sofa Government” category, and that the Attorney-General may have spoken to the Prime Minister or one or two others, but it was not brought before the full Cabinet?

Mr Cox: The matter needs to be closely examined, and the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee has taken it on board. With the greatest respect to the Attorney-General at the time, if he was informed of the matter, he should have interested himself in exactly how the investigation would be conducted. On the face of it, an enormous amount of wrongdoing was simply ignored. The police appear to have proposed a strategy, which would, as the briefing paper put it to the Attorney-General, “ring-fence” Mulcaire and Goodman and exclude a whole raft of serious criminal wrongdoing from investigation. That may well have affected Members.

I do not know to whom the Committee refers when it says that neither Ministers nor the police escalated the matter. As the Committee put it, if Ministers at the time had taken those issues sufficiently seriously, the matter would have been investigated. The truth would have been discovered then and we could have avoided a whole series of events that we now know unfolded.

My second point is about the review suggested by then Deputy Assistant Commissioner Yates. The Home Affairs Committee has rightly judged, in tone and substance, its criticisms of Mr Yates and Mr Hayman. There are serious questions to be asked about why an investigation

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or a review—I appreciate that it was not a formal review—that was carried out in eight hours apparently failed to read material that, as the former Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions was able to determine in a few minutes, gave rise to the gravest illegalities. On the face of it, that is either wilful blindness or rank incompetence. Whatever the reason, Mr Yates’s resignation was right and done for proper reasons. It is inconceivable that, if the exercise had been carried out properly, the material would not have come to light in 2009. Questions arise about the closeness of officers of the Metropolitan police to News International and whether that deflected and deterred them from a rigorous analysis of the evidence that had been in their possession since 2006. It was not only in their possession, but, as the memorandum of 30 May 2006 to the Attorney-General shows, they had discovered that it included

“a vast array of offending behaviour.”

Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): I do not know many of the details that my hon. and learned Friend has given to the House, but the Select Committee heard that a great deal of the evidence was never examined, either in the original investigation or in the course of the review, so it could not be known what possible criminal behaviour had occurred, in addition to the hundreds and thousands of names involved. The e-mails that my hon. and learned Friend mentioned are slightly different. News International supplied them internally and they had not been held by the police. They were supplied to the solicitors who gave them in May to the former DPP, who quickly saw wrongdoing in them.

Mr Cox: My hon. Friend is right that new material was supplied by Harbottle & Lewis, but I am referring to material that was in the possession of the police in 2006—mobile phone records, about which they told the then Attorney-General, “Look we’ve got a vast array of offending behaviour here. What are we going to do?” The instruction—or at least the approval—that came from on high appears to have been, “Confine it. Keep out the penumbra of offending behaviour you could examine and confine it to Mulcaire and Goodman.” That was wrong. With hindsight, we now see that that judgment was fundamentally flawed. The matter should have been investigated. Why was it not?

One cannot resist the conclusion that, until it became apparent that ordinary members of the public—Milly Dowler, soldiers who fought for this country—had also been subject to hacking, the Labour Government’s approach was that politicians and celebrities were fair game, so it was not a serious matter. The Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee reported that Mr Clarke gave as his justification the fact that he did not have many resources and that he was also dealing with terrorism at the time. Frankly, the clear impression is given that the matter was not very serious. One suspects that that is why no action was taken.

It has been suggested that the Prime Minister’s chief of staff was wrong to decline an invitation to be briefed in 2010. The surprise is that the offer was ever made, not that it was declined. The chief of staff did exactly the right thing. In 2010, when The New York Times published the report, the Prime Minister was right: he needed evidence. He could not act on anything else.

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3.16 pm

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): In his speech, the Prime Minister reminded us of his previous incarnation working for ITV. That reminded me of the first broadcasting measure that I considered while in opposition last time round, when the technical director of ITV told us what was happening about convergence. I do not often agree with the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) but I support his early-day motion, which I willingly signed because it is important to deal with the issue on a multi-media basis. The world in which we live—indeed, the world in which we lived in the early 1990s, though no Member of Parliament had adequately recognised what was happening—means that the nature of our relationship with broadcasters and the providers of other media outlets has fundamentally changed. That is a hugely important aspect, on which the House needs to reflect.

A couple of issues have cropped up that, I think as a result of that observation, are increasingly important. We need to ensure that during the inquiry, all records, particularly electronic records, are made available at all stages. I was disappointed to hear, in a response earlier, that Harbottle & Lewis have not been given freedom by News International to release documents that have come their way. Putting restrictions on Harbottle & Lewis undermines the credibility of the apology given by News International. I urge my colleagues in the Culture, Media and Sport Committee and the Home Affairs Committee to keep on pressing that one, and push News International to change its position.

I want to focus my remarks on the technical issues of hacking. When, on 6 September 2010, my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) was granted an urgent question,

“To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will make a statement on the Metropolitan police investigation into phone hacking by the News of the Worldnewspaper.”—[Official Report, 6 September 2010; Vol. 515, c. 23.],

a very productive exchange took place. After the Home Secretary’s response, my hon. Friend, responding to three claims, corrected the Home Secretary’s understanding. Claim No. 1 was that there was no new evidence; there was. Claim No. 2 was that people were cleared by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee; they were not. Claim No. 3 was that a single, rogue reporter was responsible; clearly he was not. That was known in September 2010 and that knowledge has developed since.

In questions following the statement I asked the Home Secretary whether she had any knowledge of how many of the—at that stage 91—PIN numbers that had got into the public domain were default numbers and how many were obtained as a result of what, technically, I would call a hacking exercise as distinct from an invasion of privacy, but the answer was not forthcoming. At that time alarm bells should have rung, because the Home Secretary, and certainly her advisers, must have been aware that there were not 91 default PIN numbers available; only a handful of default numbers were used, one each by the major operators and perhaps a couple more in special account situations. At that stage it was clear that a substantial number had been hacked by sophisticated means, not just by knowledge of default numbers.

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We knew at that time, from a response given to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), the previous Home Secretary, that nearly 3,000 people were on the list of possible hacked victims. We hear that the figure is now 12,800. A substantial number of those operations have clearly been undertaken by extremely sophisticated means, and the seriousness of that point is that it brings us back to several fundamental questions.

First, and very obviously, where did the phone numbers come from? A lot of colleagues who might be victims give their phone numbers out willy-nilly; more fool all of us for being so publicity-hungry. Perhaps we too readily give out our mobile numbers, but an awful lot of people, like the Dowler family, or victims of the 7/7 bombings and other potential victims, have had their basic telephone number—not a PIN number—released by a third party. There is a very serious point, which goes to the heart of part of the investigation—to what extent should we look at the role of the police in releasing those numbers? Some numbers were accessed by using published numbers plus the default system, some were technically hacked at a very sophisticated level, and some must have come from the police.

Mr Whittingdale: In the report that the Culture, Media and Sport Committee released, there is a transcript of a conversation that took place between Glenn Mulcaire and the mobile operators, which shows that force is not used; it is blagging, where investigators pass themselves off as someone else and get the mobile company to reveal the PIN number. Obviously, we need to address that problem with the mobile companies.

Andrew Miller: The hon. Gentleman is right, because the fourth strand is indeed the way in which the mobile companies operate security. He attended a demonstration that I staged recently on one use of malware. We have a lot to learn in this place, and it is incumbent on us to look at all four strands as part of these inquiries and ensure that we are better informed, to ensure that when we consider legislation in future, we get to the bottom of these extremely serious issues.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East has, by his persistence, done not just the House a favour, but the country. He and I have had disagreements on how technical legislation ought to be formed, but this is one matter on which the House can unite. We should ensure that every strand of inquiry is properly undertaken, and that the subsequent legislation, which will undoubtedly be necessary, covers all those points.

3.25 pm

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I are very grateful that Mr Speaker has given us the opportunity of these debates. I follow the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) in saying that I understand exactly the arguments for proper technical investigation.

The House knows that on at least two occasions, and by two different newspaper organisations, I was the subject of the illegal acquisition of information. The second time, my phone was hacked. I was one of the people who gave evidence in the trial that led to the conviction and imprisonment of Mr Mulcaire and Mr Goodman,

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but I hope that nothing I say today is prejudiced by vengefulness. I have a view, and have always had a view, that the issue is not about us—the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and I have often made the point that we can easily defend ourselves—but about our constituents, friends and families, and the people who left and received the messages. We now discover that it is also about ordinary people who were not just in the public eye, but at their most vulnerable and in their time of greatest need, when they least deserved to have their privacy invaded in the most gratuitous and offensive way.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Simon Hughes: In a second—I shall continue, if I may.

I welcome what the Prime Minister said about the inquiry being extended to all police forces and not just the Metropolitan police, and to all forms of media. I am clear that it should also include looking at appropriate Cabinet papers—I hope that the appropriate releases will be made—party papers, and papers held by previous Ministers in all Administrations. Why? The Prime Minister said that, “There are issues of excessive closeness to media groups and media owners where both Labour and Conservatives have to make a fresh start”, but my Liberal Democrat Friends and others feel that there are not just “issues”, but evidence of dangerous and unhealthy “closeness” in Administrations for at least the past 20 years. Colleagues in both Houses—I am not claiming this for myself—have made that point at every available opportunity. All Liberal Democrat party leaders of the past 20 years, from Lord Ashdown, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr Kennedy) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), to my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, have made that point continuously with other colleagues, on the record, for the past 20 years.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Does my right hon. Friend agree that sometimes, that closeness might have led Governments to take policy decisions that they would not have taken otherwise?

Simon Hughes: My right hon. Friend is right, and there is clear evidence for that, and I can perhaps use his intervention to elaborate.

The Competition Bill that was introduced by the Labour Government in 1997 dealt with predatory pricing, including among petrol retailers and supermarkets. My colleagues in the other place, led by Lord McNally, who is now a Justice Minister, managed to pass an amendment that would have included newspapers. The amendment was taken out by the Labour Government—although there were some Labour rebels—when the Bill returned to the Commons. It was absolutely clear that the Labour Government did not want to touch the media empires when they were imposing a tougher competitive regime on other sectors of British industry. I am very clear that that relates to the obvious and evidenced relationships that started under the Thatcher and Major Administrations

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and continued under the Blair and Brown Administrations. Obviously, such relationships also continued into the beginning of this Government as far as the Conservative party is concerned.

My colleagues and I were clear about that and we tried to do something about it. Lord Taylor of Goss Moor tried to deal with the competitive pricing issue in the House of Commons, and in 1998, Lord McNally said very clearly:

“Concentration of power, married with the advance in technologies, offers a challenge to democratic governments and free societies which we have scarcely begun to address.”

How right he was. Those debates also went to the dominance of particular newspaper titles and the influence of their owners, particularly in relation to the Murdoch empire.

Mr Graham Stuart: I agree absolutely with the right hon. Gentleman about ensuring that we have a suitable spread of media ownership so that we do not have a concentration of power, but does he agree that a concentration of media power in no way excuses the powerful from exercising their own moral sense and making the right decisions? The idea that a public inquiry might have been put off because of party interest, rather than the national interest, is nothing short of disgraceful, if true.

Simon Hughes: I absolutely agree. The speech that the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) made in the other day’s debate was not at all persuasive about that point. There were calls for a judicial inquiry from my right hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr Sanders) and others. That was on the previous Government’s agenda, so it could have been held, just as legislation could have been implemented following the Information Commissioner’s report and recommendations. However, we had neither an inquiry nor the implementation of higher penalties.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Simon Hughes: I will not, because I want to make some progress, but if I have any spare time, of course I will.

We gave warnings from 2009 that the fit and proper person test needed to be applied more robustly and that we needed to be aware of the abuse of positions. I just record that right up to last year’s general election, and indeed to December 2010, my right hon. Friends the Deputy Prime Minister and for Twickenham (Vince Cable) assiduously made the case that there was something very rotten in the way in which we regulated the media industry.

The warnings from our party about Andy Coulson started in May 2009. They were made on record and off the record. We regret that they were not heeded, but the decision was not for us, but for the Prime Minister, and he explained it today. As a postscript, however, let me say that from all that I know, have read and have heard, Ed Llewellyn’s role has been entirely beyond reproach throughout. I do not think that anything that he did or did not do can be regarded as inappropriate in the context of the investigations.

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Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): My right hon. Friend says that the fit and proper person test needs to be applied more robustly. Is he aware of any statements from Ofcom that suggest that it has sought to apply the test at any time and that it has issued a judgment in such a case?

Simon Hughes: I wanted to make some comments about where we should go, so let me start with the media and Ofcom. The existing legislation needs to be improved because the way in which a fit and proper person test—either corporate or individual—is formed is not clear, so it is difficult to apply. My hon. Friend asks me whether the test is assiduously applied over the period for which a licence is held. In theory it is, because Ofcom will say that it does that, but it is not obvious that there is a process of regular review. In addition, things can change, such as if people commit criminal offences, so we need a more transparent process.

Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Simon Hughes: I will see if I have time, but I want to set out what needs to be done.

We need to look again at the question of excessive market share, and we need separately to consider broadcasting, television, the new media and the written press. We must be absolutely clear that that does not mean that we should be hostile to international ownership —that would be an inappropriate and nationalistic view—but the same rules should apply to elements of the press whether they are domestically or internationally owned.

We need to be absolutely clear that the media must put their house in order—the Attorney-General recently had to intervene on such a matter—by stopping any reporting that presumes that people are guilty when that has not been proved. That applies to all of us—I have tried to be careful about such issues—whether in the political context or otherwise. There have been scandalous examples of people being presumed guilty before the courts have considered their case. In addition, as has been said, there is no proper complaint process with a right of reply. It is imperative that any withdrawal is published by the press in the same size and place as the inappropriate allegation.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams) argued, I hope that the Government will review their future advertising policy. Whoever is in government should not place adverts with media outlets that have been found to be guilty of offences, or breaches of codes of conduct, because that would be entirely inconsistent.

Finally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay said in the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport yesterday, we must get to the bottom of the term, “wilful blindness”. The evidence that we heard yesterday, as has been argued, suggested that the people at the top were saying, “I knew nothing” and were not even asking about what was going on further down the chain. That is unacceptable. Chief executives, chairmen and executive directors have responsibility and they should exercise it.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Tessa Munt) has argued, we must end windfall payments, bonuses and pay-offs when people leave the service because they have broken the rules. We must end the

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way in which the police tip the media off about arrests so that the media turn up to film them or photograph them. We must make sure that the police do not brief people so that individuals who have not been proved guilty are in the headlines as if they were. We clearly need a better complaints procedure. The police service, not just the Met, must have much better corporate responsibility.

3.35 pm

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): I want to deal with three issues, the first of which is the Prime Minister’s opaque answers to the very straight question about whether in the course of his 26 meetings with representatives of News International the BSkyB bid was discussed.

The Prime Minister is trying, understandably, to develop a reputation for straight dealing, but I am afraid that that was not what we saw. He was all over the place, relying on suggestion. In one answer, he said that he had not acted outside the ministerial code—that was not the question. In another, he relied on an answer given by Rebekah Brooks. The answer to that question is very straightforward—it is either yes or no—and I hope that the Minister will provide it when he winds up the debate.

Secondly, I want to consider what followed the Information Commissioner’s report on breaches of data protection rules in 2006. It is incorrect to state, as the Conservative research department did in its briefing this morning, that we took no action. It is important that the House understands that we did take action, as we agreed with the report, and in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 we introduced powers to increase the penalties for a breach of section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998 from a fine to up to two years’ imprisonment on indictment. There was a substantial objection to that provision from the media, who said that there was no proper public interest defence. Above all, may I tell the Conservatives, particularly the briefers in their research department, that a powerful objection was expressed by Members on the Conservative Front Bench? The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr Garnier), said in Committee:

“The facts and arguments that I have presented to the Committee suggested that existing penalties”—

which, as I said, were a fine only—

“are more than sufficient to deal with offences under section 55.”––[Official Report, Criminal Justice and Immigration Public Bill Committee, 27 November 2007; c. 585.]

I hope that we hear no more from Government Members suggesting that we did not take action.

There was then a negotiation between the Information Commissioner, media representatives and me. We tabled new provisions that provided for the public interest defence, entirely correctly, and we provided new penalties of imprisonment under section 76 of the 2008 Act, to be imposed by affirmative order. I consulted on that towards the end of the previous Parliament. We lost the election, and the duty to consider the consultations and make decisions fell to my successors. I assume that the consultations have concluded—if not, they should be concluded immediately—and the Secretary of State for Justice should come to the House to bring both parts of that provision into force.

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Mr Whittingdale: I do not answer for those on the Conservative Front Bench, but I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport called unanimously for the Information Commissioner’s recommendation to be implemented. We welcome the fact that the Ministry of Justice has issued a consultation paper, but it is still my understanding that representatives of The Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and News International went to meet the Prime Minister to argue forcefully that that consultation should be dropped and that custodial sentences should not be imposed.

Mr Straw: If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the previous Administration, what he says is exactly correct. It is certainly true that representatives went to see the Prime Minister. They also came to see me. I had a discussion with them—they were entitled to their view—and I said, “We will have a public interest defence, but we will also have this increase in penalties to two years’ imprisonment on the statute book,” and both happened. It is there on the face of the Act. I would have introduced—

Mr Whittingdale: Why was it not implemented?

Mr Straw: It was not implemented at the time because we were required by the provisions which the Conservatives were desperate for—they would have done nothing. It was in the face of not only press opposition but Conservative opposition that I moved in the way I did to consider the matter. Both provisions went on the statute book, and both are there. I would have introduced both of them, had we won the election. Sadly, for this and other reasons, we failed to do so. It is up to my successor to follow that up.

Simon Hughes: My understanding is that the consultation ended in January 2010. The measure could have been implemented before the general election.

Mr Straw: In practice, in those circumstances, it probably could not have done. My only regret is that I listened too much to the Conservative Opposition. It is not a mistake I will make again.

On press regulation, I listened carefully to what the Prime Minister had to say. His formulation of independent regulation is a sensible one, if I may say so. As I wrote in an article in The Times on Monday, which was a synopsis of a lecture I gave last week, it is important that we do not frame the debate about press regulation in terms of four legs good, two legs bad, so to speak—between self-regulation, which is apparently good, and imposed regulation, which is apparently bad. We must have a balance between the two.

The press will always be subject to the general law—the law of defamation, the law of copyright, and the emerging law of privacy. That is entirely correct. It is also the case that there should be a high degree of self-regulation, but self-regulation, as we now know, cannot operate by itself because ultimately self-regulation is self-serving. The best proof of the failure of self-regulation is the fact that the Express newspaper group withdrew altogether from the Press Complaints Commission structure in January this year, rendering any possibility of sanction by the PCC nugatory.