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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 819-i
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
Culture, Media and Sport Committee
Regulation of the Press
Tuesday 11 December 2012
Lord Hunt of Wirral and Michael mcmanus
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 126
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Taken before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee
on Tuesday 11 December 2012
Mr John Whittingdale (Chair)
Mr Ben Bradshaw
Mr Adrian Sanders
Mr Gerry Sutcliffe
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Lord Hunt of Wirral, Chairman, Press Complaints Commission, and Michael McManus, Director of Transition, Press Complaints Commission, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Good morning. This is the first session of the Committee’s examination of the regulation of the press and Lord Justice Leveson’s report. I would like to welcome to our first session Lord Hunt of Wirral, the Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, and the Director, Michael McManus.
Mr Bradshaw: Hello, Lord Hunt. I think it would be helpful for us if you could set out who you are speaking on behalf of at this session.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I was appointed to chair the Press Complaints Commission as from 17 October last year, but on the basis that I should produce a model for a new body and a fresh start. That was my task under a two-year time scale, hopefully well within that time scale, and what I am doing today is reporting on progress so far.
Q2 Mr Bradshaw: Are you talking about the Hunt-Black plan that you have talked about in the past?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes. It started off with a model that I presented to the editors and publishers on 15 December, when I proposed a new body to have two arms-a complaints and mediation arm and a standards and compliance arm-with the possibility of a third arm, depending on reform of the law of privacy and defamation. That would form the basis of a model led by a majority of independent people. I presented that. The industry then responded and, of course, I gave evidence to the Joint Committee early in February, shortly after I appeared before Lord Justice Leveson, where the Joint Committee and, indeed, Lord Justice Leveson urged me to proceed. Over the months that followed, I then produced a more detailed model, as did Lord Black on behalf of the publishers. That was presented to Leveson in July, and we awaited his report.
Q3 Mr Bradshaw: You and Lord Black are still working together for the purposes of this issue, are you?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes, but there are differences in our approach. Generally speaking, if one refers to the Black model, as Lord Justice Leveson does, that is the model now to be adapted in accordance with the Leveson proposal.
Q4 Mr Bradshaw: Are you working with the publishers still? They are in and out of Downing Street and having their own meetings. Are you involved with these?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes, where they invite me, and also the editors where they invite me. The important thing is that I have the task of producing, for the publishers and the editors, a model that now is Leveson-compliant.
Q5 Mr Bradshaw: I cannot remember the exact wording, but in his report Lord Justice Leveson basically concluded that your plan with Lord Black would not be acceptable, and the Prime Minister has apparently said to the press that he wants them to implement exactly what Leveson asked for. This question is not meant unkindly, but do you think it is helpful for you and Lord Black still to be involved in this whole process, given that some would say you were part of an old, discredited system?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: The old, discredited system is the one that I was set up to bring to an end. I was asked to produce a new body and a fresh start. The summary of Lord Justice Leveson I would dispute, and I would cite page 1769, if you will allow me. At paragraph 4.48, Lord Justice Leveson says this: "It is worth repeating the ideal outcome. The ideal outcome is a satisfactory independent regulatory body established by the industry". He then continues to say, "While this has much in common with the model proposed by the industry, there are substantial differences between what I am recommending and the model put forward by Lord Black". He concludes that there is no reason why Lord Black’s model, "should not be capable of adaptation to meet the requirements set down here if the industry were able to support such a move". What Lord Justice Leveson was saying was that we have here a model based on the original proposal I put forward, as given much more detail by Lord Black, which, provided it is made Leveson-compliant, represents in my view the best way forward.
Q6 Mr Bradshaw: Do you think a model proposed by two Conservative peers could be seen as adequately politically independent?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: That is a very important point, and so I am seeking now to establish three work streams, which I can summarise if it is helpful for the Committee. One is to establish a transition board where I would bring around me a small group of people dominated by independent appointments that people would regard not only as politically balanced but also clearly independent in the majority, and that transition board would ensure that the model became Leveson-compliant. Together, the second work stream is an implementation group that would include all editors and publishers. I have set meetings ahead for that on 20 December and 10 January to ensure that we keep up the momentum and the impetus behind what Lord Justice Leveson proposes. The third work-stream is the lawyers, who are working in two distinctive work streams: the first is establishing the detail of an arbitral arm, this third arm; and the second is establishing the details of the contract that would be signed up to by all publishers, which would establish the new body.
Q7 Mr Bradshaw: Have you discussed your model with the victims?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes, and I have had a lot of good suggestions. But there is an overriding scepticism on the part of victims that, first of all, the industry will not sign up. Indeed, Lord Justice Leveson in his report does say, "I am sorry, I have to consider the possibility that the industry will not sign up", and then he moves into the statutory arena. I can understand why victims feel that way, but I am seeking all the time to bear in mind the suggestions that they have made in producing now the refinements or adaptations that Lord Justice Leveson referred to. Underlying them all, I have found, is the constant message from the victims and, indeed, from the public that there must be adherence to a strong ethical code.
Q8 Mr Bradshaw: You are discussing your model with us here now, but are you also discussing it with political parties in Parliament?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: That is certainly an option open to me, but I was not at the present time. I have seen the key people in each of the political parties in the run-up to Lord Justice Leveson’s report. I have not engaged in that sort of detail since Lord Justice Leveson reported, but at some stage, if I cannot do it here in this Select Committee, it would be helpful just to keep in touch with the views of all of those in Parliament.
Q9 Conor Burns: Lord Hunt, looking at your exchange with Lord Justice Leveson on day 34 of his inquiry on 31 January, you responded to him in a discussion about the Irish model. You said, "But it does not mean in any way that we have to wait because there is already, I would regard, an unprecedented consensus in favour of the new architecture uniting the political parties, my colleagues on the PCC and, most important of all, the industry. That is why I think we have a unique historic opportunity". Lord Justice Leveson responds to you by asking you to keep him informed of your progress. Why did we not get to a point before Lord Justice Leveson reported where there was a new architecture in place that the industry had already agreed on?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: That is a very good question. In inheriting the Press Complaints Commission, I was aware that one of the most important objectives must be to maintain the excellent complaints work that was being carried on by what I regarded as a very loyal and hardworking staff who generally were receiving plaudits from those whom they helped. I can give all the statistics. I must say, shortly after that exchange with Lord Justice Leveson I gave evidence to the Joint Select Committee, I think on 2 February. On 3 February I became immediately aware that there was a growing hostility to my suggestion for a new body and a fresh start from within the governance structure of the Press Complaints Commission.
Q10 Conor Burns: So you were thwarted from within?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Well, I was confronted by senior people within the Press Complaints Commission who felt it wrong for someone who had just been appointed their chairman-I think the words were used-"to seek immediately to destroy the organisation of which you were appointed chairman".
Q11 Paul Farrelly: "Confront" is a strong word. Can you tell us who confronted you?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I do not want to identify individuals, but they will come forward, no doubt, if they are called to give evidence. Let us face it, this was a body that felt, some of them, that they had been unfairly criticised by the three party leaders and indeed, generally speaking, who felt that the valuable work of the complaints staff did underpin the need to continue the organisation, although with some sophisticated and detailed changes. Therefore, it was quite a difficult situation to handle. Later in February I did get the agreement of the Commission to a transition phase, but it was a difficult period. It is something I have not aired before but, as I was asked directly, I feel I must be open about what happened. Therefore, I was not able to make progress with the speed that I had felt was necessary.
Q12 Conor Burns: There are 17 Commissioners and, looking through them, I can see that five of them are either in-chair or formerly in-chair editors. I think this is important because Lord Justice Leveson said to you, "If the industry is taking advantage of the time that the inquiry takes to address these concerns, nobody will be more pleased than I will be to be able to feel that progress has been made and a solution has been reached which can be embraced by the industry rather than fought over for the next five years to come". We are now in a position where potentially we are going to be fighting over this for some time to come on the arguments over statutory and non-statutory. One of the concerns that people have is that we are going to go down the statutory route because the newspaper industry will not sign off en bloc to a model that will work. Can you give us a little bit more? Was the resistance coming from those from a newspaper background or was it coming from others?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: No, it was coming primarily from those who were independent or lay members of the Commission, one of whom accused me of consorting with the editors in seeking to destroy the very organisation of which I had just been appointed chairman. One has to recognise there were very strong feelings at that time, but eventually, after quite a lot of hard work, the ownership of the Press Complaints Commission was passed from 17 members to just one, myself. Eventually, I succeeded in having the freedom now to move ahead, create the new body and the fresh approach; provided, as I keep stressing, that it is Leveson-compliant.
Q13 Conor Burns: My final question is about that. I understand that you are now effectively the sole shareholder, as it were, of the PCC. Just back to where we started, you indicated very strongly to Leveson that everybody was on the same page, that you could make this happen very quickly, and he responded to you pretty much by saying, "I would love you to do that. I would love you to get to a point where you have everybody and you are just getting on with it". We are now in this consulting period, cross-party talks and so on. Are you going to be able to get to a point where you can come out and announce a model and say, "This is it and we are starting", before we get to the argument about votes in Parliament?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes.
Q14 Conor Burns: What is the time scale?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yesterday. I would just like it to be as quickly as possible. I think there is an expectation now that there will be an impetus; that there will be progress made. I am certainly not going to walk away from that expectation. I have set up these three work-streams now with full co-operation of the industry, publishers and editors, and also with the full co-operation of the Press Complaints Commissioners and the staff, and with the full co-operation of the lawyers who are working extremely hard to deliver this tight time scale. May I just stress, though, that there has to be an orderly transfer and the existing staff of the Press Complaints Commission must be consulted during the course of that orderly transfer. I certainly anticipate that we will be creating the new body. After all, that is the expectation of all those who are now looking at this situation. Indeed, when I look back to the Select Committee’s report in 2007, I find myself now on the same page, as does Lord Justice Leveson, as what, if only, had been accepted in 2007 had been accepted, we would not be in the situation we are now. I would like to see the new body established with the fresh start during the early part of next year.
Q15 Conor Burns: This is getting very messy, isn’t it, though? You have the Government producing a Bill, you have the Opposition already having produced a draft Bill, and you are now producing proposals. Lord Black has slightly different proposals. This is a real missed opportunity.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: In many ways, there are Bills and Bills. The Bills seem to concern or to concentrate on what should oversee the structure that is created. Lord Justice Leveson’s ideal outcome is what I am working towards, which is that the industry creates the independent self-regulatory body. I reckon now that everyone is on the same page, so we are ready to move forward. The key question then is what should be the oversight body. I think I have shared with the Joint Committee before that I think this Select Committee has a key role to play in watching over and receiving regular reports about whatever self-regulatory structure is created to ensure its independence. As to whether there is something else needed, that is, of course, a matter for others, although my views, I hope, are reasonably well known.
Q16 Mr Bradshaw: Do you have a principled objection to some kind of statutory underpinning?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: No, because I did, in fact, bring to Lord Justice Leveson’s notice the Irish model. There, of course, it is voluntary and it was set up by the industry and then recognised in the statute. Time and time again, I have sought to explain to people that you can have statutory recognition, as you have in the Data Protection Act. My principled objection, Mr Bradshaw, was to the idea that a statute should create the regulator in the first place, in the way Clive Soley’s Bill did.
Q17 Mr Bradshaw: That is not what Leveson recommends. What Leveson recommends is exactly what you are talking about.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Correct, except that he did move into consideration of what happens if the industry fails to construct or to respond positively to his suggestions and adapt their model. He moved on to look at what would be required to underpin the independence of the new body, and that led him into consideration of Ofcom or similar. I am determined to make sure that no one need go there because the industry will create a body that is clearly independent and satisfies the Leveson tests.
Q18 Mr Bradshaw: How do you then deal with the walking-away problem?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: This is where I go back to the Royal Commission in 1962-and I still cannot understand why it was not implemented at the time. Hartley Shawcross said you can have statutes if you want them, but there is no need for them as long as you entrench this new body in commercial contracts. You are entrenching it in law, but not statute law. You are binding people in to create a body that has power over them, and that is the validity of the contract basis.
Chair: I want to come back to recognition versus underpinning in a little while, but before we get to that, Jim Sheridan has a question.
Q19 Jim Sheridan: Good morning, Lord Hunt. Could I just perhaps probe some of your sincerity about independent thinking, and, in doing so, can I quote from the post-consultation draft? I fully accept we have moved on from that, but it gives us a flavour of your thinking after all that has happened in the press, and some of the statements that are still coming out. I think there is a significant school of thought that this Industry Funding Body is just a rehash of PressBoF. You may or may not agree with that, but that is certainly an opinion within the industry. This Industry Funding Body suggests in this post-consultation draft that-I will just give you some quotes to give you a flavour-"The Editors’ Code shall be the responsibility of the Industry Funding Body", which is again PressBoF in another name, and "Fines and sanctions would be determined and imposed in accordance with the Regulations and Sanctions Guidance issued by the Industry Funding Body". There is talk of appointing the chair. I do not think it covers any details about appointing the chair, but any members of this organisation would be removed, "by notice in writing served on him or her and the company by the Industry Funding Body". Perhaps you will maybe just give us a flavour of what is this Industry Funding Body and what is this independence.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Mr Sheridan, there is a lot of history here in that, although I was appointed from a short list assembled by a firm of head hunters with independent assessors, I was appointed by PressBoF, the Press Standards Board of Finance, who gave me the task of creating a new body and making a fresh start, paid for by the industry. PressBoF has a history of doing the intricate calculations of how much money should be paid by which publications. There is a key question here, you are so right, as to what the situation will be post-Leveson so far as the funding body is concerned. In creating a new regulator, which I would argue is the first time the press has been regulated because I do not think the previous structure was a regulatory structure, how should it be paid for?
I would prefer the industry to calculate who pays how much, particularly as I would like to see the involvement of the online community. The Huffington Post have already said that they are now part and parcel of the funding mechanism. I would not want the new body to spend a great deal of time working out how to collect the money and how much should be paid by each publication, so I would rely on there being some body. I think there is general recognition that there is too much history here and that, in fact, the industry needs to think through certainly the suggestions by Lord Justice Leveson to establish the first Leveson principle, which is independence and funding. The funding is absolutely key, because I do not sense that there is any appetite for public funding or taxpayer funding. It has to be the industry that funds, and it must be done in a fair way. That is the part of Leveson that is still under consideration and I hope that it will be satisfied in accordance with the Leveson principles as soon as possible.
Q20 Jim Sheridan: How is that different from the current system, then?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Because, when you create a new body, you have to have a fresh look at the funding mechanisms. From my discussions with Northern & Shell, who do not contribute at the present time, I do not think they would want the existing mechanism to be maintained. They would prefer there to be a new body on the funding side as well. That is something that has to be considered by all the publishers now as we move forward.
Q21 Jim Sheridan: Would you agree that the Editors’ Code should be the responsibility of the Industry Funding Body?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I would prefer the Leveson view, which is that, although editors will still be a key part of the code committee, it should, in fact, have a regulator with the ability to veto any changes in the code. I attended a meeting of the code committee last Wednesday. They are considering how they will respond to these suggestions and, in particular, to the Leveson principles. I understand that they are going to make an announcement later this week as to their conclusion.
Q22 Jim Sheridan: And any fines or penalties should be decided by the industry body as well?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: No. I cannot see how it can be done without a contract binding everyone in to create this new body. The contract must give the new regulator, the independent self-regulator as instanced by Lord Justice Leveson, the necessary authority not only to impose fines but to investigate. When I look back on the history, it is a tribute to The Guardian that it uncovered the phone-hacking scandal that has appalled us all. It was the press itself that exposed the wrongdoing that was taking place, and certainly I would want this new body to have the power to investigate, to send in a team, if someone made the regulator aware of wrongdoing or potential wrongdoing. They must have the power to investigate, they must have the power to fine, and they need that power under contract so that it is a power that they have at law.
Michael McManus: I would just say, Mr Sheridan, Leveson’s own recommendation is, "I recommend that the board should have the power to impose appropriate and proportionate sanctions".
Jim Sheridan: Yes, I am clear what Leveson said.
Michael McManus: But that was our proposal. It was the proposal we put initially, so it is accepting the proposal that Lord Hunt put to Leveson, which was that the board would have the power. There is no role at all for any Industry Funding Body in there.
Q23 Angie Bray: Do you think it is realistic to envisage the press industry itself putting up the funding to set this whole thing up and then themselves be the ones that are going to be potentially fined huge amounts of money by the very funds that they have put up? Do you see what I mean? Is it realistic for them to be asked to pay for something that in the end is going to ask them to potentially pay up very large sums of money?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes, because proportionate fines will only be imposed where there is clear evidence of breach. I find that one element of Lord Justice Leveson’s report is general approval of the Editors’ Code. Now, the Editors’ Code, I think, is right at the heart of how this new regulatory body will function, because that code is insufficient without proper monitoring and enforcement, which would be the role of the regulator. I have yet to find any publisher who says, "I am not contributing to a body that could fine me", because that seems to accept that there will be a possibility of breach. I have found a general wish to see the necessary change of culture that Lord Justice Leveson speaks about on the part of every publisher with whom I have discussed. Of course they are willing to see the regulator having the necessary power because they approach it from the point of view that it will never have to be used.
Q24 Angie Bray: But the culture will also change, will it not, in the sense that I suspect more members of the public may now feel empowered to make complaints about where they see potential unfairness, and that may lead to more cases being brought. Should newspapers find themselves being fined for some kind of breach because the public have managed to make the case for a complaint, how will you keep them in this organisation? They may well feel that they are ending up being quite vulnerable to complaints and are still being asked to fund it.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: My proposal is that there should be a five-year rolling contract, thus entrenching in law an inability to walk away without having a five-year commitment to funding and also accepting the jurisdiction of the regulator. As to whether or not there will be greater use, implicit in the proposal I originally put forward is a requirement that each publisher should have an internal mechanism for dealing with standards and compliance and an internal mechanism for complaints and mediation. That is certainly something that I hope the new body will pursue so that, if there were complaints, they would be dealt with properly initially by the publisher themselves. A number of publishers have already set up mechanisms for just that, but, of course, there should still be a complaints arm and a standards arm that could make sure, by auditing each publisher, that they had internal compliance mechanisms.
Also, of course, the work of the existing Press Complaints Commission has continued to be used, and I understand that so far this year we have made 81 proactive approaches to members of the public who may be in need of the services and sent out 128 private advisory notices to the industry. That is against a background of last year having 7,341 written complaints. There is continuing, I would regard, professional, efficient and highly effective 24-hour service for members of the public, and we must do everything we can to make sure that continues and that there is access for complaints.
My only other point is to stress, as again The Guardian has done, that Leveson’s idea of an arbitral arm to the regulator for legal press complaints could be critical. I think that is certainly an area where I would like to see progress made so you do have access to justice, so that the individual can pursue a complaint or has the option of going through the arbitration or arbitral arm. I am awaiting a report from the lawyers as to how that can properly be effective.
Q25 Angie Bray: That would kick in if the complaint had not been satisfactorily dealt with by the newspaper itself?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes. The existing complaints staff at the Press Complaints Commission, who I must say are remarkably impressive, do not want to have the possibility of compensation so far as complaints are concerned because they think that will prohibit an easy mediation to the complaint. But the third arm would give the possibility of access to justice when somebody had been damaged.
Q26 Chair: Just while you are on the current work of the PCC, which as you say is ongoing, could you just tell us whether or not there have been any complaints or you are involved in any desist notice issues regarding the nurse who so tragically killed herself at King Edward Hospital?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: We were certainly on notice that every attempt should be made to ensure that the family of the lady who was involved were protected and they issued a statement asking that their privacy should be protected. We were on call to deal with that situation, the precise details of which I would have to ask my staff. Certainly, we do often send out, through our contacts in the police and elsewhere, messages to protect families in situations like that.
Q27 Mr Bradshaw: Have you received or are you aware of any complaints or evidence that the nurse herself was handed before she took her own life?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I do not think so, but may I please come back to the Committee on that point?
Q28 Mr Sutcliffe: I just wanted to return to Mr Bradshaw’s and Mr Burns’ questioning about your views on things. You have had a distinguished political career. Do you feel that in some way taking the role when you did and the subsequent events have damaged your position as an individual? What motivates you now to think that you can pull all this together?
Michael McManus: I am very interested in the answer to that, Mr Sutcliffe.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: When I stepped down from office in 1995, it was at the request of my law firm to return, if I may paraphrase, "to come back and do an honest day’s work". I went back to my law firm, became a senior partner for 10 years, and then sought to specialise in regulatory law. I then was asked by the Law Society of England and Wales to draw up the best way of regulating solicitors, and I produced a report on that. I was asked by the Financial Ombudsman Service to carry out the first independent review of the FOS, which I duly did.
When this situation arose and I watched with some degree of concern the revelations about phone hacking and also the stories of victims, I just felt perhaps, with my regulatory knowledge-certainly recognising that the Press Complaints Commission was not a regulator and I could see why it was not, because of my legal knowledge on the powers a regulator had-that I might have something to add. Mr Sutcliffe, I will have to rely on you to tell me whether I have been damaged by this. I still believe that I have something to deliver and something to contribute, but only time will tell whether I am right.
Q29 Mr Sutcliffe: I accept, of course, your personal motivation, but it is just in terms of what has happened; the events that have taken place. I mean "damaged" in the sense that you tried to bring forward a proposal that was not Leveson-compliant. You are now trying again. What is the confidence that makes you think, "I can still do this", notwithstanding the successful background that you have had?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I suppose, Mr Sutcliffe, we would disagree to some extent about my original model. That was the model that Lord Justice Leveson said in January was an excellent basis on which to work. If you look back to that model, for which I had complete agreement from all editors and publishers to set up a new body and make a fresh start, the Leveson proposals, and particularly the adaptation of Lord Black’s response to the original model, are completely in line with that original proposal. I suppose I would say that, wouldn’t I? But the idea of an independent self-regulatory body underpinned by contract with internal governance by each publisher-I think that is still right at the heart of the Leveson-compliant model.
Q30 Mr Bradshaw: Sorry, just very quickly on that; you keep referring to a Leveson-compliant model but you have repeated time and again now that you are still interested in this contract system, and he explicitly rules that out. Are you having a pick and mix of Leveson here? Do you support third-party complaints? It is either Leveson-compliant or it is not.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I could quote the relevant bits of Lord Justice Leveson. I may be about the only person who has turned the 1,987 pages, but he certainly does say in his report that he finds the contract model to be-I forget the exact word. He does not disregard it, but he feels that, even were I to succeed in bringing forward a model based on commercial contract, not everyone would sign up. I am determined to prove that everyone will sign up and, therefore, the contract model will be right at the heart of the new body. I will just say this, Mr Bradshaw. I still do not know how on earth the body can possibly have the power to fine, to investigate, without people having signed up to it in advance under commercial contract. No matter how many incentives are built in in statute or recognition terms, without that contract giving the powers that Hartley Shawcross explained, I do not see how this new body can have the necessary authority over the industry.
Q31 Paul Farrelly: I just want to explore the fundamental issue of independence. Lord Hunt, you mentioned that there was an overriding scepticism among victims about what was being proposed, but the reality is that you were appointed by the industry.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes.
Paul Farrelly: Your name has been allied to a proposal that has been found to be unacceptable, not just by Lord Justice Leveson but by the Prime Minister, because it fundamentally fails to meet the test of independence. There is no use pretending that that was otherwise. Can we just put a few horses before the carts? Do you accept Leveson’s proposal for an independent appointments panel, which could include one current editor, but would include a substantial majority independent of the press, to make those appointments in the first place? Do you accept that?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes. I think the way in which he sees an independent self-regulatory regime being appointed is what my transition board will now work towards to establish the right procedure in accordance with Lord Justice Leveson’s suggestions. I did have a very helpful discussion about this with the Public Appointments Commissioner earlier this year. I am seeking a further discussion with him because, you are quite right, unless the appointment panel and then the new body is appointed in accordance with Leveson’s suggestions, it will not have the necessary independence.
Q32 Paul Farrelly: Let us talk horses before carts, because you are now proposing as part of the transition that the board appoints an appointments panel that appoints a board, which cannot be right. Let me just go back to the previous proposal that you put forward that failed the test of independence, and it failed it fundamentally because at the start it was proposed that the panel had two independent members and two members of the press and, therefore, that the industry had a veto over the appointment of the chair. Now, that was demonstrably not independent before Leveson reported, and it must have been demonstrably not independent to you. At any stage in formulating this construct that has been rejected, did you ever say to the industry that appointed you, "Come on, we have to at least make this look independent"?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I would refer to my original model, which is the only one that I can say is the Hunt model as such. That was for there to be an independent majority and for the chairman to be clearly independent. That was the model I put forward on 15 December last year, which had industry approval. It was then, of course, that we got into the discussion with the industry as to how we should present the proposal to Lord Justice Leveson. You are quite right. There were some differences between me and Lord Black, which were outlined before Lord Justice Leveson, but then we stood back to await Lord Justice Leveson’s conclusion. I would say that his model is easily based on my original model and, as he says, can be Lord Black’s model duly adapted. I would refer back to the quotation that I used before from page 1769.
Q33 Paul Farrelly: Okay, but there seems to be a little bit of reinvention of history happening here because your name is tied up with this model. The industry does not seem, from the now almost infamous Delaunay breakfast memo, to have rejected that model, even though Leveson and the Prime Minister has, but your name was associated with it. The question is about your credibility-the issue raised by my colleague Gerry Sutcliffe-in now saying, as you did in your speech to the University of East Anglia, and I was there a few weeks before you, "Above all it is absolutely key the result is a new regulator with effective sanctions and teeth and independent from the industry and from the Government", when your name has been allied to a body that was demonstrably not independent.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I did try to explain in Norwich and also in the speech I made in Belfast to the Society of Editors that I wished to move away from the so-called Hunt-Black proposal-or indeed one person said the Black-Hunt proposal-also to move away from PCC plus PCC2. My conclusion is that we now talk about the Leveson model, and that is the way forward. You are quite right to say, "Well, what credibility do you have?" I suppose, like every solicitor, I will always seek to achieve an objective. It will be up to others to judge whether I am the right person in the right place at the right time, but I am aware that there is an accusation against me, by everyone except anybody in the Conservative party, that I am just a Tory peer. Most of my colleagues in the Conservative party do not recognise that description anyway.
Having said that, I do wish people would regard me as a solicitor specialising in regulatory law. I may have been in Parliament for 36 years, but I have been in my law firm for 47 years, and that is where my main activity takes place. But you are quite right; in my transition board I am seeking to attract a number of people to join me on Friday in a small group, which, when I have final agreement I hope you would think was a representative and balanced group, clearly independent. That is the only basis on which I could possibly proceed.
Q34 Paul Farrelly: I just have a couple more questions, on independence. I looked through your six-point plan from the University of East Anglia. One of the points is establishing this shadow board, which you have talked about in previous statements, but nowhere in the six-point plan does it talk about how and what progress has been made with establishing an independent appointments panel. The way you are going about assembling, as you just described, your shadow trust board is in no way Leveson-compliant because it has not gone through an independent appointment process.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: May I refer you to point 2 where I say, "In the meantime, I would like to establish a shadow trust board", which I have just referred to as the transition board, "which would then put in place independent appointment procedures for the new company". What I would now like to do is to set up a mechanism for ensuring that, whoever becomes the independent self-regulatory regime’s board, will be chosen in a way that is widely accepted to be Leveson-compliant.
Q35 Paul Farrelly: My final question and supplementary, if I may. When a new board is set up, do you intend to re-apply for the position of chairman?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I must not reveal too much, but when I applied for this post, as in every partnership, I had to ask my partners in DAC Beachcroft if they would allow me to apply. They said, "Yes, you may, but for a limited period to set up the new body". If I were to wish to apply for the new body, I would have to go back to my partners and seek their permission. I think at the moment they are expecting me, dare I say it, to quote them again, "to come back and do an honest day’s work", having established this new body. That is probably why I am particularly keen that it should be established in a Leveson-compliant way so that it gets off to the best possible start and satisfies everyone.
Paul Farrelly: From your answer I take it you would expect to have to re-apply if you-
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I would have to re-apply and in a Leveson-compliant way.
Q36 Paul Farrelly: I want to just ask a final question. Do you think you are Leveson-compliant? I am not sure in this-and we are going to go round in circles here-that Lord Justice Leveson is compliant with the spirit of his own report. He says that the board should have a majority of independent people, no serving editors or members of the House of Commons-he does not use the words "Member of Parliament"-or Government. He does not mention the House of Lords, but people will make the point that you are a Conservative peer, a former Government Minister. You presumably take the Conservative Whip in the House of Lords but that, of course, could easily change. Do you consider yourself in being a politician, compliant with the spirit of Leveson yourself?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes, but I can see why you ask the question. All I would plead in mitigation is that when I was in Government I was the person who introduced the Nolan Code on Standards in Public Life and received a lot of criticism from my fellow Members of Parliament, in particular a former Prime Minister, for having the effrontery and impertinence to suggest that Members of Parliament should have an ethical code when the individual felt that everyone had that anyway. I also introduced and accepted the Civil Service Code. It was Lord Radice’s Select Committee that suggested it and, as Civil Service Minister, I thought that was a step in the right direction. I think I have always approached these issues in a Leveson-compliant way, but you are quite right; I am probably on a precise definition Leveson-compliant, but might not be seen by some people as being so.
Q37 Chair: We have three or four more areas to cover and I am also conscious that Alan Rusbridger is waiting patiently. Can I therefore move on? Firstly, the core of this is this dispute over statutory underpinning. That is where the difference has arisen. You made clear in your original submission to Lord Justice Leveson that you saw a case for statutory recognition. You argued for statutory recognition in your submission, but you made it clear that in your view that was not the same thing as the establishment of a regulator by statute. Can I first of all ask you, is your advocacy of statutory recognition, possibly through a Defamation Act or something of that kind, supported by all the editors as well?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: There are mixed views, but I hope that the industry would speak with one voice on the acceptability of the arbitral arm. I think that probably holds the key to this; that if it can be established that, once this new independent self-regulatory structure is established, there are benefits in being part of that structure through consequences in recognition through statute. I did point out when I gave evidence to Lord Justice Leveson that the Data Protection Act acknowledges the advantage of having a code and complying with it. The Human Rights Act also recognises the same concept.
I cannot see any problem with statutes recognising the importance of what is now being created. My argument has always been against Bills like the Freedom and Responsibility of the Press Bill, in the long title of which was "to prescribe certain professional and ethical standards", because I do not think it is part of Parliament’s role, particularly in changing legislation, to set out standards. It is, I think, for the profession, although they do not call themselves a profession, for the editors and for journalists, to set up their own code and for it to be monitored and enforced by an independent self-regulatory body.
Q38 Chair: But the Irish body, which you have mentioned already, is recognised in statute but also the statute does set out definitions of what the body has to achieve. It is not just recognising a body; it is requiring the body, in order to enjoy those benefits, to meet certain objectives. Do you think that that is acceptable?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I think, Mr Chairman, that the jury is still out on the Irish system. It has not yet been tested and it is voluntary. It is recognising a body set up by the industry. I have got to know Professor John Horgan reasonably well, and his approach as an ombudsman is one that certainly might well be part and parcel of what is established through an arbitral arm. I am just anxious to establish an independent self-regulatory body. It will be for Parliament to decide if that should be recognised in some way.
Q39 Chair: Where do you feel that Lord Justice Leveson goes too far in his recommendations for legislation?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I just think that he does not believe, and he told me this, I will get everyone to sign up to a contract establishing this new body. Therefore, he has moved on, and indeed explains that in his report, to consider, "If they do not sign up, if they are not moving in the direction that Lord Hunt has explained to me, what then?" He moves into different areas. I will move heaven and earth to secure the agreement of the industry-that is, publishers and editors-to this new independent self-regulatory body. It is only if I fail that other issues will have to be considered as per Lord Justice Leveson’s report.
Q40 Chair: To some extent, statutory recognition in the way that you describe may help to avoid statutory underpinning?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes. I find "statutory recognition", "statutory underpinning" and "statutory back-up" to be phrases that I have great difficulty in understanding unless I see the Bill. I suppose, Mr Chairman, I am trying to establish a system that does not need statutory back-up, statutory recognition or statutory underpinning. It is for others to judge whether it does, but I hope that that judgment will not be reached until after I have completed my task and set up what is clearly an independent self-regulatory body.
Q41 Chair: Can I just be absolutely clear? If you are content with some recognition of an independent body in statute giving certain advantages to membership of that body, if the Government were to proceed down that road, is that going to command the support of the editors or are there going to be voices in Fleet Street saying that that is a step already too far and that any involvement in legislation at all is unacceptable?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I suppose my answer is that I do not want to cite statutory underpinning, statutory recognition or statutory back-up as a reason for joining the new system I am proposing to put in place. If others consider it needs some form of support in that way, then that is for others to decide. My task is to set this up without any necessary concomitant powers, on the basis that Parliament can always change its mind.
Q42 Chair: No, but when I say "statutory recognition", I am talking about what you specifically asked for yourself, which is to have some advantage given through law to organisations that subscribe to the independent regulator.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes.
Chair: And you see that as a necessary part of the incentive process to make sure that everybody signs up?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I regard the main incentive to be the sword of Leveson. I am finding at the moment that I am not being met by any obstacles in establishing this new self-regulatory independent body. I do not need the sort of carrots that are being talked about, and my only worry about legislative carrots is that a Parliament could come along and remove the carrots. I want, if I may, to establish a body that will last and will establish, for the first time ever, regulation of the press. I do not regard the previous structure as having been regulatory in any way, because it had no power to intervene, no power to investigate, no power to ask witnesses to give evidence, no power to see documents, no power to fine. It was a structure without teeth. I would hope that the new body will have all the necessary Leveson-compliant aspects, but will not need anything further or on top of that.
Michael McManus: Mr Chairman, it is widely regarded as undesirable that there should be a statute within the industry, and I think it is within the power of the industry to make a statute unnecessary. I think, therefore, the aspiration of what we are setting about now is to reach a point swiftly where we could look the advocates of statute in the eye and say, "What would you add? What would it add? Why is it needed? The people are on board".
Q43 Mr Bradshaw: You seem to be backing away from your previous support for statutory recognition. That is the point our Chairman is making. You are going in the wrong direction.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Not necessarily. It is a matter of opinion. I am going in a direction. The more I have read Lord Justice Leveson’s report, the more in a way I feel challenged to set up the body without any-
Q44 Chair: Following up Mr Bradshaw’s absolutely spot-on question, you stated, "It could prove extremely valuable to the UK system of self-regulation if such a provision could be inserted as an amendment to the current Government Bill". That was the Defamation Bill. Do you no longer hold that view?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: No, I do hold that view.
Q45 Chair: You are still absolutely in favour of some recognition in a statute of the existence of an independent self-regulator?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes, Mr Chairman. Where I am differing with Mr Bradshaw is that I am not coming to this Committee and saying, "Please give me that, otherwise I have failed".
Chair: But you do think it would be helpful to have that?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: It certainly would be helpful, but it must not be the reason.
Q46 Chair: No, indeed, but your words were "extremely valuable", and that is quite a strong plea.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes, I would regard it as extremely valuable if the Defamation Bill could be amended to encourage the right behaviour on the part of handling complaints and so on, as evidenced by the Irish model. You are quite right.
Q47 Chair: You do not say, "I do not believe this in any way crosses a red line"?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Correct.
Q48 Chair: Does anybody else think that that would cross a red line?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes, I am sure there are those who believe it would cross the red line. I do not. The red line for me is a Bill requiring newspapers to present news "with due accuracy and impartiality to prescribe certain professional and ethical standards and so on".
Q49 Chair: Yes, all right. But there is opposition to this within the industry?
Michael McManus: I think, Mr Chairman, if I could just observe that people talk of the Hunt-Black plan. In fact, if you look at the submissions from Lords Black and Hunt, there are substantive differences between the two, which I think underlines the existing independence of the Chairman of the PCC, and this certainly did not feature in the industries-
Q50 Chair: This is a Hunt plan, not a Black plan?
Michael McManus: This is more Hunt than Black, I think we might say.
Q51 Mr Sanders: We have been waiting 20 years, haven’t we, since David Mellor’s comment that the press was drinking at the last chance saloon? Why didn’t anything happen in those 20 years?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I do not think I am the best person to answer that question. It is very difficult to work out. I still cannot understand why the comparatively simple proposals of the Select Committee in 2007 were not accepted, but I think my predecessor at the Press Complaints Commission said some rather rude words about the-
Chair: North Korea, I seem to recall.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I just do not know. I think there has been a feeling that our free press should not be shackled by regulation. There has been a feeling, but I think now there is widespread acceptance that, such was the enormity of the transgressions revealed by phone hacking-revealed by the press itself-people now accept there has to be some regulation, but it has to be self-regulation.
Q52 Mr Sanders: What sort of time scale would you put on trying to convince the rest of the world that you have pulled it together? How long do you have before Leveson has to be brought into play?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I believe that we should be able to move to endorse and accept and implement Leveson’s proposals in the early part of next year. There will then obviously be a period when the body that has been created will have an opportunity to prove its independence. A very senior judge stressed to me that the independence of the new body would be tested pretty swiftly, probably during the course of next year, certainly the year after. That is when people will judge whether the Leveson-compliant body is the right body for the future.
Q53 Mr Sanders: As opposed to the body that you hope you will be able to create by the beginning of next year?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: No, the same body. I am seeking to create-
Mr Sanders: Two different bodies.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Okay.
Mr Sanders: There is the body you are talking about, that you used the description "Leveson-compliant", and then there is the Leveson body that is underpinned by statute.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Okay.
Mr Sanders: What I understand you are saying is that you hope your body could be up and running by the beginning of next year, but it would need to be tested.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Correct.
Mr Sanders: The question is, how much time should we give that body? How much patience should we have, given how long the public have waited for something to be done?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes. Mr Sanders, what I was seeking to say is that this body that I hope will be created will be tested pretty swiftly in its existence and it will then be for others to judge whether it is adequate. The second Leveson body underpinned by statute, I hope will be completely unnecessary. The one point I would make is that, although my Cabinet colleague at the time, David Mellor, did say "last chance saloon", no one has ever created a regulatory structure for the press, in my view, because nobody has ever created an organisation that is able to regulate, define, monitor and enforce the Editors’ Code. That is where I say it has not been tested. I still cannot understand. I have spoken to several Members who were with me at the time discussing the Calcutt reports. I have spoken to others who have looked back at all the Royal Commission reports. Why on earth no one responded to Shawcross’ recommendation 50 years ago I do not know.
Q54 Mr Sanders: A final question: is success for you 100% buy-in? I just wonder whether others would accept, if there is not 100% buy-in, that you have succeeded in your proposal. Does there not have to be a 100% sign-up for it to work?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: At the moment, I have support for the contract-based model from 120 publishers representing 2,000 editors. There are many editors, though, out there in smaller magazines that are not part even of the existing system. I must not give the impression that I am covering the full scene. I would also just mention that no one has really resolved how to deal with the internet and through the social media.
Mr Sanders: Yes. But that is not part of what Leveson was set up to look at, is it?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: No, I know, but I do think that-
Mr Sanders: Maybe it should, but it was not and we have to deal with what Leveson has come up with and it is about the press and it is about what the press did wrong.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Correct, and we must respond, but I would hope that the model that we all endorse, and I hope this Select Committee will endorse, as it did in its previous report, is a self-regulatory model that is flexible enough to embrace the social media, to produce that badge of respectability for the social media that will enable us to trust the accuracy of what we read on Twitter or whatever else it may be. We cannot ignore the internet. We cannot ignore the social media. We have to have a structure that is flexible enough to bring that within the system.
Michael McManus: Also, attractive enough to bring them in on a voluntary basis. I am conscious of time.
Mr Sanders: We have been waiting 20 years to sort out the press. Let us sort that one out and then move on.
Michael McManus: I am just concerned there may be a slight misapprehension that the model we are working on is in some way an alternative to Leveson. It is not. It is Leveson. The only quibble, if there is a quibble, is the one I think raised by the Prime Minister in his response to Leveson in the House of Commons, which is that Leveson argues in paragraph 70 of his exec summary, "In order to give effect to the incentives that I have outlined, it is essential that there should be legislation." That is the only point at issue. You can build a Leveson-compliant model without legislation, possibly, and that is what we are trying to do. You are separating the questions.
Q55 Mr Sanders: But who judges whether it is Leveson-compliant if you do not have some form of statutory independence?
Michael McManus: At this point, that is a question for the Government. The Government are proposing to create a verifying body without statute, but there will be verification. I think there is a general agreement that there must be authoritative ongoing verification that the body is compliant with all of this. The simple question is: do you need legislation to do that or not? We cannot legislate, but we can set up a Leveson-compliant body.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: May I just add that in paragraph 74 of the executive summary Lord Justice Leveson makes it clear that, although he goes on to consider the need for statute, he does say that he still believes it is up to the industry to rise to the challenge, but he has to move on to work out what should come if they do not.
Q56 Philip Davies: We can argue about self-regulation, statutory underpinning, statutory regulation or statutory back-up. I am a self-regulation person myself, but, taking all that aside, what is the actual motivation, in your view, of the newspaper editors? Is it that they genuinely think there is a problem that needs to be solved in terms of the way that newspapers have behaved and genuinely want to do that, or is it that they are fearful of what will come otherwise and, therefore, are doing something that they do not agree with but they just fear something worse?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: It is very difficult to know what the answer to that question is.
Q57 Philip Davies: Does it matter what their motivation is?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Looking back over all my years, I think almost every journalist I know has the highest ethical and professional standards. I would add that almost every one of those individuals has told me how horrified they were to discover what was going on over phone hacking and certainly some of the tragedies, sloppy reporting. When I talk to the victims I suddenly see that if only the journalists had checked this or checked that. There is a feeling on the part of journalists that they need to act to secure the ethical and professional code that they have always held dear, which is the Editors’ Code. Some of them may be fearful of what could happen if there is not action taken, but I like to believe, Mr Davies, that the overwhelming majority of them want to put in place something that will protect the integrity of journalism.
Q58 Philip Davies: I do not want to speak for people who believe in any kind of statutory underpinning or whatever else it might be, but maybe their motivation is that they do not think the newspaper industry gets it, and therefore they cannot be trusted to do it all on their own, because they do not believe in it. Do you see that that is what some people may-
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes.
Philip Davies: -and that that is potentially an issue?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes.
Q59 Philip Davies: In terms of that, given that we are where we are with the industry, if the newspaper industry was serious about accepting the Leveson principles without the statutory underpinning, would we not have already seen a great change in behaviour from newspapers in light of-not necessarily phone hacking; phone hacking is already illegal-some of the other things that people do not like about the newspaper industry, the concerns they have, some of them that we outlined in our report in 2007? Would we have not seen a big change in culture already if everybody really believed in the Leveson principles? If so, do you think we have seen that radical change in culture and attitude by newspapers?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I am aware of the change in culture and attitudes, but, of course, I was not involved in 2007 at the time of the report and I have already said that I wish that there had been a more positive reaction to that report. Perhaps we would not have seen some of the examples of transgressions. May I just take one of the recommendations in 2007 that I strongly believe in: that the Editors’ Code should be part and parcel of every person’s contract of employment. That is certainly what I would like to see, but why was it not accepted in 2007 I know not; and I would like to see it, and certainly all the people I have spoken to in the industry would like to see it as well.
Michael McManus: It is a widespread practice, but it is not universal.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: It is not universal, and I think it also holds the key to the freelance side of the industry: the freelance photographers, the freelance reporters. Everyone who contributes to a publication should accept, as part and parcel of their self-employment, the writing in of the Editors’ Code.
Q60 Philip Davies: But one thing that we considered in 2007 is things such as big front-page headlines or big sizeable page leads that turn out to be incorrect, and you then need a magnifying glass to see the apology that is printed near the classified ads at a later date. Do you think that things like that have been dealt with by the industry in a satisfactory way? People feel negative about the press for things like that.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes, I agree.
Michael McManus: The prominence does have to be agreed, the prominence of correction, already. It is already agreed. Often people do not want a second front-page splash, genuinely.
Q61 Philip Davies: That is not necessarily true, surely?
Michael McManus: No, it is not necessarily true but it varies. It varies.
Q62 Philip Davies: There are other options?
Michael McManus: Yes, but it has to be agreed. Prominence has to be agreed. That could be tougher in the new regime.
Philip Davies: I may come back to you at a later date, separately to this, with examples, because I am not entirely sure that that is really happening.
Michael McManus: It needs to be tougher and Leveson is clear on that.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: It may be that Mr McManus and I differ on this, but I certainly think the new independent self-regulatory body should be able to dictate the prominence of the apology.
Michael McManus: Yes, that is what Leveson said.
Q63 Philip Davies: The point is, which comes back to Mr Sanders’ and Mr Burns’ early questioning, that if the industry really does believe this, why is it not already happening without the need of a Leveson report? If they do believe this, why is it not already happening? We should not even need all of these things if they really buy into it.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I can only date back my involvement to 17 October 2011. Pretty soon after that I reached your similar conclusion, but we have been awaiting Lord Justice Leveson’s report. Whereas I did swiftly reach the conclusion that we needed a new body and a fresh start, embracing a lot of the things that we have been discussing in this Select Committee and that you have put in previous reports, I cannot really explain why it has not already happened, except that we were waiting to hear from Lord Justice Leveson his conclusions and we now move to implement his recommendations.
Q64 Tracey Crouch: We heard throughout the Leveson inquiry and again this morning references to some unsavoury and, in some cases, illegal practices of journalists, perhaps in part due to the corporate culture. Given that the interception of electronic communications is allowable under a public interest defence and that there is a strong desire to protect investigative journalism, what will change under your proposals for regulations? How will tomorrow’s journalists operate differently to today’s?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: By the acceptance of the Editors’ Code, not only in the detail of it but in the spirit of it. I think it was Peter Preston who told me that he had inserted in the preamble to the Editors’ Code the words "ethics" and "ethical standards". I think that there needs to be a definite acceptance of that preamble as part of the code, but that is a matter for the Code Committee, and I think they are going to be saying something about that later this week.
But the other key area is the public interest. The public interest defence must be very clear and explicit. The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, had a consultation earlier this year and new guidelines came in in September. I think we have to move on from that to have the same definition, if we can, covering the civil and criminal law, so that every journalist knows exactly where they stand in terms of the need to prove and also to exhibit an audit trail of seeking that proof that what they are doing is in the public interest.
Q65 Tracey Crouch: Where within the spirit of the code would paying for stories sit? Do you think there is ever any justification for paying for a story?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes, if it is in the public interest, but that is all part and parcel of the code itself. I certainly think that there is a need to review the code in the light of what has happened.
Q66 Tracey Crouch: Sorry to interrupt: do you think that that public interest defence should extend to public officials such as, for example, the police or members of the Ministry of Defence?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: This is an area for Keir Starmer rather than for me.
Q67 Tracey Crouch: But you are setting out within your code the spirit of what it is that editors are to do. We have had a massive increase in the amount of spin doctors that taxpayer-funded organisations employ over the last 15 to 20 years, that perhaps people who wish to whistle-blow the truth or reveal the truth may require payment for that to become public knowledge. The question is, do you think that there is a public interest defence when it comes to selling a story to a journalist?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Certainly Keir Starmer has expressed a view on that. I understand that the first prosecution under the new Bribery Act is as a result of the newspaper having to pay an official to reveal the bribery of another official. This is a complicated area, and I would rely on the Director of Public Prosecutions clearly laying down, as he has in his new guidelines in September, the way in which that could be dealt with. But certainly you are right; we need to have clarity.
Q68 Tracey Crouch: Do you think that statutory regulation can protect journalists and editors in making decisions on individual stories when there might be a rigid framework stopping them from doing so?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I do not quite understand the question.
Tracey Crouch: If we have the establishment of Leveson’s proposals, then journalists and editors will be bound by certain rules that might prevent them from making those individual decisions.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I would hope not, but you are quite right; the environment in which everyone operates has to be the right environment for them to be able to adhere to their own ethical and professional code. It is the environment that will, to some extent, be conditioned by the action of the regulator.
Michael McManus: Leveson is interesting on the moral hazard of this. He is keen that editors should feel able to consult the new regulatory structure in advance of publication; that the incentives should lead them to do that rather than not do that.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I was pleased that Lord Justice Leveson did highlight my idea of a whistle-blowing hotline, which I feel very strongly about, as an example of where he felt the industry had not responded as positively to my model as they should have done. I would certainly want the regulator to have a hotline whereby an individual could check exactly what action was open to them where they were being or they felt they were being asked to do something they should not have been asked to do.
Q69 Tracey Crouch: I was going to ask you about the whistle-blowing hotline, so you have nicely pre-empted that question. What about the other recommendation, about the conscience clause in employment contracts? Where do you stand on that?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I would certainly want to see the conscience clause, and indeed the whistle-blowing hotline.
Q70 Tracey Crouch: Do you think editors want to see a conscience clause in the contracts of their staff? Could it be that they end up inadvertently having to protect or look after lazy journalists within their organisation?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: One would hope not, but this is all part of employment law.
Q71 Tracey Crouch: It is a key recommendation from Leveson. What precisely would a conscience clause look like in your view?
Michael McManus: Writing the code into contracts could be a way of doing the conscience clause, because having the code in your contract could be a defence for a journalist. If they are required to breach the code, they are being required to breach their contract. That could be a way of doing it, base it on the code. I think that would not put you on the slippery slope of what you are suggesting.
Q72 Tracey Crouch: You would see this extending to all journalists or just national journalists?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I think I would want the code to apply to everyone who contributes, whether they are a journalist, a photographer or just someone who is sending in some copy. I would just want it to be pre-eminent throughout.
Q73 Tracey Crouch: What do you see the impact of Leveson being on the local press? I noticed that you have the excellent editorial director of the Kent Messenger Group on your current body. I am personally very concerned about the financial consequences on local press of statutory underpinning of codes. Therefore, I just wondered what do you personally see as the future of local press under some of these proposals?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I have always regarded, certainly during all my years as a Member of Parliament, the local reporter as being the eyes and ears of the MP, often pressing me to do things that perhaps my political instincts were reluctant to do. But, my goodness, they do set a gold standard in terms-
Q74 Tracey Crouch: But they are not exempt from using pressures, however?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: No, I agree, and they are also facing serious economic challenges at the present time. I would want the new system to underpin the standards of local and regional press, but they must be involved in all this. You are quite right. I find that local editors are often the greatest and strongest proponents of the highest possible ethical and professional standards.
Q75 Paul Farrelly: Very quickly, Lord Hunt, you have likened the new regulator in March 2012 to an ombudsman. Of course, there are plenty of examples of ombudsmen established voluntarily and ombudsmen underpinned by statute, which also guarantees their independence, but you seem to have come down on the side of the line which the likes of Paul Dacre and other editors will not cross. Mr McManus, I have just read your CV as Director of Transition. You have worked as a special adviser for three Government Departments. You have run the private office of former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath. You have worked for Beachcroft, Lord Hunt’s firm. You have worked for Bell Pottinger Public Affairs, and your latest book was called Tory Pride and Prejudice. You would be forgiven, both of you, would you not, for the scepticism that is formulated by you guys being at the helm as two Conservatives trying to set up a press regulator that is acceptable to a largely Conservative press, not so they can back the Conservatives, which they will do anyway, but so that with a small period of penance they can just carry on regardless as they have done with attempted reforms before. You can understand why people might take that view?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes. I would hope that, if I was sitting in your position and there were two Labour-connected people in front of me, as long as they were intent on doing the right thing, I would support them.
Paul Farrelly: They get the same scepticism from me as well.
Michael McManus: In my own defence, my previous book was a biography of Jo Grimond, and participation in the life of Sir Edward Heath was not necessarily career-enhancing for anyone that had ambitions in the Conservative party.
Mr Bradshaw: But you are a former Conservative special adviser?
Michael McManus: Yes, in the 1980s.
Q76 Angie Bray: This is a question that has not been asked today. In terms of getting every newspaper, every publisher, on board, which clearly would be the ideal scenario, if it is called voluntary, then people must be allowed to decide not to sign up. I do wonder what you think will happen to those publications that choose not to sign up to the new body?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I will have failed if there is someone who does not sign up.
Q77 Angie Bray: You cannot envisage any publication being able to operate outside this new voluntary set-up?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: It would certainly be possible to operate outside, but I would not have completed my task if there was a substantial publisher who was refusing to sign up. The outcome must be that everyone commits themselves to establish this new, independent, self-regulatory body, otherwise other measures will have to be considered, but I do not believe that will be necessary.
Q78 Angie Bray: Effectively, anybody setting up a publication would automatically have to sign up to the new body or else they will not get it off the ground? You are talking about the ones that exist now, but looking ahead-there may be new ones coming on stream-they will have to sign up, or what?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I have to confess, if I am allowed to confess a failure, that I have not yet persuaded Private Eye to sign up to the new body, although I will continue my efforts to do so.
Angie Bray: Would that matter very much if it did not?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: I regard it as a satirical magazine and, therefore, perhaps its whole ethos is never to sign up.
Chair: Half of it is a satirical magazine. The other half is definitely news reporting.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Okay. I share, as local church warden in Somerset, a church with Christopher Booker, who was one of the founders of Private Eye, and I will re-double my efforts with Christopher Booker to persuade him that there is quite a bit of Private Eye that is fact-based and news media reporting. I will not give up on anyone, but I must-
Q79 Angie Bray: You cannot envisage, therefore, a world moving forward in which there are any publications that are not part of this new organisation?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: Any substantial publications-correct. There are a number of great-
Q80 Angie Bray: So does it mean that everyone has to conform in a particular way?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: No. Every solicitor conforms and every doctor conforms to a disciplinary code. I regard the Editors’ Code, which I did say to Lord Justice Leveson-and I think he confirms-as a very good code. What I would hope is that it would be embraced by everyone who undertakes journalism.
But I must say, Mr Chairman, if I am allowed to say so, that there have been a number of questions asked here that I would like to go away and think about. I do not believe I have answered every question to my own satisfaction and I would therefore like time to reflect, but I am still committed to setting up the right process so that the new organisation will be accepted and acceptable as the clearly independent, self-regulatory structure that Lord Justice Leveson wanted the industry to set up.
Chair: I think we will call a halt there, but if you would like to submit any further observations, we will obviously be very happy to receive them.
Examination of Witness
Witness: Alan Rusbridger, Editor, The Guardian, gave evidence.
Q81 Chair: For the second session, can I welcome Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, who has been sitting patiently throughout the first session.
Tracey Crouch: Thank you for waiting so patiently. I wonder if you could start by just outlining in some more detail the idea of the royal charter. I understand you are a key proponent of this proposal.
Alan Rusbridger: I am not, no. I have read about it in the Daily Telegraph, and it was suggested that that was one of the ideas that Oliver Letwin was producing in order to find a solution.
Tracey Crouch: I have been misled, then. What are your views on it, then, in that case?
Alan Rusbridger: Given that that is all we have read so far, what Oliver Letwin is trying to do, as I understand it from what he told us he was doing when we went to meet with him at Downing Street along with the Prime Minister and the Cultural Secretary, is trying to find a solution to this question about whether you could get the carrots and sticks of arbitration without having to have statute. He said that he was going to come forward with a suggestion of how that could be done, and this appeared in the Telegraph and I think in The Economist.
I do not know exactly how it will work. I went to the website of the Privy Council, which gives some indication about how royal charters work, and there were things there that disturbed me. There was a bit there that said that a body, once incorporated by a royal charter, surrenders significant aspects of the control of its internal affairs to the Privy Council, and it said, "This effectively means a significant degree of Government regulation of the affairs of the body and the Privy Council will therefore wish to be satisfied that such regulation accords with public policy." That, to me, sounds rather alarming because it suggests that the Ministers of the day rather than even Parliament are people who have a significant degree of Government regulation. So those words-
Chair: It is worse than statutory.
Alan Rusbridger: It seems to me worse than statutory, but maybe I have misunderstood something about how royal charters work.
Q82 Tracey Crouch: Can I just ask you for the record, please, to place on record your views on Leveson and indeed on the Lord Hunt proposals that we were hearing about this morning?
Alan Rusbridger: I think Leveson is a very serious piece of work. There are anxieties that I have about it to do with data protection and pace and sources, some things about the relationship with police, and so I do not think he necessarily has everything right. I am anxious about the involvement of Ofcom, but I think, as a serious analysis of all the questions that everybody is asking, he has asked most of those questions and he has gone into it in some depth. I think his 40 recommendations that would essentially form any system of regulation that would command respect are, by and large, pretty good. It is a good starting point, and the question is the degree to which it can have effect without the final bit of Leveson, which is to say, "If you don’t do this, you get Ofcom", which feels to me effectively like compulsory membership, and the question about the statutory recognition/underpinning of the arbitration wing.
Q83 Tracey Crouch: You heard my questions to Lord Hunt earlier. Do you think any of this is going to make any fundamental difference to the way individual journalists operate on a day-to-day basis? You can already intercept communications under a public interest defence. There is a desire to protect journalism and investigative journalism. Going forward, will your journalists operate in your paper in the future any differently than they do today?
Alan Rusbridger: For more than 10 years we have had our own readers’ editor, so I think The Guardian journalists have already operated to a standard that has a very rigorous open and transparent system of regulation. If you are asking about The Guardian specifically, I cannot see much that is going to change, but I think generally-
Q84 Tracey Crouch: If not much is going to change, are we spending an extraordinary amount of parliamentary time discussing this when we could be looking at other priorities?
Alan Rusbridger: I think more generally a lot has changed. If you think about where we have moved from, 18 months ago the industry by and large stood behind the Press Council and the Press Complaints Commission and said that that was an independent regulator and that everything about it was fine. More or less everybody in the industry now acknowledges that it was not a regulator, it was not fine, it was not independent, and that we need something more rigorous and better. I think that that is good.
From the other side, as Lord Hunt mentioned, Lord Justice Leveson invited the DPP to try to offer defences in law and try to standardise the defences in law so that people who were doing genuine investigative journalism in the public interest would have a better idea of where they stood. That is good too. I am more optimistic maybe than some of my colleagues that the position post-Leveson is going to give proper journalism better defences, while better regulating the terrible things that led to Leveson.
Q85 Tracey Crouch: Therefore, do you think it is justifiable for journalists to pay for stories?
Alan Rusbridger: The Guardian has never paid for stories, but I know that some journalists do, and it is not always illegal to do so. It depends who you are paying. I think journalists should not act above the law. Journalists should comply with the law, and if they are going to break the law then they have to say so. They cannot lie about it and they have to take the consequences. The consequences might include, under the DPP’s new guidelines, having defences, and public interest arguments, that were not available previously. If a journalist wants to push at the law, then I think that they have to not lie about that and they have to say, "I did it in the following way for the following reasons that I think are important".
Q86 Tracey Crouch: My final question. As an editor, do you have any concerns about Leveson’s proposals for a whistle-blowing hotline or for a conscience clause to be put into the-
Alan Rusbridger: No, I support them.
Tracey Crouch: You support them both?
Alan Rusbridger: I support both.
Q87 Conor Burns: I would like to ask you two related and connected questions that go back to what Lord Hunt told us about his ambition to get all the editors and publishers to sign up voluntarily to his proposed new body. One, what do you think are his chances of doing that before the pressure to go down the statutory regulation route becomes too great in this place and, secondly, connected to that, without asking you to breach any confidences, in your discussions with the Prime Minister with your fellow editors, what are the significant, if there are any, points of difference between you on the approach to Leveson?
Alan Rusbridger: I think that since the Leveson report there has been a remarkable willingness among editors to get together and take Leveson seriously. When we met with the Prime Minister and with Maria Miller and Oliver Letwin, the three of them could not have been more emphatic that the industry had to come back with a set of proposals that was almost completely compliant with Leveson. Mr Letwin used the phrase, "Leveson to the letter", or, "Leveson line by line". This is not confidential. This was all on the record. When editors quibbled with one or two bits of Leveson, Mr Letwin said-I was there and I took a note-"You have to use these as a criteria and if you are going to change them, only by a very, very tiny fraction"; that is, "I can only deliver my solution, which is non-statutory, if you come forward and say that you are going to accept the whole of Leveson".
All the editors have met since and I think it is now public knowledge that, of the 40 clauses of Leveson that did not relate to statute, they agreed to all 40, subject to five clauses being scrutinised by lawyers. To me, that is a very high degree of consensus around Leveson. That should give you some confidence that Lord Hunt ought to be able to get the industry together. These are just national editors. We obviously have to consult with regional colleagues and periodicals.
Q88 Conor Burns: You may refuse, but may I invite you to elaborate on the five?
Alan Rusbridger: I can do. I will tell you what the five are. One was the code itself and this question of who has the ultimate responsibility for the code. There is the question about whether the code committee sets the code that is then adopted by the regulator or whether a regulator should have the ultimate responsibility. There is a dispute about the wording there, and some editors feel very strongly that if this was to be self-regulation, it must be to our own code.
The next difference is clause 11-not "difference"; this is where the discussions are- is about third parties. Some people are nervous about third parties, because they think that that opens the door to endless complaints from third parties, and how do you distinguish-
Conor Burns: These are vexatious complaints?
Alan Rusbridger: It is that kind of thing, yes. That is being discussed.
The next clause is clause 17, which is this question of, if you have the regulator, should you be able to turn to it for pre-publication advice? If you do so and you ignore its advice, does that place you in a bad position in terms of any future arbitration or legal action and, if you do not consult it, does that equally expose you? There are some quite complex issues there that editors wanted to discuss further.
The next one was clause 34, which is a simple question about compliance reports and whether there should be an obligation to print them in the paper or whether you can print them online. It is not a very big issue. Then, finally, there is clause 38, which is the question about discriminatory reporting; some editors are unhappy with the phrase about the spirit of equalities legislation. With the exception of those matters that were sent back to a group of newspaper lawyers, my understanding, based on the conclusion of the meeting last Wednesday, was that we all signed up to and agreed the other 40 clauses.
Q89 Jim Sheridan: At the height of the MPs’ expenses stuff, the press and the media quite rightly took the view that we needed to introduce regulations to stop this practice from happening again. What is the difference between then and the press now?
Alan Rusbridger: We may differ about the word "regulation" but, as I said, I think the press has moved a great deal from what we now accept was not regulation. You heard Lord Hunt say that the PCC was not a regulator and I think there is now widespread consensus that we do need a regulator. I do not think anyone is fighting the concept that the press should have a regulator.
Q90 Jim Sheridan: No, but the parallel I am drawing is that people were then saying we need to take the responsibility for monitoring and scrutinising the activities of the MPs away from MPs. Why can they not have the same system for journalists? They were scrutinising themselves.
Alan Rusbridger: Yes. I suppose it comes down to a fundamental-
Jim Sheridan: Is there an inconsistency there?
Alan Rusbridger: There probably is, and I think it comes down to a notion, which is strongly held by many of my colleagues, that the press is an independent estate so the moment you have anybody externally regulating the press on a statutory basis you get into the kind of difficulties that Lord Leveson spent so much time looking at. I think that is the difference. The press does not want to be regulated in any way by anything that looks like Parliament.
Q91 Jim Sheridan: I just do not accept any of these arguments that any regulation or legislation whatsoever interferes with a free press. I do not think that the general public accept that argument. I wanted to ask Lord Hunt a question, but we did not have the time. During the whole expenses scandal, the press quite rightly identified the problem and they, quite rightly and sometimes unfortunately, criticised the then Speaker. Then the press formed the view that the Speaker then was trying to defend the indefensible. Do you think that people like Lord Hunt are in a similar position, trying to defend the indefensible?
Alan Rusbridger: I would not make that criticism of Lord Hunt. He is working to find an effective regulator. I do not hear Lord Hunt defending any of the bad practices in the past, and I do not hear him defending the way the PCC worked. To do him credit, I think he is genuinely trying to find something that will be effective in future.
Q92 Jim Sheridan: Just picking up the question that Tracey Crouch raised about this conscience clause. Could you as an editor talk us through how it works if a journalist comes in, maybe not to your paper but maybe one of the tabloids, and says, "I really don’t want to cover that story, Mr Editor"-or Mrs Editor-"and I want to implement the conscience clause", how in reality would that work? Would they still be employed?
Alan Rusbridger: That is the difficulty that I think has worked in the past and when the NUJ gave evidence to Leveson it came up with lots of examples, sadly anonymous, of people who felt that some newsrooms were very intimidatory and bullying and that they would not be able to make that kind of stand. Again, the editors are signing up to this and they have all signed up to it. That is my understanding from last week’s meeting. It would need them to observe the spirit of it. If somebody said, "I’m sorry, that is not in the code", or, "I have a conscientious objection to doing that", their careers would not suffer.
Q93 Steve Rotheram: Lord Hunt argued that it was preferable for there to be a self-regulatory system without statutory underpinning. I wonder whether you think it is possible to achieve that sort of robust system of regulation through contracts or through a contractual model?
Alan Rusbridger: I think this is a highly technical legal question. I am with him in instinct, and when I heard Oliver Letwin saying that he could achieve this without statute I thought, "Well, that would be could if he could". But in some senses, what makes the whole thing work to me is this arbitral system, because no one else has come up with a plausible incentive for people to join this organisation. The thing about press cards and about the use of PA and about VAT-all those seem to fall away, and we are left with the advantages that this arbitral system gives.
The question of whether that has enough legal force that judges are going to observe it is a question that highly-paid and experienced lawyers cannot agree on at the moment. Sir Anthony Lester, the QC who has written his own Bill that we published in The Guardian this morning believes that it does need some recognition/statute. The very eminent QC, David Pannick, was quoted at the time saying, "You could certainly do it without, but it would have more force if you had it with". I think that is a technical question and, of course, we are all waiting to see what Oliver Letwin’s answer is because if he thinks he has an answer that is completely plausible and completely Leveson-compliant, we do not need it. If Letwin cannot come up with that, then I suspect we are going to be back into the area of what is needed legally to make the arbitral system work.
Q94 Steve Rotheram: Is it not possible, therefore, that editors and proprietors could ignore the contractual obligations that they sign up for and withdraw from the regulatory body if they were displeased at that system; basically, he who pays the piper calls the tune?
Alan Rusbridger: I think there are two separate questions there. One is the question that Lord Hunt was talking about, which is that that is what voluntary contracts are supposed to do. They are supposed to tie you in at least for five years and make sure that you do pay the fines, observe the sanctions and so on and so forth. Lord Justice Leveson was sceptical about the long-term viability of that. He thought that contracts were unstable, not very endearing and a very complex way of doing it, but I think it is a partial answer, and you probably do need some kind of contract.
The second bit goes back to this arbitration system, and, for those of us who feel that the law of libel is the greatest inhibition on proper, decent reporting in the public interest, I greatly welcome this arbitration arm and, as framed by Leveson, you would have to be a bit mad not to be in it because by not being in it you would expose yourself to enormous costs and the potential of exemplary damages. Certainly you could stay outside it if you wanted to, but the moment you get hit by a privacy action or a libel action, you could really pay the price. I think it is a very clever way of constructing something that is voluntary, but you would have to be really perverse not to want to be in it.
Q95 Chair: Can I just pursue that point? You listened to David Hunt giving evidence just now, and Ben Bradshaw and I both pressed him on this question about some kind of recognition in perhaps the Defamation Bill, and he stood by his comment that he thought that would be extremely helpful. He is supposedly developing a model on behalf of the newspapers. If he thinks it is helpful and you clearly think it would be helpful, who is opposed to this? Is it still the case that the real hard-line tabloid end is just not willing to contemplate anything like that?
Alan Rusbridger: My position is neutral. I do not know. If the lawyers said, "Look, you can have all these advantages and all these potential penalties, but it is never going to stick unless it is in some way enshrined in law", then that would be a very powerful argument for me. If Oliver Letwin came back and said, "Look, I have this magic solution. It is a royal charter, except better", then I would listen to that too. I am being pragmatic and waiting to hear who says what on this highly technical point.
Q96 Chair: But we all know that lawyers are never going to agree about anything, so you will always have two opinions until it is tested in a court.
Alan Rusbridger: Yes. When we were in Downing Street, I said to Mr Letwin, "It is extremely helpful that you are thinking about this proposal. Is it possible to come up with some definitive Government advice?" He said he had the entire Government legal team working for him, so it would be good to have some definitive advice. But Anthony Lester has been in the forefront of protecting free speech in this country and is as leading a QC as I can think of defending newspapers for 40 or 50 years. His view is that you cannot do it without some kind of recognition. I would place a high value on his word, but I can only speak for myself. I think you are right that most of my colleagues would prefer the Letwin solution to come through and are very sceptical about any use of law.
Q97 Paul Farrelly: It will be interesting to see the Letwin solution because, Alan, you may be equally scared from another extreme in that a royal charter may not have any bite whatsoever. I can reveal to you now that Newcastle-under-Lyme, my constituency, was awarded a royal charter in 1173 and we have not noticed any special interference in our affairs because of it. It has never been removed, not even when Newcastle signed up to the Roundhead cause in the Civil War. So there we go on royal charters, of which we are very proud, of course. Thank you for being so patient. You must be our most frequent visitor now over the years.
Alan Rusbridger: More long-lasting than most of the Members, I think certainly.
Paul Farrelly: Indeed. You have described the meeting at No. 10. I am interested, to start with, in the meeting the following day at the Delaunay café where, courtesy of the newspapers, we have the menu and what it cost and, courtesy of The Guardian, the so-called Delaunay memo, which is posted on your website. It was a 40-point, side-by-side tick-list. Who drew up that memo? Who produced it for the meeting?
Alan Rusbridger: First of all, I should emphasise that I did not leak this memo, but sometimes The Guardian gets hold of things that I cannot stop the excellent media team from printing.
Paul Farrelly: If you could make it printable for us outside, it would be very helpful as well.
Alan Rusbridger: I will give you a copy later.
Paul Farrelly: I have noted it down.
Alan Rusbridger: I think this was drawn up by Peter Wright, the former editor of the Mail on Sunday. It was an attempt to categorise all the Leveson proposals and then to work out what an industry view of them might be. It was a discussion document that was presented at the beginning of the Delaunay breakfast meeting, but it was not the main framework for discussion. James Harding, the editor of The Times, who was chairing that meeting, just took the Leveson recommendations as printed here. The Peter Wright document may have assumed too much significance externally.
Q98 Paul Farrelly: Do you know who asked him to produce this document?
Alan Rusbridger: He has been doing the sort of public policy bit on behalf of Associated News, and I think it was just an exercise to try to work out what he thought of it in order for it to become a discussion document.
Q99 Paul Farrelly: There is a danger, would you agree, of it being mis-categorised, because the reference point of how many out of 40 is being used to show how compliant the press allegedly has been with those?
Alan Rusbridger: Yes, and I think there is a further complication. This is one of the problems of being asked to do all this at great speed. If you take the summary of recommendations in the Leveson report and use that as your reference point for the 40, quite often if you dig deeper into the document itself the summary of the recommendations is not necessarily the thing you would want to rely on. It has taken a bit of work to work out exactly what Leveson meant.
Q100 Paul Farrelly: Of course, this 40-point memo leaves to one side the things that the industry has rejected, such as statutory underpinning-Ofcom.
Alan Rusbridger: No, there are seven recommendations that are explicitly excluded.
Q101 Paul Farrelly: Seven. Yes, okay. It is not just a side-by-side analysis. I do not want to go through all of the points because you have referred to some outstanding points, and the five points that you outlined before. But if you just go to point number 3 in this memo, it is not just a side-by-side analysis. There is a position taken. If you take point 3 regarding the fundamental horse before the cart of the appointment panel, for example. The comment is on the industry side it is currently two/two and then the comment is made, "Only accept two lay, plus one person with industry expertise and one serving editor. Prefer unanimity".
Alan Rusbridger: Yes.
Q102 Paul Farrelly: That seems to be a point that the industry wishes to stick by and it is pretty fundamental.
Alan Rusbridger: To be fair to Peter Wright, I think this is a useful document, but it was drawn up in some haste after Leveson and before we met at Downing Street. I think any of us sitting in Downing Street and listening to the Prime Minister and Oliver Letwin, and saying that you had to adopt Leveson line-by-line would know that point 3 was not acceptable to Leveson. In the cross-examination of Lord Black on 9 July, Robert Jay teased out why not. He said this is essentially a press veto on the new chair. One of the reasons we wanted to meet as a group of editors, without Lord Hunt and without Black, last week was to try to set for them, if you like, their terms of reference so that Lord Hunt clearly understands when he is setting up his appointments board that it should be Leveson-compliant rather than industry-compliant or Hunt/Black-compliant.
Q103 Paul Farrelly: That fundamental starting point is not one of your five sticking points that you mentioned. What was the consensus at the meeting about how the chair and the board-
Alan Rusbridger: In last Wednesday’s meeting, point 3 was agreed. We agree with Leveson that the setting up of the appointments committee must be along Leveson lines, not on industry lines and not on Hunt/Black lines.
Q104 Paul Farrelly: With a substantial majority of outside members?
Alan Rusbridger: Yes.
Paul Farrelly: A substantial majority?
Alan Rusbridger: Yes, that is what Leveson says.
Paul Farrelly: Yes.
Alan Rusbridger: Yes.
Q105 Paul Farrelly: You have mentioned your five sticking points. Clearly, everyone will have their own opinion. People, heaven forbid, have been known to come away from meetings thinking, "Well, I thought we agreed that, but I wasn’t quite sure we agreed that". Is there a minute of this meeting?
Alan Rusbridger: I have a minute of the meeting, so there is a minute of the meeting.
Q106 Paul Farrelly: Is it an agreed minute among the editors?
Alan Rusbridger: It has not yet been circulated with the majority of the editors, so I do not think you could call it yet an agreement.
Q107 Paul Farrelly: But you have a copy and other editors do not.
Alan Rusbridger: I do not know who has a copy of it. The fact that James was chairing that meeting was at my suggestion and was floated in front of the Prime Minister and James agreed to that role so he, out of courtesy, sent me a copy of the minute, but I do not think it has been widely circulated.
Q108 Paul Farrelly: Among all the editors, when are you hoping to agree it, because it seems to me it is a fundamental platform for Lord Hunt to proceed from?
Alan Rusbridger: I gather there is another meeting of editors this week, but I have not been told the timing of it, and I do not know whether it is editors alone or whether it is editors and publishers. I assume that, before that meeting takes place, the minute of the meeting will be circulated.
Q109 Paul Farrelly: You would assume that the editors would have no problem with publishing it.
Alan Rusbridger: To my mind, minutes are minutes. Minutes describe what took place at a meeting. I do not think it is a very controversial minute. It is as I have described to you, which endorses 35 out of 40 clauses and sends five for discussion by the lawyers, and I have seen the minutes of the lawyers. Of course, it is open for the editors to come back and say, "Well, there are other things we now want put on the table", or, "I have had time to think about it", and then we would have another meeting to discuss that, and another set of minutes.
Q110 Paul Farrelly: Are you aware of anyone coming back and wanting to reopen discussion on important or fundamental points?
Alan Rusbridger: As I said, as you get into Leveson’s own summary of his recommendations, as the lawyers have burrowed into the actual text of the document itself, sometimes issues have emerged on which lawyers have come back and said, "You might want to check that your understanding of this clause is as reflected in Leveson". There is still some discussion going on, as far as I am aware.
Q111 Paul Farrelly: The Guardian reported the outcome of the meeting in the following way, "They agreed to wait and see what proposals No. 10’s fixer, the Cabinet Officer Minister Oliver Letwin, would offer in the coming days as an alternative". This was of the Wednesday meeting.
Alan Rusbridger: Yes. The Downing Street meeting was on the Tuesday. There was a sense of urgency at that Downing Street meeting, with Maria Miller wanting to know within 48 hours who was going to be speaking on behalf of the press. We met within 24 hours without Lords Hunt and Black and then we decided that Lord Hunt should take this forward. I think on their side Oliver Letwin said that he hoped to come back within two or three days with what he considered the solution to the statutory problem. Where are we now? We are Tuesday, are we not? It is a week. I would hope, if the same pace and urgency is required, that Downing Street will come forward with their suggestions because otherwise we are operating in the dark.
Q112 Paul Farrelly: Have there been any other meetings of editors that you know about since last Wednesday?
Alan Rusbridger: There was another meeting of some editors on Thursday. The Wednesday meeting was without Hunt and Black and then it was considered that we should sit down with Lord Hunt. There were about five editors there ready to talk him through what we had agreed, and say that we had agreed that we were going to be working to Leveson but, essentially, he should think of Leveson rather than Hunt/Black. That does not mean that there is nothing in Hunt/Black that is useful, but where there was tension between Leveson and Hunt/Black, Leveson is the track we are now on. We also wanted to discuss some of these things, such as clause 3; we said that David Hunt should not go ahead and start appointing shadow boards or two plus two plus one; that the process of how you selected the appointments panel and how you selected the trust were crucial matters.
Q113 Paul Farrelly: Who were the five, just for the record?
Alan Rusbridger: That was myself, James Harding who, again, chaired that meeting, John Witherow and Lionel Barber. Is that five? John Witherow and me-
Paul Farrelly: No, that is four.
Alan Rusbridger: John Witherow and myself, James Harding, John Witherow and Lionel Barber or have I double counted?
Paul Farrelly: That is four.
Chair: Yes, you have double counted, that is still four. So far you have come up with you, James Harding, John Witherow and Lionel Barber.
Alan Rusbridger: Yes.
Q114 Chair: That does not seem to me entirely representative of the press. You are talking four upmarket broadsheet editors, but actually the problem does not lie among those papers.
Alan Rusbridger: Yes. But no decisions were going to be taken at that meeting. It was to reflect back to Lord Hunt what we had decided because I felt, and I think many of us felt, that we just wanted to have a discussion with editors without the regulator in the room because I certainly had the feeling during the summer that there was a lack of clarity of the difference between Lord Black and Lord Hunt. There was a certain amount of very public lobbying going on through the free speech network. Things were happening so fast, with Lord Hunt announcing immediately after Leveson that he wanted to proceed and set up a kind of shadow board. I think we just needed to pause and say, "Well, hold on a minute, what is it that we are asking them to do? If, in our Wednesday meeting, we are totally agreed on the Leveson track, somebody needs to sit down with Hunt and explain what is in our interest".
Paul Farrelly: If you could let us have the other name.
Alan Rusbridger: I am sorry; whoever it is will be tremendously offended.
Q115 Paul Farrelly: The details are important. I am drawing to a conclusion now, Chair, you will glad to hear. Have there been any other meetings since that meeting, as far as you are aware, last Thursday?
Alan Rusbridger: Sorry, it was Paul Dacre.
Paul Farrelly: It was Paul Dacre. I did not want to put words in your mouth.
Alan Rusbridger: He really will be offended.
Chair: Yes, he will.
Paul Farrelly: Have there been any meetings since? We had invited other editors to come today, but there is a meeting this morning, for instance.
Alan Rusbridger: You are telling me there is a meeting this morning?
Paul Farrelly: That is the feedback from other invitations.
Alan Rusbridger: I do not know about that meeting.
Paul Farrelly: Are there any other meetings that you either attended or not attended that have happened to discuss this since last Thursday?
Alan Rusbridger: I have been to no other meetings, and I have heard of no other meetings. I am told there is another meeting this week, but I have not been invited to it yet.
Q116 Paul Farrelly: When we went through and examined how the Press Complaints Commission operated in reviewing the phone-hacking story, when it exonerated the News of the World and put the boot into The Guardian, you were then the only victim, as far as the press were concerned, of that affair because you resigned from the Code Committee that was and is chaired by Paul Dacre. If there has been one set fixture from Calcutt to Leveson at the PCC, it has been Mr Dacre. What role, if any, do you foresee for him within the new regulator that is being set up?
Alan Rusbridger: When I resigned from the Code Committee it had nothing to do with Paul Dacre and the way that he chaired it. I think he was an excellent chair of the Code Committee, and I think it is a good code. I wrote to him resigning, and in my letter to him I made it plain that I was not resigning because of anything that he had done. He is a man who cares deeply about press freedom and about the code. One of the things he is most concerned about is that the Code Committee should continue to have responsibility for the code. That is this question in clause 7. I have no problem with, indeed I would welcome Paul Dacre continuing to chair the Code Committee, but that is a separate question from the PCC, and my views about the PCC are well known to this Committee.
Paul Farrelly: You have not totally answered the question.
Alan Rusbridger: Sorry, what-
Q117 Paul Farrelly: In terms of your five points of disagreement, which is very final, who has responsibility for the code is, in essence, a red herring because the fundamental issue is whether the PCC is able and willing and has the powers to enforce the code. You would think, on all five counts you have mentioned there, that there can be some common-sense agreement, but do you get the sense from among any of your fellow editors that there are issues still outstanding that you are in agreement with and that they fundamentally are not, and that may prove an obstacle?
Alan Rusbridger: On the question the Chairman asked about the question of statute, as I said, I think I adopt a pragmatic position. I was against the involvement of Ofcom, but if, in order to make these carrot sticks work, it is the best legal opinion that you need some recognition/underpinning-and we would have to explore the difference between those two words-I think that is worth looking at. I do not think that is the position of many of my colleagues at the moment.
Paul Farrelly: Is that the only fundamental obstacle?
Alan Rusbridger: On the rest of these five areas, they felt there was further work to be done. I think the question of third parties can be sorted out. Pre-publication advice is a difficult one to sort out. The compliance issue is not a problem, I don’t think. The question about discriminatory reporting, in a sense, is in the code already and I think what some of my colleagues found difficult is this mention of equalities legislation. I do not imagine great difficulty over whether the code is the responsibility of or adopted by the- On the 40 Leveson principles I would anticipate that we will reach agreement.
Q118 Paul Farrelly: If you could talk to James and your fellow editors and you can send us the minutes when they are agreed, that would be very helpful.
Alan Rusbridger: That would be for James Harding. You should get in touch with him, the chair of that meeting.
Chair: We can ask James Harding.
Q119 Mr Sanders: Just a quick question from something you said earlier on in relation to Ofcom and the fact you had some reservations around that part of the Leveson recommendation. I wonder if you could let us know what those reservations are and if not Ofcom, who or what?
Alan Rusbridger: I suppose it is twofold. One is the principle; is this thing going to be voluntary or not voluntary? If you are saying it is voluntary but if you are not in then you have to be regulated by a much stricter regulator, is that truly voluntary or not? The second is whether Ofcom is the right body, because people have anxieties about its function. I think when Ofcom gave evidence to Leveson, they did not want to have this role and you could argue that it is too close. The chairman and the chief executive of Ofcom are appointed by the Culture Secretary. I share my colleagues’ anxieties that that seems too close to Government and it is not the best mechanism, from my point of view. I think, to be fair to Lord Leveson, he said, "You don’t have to have Ofcom, but if you are not going to have Ofcom, you have to come up with something that has the rigour and authority of Ofcom".
Q120 Chair: Yesterday we had the publication of the draft Bill by Harriet Harman, and I think you sort of splashed the paper on it.
Alan Rusbridger: Yes.
Chair: I just wondered what your views of that are and whether or not you think that it represents any possible way forward.
Alan Rusbridger: Yes. We published the Labour Bill yesterday and we have given a whole page to the Lester Bill today because I think it is important, even if these proposals are not proposals that newspapers agree with, that the public have an understanding of what the alternatives are. That is the spirit in which we publish them. What both Lester and Labour have in common is that they have proposed a senior judge as the figure who initially kite-marks these bodies. With Labour it is the Lord Chief Justice and with Lester it is the President of the Supreme Court acting in an administrative capacity, whatever that means.
Again, that makes me a bit nervous because it seems to bring the judiciary into play, but I have not discussed that with Lord Lester in detail. There are a couple of things that make me slightly nervous about the Labour plan. One is that it says that in order for the arbitral thing to work you have to sign up with-I think the phrase is-"substantially the totality of the press". Again, you are back into this question of how many have to be in before it works and what happens with the people who are not there. Then it has an enormous list of all the things that this body has to do that are essentially the minimum requirements in the schedule, which is all cut and pasted from Leveson.
Instinctively, that makes me worry because it is putting Leveson into law and, to those of us who worry about statute as some kind of slippery slope that could be amended in the future, there is an awful lot there that could be amended. I am more attracted to the Lester Bill because there is much less in it so there is much less to amend. He has not put any of Leveson in and, in his view, it would be a very difficult Bill to amend. You would need primary legislation. My anxiety about the Lester Bill is that he does not have any form of ongoing verification, apart from judicial review. I think that would make people ask whether we were going to get into years of judicially reviewing this body, which could be very expensive and brings the law back in through another door.
Q121 Tracey Crouch: Can I just ask a question that was briefly referred to earlier with Lord Hunt? Is any of this going to work while the internet is still unregulated?
Alan Rusbridger: Reading the 2,000 pages of Leveson, I think you can see some things that worried him but he just found too difficult. I have always said that plurality is a big question. Leveson deals with plurality in about five or six paragraphs because it is so complex and the question of the internet is another one that is probably too complex. I think we are going to end up with a three-streamed regulatory system. The broadcasters are going to be regulated by the BBC Trust or by Ofcom to have standards of impartiality. I think that is good. I think it is one of the things that makes living in Britain civilised. I would not want Fox News to be here.
We are going to have the press regulated under a different system, which is to do with standards and ethics but not to do with impartiality, and then you are going to have the internet. The fact that all three may be distributed on the web or through mobile devices should not confuse the different regulatory systems. It may be that there will be concerns about the internet and the way that it is regulated or the extent to which it is susceptible to law, but that was not Leveson’s task. I think the fact that newspapers are on the internet should not confuse the issue of how they should be regulated and whether they should be regulated in a different way from the internet.
Q122 Chair: Just on that, there was a suggestion not so long ago that The Guardian itself might become an online-distributed paper and stop being printed. Would that change anything?
Alan Rusbridger: We are online already, but-
Chair: You are, obviously, online already but you might stop being-
Alan Rusbridger: If The Guardian were ever to stop being printed, I do not think it should change it. I think there are-
Chair: But we would then, presumably, be abiding by the code on a purely voluntary basis.
Alan Rusbridger: As I am proposing, we would be anyway.
Chair: Under your proposal, but under Leveson, if you stopped printing then you would not be covered by Leveson.
Alan Rusbridger: I do not think he says that, does he?
Chair: He is rather unclear about that.
Alan Rusbridger: Yes. I think that is the beauty of this arbitral system. The arbitral system, if you were editing the Huffington Post or even Guido’s site, at some point they are all going to get sued, as Twitter has proved in the last couple of months. Even if you were an online-only publication, you might take the view-given that it’s about ethics and standards that we would hope to observe anyway-why not take advantage of this system that is going to give us great protection?
Steve Rotherham: Labour’s Bill includes the online news industry as well.
Q123 Paul Farrelly: I have not had the chance to digest Labour’s and Harriet Harman’s contribution to this with the draft Bill. I am sure, as everyone produces draft Bills, it can only add to the mix in discussion.
Alan Rusbridger: There is a Hacked Off Bill as well.
Paul Farrelly: But just on point 40 of what I call the Delaunay memo, scribbled on the back of a menu, it does address recognition and certification of the new regulator to be with a recognised body and then in the notes, Peter Wright says, "But not a body which the press have to hold accountable, for example Parliament over judiciary. Could be a panel headed by a very senior retired judge". If we were to move from active judiciary to passive judiciary, it is very hard to see what effect and bite a panel of retired judges would have, would you not agree, as a recognised body?
Alan Rusbridger: I am not sure I agree. This is basically where the press meets Letwin, and it is saying, "What body can we imagine that the courts would pay attention to and respect and consider had authority?" This is not the all-England tennis club or the Professional Footballers’ Association. In giving real advantages in terms of costs and damages, we have to be satisfied this is a body of proper standing. Whose word are they likely to respect? I think it is not inconceivable that you could think of a very senior retired judge who would have that kind of authority. Whether it meets the Lester test and that is going to work throughout the courts and be robust in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court is a matter of legal opinion.
Q124 Paul Farrelly: The question then is, is that panel set up by statute or not and does it become a gathering of retired judges?
Alan Rusbridger: That is the big question.
Q125 Paul Farrelly: I am sorry, the Daily Mail, when it is making its connections that it does, that if Lord Justice Leveson were in the running to be the Lord Chief Justice it could be him but, equally, it could be Lord Judge on a retired-
Alan Rusbridger: No, not if he is a retired judge.
Paul Farrelly: With retirements.
Alan Rusbridger: Yes, I think Lord Judge is there for another nine months or so, but if Lord Judge were available to be the chairman of such a body, he would command a lot of respect from the press and from the judges. That is why I think it is not the most stupid idea.
Q126 Chair: Lord Hunt suggested that we might have a role here.
Alan Rusbridger: Yes. I had not heard that before, but that seemed to be a sort of backstop to the backstop. Is that right?
Chair: I am not sure. I think, arguably, this Committee does represent a cross-section of MPs who take an interest in these things, and we would certainly think we might have a role.
Alan Rusbridger: Yes.
Chair: I think that is all. Thank you very much.
Alan Rusbridger: Thank you.