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Lord Avebury: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful reply, particularly for his undertaking to examine the point I made about paragraph 2B(1) of Amendment No. 227. Provided we can be sure that the consideration of that problem is undertaken before Third Reading and that any changes in the wording of that paragraph are agreed between the department and the industry before that stage, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McNally moved Amendment No. 52:



"FUNCTIONS OF OFCOM IN RESPECT OF PRESS COMPLAINTS COMMISSION'S CODE OF PRACTICE
(1) It shall be the duty of OFCOM to make such arrangements as they think fit to provide for the enforcement of the Code of Practice issued by the Press Complaints Commission.

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(2) In pursuance of its duty under subsection (1), OFCOM may—
(a) issue such directions as they think fit to the Commission, and
(b) impose penalties in accordance with subsections (3) and (4).
(3) OFCOM may impose a penalty on any party to the Code if that party has, in the opinion of the Commission, breached the terms of the Code.
(4) A penalty under subsection (3) is to be such amount not exceeding 500,000 as OFCOM determine to be—
(a) appropriate; and
(b) proportionate to the breach of the Code in respect of which it is imposed.
(5) In this section—
"the Code of Practice" and the "Code" mean the Code of Practice issued by the Press Complaints Commission in December 1999 and any subsequent revision of that Code (including any such revision of the coming into force of this section),
"a party to the Code" means any person engaged in the publication of a newspaper or magazine who has agreed to comply with its provisions, and
"Press Complaints Commission" and "Commission" mean the body first established in 1991."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in some ways I feel as though I am about to lead the Charge of the Light Brigade in moving the amendment. After all, the noble Lord, Lord Currie, is on record as saying that he does not want powers over the Press Complaints Commission. The Minister, Tessa Jowell, says that she is against state regulation of the press—a noble declaration. I am sure that she is against murder of the first-born and is in favour of motherhood and apple pie, but that has nothing to do with what is being proposed in the amendment. I take confidence in the thought that my reading of history reminds me that the Charge of the Light Brigade captured the Russian guns—so let us go on.

Looking back over the past 10 years, it is interesting to see just where we are in the relationship between Parliament, the politicians and the printed press. Ten years ago, the print press was in the "last chance saloon". The Calcutt committee had recommended that unless it mended its way, it should be supervised by a statutory tribunal. Clive Soley had introduced the Bill on press freedom and responsibility in another place. A report from the National Heritage Committee had called for a press ombudsman on privacy law. The possibility of an incoming Labour government certainly concentrated the minds, too, because every Labour government since the war had initiated either a Royal Commission into the press or a departmental inquiry into its behaviour. Yet there is no doubt who has left the "last chance saloon". It is the politicians rather than the press. It is still there, drinking gaily and with abandon as ever.

This morning I attended a meeting with the president and CEO of the United States' public broadcasting service, Pat Mitchell. The noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, was there and he made an observation which I am sure he will not mind me repeating. He said that the watershed in the relationship was reached when the present Prime Minister, as Leader of the

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Opposition, travelled half way around the world to address a management conference of News International. And we all know what happened next.

The relationship between the media owners and this Government is a depressing one. A senior journalist told me that he was once telephoned by one of the rather aggressive No 10. spin doctors complaining about the contents of an article. After some time, the journalist said, "If you don't like it, you should talk to my editor", to which the spin doctor replied, "We don't talk to editors, we talk to owners", and slammed down the telephone.

It is not quite true because the relationship is also cosy with the editors, too. As someone who has an association with a lobbying company and therefore has to fill in great detail about what I am doing and what is being done, a few years ago I asked how many visits Rupert Murdoch had made to 10 Downing Street. I recall that he had made five as against one for every other media owner. Those meetings take place with no one knowing what happened, what was agreed or what deals were done. I believe that it is an unhealthy relationship. I would prefer the relationship between journalists and politicians to be the same as that between the dog and the lamp post. When they get any closer than that, there is danger.

My reason for moving the amendment was instigated in part by the evidence given by the newspaper proprietors to the Puttnam committee. Anyone reading it or having attended will know that it was churlish and defensive—"Why are we here? What has this got to do with us?". When reading the evidence given recently to the DCMS committee, one finds the same attitude with the noble exceptions of the editors of the Guardian and the Independent. There is a feeling that it is none of Parliament's business. I begin from the basic principle that in a parliamentary democracy no individual or organisation is beyond the scrutiny of Parliament. Therefore, I believe that we have a right to discuss how our free press defends its own freedom.

I was attracted by the discussion in the Puttnam committee that the print media could well come under the accredited self-regulation that is being encouraged for other parts of the media. When they say that the Bill is about the electronic media, I would point out that it is a communications Bill. It is not an electronic communications Bill or a broadcasting Bill; it is a communications Bill. In any case, convergence is bringing the print media into the electronic media. I attended a seminar addressed by the editor of the Guardian when he said that the newspaper now has more readers world-wide reading it on the Internet than are buying the printed version. So convergence will bring the print media into this debate.

The proposal before the House—the issue has been discussed elsewhere—is not the slippery slope to state regulation described by one of the red tops in one of its less hysterical editorials. What I and others are after is an effective and respected Press Complaints Commission. It is no use saying, "We already have that". Journalists as varied in experience as Alan Rusbridger and Andrew Neil have stated recently that

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the PCC does not yet have the respect and confidence that it should. I have said previously that a target to aim for is that the Press Complaints Commission should have the same respect within its industry and by the general public as the Advertising Standards Authority. It is not yet there.

I have great respect for the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. However, for much of his term of office he seemed too often to be the apologist for the media rather than the regulator. I have said to the new chairman, Christopher Meyer, that he must beware of becoming the PR man for the press. One does not see the chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority rushing to defend every dodgy advertisement. The chairman of the Press Complaints Commission must be the regulator far more than hitherto.

In two important speeches, Christopher Meyer has suggested improvements. The DCMS committee's recent report suggested others. This flurry of activity has coincided with parliamentary interest. It is important that we do not lose sight of the issue once the legislative spotlight is turned off. That is why I wish to have left in the Bill a small power for Ofcom. We cannot continue to be stressed by the state of our press without stating what must be done about it. I read with great pleasure the wonderful interview by the noble Lord, Lord Deedes, in the latest edition of the House Magazine. He says:


    "We journalists were pretty respectful towards the politicians in my day. I wore striped trousers and a black jacket and approached MPs as if they were superior beings".

Those days are long gone. He also speculates that with the current press we would probably have lost the First World War because Lloyd George's philanderings would certainly have found their way into the News of the World. By the same token, we would have lost the Second World War because Jeremy Paxman would have exposed Churchill's drinking habits long before he got the chance to make any of his famous speeches.

I want us to consider this matter seriously without the canard that those of us who put forward the proposal are against press freedom. I questioned the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, after recent research by the University of Cardiff demonstrated massive public confidence in electronic news which had some statutory guidance but massive lack of confidence in the print media which did not. With great casuistry, the noble Lord was on his feet saying, "You want the same regulation for the print media as for the electronic media". That is good debating but it does not address the issue. Of course, I do not believe that newspapers can have the same responsibilities imposed upon them.

I was impressed by testimony from the chairman of the committee, the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, about his father and the background in journalism. Journalists should worry about standards and freedoms. It struck me as impressive that the 275 editors of the Murdoch press came freely and independently to the same view about the Iraq war. That is the kind of worry as regards consolidation and genuine press freedom.

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Clive Soley drafted the amendment. Unfortunately, because of the guillotine in another place it was not debated. He pointed out that the history of press regulation shows a pattern of press abuse, followed by threats of legislation, followed by a period of restraint before another period of abuse. He said that his recommendation is designed to provide a regular check on the effectiveness of press regulation: it is that Ofcom, as a regulator, can review and report periodically on the effectiveness of the self regulation of the press.

That is what we suggest. I do not believe that it would be an onerous duty. In carrying forward the programme he has announced, it would give Christopher Meyer some guarantee that someone was still watching. As Pat Mitchell reminded us at a meeting, democracy and a free press share the same fate. It is important that within our country and our democracy we have a press that is respected by the public and provides the public with the kind of news and opinion they deserve.

12.30 p.m.

Lord Wakeham: My Lords, the noble Lord suggested that he might be leading the Charge of the Light Brigade. Reading his new clause, I thought that it was a proposal to nationalise my old job. I think that I was probably better off out of it before that came about.

As the House will know, I was chairman of the Press Complaints Commission for over seven years. It is not my objective today to defend every action of the PCC or to talk much about that. However, even the critics of the PCC recognise that over the past 10 years standards have improved substantially both in the press and the PCC. If the House wants a good example of that, the Select Committee in another place which reported recently—it was somewhat critical, wanting a privacy law and so on—stated that it believed that standards had improved in the press and the PCC. I recognise that there is a long way to go.


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