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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 8 19- i v
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
Culture, Media and Sport Committee
REGULATION OF THE PRESS
Tuesday 16 April 2013
RT hon maria miller mp and RT HON OLIVER LETWIN MP
RT HON Harriet Harman MP
Evidence heard in Public Questions 363 - 475
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee
on Tuesday 16 April 2013
Mr John Whittingdale (Chair)
Mr Ben Bradshaw
Mr John Leech
Mr Gerry Sutcliffe
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Rt Hon Maria Miller MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and Rt Hon Oliver Letwin, MP, Minister for Government Policy, gave evidence.
Q363 Chair: Good morning. This is a further session of the Committee’s consideration of the regulation of the press in the light of Lord Justice Leveson’s report. I would like to welcome the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Maria Miller and the Minister for Government Policy, Oliver Letwin. I believe, Secretary of State, you would like to just to say a few words at the start.
Maria Miller: Thank you very much, Mr Chairman. It is important to do that because the report by Lord Justice Leveson laid bare a system of press regulation that was broken and had let down victims badly. Throughout the 16 weeks of crossparty talks, the dreadful suffering of the Dowlers, the McCanns and others has never really been far from our minds.
The Royal Charter in front of you today, Mr Chairman, is the result of nearly four months of discussion with victims’ representatives, expert advice, discussion with the industry and negotiation between the three main political parties. This will mean a strong new system of self-regulation of the press with £1 million fines, prominent apologies, free access to arbitration and a tough Code. However, crucially, it is a system of voluntary self-regulation based upon incentivisation not compulsion.
The Prime Minister was clear from the start that the Conservative Party had serious concerns and misgivings about statutory regulation of the press. Our approach uses a Royal Charter rather than a new press law to underpin press self-regulation, an approach now fully supported by both Labour and the Liberal Democrats. From the start, the Government have been absolutely clear that we fully support the principles set out in Lord Justice Leveson’s report, but anybody who has taken the time to study the report in detail will know that there are areas of practical difficulty and none of the three main parties is now advocating wholesale implementation of this report.
Since the report was published on 29 November last year, our focus has not been whether there needs to be change, it is clear that the status quo is not an option, but rather we have been concerned on how best to achieve these principles of voluntary self-regulation using incentives, not compulsion, as recommended by Lord Justice Leveson, without compromising the vital role that a free and vigorous press has in our British democratic process.
Q364 Chair: Thank you. You say that the agreement that was achieved was fully supported by all the political parties, which was cause for some celebration on that particular day. It has now become apparent that it is fully opposed by the entire British newspaper industry. Are you still happy with the agreement that has been reached even though it is hard to find any newspaper at the moment that is saying that it is going to sign up to the regulatory body that is approved under the recognition process?
Maria Miller: Lord Justice Leveson, in his report, made it very clear that it is important that in the process that we follow we take both the public and the press with us because you cannot achieve self-regulation unless you do that. That is why it was important that the Minister for Public Policy and I did have discussions not only with victims’ representatives but also with the press industry itself. I do think that we made a great deal of progress in terms of the proposals that we have now and we are now pursuing in working with the press on some of the quite legitimate issues that they raised. Now it is for us to take forward the proposals that have been agreed by the main three parties. Particularly, our part in that is to make sure that the Charter can be used as a way of establishing the Recognition Panel and also taking forward those incentives through the legislative process that is happening now. That will provide important and very positive impetus for the industry to take part in this, and there is a benefit for them in doing that.
Q365 Chair: However, if we reach a position where you have an established Royal Charter, you have a recognition body that is there to approve a regulatory body-if a regulatory body seeks that approval-but actually what happens is that, for various different reasons, the various components of the newspaper industry decide they do not want to go down that route, will set up their own regulatory body and will not seek recognition, that is provided for; but are you content with that as an outcome?
Maria Miller: Mr Chairman, let us be clear here. The proposal we have set out, very consistent with the Leveson proposals, is that it is about choice and the industry is to make that choice. Leveson was not putting forward a system of compulsion to be part of a self-regulatory body. If the industry, or any part of that industry, makes the decision it does not want to be part of a new self-regulatory approach, presumably that is a decision they will have made based on the facts of the case. Maybe they feel that is right for them. Certainly for some publications they may make the decision that it is not a requirement, there is no need for them to be part of a new self-regulatory body. Choice is inherent in the system and that is really for the industry to make that choice.
Q366 Chair: Moreover, you did start off by saying that the status quo was not an option. If the outcome of this is that we have a regulatory body that is created by the press that is not Leveson-compliant and they do not seek approval under the recognition process, essentially is that not the same as we have had in the past?
Maria Miller: I, Mr Chairman, believe that the incentives to be part of the self-regulatory body are strong and compelling when you look at the opportunities that will be afforded to publications by being part of a self-regulatory body in terms of the costs provisions that we have made and, on the other side, the potential for exemplary damages if they are not part of this system. Mr Chairman, I am the optimist in this case. I think it really is an opportunity for the press to be able to be part of a new, strong, tough self-regulatory system and I have to say, in the discussions that I have had, I have seen a real desire for the press to be talking very positively about the things that they do and the very responsible attitude that the vast majority of publications take to the way they publish material that they have worked on.
Q367 Chair: However, you would accept that so far the reaction of the press, at almost every level, has been wholly negative? There is not much sign at the moment that they think these are very attractive incentives that will persuade them to join up.
Maria Miller: Look, obviously it is early days. We are still in the process of putting in place the incentives that we need. We believe that the approach that we have taken is strong. It is the right way forward. It is very much in the spirit of what Lord Justice Leveson is proposing and we do think that it will provide a material improvement in the self-regulation of this country. It is something that we are actively working on now and looking to implement. I do not know if the Minister for Government wanted to-
Mr Letwin: I agree with Maria on all of that. We are optimists.
Q368 Paul Farrelly: I want to concentrate on some of the more boring minutiae of where we go next, so we can be sure, as far as we can, that the fix does not go in right from the start and that the new system gets captured, as it has in the past, by the people that are supposed to be regulating it. Can I just pick up on the sticks, carrots, incentives that you were talking about, Secretary of State? The newspapers have been very active in circulating and touting, as it were, an opinion by three eminent QCs with respect to the alleged incompatibility of exemplary damages with Article 10 of the European Convention. Equally we have heard from another eminent QC, Hugh Tomlinson, who chairs Hacked Off, that these other three eminent QCs are plainly wrong. Where do you stand on that? Have you taken an opinion on this from leading counsel? Are you quite sure that it is compatible and can certify that it is compatible with Article 10?
Maria Miller: Yes. Obviously it is an important issue for us to look at and we have looked at it a great deal. I am aware of the difference of opinion that you have described. We are absolutely clear that what has been put forward here is not only good in terms of the improvement of the regulation that is available in Britain but is also absolutely compliant with all the necessary legislation.
Q369 Paul Farrelly: So you believe it is legally watertight and three eminent QCs are, to quote Hugh Tomlinson, plainly wrong?
Maria Miller: I believe absolutely that this is going to be something we will be happy to see put in place in terms of the approach that we want to take to press regulation in this country, but also that it is absolutely right in terms of European law as well.
Q370 Paul Farrelly: Mr Letwin, I detected a flicker of a smile when I asked that question. Are you also absolutely sure that what is being proposed in terms of the incentives is compatible with Article 10 of the Convention?
Mr Letwin: Yes; I was only smiling at the thought that somehow we would have ventured into this without seeking legal advice. We did seek legal advice not only from within the Government but from counsel and we are very confident.
Q371 Paul Farrelly: Will you publish that?
Mr Letwin: It is not the practice of the Government to publish its legal advice but we are very confident.
Q372 Paul Farrelly: Can I just come to the minutiae of going forward? The Charter is going to be presented to the Privy Council in May, I understand. When, Mr Letwin, do you expect it to be signed, sealed and delivered so that we can go forward?
Mr Letwin: We hope that the sealing will be as soon as possible. Her Majesty is in charge of this, not us, although we are progressing this at a rapid rate. Of course, the sealing of the Charter is not the end of the process because what then needs to happen is that Sir David Normington needs to conduct the process-
Q373 Paul Farrelly: I am coming on to that exactly, but the Charter should be in place by when?
Mr Letwin: As soon as we can get it in place, starting that process in May.
Q374 Paul Farrelly: Whitsun?
Mr Letwin: I do not want to offer you some promise about something that is not under our total control, but soon.
Q375 Paul Farrelly: June?
Mr Letwin: Soon.
Q376 Paul Farrelly: July-ish?
Mr Letwin: Soon.
Q377 Paul Farrelly: Let us assume it is in place before the summer. We then move to the appointments body in schedule 1 that sets up the Recognition Panel. The Commissioner for Public Appointments will appoint that Appointments Committee of four. How is he going to do that to make sure that everyone is confident that that is open and transparent?
Maria Miller: He will do that in the normal way that he goes about his duties. Just to give insight to the Committee into the work we have been doing over the last four months, this has been a point that the Minister for Public Policy and I have been working on in great detail, and we looked at very many different ways we could tackle this issue. However, clearly at the heart of what we are trying to achieve here is an independent body that has robust and appropriate people who are going to be party to it. We have been very grateful to Mr Normington for all the work that he will be doing to help us in this.
Q378 Paul Farrelly: The chair of that body will be a public appointment successor. Could you explain that for the public?
Maria Miller: This will be somebody who will go through the normal processes to become an individual who is able then to appoint the board of the Recognition Panel.
Q379 Paul Farrelly: What happens if this body of four is two in favour and two against a particular person being appointed? How is it going to operate?
Maria Miller: Okay. It is really important for the Committee to know that this is not something that the Government feels it is going to be particularly involved in. It is important that this process take place in the normal way and be very independent; hence the structure we have set up.
Q380 Paul Farrelly: Clearly this is about who chooses the guardians who guard the guardians. It is very important that people have confidence in that from the outset. Have you had meetings or are meetings planned with Sir David Normington to impress on him, if he needs impressing, the importance of balance and demonstrable independence?
Maria Miller: This is set out already in the documentation. It is not for Government Ministers to have those meetings. It is for the terms of the membership to be adhered to, which are already set out in the documentation.
Q381 Paul Farrelly: That was not my question. This places a great deal of power in one person’s hand at the start of the process. Are you having meetings with Sir David Normington to chart the way forward?
Maria Miller: No, I think it is important that this be done through very much an arm’s length process from Government. Obviously there will be the usual discussions through officials in terms of the procedures that are set out already in clear black and white within the Charter document. That will be the normal way to proceed.
Q382 Paul Farrelly: When do you envisage this appointment panel being in place?
Maria Miller: It is important that there is momentum behind this. We have had four months of intense and detailed discussion and I am very grateful to, particularly, my officials in my Department for the expertise that they have brought to this process and the incredible amount of time that has been put into this.
Q383 Paul Farrelly: When would you like this appointment panel to be in place?
Maria Miller: I would like it to happen as soon as possible.
Q384 Paul Farrelly: What does that mean?
Maria Miller: That means as soon as we have the Charter in place and, as Mr Letwin has already said, that is something that is slightly beyond our control. I would see it as happening as we move into the summer.
Q385 Paul Farrelly: Then we have the appointments, their appointment of the Recognition Panel. The first appointment is the chair and then the Charter says that the remaining appointments, between four and eight people, will be made by the Appointments Panel acting together with the chair. What does that mean? Does the chair have a veto?
Mr Letwin: No, it means the chair will be part of the body, the committee if you like, that makes the appointments.
Q386 Paul Farrelly: So it will be an appointment panel of five, then-with the chair, effectively-but with no one having a veto? That is how you would envisage it?
Mr Letwin: Yes. It is as set out in the Charter. I think it important to stress this is not a matter that even the Secretary of State, let alone any of the rest of us, is in a position to make decisions about in some arbitrary fashion. It is laid out very specifically in the Charter and the process, as laid out in the Charter, has to be followed.
Q387 Paul Farrelly: Acting together is not specified but you have been clearer than the Charter is on what acting together means.
Mr Letwin: Well, I-
Paul Farrelly: So, thank you very much.
Maria Miller: Sir David Normington will provide the guidance on that.
Q388 Paul Farrelly: My final question goes back to the key question that John was asking. Within a year, this recognition body has to report on its activities. What do you do, what do we do, if it has nothing to report in terms of any recognition or applications it has received?
Maria Miller: The work that has been done since 29 November will mean that there is absolutely a very strong reason why the press in this country would want to take part in this new system of self-regulation. There are clear incentives to take part and there are clear disincentives for not taking part. That is the premise that Lord Justice Leveson set out in his report. That is what we followed and we believe very strongly that the system that we have discussed in Parliament now on a number of occasions will provide absolutely the right basis for us to move forward. So, I have to say we are convinced that this is the right way forward and that the press will want to take part, and that is important.
Q389 Paul Farrelly: In terms of those incentives, do you think there is a danger for the press that if they do not play ball and co-operate and set up something that the public has confidence in from the start-that the more they drag their feet and play for time, and the closer we get to the phone hacking trials and the point when they are reportable-the scale of criminality that may be revealed might lead to such public revulsion that there will be a clamour for something stronger? Do you feel that that is an incentive for the press to move quickly?
Maria Miller: The incentive is clearly laid out on an economic level, in terms of exemplary damages, and the positive side, in terms of cost savings. Also, as I say, in all of my conversations what I have found is the vast majority of the press of this country are doing a good job at setting things out, whether it is scrutiny of the work that we do in this place or what is going on in the world today. We should focus on the fact that the vast majority of the industry is in that place, they do want to have the right regulation in place and they do enjoy the confidence not only of the people who read their publications, but also the broader public.
Q390 Chair: Just on a very specific point in relation to Paul Farrelly’s question, it had been suggested that the Commissioner for Public Appointments would assist in the appointments process and that that might involve some public expenditure. However, it has been reported that that offer has been withdrawn.
Mr Letwin: Do you mean of the regulator?
Chair: I mean of the regulator, yes.
Mr Letwin: Yes. At a certain stage, as we went through the processes of developing the Charter, the proposals that were then being made about how the appointment to the Charter board itself were different from those that are finally in the Charter and did not involve the Commissioner for Public Appointments being the prime source of the appointments to the recognition body. As you see before you now, the Charter does involve the Commissioner for Public Appointments fulfilling that role, as we discussed. Once we came to think about the situation in which that was the new position of the Charter, it seemed to us, on advice from officials, that it could be thought to constitute some kind of conflict of interest if he was also involved in the appointment of the board of a regulator or the regulator, depending on how many regulators the press set up. Therefore, we suggested to Lord Phillips and Lord Hunt that it would not be appropriate to have the Commissioner for Public Appointments acting with them.
Q391 Chair: Surely he would not have been making the appointments. He would have just been giving advice and lending his support.
Mr Letwin: That is perfectly true and it is a balance of judgment but the judgment was, to go the last mile to avoid the slightest suggestion of any conflict of interest between these two roles, that it would be more convenient and proper that Sir David Normington’s role should be restricted to dealing with the recognition body.
Q392 Chair: Do you not think there will be greater public confidence if he was involved than if he is not involved?
Mr Letwin: I do not know, Chairman. All I can tell you is that my experience over three or four months is that the level of attention that is paid to potential conflicts of interest in this scene is very great and we were determined to avoid any suspicion whatsoever.
Q393 Mr Leech: Secretary of State, is there a danger that this could turn into a bit of a game of poker whereby the Government is saying there are all these incentives for the newspapers to sign up to but then on the other side the newspapers are taking the view that if we just refuse to sign up, then nothing is going to happen? Is it not important, from the Government’s perspective, that the newspapers know that ultimately the Government holds all the aces and that if, ultimately, the newspapers do not sign up-they have to know that the alternative would be worse for the newspapers?
Maria Miller: Look, let us be clear. The newspapers are already subject to self-regulation and it is pretty well accepted that the current system has not worked well and that there is a general acceptance in the industry that something new should be put in place; hence the work that has been done by Lord Hunt already. This is not something where there is a complete resistance to change. I would suggest the opposite. The system that has been set out by Lord Justice Leveson is not one of compulsion; it is one of incentives. That is absolutely at the heart of what he proposed; self-regulation with a series of incentives that would create the momentum for people to join. The only difference, and I am sure we will come on to this in our discussions, between Lord Justice Leveson and the Conservative Party and, particularly, the Prime Minister, is exactly how you underpin that. The cross-party support that we now have for a charter approach shows that that can be achieved without statutory regulation.
Q394 Mr Leech: I think the incentives are perfectly reasonable for the newspaper to sign up, but if they do not see those incentives as being good enough for them to decide to sign up, are you suggesting that they may need additional incentives or additional sticks?
Maria Miller: Mr Leech, newspapers are already subject to a code that they believe is useful and good. That is really, to a great extent, at the heart of what the new self-regulatory system is about. It is also about having access to a new arbitral arm, which can be incredibly helpful not only to individuals who may feel that they are subject to issues around the way they have been reported in the press, but also quite important for the press themselves in trying to keep control of some of the legal costs that can be associated with these cases. You should be looking at the positive reasons why the press should want to be involved but, equally, respect that there may be some publications that simply do not believe that this is right for them for whatever reason. Particularly some smaller publications have made very public the fact that they do not believe that they want to be part of this and maybe they have made a balanced judgment that it is not something that they require because of the nature of the publication that they run. That is another area of discussion that is being had around the Charter approach and around our approach to exemplary damages and costs.
Q395 Mr Leech: Moreover, if all the publications take that view, we will be left with a situation where nothing happens.
Maria Miller: I do not believe that they will take that view and that is the reason why it has been important not to develop this approach in blessed isolation from the people who are going to be setting up the self-regulation itself. I do not for a moment say this is an easy thing for the industry to do. It is a very disparate industry. There are very many different sorts of organisations and it is a challenging task, although I believe that what we have set out is a fairer approach and something that, given the conversations that we have had, the industry will want to carefully consider.
Q396 Philip Davies: It seems to me we are into a farce really, this situation. It is like a comedy show to be perfectly honest. You have set up this system and nobody is signing up to it and you seem to be in denial about the fact that nobody is signing up to it. However, the question that I think John Leech was trying to get to, which I do not think we quite got a satisfactory answer to-and just a clear yes or no would probably help us all here-is that if the newspapers failed to sign up, are you suggesting that this is the end of the process whether they sign up or not; or if they do not sign up, are you going to come back with some different solutions or different proposals? Just a "Yes, we are going to do something else" or, "No, we are not" will probably help us.
Maria Miller: I will just make two points and Mr Letwin wants to say something else. Just to be clear, we have not yet set this up. To say that people have decided not to participate is a little premature. We are in the process of putting in place the Charter and also the proper legislative processes. However, Mr Davies, I would say to you, we do not believe that it is right to have a compulsory statutory regulation of the press. That is simply not the approach that we want to take. We have taken an approach of self-regulation exactly set out as the premise on which Lord Justice Leveson has set out his report, and we believe because of the work we have done with the industry, taking the industry with us on this, that this will be the appropriate way forward.
Q397 Philip Davies: By the way, may I also refer people to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests? I should make sure I do that, too. However, can we just have a bit of clarity? I hear all the what you might call guff and spin and line to take, but you must have thought to yourselves at some point, "What do we do if nobody signs up to this?" Was there a contingency plan in place to say, "What do we do if nobody signs up?" Did you go through that thought process?
Mr Letwin: It does not seem to me in any way sensible to approach a very complicated and difficult issue by working out first what will happen if what you hope, intend and expect to happen does not happen. You have to start by trying to make it happen.
Q398 Philip Davies: So you never gave any thought to what might happen if nobody signed up?
Mr Letwin: We have yet to have Parliament legislate. Parliament has not yet finally legislated to create the incentives. We have yet to establish the Royal Charter through its seal. We have yet to have Sir David Normington and his colleagues appoint a Recognition Panel. No doubt, from the point of view of the press, all of those three elements are very important. They will need to see exactly how Parliament legislates in the end. They will need to see that the body has been established, the Recognition Panel, and they will need to see who has been put on it because no doubt that will be of some importance to them in considering whether they wish to join up.
The incentives that are provided here are not minor incidental incentives, particularly from the point of view of those parts of the press that have most often been in the courts. They are very powerful incentives both on the exemplary damages and on the costs front. They have been designed that way. Neither the Committee nor we are yet in a position to judge how the press will respond to those very powerful incentives in the light of the structure and the people who are manning the structure. There is some considerable time to go. The exemplary damages clause, for example, does not clock in until a year after the Recognition Panel has been established.
So there is time here for mature reflection and it would be neither appropriate nor sensible for us to leap ahead and make a hypothetical assumption that they are not going to sign up to something we profoundly hope and expect that they will sign up to.
Q399 Philip Davies: It is not entirely hypothetical, is it?
Mr Letwin: Yes, it is.
Q400 Philip Davies: It seems to be a very distinct prospect at the moment. It seems to me to be a bit of a dereliction of your duty not to think through the consequences of people not signing up to something. In industry, if somebody showed that lack of planning foresight, I do not think it would be particularly encouraged, would it?
Mr Letwin: We disagree with you. We think it is entirely hypothetical. We are, as I put it earlier, optimists about the press, by and large, one way and another, coming forward, setting up a regulatory body, which they have put an enormous amount of effort into already, and seeking recognition.
Q401 Philip Davies: How likely do you think this was to happen? What I am getting at is, were you so keen on the night of these fraught discussions to get Hacked Off to sign up to it that you lost sight of the fact that you might need the press to sign up to it too?
Mr Letwin: No, on the contrary. Perhaps it would help if I were to explain that throughout this process there have been all sorts of people who have complained vigorously that the Secretary of State and I spent an enormous amount of time both directly and with our officials talking to the press, collectively through their representatives and bilaterally and multilaterally. We were accused of various terrible malfeasances as a result of our intensive discussions with the press. Why did we have those discussions with the press? Precisely because we wanted to set up a system under which it would be possible for the press to seek recognition but that at the same time achieves the thrust of what Lord Justice Leveson was trying to achieve. That was the balance that we sought to strike.
It was for that reason that we put forward the idea of a charter at a time when, if you recall at the beginning of this process, it was regarded as fanciful. We were told that the only thing that could possibly happen was a full regulatory solution by legislation. We put forward the Charter as an alternative to make it easier for the press to move forward by making it clear that we were not crossing what the Prime Minister described as the Rubicon of full legislative solutions.
We then stuck to that view throughout, so much that we arrived at a position where the other parties were initially not willing to sign on to the version of the Charter we put forward. That is why the Prime Minster broke off the discussions and insisted that the other parties come forward with their version of the Charter if they wanted to have something that we could discuss. They did. It was not very different from ours. We then put forward a revision that was, roughly speaking, midway between our version of our Charter and their version of our Charter. It is indeed that very version that was put forward at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon on the Sunday-not in the early hours-and nothing whatsoever to do with Hacked Off, that you see before you here. There were no material changes in the Charter after that day.
Q402 Philip Davies: Just a final two areas that might encourage the press to sign up. One is about whether or not the arbitrary arm should be empowered to award costs against people who bring forward vexatious complaints. That was something Lord Leveson raised in his report and may provide some kind of a safeguard for certainly the local and regional press. Why does that appear to have been removed from the verification criteria in the Royal Charter?
Maria Miller: You are right that the issue of costs is very important and it is a very important part of the incentives for people to be part of the new self-regulatory system. Within the arbitral arm, obviously the detail of that and how that is going to operate is going to be for the press to determine. That will be part of their self-regulatory process but within the recognition criteria, within the part of the Charter that deals with this there are some important things set out.
First, this will be free for individuals to access. That is a material thing the Committee should recognise: this will enable people who have absolutely undeniable problems to take them forward, without some of the concerns they may have at the moment around the cost of doing that; but equally, the self-regulatory body would be able to ensure that those cases were not frivolous or vexatious.
That will address the issue that you are raising, which is how we make sure that that arbitral arm and that access to justice works as an incentive for the press but also a benefit for the people who may be trying to access justice.
Q403 Philip Davies: The second one is the Editors’ Code. Would you accept the premise that lots of people have-and I think Lord Leveson suggested as well-that there is nothing wrong, per se, with the Editors’ Code; it is the enforcement of the Editors’ Code that is the problem. Is that something under the current regime-would you agree with that analysis?
Maria Miller: Yes. It is something we have looked at in great detail and the starting point here will be the existing Editors’ Code because, as you rightly say, this is not something that people have felt has been at issue but certainly we would also look to the self-regulatory body to have a way of keeping that relevant and up to date, and the Charter does set out quite specifically issues as to how that might happen.
Q404 Philip Davies: If you are pleased with the current Editors’ Code, the Code Committee has a majority of editors on the Committee and you are happy with the Code-you have just said so-why is it so important, under the new system, that the Code Committee have a minority of editors on it?
Maria Miller: I understand the point you are making. This is clearly an issue that is very important to the industry and it is important that they know that whatever is going to be done in the future is going to be done professionally and with an understanding of their industry. However, equally, and this is a question of balance, Mr Chairman, throughout, we have been trying to balance the calls from Lord Justice Leveson for independence and making sure that the Code in the future will be developed in a way that is open and transparent, with the need to have professional input to that as well. I think if the Committee looks at the detail of how that is set out in the Charter, you can see how we are trying to strike the balance of having professional input but also the independent oversight of the self-recognition board as well.
Mr Letwin: Can I just add two points? First in relation to your first issue, if you look at paragraph 22 of the Charter, subsection F, you will see it is stated quite specifically that in relation to the arbitral arm of the regulator, in order to qualify for recognition, the board has to ensure that the parties should each bear their own costs. So it is not the case that the arbitral arm being free, which it is in the sense that you do not have to pay a fee to seek arbitration, means that the person seeking arbitration does not have to bear his own costs. He does specifically have to bear his own costs in order for this to be a recognised regulator.
There is also provision under the circumstances, but only under the circumstances, where the claim is successful that the costs should then be remunerated, which is as you would expect. However, there is in that a very specific disincentive for anybody who has a frivolous or vexatious claim to come forward because although they do not pay a fee, they are subject to paying their own costs, which may be very considerable.
We had prolonged discussions with both the national and the regional newspapers about this. The regional newspapers were, as the Committee may be aware, particularly concerned about the costs of arbitration and the possibility of vexatious claims or claims farmers or any other thing that could lead to additional costs being imposed on them when they so often at the moment deal with complaints out of court and without any need for arbitration. We have specifically designed this in a way to make it extraordinarily unlikely that people will bring vexatious and frivolous claims.
Turning to the other point that you raised with the Secretary of State, the Editors’ Code was probably the single topic, I think it would be fair to say, that we most discussed with the press in the sense not of the Code itself, which was accepted I think by all parties from the beginning to the end as a reasonable starting point as it stands today. I do not think anybody has raised major objections to the Code as it stands. The question has all been about its enforcement and not about what is in it.
What was of great concern to the industry very understandably and this, I think, does reach to the heart of free speech, was that the Code should not be put in the hands of a subset of people who are not in the press. It should not be decided by some other group of people. They accepted at a fairly early stage the change to the existing Editors’ Code was something that the board of the regulator could be empowered to veto. So they accepted the system would only work properly if the industry could not just disassemble the existing Code once the enforcement became serious.
By the same token they were absolutely determined, very understandably, we thought rightly, that nobody else should be able to have the initiative to change the Code over the heads of the press. That is fully recognised in paragraph 7. Although you rightly say that only a third under this arrangement of the members of the Code Committee-and the paragraph specifically says that the Standards Code is the responsibility of the Code Committee, so although its change is subject to veto, it is the responsibility of the Code Committee to put forward any change, although only a third of the members of that Code Committee are editors; another third are journalists. So, two thirds of the Committee come from the industry. It is, therefore, a Code Committee that is dominated by the industry and, therefore, it is only on the initiative of the industry itself that change can be made to the existing Code under these recognition criteria. From our point of view, that is a very important point, which, if you are later interviewing Harriet Harman and others, I think you will find they will echo; that we had prolonged discussions with the other parties about this and we on our side were very keen throughout to make sure that the responsibility for initiating any change should rest with the press, as a matter of maintaining free speech through having a code that recognised the ability of the press to engage in free speech, although also setting appropriate limits to that.
Q405 Conor Burns: I am very interested to find out a bit more about that now infamous evening. Would you like to tell us a little bit about it?
Mr Letwin: May I step back into the earlier period because I think there has been a considerable amount of misunderstanding about what occurred at which times of day? Let me step back to the Thursday because that is where this process really all began. Up until the Thursday, we had been putting forward this, you are all very well aware, charter solution. No other party had, at that stage, signed on to that although they were willing to discuss it. There were also concurrently drafts of various legislative solutions and we were surrounded by amendments to various Bills that proposed various kinds of legislative solutions; Lord Puttnam’s amendments, among them, but also there were others that were floating around.
We were extremely keen to ensure that if we moved forward at all, we moved forward on the basis of a charter solution. We had the strong feeling that the only way we could crystallise the debate, get to a solution that involved the Charter and stop this endless process of seeking to amend Bills and produce legislative solutions was to stop the discussion, publish our Charter, publish the surrounding documents that would go with our Charter and ask the other parties to make a final decision either to sign on to the Charter approach or not. That is what the Prime Minister did on the Thursday, if I recall the day correctly.
That was intended to evoke a response from the other two parties and the response duly came. They published, I think it was on the Friday, a charter in response, which was not very different. There were some differences, I think altogether four, but not very many. So, the intention of the Prime Minister on the Thursday was fulfilled by the response on the Friday; namely to crystallise an agreement that effectively we could proceed with the Charter because now we had our version of the Charter and their version of the Charter rather than just us with the Charter and them with lots of legislative proposals and, indeed, a close approximation to the very Charter we had put forward, although not an exact copy.
We spent some time analysing that on Saturday and I spoke to the Prime Minister at-I can tell you the time-3pm on the Saturday following that analysis. He then had various discussions, not least with the Secretary of State, and at 3pm on the Sunday, the afternoon of the Sunday, not at night, the Prime Minister and I met with the Deputy Prime Minister. We put to the Deputy Prime Minister a proposal about the Charter and you can tell what proposal we put because it is the Charter you have before you. That is literally what we proposed to the Deputy Prime Minister at that time.
From that point onwards, there was no further substantive discussion about the terms of the Charter. We merely waited for a response from the other two parties to that proposed Charter. Let me just consult the record for a second. At around 6pm, I met with the Deputy Prime Minister again, if I recall correctly, in his office. The issue that he raised as a result of the discussions that he had had between 3pm and 6pm with the Leader of the Opposition-and, for all I know, although I would not like to speculate exactly, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and others in the Opposition team-he reported that although there did not seem to be a problem about our proposed Charter, there was an issue about the costs clauses. The proposal that he put was that the costs clauses should be made more directly symmetrical in line with what we had already proposed about the exemplary damages. You will see before you that proposal because it is the one we then brought to Parliament, namely that, as the Committee will be well aware, the costs proposal is now entirely symmetrical. You are either in a hugely favourable position if you are in a recognised regulator, from the point of view of costs, and you are a newspaper, or in a hugely unfavourable position if you are not in a recognised regulator and you will face court action.
We were very willing to accept that. It comes back to our earlier discussion. It made the incentives to join the recognition process for your regulator stronger. So we signalled at, I think, around 6.50pm that we would be very happy to entertain that possibility. Thereafter, the Deputy Prime Minister went back to talk to the Leader of the Opposition on that basis. So, with our proposed Charter, and with our acceptance of revision to our costs clause, we awaited a further response.
Late in the evening, at around 10.45pm, the Deputy Prime Minister called me to ask whether I would come over because he felt, following discussions between him and the Leader of the Opposition, officials and Hacked Off, whom the Opposition had asked to join them, that he and the Leader of the Opposition were in a position to give us a response. I went over and they gave us a response that broadly accepted our Charter, as proposed at 3pm, which was a revision of their version of our version of our Charter, and the costs clause as we had proposed at 6pm, the exemplary damages clause that we had proposed and the "prevention of change of charter" clause in the Crown and Courts Bill that we had also proposed. So, the response, in short, at that stage, was that the things that we had put forward at an earlier hour were broadly acceptable.
Now, it was not possible for me at that stage-I was not authorised-to make any agreement and the Deputy Prime Minister, after that response had been given, left. So it was not possible for him to make any agreement. Moreover, what was agreed was that we would seek to put forward a heads of terms that encapsulated this position and circulate it to all three party leaders so that it could be agreed the following day, which was just in time because the intention was to have parliamentary debate in the afternoon of the Monday.
There then continued a number of discussions about a number of points in the light of that heads of terms on the Monday. One of them, in particular, concerned the meaning of the phrase, "Manifest irrationality" in the exemplary damages clause, which the Leader of the Opposition rang me about in the course of the Monday morning. I would be delighted to explain that further if the Committee wants, but the point I am making is we had not reached an agreement at that stage. An agreement in the form of a signed heads of terms, interestingly-I do not know if this had previously been understood-was not in fact reached until very shortly before, a few minutes before, the Prime Minister made his statement.
The process is one that began, if you like, on the Thursday, and stretched through to the Sunday afternoon. On the Sunday afternoon we made some proposals. Those were broadly accepted. They were documented in a heads of terms. The heads of terms were finally agreed on the Monday just before the debate. That is the process.
Q406 Conor Burns: That was a wonderfully comprehensive answer. I almost feel I just lived it with you.
Mr Letwin: I still feel that way.
Conor Burns: You have answered in that very comprehensive answer several of the supplementaries that I had, which is excellent, but you have raised a few more of mine as well. The last time you mentioned was 10.45pm. You have that wonderful log there. I imagine you were probably anticipating this line of questioning. What time did you arrive at Ed Miliband’s office?
Mr Letwin: I arrived apparently at 11.30pm.
Q407 Conor Burns: 11.30pm. What time did you leave?
Mr Letwin: Just to keep going for a moment, the Deputy Prime Minister, having joined the Leader of the Opposition in explaining to me where they were, left at 11.50pm. At 12 o’clock, the Prime Minister was updated by his Private Secretary, who was with me, as were other officials. I then spoke to the Prime Minister just after midnight and Hacked Off left the Leader of the Opposition’s office somewhere between 1am and 1.30am, I believe. You can ask them exactly. After 1.30am, after they had left, we began discussing the draft heads of terms and the parliamentary handling that might ensue. I had a further conference call at 2.45am with No. 10. The Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff then was in contact with him at 3.20am to relay where we had got to. I left officials, shamefully, to complete the typographical aspects of the presentation of the heads of terms after 3.20am and at 6.00am, the Prime Minster chaired a conference call with the Secretary of State and myself to consider what had then been circulated as heads of terms.
Q408 Conor Burns: You said to my colleague earlier that his assumption that people were not going to sign up-it was not sensible to discuss these difficult and sensitive issues in this way. Do you think it was sensible to be discussing these difficult and sensitive issues at 3 o’clock in the morning?
Mr Letwin: We were not, in the sense that the proposal-
Q409 Conor Burns: You were up but not discussing them?
Mr Letwin: In a sense, because the proposal that we had put was one that the Prime Minister and I and the Secretary of State had extensively discussed over the Saturday and the Sunday, and we put it at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, as I mentioned to you, in full daylight. The further proposal, the substantive issue, was about the costs clause. That we proposed at between 6pm and 6.50pm-again, not quite so early in the afternoon but nevertheless in full daylight. The reason for the delay was that we were awaiting a response. There was no major negotiation that went on-I am sorry to disabuse you of this glorious mythology-in the course of the early hours. What did happen was we documented a heads of terms that reflected what we had put forward at 3pm and at 6pm. It is often the case that if you are trying to get to the next day, you have to do that late in the evening-I have been present at many commercial documentations of that kind-although the negotiation was complete, effectively, by 6pm.
Maria Miller: Just to underline, this is difficult and it is complicated. It is a coalition situation and we had an imperative to get this sorted by the Monday. So, the period of consideration that happened on Sunday evening was something that was important for Labour and the Liberal Party but it was equally important that we brought this to a head. I think we got a resolution and we are now in a good position as a result of that.
Q410 Conor Burns: Can I just now take you back to the beginning? Were you aware before going into this meeting in Mr Miliband’s office that Hacked Off were represented there?
Mr Letwin: No, but I have to say that-how can I put this delicately?-throughout the three-party negotiations, which as the Secretary of State has said were prolonged-prolonged, courteous and constructive I may say-I had very strongly the sense that the Labour Party was acting very much in concert with Hacked Off and that they were unwilling to move in most directions without consulting Hacked Off. So, although I did not know that Hacked Off were there, it did not, in any way, surprise me because we had been clear throughout that they were very much consulting Hacked Off.
Q411 Conor Burns: The biggest criticism that Hacked Off made, Mr Cathcart in particular, when he gave evidence before us, was that you did not give them any of your pizza. Is there anything else other than slices of pizza that they wanted that evening that they did not get that evening?
Mr Letwin: The issues that they raised were naturally issues about the Charter. There were some technical issues on one side of the Charter that the Secretary of State can talk about, which were discussed, that were not the Charter or the clauses. Therefore it was not a question of having to give or not give. I keep on stressing, the position that we had arrived at was essentially negotiated by 6pm, or very shortly thereafter, with the sole exception that we had not received a response of an acceptance of the position we had agreed to at 3pm and 6pm.
Q412 Conor Burns: The final thing I want to touch on is this concept of statutory underpinning, statutory regulation. Again, Mr Cathcart of Hacked Off, when he was before us recently, danced around elegantly to avoid confirming that he believed it is statutory underpinning. The Secretary of State said to the House of Commons the morning after the Miliband meeting, "Our proposals are not statutory underpinning", yet, Minister, you referred earlier to, "It will all depend on how Parliament legislates". Did you get governmental legal advice on whether this Charter and this statute, DAB or otherwise, that will attach to it, effectively does mean statutory underpinning?
Mr Letwin: I do not think it does mean statutory underpinning at all but it entirely depends on what you mean by statutory underpinning and why you are worried about whether something is statutory underpinning. It is not a legal question; it is a moral, political and constitutional question.
Let me just explain, if I may for a minute, why we paid so much attention to this.
Chair: Perhaps half a minute.
Mr Letwin: Okay, I will try to be brief. The press has been subject to the law in all sorts of respects for many, many years, criminal law and civil law alike. Therefore, clauses about exemplary damages, to which the press is already exposed, and costs, to which the press is already exposed, are not a new departure. They do not cross any Rubicon. The clause in the Crime and Courts Bill that prohibits changes to charters after a certain date, which are of a certain kind, being made except in a certain way makes no reference to the press, makes no reference to this particular Charter and does not, in any way, constitute regulation of the press by-
Conor Burns: Except everybody knows what it is aimed at.
Mr Letwin: Well, they may at the moment but as a matter of fact, I persist in believing that there will probably be further charters of other kinds that make use of that provision in due course and there is no reason why they should not; it is a general provision. There are many provisions about forms of law in this country. One does not think that they, simply because they might apply to the press, are kinds of press regulation.
Now, why have we gone this last mile to create something that is a charter and not a law about the press? Why have we gone the last mile to make sure that the legislation that prevents a change in this particular charter does not only refer to this charter and does not refer to the press? Answer: because we were so very keen to avoid a situation that Parliament begins to discuss the details of press regulation. The huge difference here, the chasm, is between what is here and what was being proposed and a series of amendments to a series of Bills that did involve quite specifically legislating about recognition criteria. Now that is perfectly proper and legitimate. One member of the Committee put his name to such and said to Members, "It is a perfectly respectable thing". It is not what we believed in. We believed in avoiding that in order not to cross the Rubicon of Parliament beginning to debate what press regulation should consist of. There is nothing in this apparatus that in any way leads Parliament to do that.
Q413 Conor Burns: My final question, Chairman. You have hit the nail on the head, in that the misbehaviour that has taken place by the press in recent years was almost, in totality, illegal by the law of the land already. Can you think of any examples of those misdemeanours that would be prevented by what you are proposing, given they were already illegal?
Mr Letwin: I do not think Lord Justice Leveson imagined that setting up the structure he envisaged, albeit in our version slightly changed, would somehow have prevented the malfeasances. I think he thought it would do, and what this system will do is to provide much readier forms of redress for those affected by malfeasance. The point of the ability to levy fines, which can be massive, and the point of the existence of an easy access to arbitration that, if you have a good case, is free, is to provide ready means of redress. That is a very important point. It is different, of course, from the operation of the criminal law and it does not ex ante prevent anything. The last thing I should say about that, something the Secretary of State and I both very much insisted on throughout, is that nothing we do should in any way constrain the ability of the press to publish and subsequently be damned. It was right that the press should be uncontrolled in what they published but suffer the consequences if they published inappropriately in the sense of breaking the Code .
Maria Miller: Just to add one small point to that; that is why we were from the beginning resistant to accepting in full Lord Leveson’s proposals, because some of the provisions around data protection could well have led to some problems in that particular area.
Chair: There are another five members who wish to ask questions and we have already spent an hour, so if we could speed up a little that would be appreciated.
Q414 Mr Sutcliffe: I do not doubt the complexity of all this and I understand through ministerial experience some of the problems around trying to get legislation through, and you talked about how you are doing that. However, we took evidence from the Irish contingent in terms of the Irish system over there, and some of the same papers here in the UK have signed up to the Irish model. Going back to this optimism you have for the conclusion to this, have you discussed the Irish system with those titles, and why have they signed up for that and are not prepared to sign up for this?
Maria Miller: I will make two very brief points. One is to remind you that, as Mr Letwin has just been saying, we are in the early process here so I think to be saying that people are not signing up is somewhat presuming things that are in the future. The second thing is that what we are proposing in Britain is not the same as the Irish model, and there are some fundamental differences from it. In the Irish model membership of the regulatory body can be used in court as evidence of adhering to certain standards-very different from the approach we are taking.
Q415 Mr Sutcliffe: The point I am making is they have signed up to that. Whatever the system is, they have signed up to it.
Maria Miller: Absolutely, precisely, and I think that is why I would say this is still early days. We are still setting the processes up and my very firm belief is that we should be very optimistic about the ability for us to take this forward, given all the groundwork that has been done.
Q416 Mr Sutcliffe: Unfortunately the feedback and noises we are hearing from the media is that is not the case and that we are not going to sign up. I accept we are in the early stages but the business of government can be difficult in terms of the timetable of things that need to be done. Going back to what Mr Davies was saying, there must be a plan B. There must be a fallback position if, by a certain time, the titles have not signed up. You must have an alternative, surely.
Maria Miller: However, surely the Committee would perhaps be somewhat sympathetic to the industry’s situation. We have still yet to finalise the Charter and have it sealed. We have still yet to get the legislation through Parliament. We have still yet to see the shape of the Recognition Panel. There is a great deal of uncertainty there for them, and a process of setting up self-regulation is a long and difficult thing to do with such a fragmented industry. So I would simply say to you, consider those uncertainties that the industry are dealing with and working hard on and see this as a process that will not just take the four months we have just been through, it will not take another six months, it will take a year or more for this to come to full fruition.
Q417 Mr Sutcliffe: That is pointing us in the direction that it could be another 12 months before this is resolved. In that time we will have other court cases and the outcomes of those court cases. This will be a live issue as it is undoubtedly is now, perhaps even more so by then. So, is there not a timing issue here in terms of trying to get this sped up as much as possible? In the negotiations I have done, you got the feeling from the other side that they were likely at some point to sign up, and even though they may have had difficulties in terms of particular items that have to be gone through, there was a willingness to sign up. Are you saying you have that willingness to sign up at some point if all these things can be ironed out?
Maria Miller: The process now is clear. It is about setting up the Recognition Panel, which will eventually lead to the exemplary damages and the cost provisions being put in place and providing those incentives for a self-regulatory body to put itself forward to be recognised. That is the process. It is not for the Government to try to interfere in any way in the work the press industry is doing to set up its own self-regulatory body. I believe the vast majority of the press want to have good, strong self-regulation. They conduct their businesses in an entirely proper way and would want to be part of a process that will give them that sense of confidence among the people who read the publications. So I think there is a great deal of benefit for the press to be involved in this.
Q418 Mr Sutcliffe: I understand what you are saying, but the Committee would like to have confidence that there is going to be an outcome to all this. It goes back to what the Prime Minister said: this is not about what the press wants or what politicians want. It is about the victims who deserve internal protection and there has to be a momentum to this. I am trying to draw out if you have any doubts that we will get to a conclusion to this.
Maria Miller: We will certainly get to a conclusion because we will set up a Charter that will have a Recognition Panel and that will lead to the incentives for people to want to take part in this process.
Q419 Tracey Crouch: When Lord Justice Leveson published his criteria he made it very clear that the future regulatory regime should be perceived as effective and credible by both the press as an industry and the public. The New York Times, who obviously played a significant role in exposing the phone-hacking scandal, said the proposals would do more harm than good. Simon Jenkins in The Guardian said, "It was hard to imagine a more chilling deterrent to serious press investigation". The Newspaper Society said that it would place a crippling burden on regional press. The Spectator and Private Eye have said that they are categorically not signing up. The Independent said they would look at the proposals but would sign up with reluctance. The local press are still very unsure what impact this is going to have on them and whether they will sign up for it. Do you think that, given this pretty much universal criticism of the proposals, you have met Lord Justice Leveson’s criteria?
Mr Letwin: The first thing I would say is that with some changes, most of which are to answer legitimate points the press made, the criteria set out in the Charter are Lord Justice Leveson’s criteria. There are only modest changes away from the criteria he set out. If he felt those constituted something that would be regarded in the way you describe then I hope he would feel the eventual result, which is very close to what he put forward, coheres with that view. As we have both said on several occasions, it is for the press now to come forward and make the arrangements they need to make to establish one or more regulators, and then to seek recognition. If they eventually do so, as we hope and expect that they will, the clear evidence will be that we have an effective regulatory system, if you believe the criteria set out here are appropriate, as I do.
Q420 Tracey Crouch: Are there any free speech campaign groups in favour of these proposals?
Mr Letwin: I do not know what campaign groups are in favour or against these proposals. I do know they emerged from Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry, which was very carefully conceived. They were followed by an intense period of discussion with the industry as well as with others, and a discussion between the three major political parties, and eventually legislation on costs and damages in Parliament. If the press-as I hope they will because they have a strong incentive to do so-decide to sign up, that will indicate they believe this is a workable system, which I think it is.
Q421 Tracey Crouch: Do you think opponents to these proposals have legitimate concerns about the politicisation of the process in establishing a new press regulator?
Mr Letwin: Very much not. In a parliamentary democracy legislation is inevitably a politicised process and the costs and damages clauses therefore could only be introduced by legislation and a politicised process, if you call it that. However, the Charter is very carefully conceived not to be in any way a politicised item. There is nothing political about the Charter. The Charter is a transparent document very carefully conceived in the light of the Leveson Report to establish a process, which is in itself transparent, for observing whether the regulator, set up completely independently and non-politically by the press, coheres with the sense of transparent criteria as judged by a set of independent individuals. I can’t think of any apparatus you could devise that would be further removed from the political process or political partiality of any kind than that.
Q422 Tracey Crouch: This is where I am still very confused. Forgive me but I am still new to this place and there are many procedures I still have to learn. I do not understand how it can be claimed that this is not some kind of statutory regulation or statutory underpinning of the press when this afternoon, the House of Commons will vote on amendment 71 to the Enterprise Bill that will establish the Royal Charter but previously we voted on clauses for the exemplary damages and the characteristics of press regulation. How can this not be some sort of statutory underpinning or statutory regulation of the press, when we as politicians are being asked through the process of democracy to vote one way or another on it?
Mr Letwin: One part of what you just said is incorrect. The clause that is an amendment to a particular Bill that prevents charters in the future of a particular kind being changed in a particular way against the prescripts of those charters themselves does not establish the Charter. Parliament is not establishing the Charter. In fact, Parliament does not say anything about this Charter and no piece of legislation from Parliament will say anything about this Charter specifically.
Q423 Tracey Crouch: However, the Royal Charter can be changed with a two-thirds majority, which, given the cross-party consensus, is probably not going to be too difficult to do.
Mr Letwin: I would not want to speculate about how difficult or otherwise it would be to change. I can tell you it was jolly difficult to establish and it might be very difficult to change. What I do know is that is specified in the Charter itself, not in a piece of legislation. All the legislation does is to prevent the Charter being changed in a way the Charter itself does not provide for, and we have therefore gone to very great lengths to try to make sure that Parliament is not establishing the Charter. The Charter is established by the Queen in Council through the grant of the Charter and the sealing of the Charter. The point of that is precisely to remove it from politics.
Maria Miller: Particularly from the influence of Ministers.
Mr Letwin: Yes, particularly from the influence of Ministers.
Q424 Tracey Crouch: This is where I am still very naive on these matters, but is the Privy Council not made up of Ministers and politicians, and therefore has that influence over the format and characteristics of the Royal Charter that has been established?
Mr Letwin: No, because the Charter has been established as a result of this monumental effort of a report by Lord Leveson, followed by discussion and negotiation.
Q425 Tracey Crouch: Drafted and approved by the Privy Council, who are Ministers and politicians?
Mr Letwin: Yes, but once established they cannot change it because of this whole apparatus. Let me step back for a moment. I think you are far from being naive, if I may say so; you are absolutely at the centre of what was our concern throughout here. The whole point of this is, within the context of the British constitution, which was not in our power to suddenly undo, we were trying to find a means of establishing something that created incentives for self-regulation but was nevertheless recognised on Leveson principles, without crossing the Rubicon of Parliament at any stage laying down the law about what had to be in that regulator, and without politicians being able subsequently to change what was in that in any easy way at all.
We have come as close as possible to having a document that is apolitical, transparent and, within the context of a British constitution that cannot ultimately enshrine things, enshrined. That is going a very long distance to make the point-because it is of enormous precedent value-that we are not saying politicians should govern what is in the press. It is a code established by the press, it is a regulator established by the press, it is a voluntary system; it is not a system that Parliament has legislated into existence. All of that is a very important structure.
Q426 Tracey Crouch: So you think that comments made by The New York Times, The Guardian and The Newspaper Society about chilling effects and so on are misguided?
Mr Letwin: I believe there are no chilling effects whatsoever and no control of any kind at all-any kind at all-over what is written in the press, as opposed to the creation by the press of a regulator that provides ready access to those who seek redress against what has been written after it has been written, which is a very different thing.
Q427 Tracey Crouch: There is still a question about the scope of the Charter at some point, but can I ask about territorial scope? There was a very interesting point raised in the House of Lords debate when the Enterprise Bill was being discussed about whether or not it would apply to the devolved Administrations, and the Minister in the Lords said that they would bring forward provisions to ensure that the territorial extent of this measure is clear. It is at the moment unclear whether or not this is a reserved matter. Broadcasting is, but press appears not to be. Could we end up in a farcical situation whereby we have different types of regulation north of the border and south of the border?
Maria Miller: If I could answer that; Wales obviously would be subject to the Charter. In fact, all of the Charter can be used to cover all parts of the United Kingdom but the provisions we have set out would cover England and Wales. There are discussions ongoing, and I believe a particular committee set up in Scotland to consider this in some detail will be reporting later this week. They are considering whether this is going to be the right approach in Scotland. Clearly, even if it were decided the Charter approach would be applicable in Scotland, they would then need to consider the legal differences between the English legal system and the Scottish legal system. So, there are some complications there. We have already not only had official discussions but also ministerial discussions about this, so it is very much a live and ongoing issue, and similarly in Northern Ireland.
I would say to the Committee, I could understand entirely if the newspaper industry were to say that one system for the whole of the United Kingdom would be helpful, and certainly that would be my position. I would hope we are able to get to a situation where we did have just one system for the United Kingdom, but clearly there are still ongoing discussions in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Q428 Tracey Crouch: So those measures will not be brought forward to the House this afternoon when we vote on amendment 71 to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill?
Maria Miller: It is not necessary for us to do that at this stage. Clearly, one would respect, particularly in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the need for them to discuss this in detail. I know there have been extensive discussions and an initial round of thoughts have been reconsidered, so we need to work carefully with Scotland and Northern Ireland to make sure that we understand the way they want to go forward. However, I can be very clear with the Committee: the Charter approach can be used throughout the United Kingdom.
Q429 Jim Sheridan: Can I pursue the whole question about the timetable for conclusion of this? There is a school of thought, which I must admit may have been enhanced today by the lack of clarity over a timetable, that it would be in the best interests of the Conservative Party to keep this thing rolling over until as close as possible to the next general election in the hope that they win favour with some of the press. I think that would be a total injustice to the victims if that indeed was the case. Therefore, I think it would be in everybody’s interests to try to get this over with as quickly as possible. Would you agree?
Maria Miller: I agree with you that it is important we get this dealt with in a speedy manner.
Q430 Jim Sheridan: So why do you not give us a timetable?
Maria Miller: It is nothing more sinister than the fact that the processes around charters are not controlled by Ministers or by Parliament. They are subject to the grant of the Queen. If I am being a little less cautious, I can say it is entirely our intention that the Charter goes forward before the summer and that, subject to it being sealed, which is the process, we then have the ability to let the process of the verifications panel being set up start swiftly. That will happen between six and 12 months after the Charter is sealed. The reason why it is a wide range of time is that it is up to the way that process works, so I would not want to mislead the Committee. Once the Recognition Panel is in place and operating, then the incentives legislation would come forward 12 months after that. That is a very clear timetable and, while I can understand your frustration that one would always want these things to happen more quickly, inevitably it takes time if you are setting up a new organisation. One would also have to recognise the complications around setting up a self-regulatory body for a very fragmented industry.
Q431 Jim Sheridan: Should you get a chance to speak to the Queen tomorrow, could you remind her that it is in the interests of everyone, particularly the victims and the families, to get this over and done with quickly? Secretary of State, you were very articulate on the virtues of self-regulation. Can I put to you that the vast majority of people in this place and, I would contest, the vast majority of the public do not believe that self-regulation works? Are you aware of any other profession or discipline that can collectively opt out of regulation on the basis that "it does not suit us"?
Maria Miller: Clearly you do not agree with Lord Justice Leveson’s report, and that is your prerogative and you are entirely open to have those views. We do live in a democracy and it is for you to make that decision. We took the approach that we do agree with the principles set out in Lord Justice Leveson’s report.
Jim Sheridan: I do as well.
Maria Miller: You would not be advocating anything other than self-regulation then, because that is clearly set out in his report as one of the key principles.
Q432 Jim Sheridan: Moving on, mention has been made of the Prime Minister's statements about not keeping politicians or the press feeling happy. So why were you so keen to ensure that the press feel happy with what we have?
Maria Miller: As I set out earlier, and as we have shown through this quite detailed area-I apologise to the Committee for the detail but it is a heinously detailed area-it is absolutely vital that the proposals we bring forward are workable and are going to work. We could not in all honesty say we will be able to predict that without talking to the people who are going to be regulated. If you look at the detail of Lord Justice Leveson’s report, he makes it very clear that one has to take not only the public with you but also the press. That is an important part of this process and that is why we have taken 16 weeks over it. That level of discussion is why Mr Letwin and I have optimism about the future on this.
Q433 Jim Sheridan: Without going through the policeman’s log once again, can you make available how many times you have met with the press during this process, and, of course, their representatives?
Maria Miller: Obviously we, as a Government, have put in place the highest level of transparency about meetings that Ministers have, whether it is with the press or any other organisations. That information will be forthcoming in the usual way and indeed you would expect us to do that because we put great store on transparency of our meetings.
Q434 Jim Sheridan: All your meetings with the press will be recorded, then?
Maria Miller: Yes, absolutely, in the usual way we set out, and we made that a very important part of the way we govern in a way no other Government has done before.
Q435 Jim Sheridan: You broke off discussions with the victims about mid-January. Did you continue to speak to the press during that period from mid-January to 12 February?
Maria Miller: I do not think at any point in time we broke off discussions with anybody. It would be important, Mr Sheridan, that we-
Jim Sheridan: Well, you didn’t meet with them.
Maria Miller: We have had meetings throughout the 16-week period with representatives of the press and representatives of the victims groups and other organisations as well. Our door has always been open and it may have been during that period of time that victims’ groups-
Q436 Jim Sheridan: Could you put it in the public domain: did you meet with the press during that period?
Maria Miller: As I say, the details of all our meetings will be in the public domain.
Mr Letwin: As the Secretary of State says, literally all my meetings and all her meetings with the other parties, the press and Hacked Off will be revealed, and there were also many official meetings. However, Hacked Off were present at cross-party talks in March and they had meetings with officials in March. We also continued to have meetings and discussions with the industry in that period. We continued to have discussions with everybody. I was criticised personally on both sides for speaking to the other. I regarded both accusations as equally absurd. You cannot possibly conduct this kind of negotiation with other political parties unless you are also talking to all the other parties that are relevant to it. That is what we did and continue to do, unashamedly.
Maria Miller: Our door was always open and I think that is an important thing the Committee should-
Q437 Jim Sheridan: Can I ask you to concentrate your mind on 18 March? Was there any contact by Ministers, officials, representatives, editors, proprietors either by e-mail, text or telephone on that day? The reason I am asking is Nick Robinson on the Today programme said these phone calls were made to the press; so what phone calls were they?
Maria Miller: On Monday 18 March there were many discussions prior to the agreement being finalised, but they were mostly, from my recollection-I don’t have that detail in front of me, Mr Chairman-between certainly Conservative Ministers, Liberal Ministers and members of the Labour Party as well. As the Minister for Public Policy has already said, there were a number of issues being discussed in detail right up until the Charter was finally published and the Prime Minister made a statement. Members will remember there were one or two questions about how much time there had been to examine the final detail of the Charter before it was discussed in Parliament. That is how close to the wire we came. I did not meet victims’ groups on the Monday before the publication of that Charter.
Q438 Jim Sheridan: It will all be recorded anyway. That is the important thing. Finally, the letter from Peter Wright, which I am sure you are aware of, from the Associated Newspapers. I do not know if Members have copies of that. Was there a response to that letter and, if so, can it be placed in the public domain?
Maria Miller: I am not sure I know exactly which letter you are talking about.
Jim Sheridan: It is dated 4 January 2013.
Maria Miller: I am very happy to look at if there was a response particularly drafted to that and make it available to the Committee. I am happy to do that, Mr Chairman.
Chair: We still have two more members so we could try to speed up.
Q439 Mr Bradshaw: For the benefit of the doubt, Jim’s motivation for asking some of those questions was around the claims made by some of the newspapers at the time that when the agreement was reached, they were shut out and you were sitting with Hacked Off making some dodgy deal. Would you like to comment on that?
Maria Miller: Absolutely. If you are discussing that Sunday evening which Mr Letwin has gone through in some detail, just to be really clear, it is not for me or the Minister for Public Policy to determine how the Labour and Liberal parties discuss the proposal put to them by the Prime Minister. That is for them. They did ask for some clarification and I think it was important, not least because at that point collective responsibility was not in place and therefore the Liberal Ministers were able to draw on official support for the work they were doing. So, that was their discussion and I think it was quite right that they had that discussion. Mr Letwin was able to add to that discussion, but our policy position had been clear from the Thursday and we were simply moving forward trying to support them in any way we could with discussions they were having. Their decision to involve Hacked Off was their decision and Mr Letwin has said already that it was not something we found unusual, given that Hacked Off had been very involved with the Labour Party throughout the process.
Mr Letwin: It would help if I expanded on that. Before we put forward the proposal to the Deputy Prime Minister at 3pm on the Sunday-I do not recall the exact timing to this-during the Saturday and Sunday there had been a number of discussions between the officials and representatives of the press. So we were very clear about the press view of what was it was we were putting forward to the Deputy Prime Minister, which is the Charter you have in front of you.
Q440 Mr Bradshaw: Would it be fair to say that in the round, from the Leveson Report being published to the final agreement, you had as many, if not more, communications and contacts with representatives of the press than you did with representatives of the victims?
Mr Letwin: Yes, that is true. The record, when you see it, will show that we had numerous discussions with all parties.
Q441 Mr Bradshaw: Mr Letwin, you have debunked some of the other myths that have grown up around the nature of the agreement when it was finally reached. Could you, perhaps, address another report that suggested that not all of your Cabinet colleagues were signed up to it?
Mr Letwin: We had very extensive discussions with a range of fellow Ministers in a range of departments, as would be normal under these circumstances, and the Cabinet was also briefed on the whole process, although I can’t recall the exact day. I think it was probably the Tuesday before the Thursday but I would not like to swear to that. In any event the Cabinet was kept abreast of what was going on collectively as well as having discussions with appropriate Ministers.
Q442 Mr Bradshaw: So it is not true that the Chancellor was dismayed by the agreement?
Mr Letwin: The Chancellor was certainly not dismayed by the agreement. The Chancellor and I had a discussion on the Monday morning about it and he was involved in discussions during the Monday morning.
Q443 Mr Bradshaw: It is not true that Mr Pickles described Hugh Grant as, "Lord Grant, Leader of the Opposition of Rodeo Drive"?
Mr Letwin: Not in my hearing.
Q444 Mr Bradshaw: Can I ask for some clarification about what you said earlier about the issue of exemplary damages? Is the legal advice that you had, which you think supports the final decision/settlement that we have, based on the original Leveson recommendation that newspapers that sign up for the arbitration system should enjoy protection; or is it where we ended up-that they should enjoy exemption from exemplary damages if they are signed up to the system?
Maria Miller: Clearly the final position.
Mr Bradshaw: The final position. That is very helpful.
Can I ask you about the dispute about costs because some parts of the newspaper industry, and even some of the local newspapers, seem to still be suggesting that the system that you have devised will be more expensive for them whereas supporters of the Charter, as you have devised it, insist that it will save them costs and protect them from vexatious claimants? Can you expand on why you are so confident that it will be cheaper?
Mr Letwin: First of all I am sure the Committee will want to talk directly to the affected parties who understand these things. As I have understood it, as we have gone through this process and talked a lot to different elements of the press about these arbitration costs, it seems that there is a difference. For the national newspapers, especially those national newspapers that more often find themselves in court, the prospect of having available an arbitration system that makes it unnecessary for claimants to go to court, while it may lead to costs awarded in arbitration or settlements ordered in arbitration, avoids the cost and settlements awarded in court. I think that there was always some recognition among the nationals, therefore, that it was at least swings and roundabouts and it may be advantageous to have an arbitration system. The point that the regionals made to us very forcefully on a number of occasions, and indeed made to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition when she joined us with the Liberal Democrat Ministers, and the regionals, was that many regional newspapers don’t see a courthouse from one end of the year to the next and indeed don’t even end up making any financial settlements. They just do not do things that lead to this. People make a complaint, an agreement is reached about how this complaint is handled and life goes on. For them, therefore, there were concerns that being part of a system that was established essentially for the nationals might lead them to find claims farmers inducing people to bring arbitration claims-people who are vexatiously seeking to make money out of arbitration claims or cause them trouble out of arbitration claims and so forth. We had quite extensive discussions with them about that. What is in the Charter now tries to reflect those concerns and to enable somebody to set up a regulator that safeguards against that kind of vexatious litigation at arbitration.
Now, it is obviously for the regionals themselves to decide whether, first of all, it is possible to set up a regulatory body that coheres with the recognition criteria and is sufficiently cheap for them to operate sensibly under. The second issue is whether that arbitration system can be incorporated within a single regulator for the press as a whole, or not. If in their judgment not, it is still open to them to have a regulator for the regional press that could seek recognition because right from the beginning, as Lord Justice Leveson made clear in his report, it has been the intention not to specify how many regulators might seek recognition under the Charter.
Q445 Mr Bradshaw: Will there not be potentially huge benefits for the local and regional press because at the moment if they are faced with a litigious, very wealthy local personality, a local councillor or a business person, there is a chilling effect against them reporting something that that person might sue them for because they want to avoid the costs? Whereas under the Leveson system, which you have devised, a failure by that litigant to go to arbitration would mean that they would be responsible for the costs and possibly even for the exemplary costs of that case, and that should be the opposite of a chilling effect for the local and regional press, surely?
Mr Letwin: I think there are circumstances that one can imagine that are exactly like that, yes. The question is how those balance out against the normal run of other events.
Mr Bradshaw: Thank you.
Maria Miller: Can I just add one point to that? I am sure the Committee will have seen that the Charter does allow for a review of the fairness and effectiveness of the arbitral process. Although we have looked at examples of other arbitration systems that provide low cost arbitration, there are some there, and I would perhaps draw to the Committee’s attention the work of ABTA in this area. I believe their arbitrations cost around £360 a piece, so there are examples there of local arbitration.
Mr Letwin: It is a very important point the Secretary of State is making and it is worth emphasising that provision for review was put in specifically at the request of the press, in particular the regional press, to ensure that one could look after the fact, after a number of years, and say, "This is or is not working as it is intended".
Q446 Steve Rotheram: I think there is possibly one question left on local newspapers that I was going to pick up on. Leveson said that the new regulatory model should not provide an added burden to the local press. The Deputy Prime Minister said that the regional and local press should not pay the price for a problem they did not create. Just for the record, I broadly welcome the proposals but what would you say to responsible editors of local newspapers who believe they are being unfairly punished due to the unethical excesses of some national titles?
Mr Letwin: I think I would say two things, which we have considerably discussed with them and with one another and so on. First, there are specific provisions in the Charter enabling a regulator to be set up that distinguishes between different classes of newspaper within its arrangements. That means that it is perfectly possible for the regionals not to bear the full brunt of the costs that otherwise might arise for them. Secondly, going back to the previous discussions in Mr Bradshaw’s questions, the architecture here is very specifically constructed in such a way as to try to ensure that the arbitration system is not excessively expensive. So my net answer is, we intended that what is set up here should be something that does not entail visiting on the regional press costs that are difficult for them to bear and unfair for them to bear.
Q447 Steve Rotheram: If that was the outcome what is the solution?
Mr Letwin: I do not think it will be the outcome. I think the outcome will be that it is possible to construct a regulator that did not entail unfair or excessive costs for the regional newspapers.
Q448 Steve Rotheram: Is there some methodology that can be used to address that concern, should that be the outcome?
Mr Letwin: If the arbitration process turned out to have costs that were undue for the regionals, that is something that would come out in the review that we described and is provided for.
Maria Miller: Just to perhaps reassure you, Mr Letwin and I have met with representatives from the regional press on a number of occasions to discuss these issues in detail because we share your concern about this.
Q449 Mr Leech: There has been a fair bit of confusion about how this would impact on bloggers. To what extent would online publishers, which do not have a written media outlet, be impacted by the new regime?
Maria Miller: You will be aware, Mr Leech, that this has been subject to quite extensive discussion already and that we have made it clear that it is something that we are going to be looking at in detail. It would be a little previous for me to go into any solutions on that at the moment because we are still talking to those who fall into the category that you are talking about. Suffice it to say that we really want to make sure that the work that we are doing does not have any unintended consequences in terms of covering smaller bloggers whom we don’t think should be part of the process here. We believe that the Charter and the legislation as set out at the moment are clear, but there has been a concern raised with us so we are going to look at whether it is necessary for us to provide further clarity. We have made provisions within the legislation to be able to do that, as and when it is the appropriate time to do so.
Q450 Mr Leech: On the flip side of that, though, there may be some bloggers who would like to be part of the new regulatory regime and to have that added protection regarding potentially big costs being awarded against them if they are outside of the regime. Has consideration been given to allow people to sign up voluntarily who will not necessarily fall within the current scope of it?
Maria Miller: I am not aware of anybody who falls into that category. I think there are more people who are concerned that they don’t want to be subject to the new self-regulation, but certainly if there were concerns in that area it is something we could look at.
Q451 Mr Leech: I appreciate that, and clearly at a time when no one is saying that they want to sign up, this is probably pretty unlikely. In the event of newspapers and big online publishers signing up to a regulator, there may well be a situation where other people feel that it would be advantageous to do so. Are you suggesting that it would be ruled out that they would be able to voluntarily sign up?
Maria Miller: I think they probably could opt in if they wanted to do that. I am not sure. Perhaps can I get back to you on that. I am not sure that I know the absolute answer to it but I think these are the sorts of things that we will be looking at or we are currently looking at.
Mr Leech: You would not rule it out?
Maria Miller: I wouldn’t rule it out. I could understand why that might be the case. It is inevitable when you draw up a set of guidelines that there are going to be people who fall at the edge of whether or not they would be within the regulatory system. What we want to do is to make sure that there is as much clarity there as possible.
Q452 Tracey Crouch: Can you define what a small blogger is, because the very nature of a blog process is they can go viral and suddenly be read by thousands, millions of people?
Maria Miller: We have looked absolutely at how you define these businesses. We are currently in the process of that discussion with those that fall into this category. I can’t give the Committee today our final conclusions, although we are pretty well nearly there. It is looking at things like the turnover of their business and what role news plays in their business as well-you will have seen already how we have established the definition, as currently articulated-so we are just looking at whether we can provide more clarity to help people know whether or not they fall within the new self-regulatory framework.
Chair: Okay. Can I thank the two of you very much for coming this morning?
Witness: Rt Hon Harriet Harman, MP, Deputy Leader, Labour Party, gave evidence.
Q453 Chair: Can I now welcome Rt Hon Harriet Harman, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Shadow Spokesman? Thank you for your patience waiting for the session to start. You will have heard in large part the evidence from Oliver Letwin and Maria Miller. It appears that they remain happy that an agreement was reached between the parties. They seem relative unperturbed that so far the press have been rather less than enthusiastic about the agreement, and Oliver said that he was an optimist and remained so. Can I ask whether you feel optimistic still about the outcome of the agreement of a few weeks ago?
Ms Harman: I very much want it to happen and to come into effect. Obviously the ball is very much in the newspaper industry’s court on this now. We have set the framework but it is now for them to make the framework work and I hope they will do that because the alternative, which is the status quo, is one that, generally speaking, I think everybody felt was not sustainable and was not just and fair. Therefore, this is the alternative and I hope that they will come forward and make it work in practice. So I don’t want to sort of predict what they are going to do but I very much hope that they will come forward and make this work in practice, and I think that the fears that they have won’t be realised. I think it is always the case if people are moving into a new system that people have concerns about how it will work. I remember the solicitors who didn’t want anything in statute about solicitors’ complaints, feeling that it would interfere with the constitutional principle of the rule of law, and how could the law hold Government to account if the Government had set in place a complaint system, but it worked out perfectly all right. I can very much see an echo of those, but those fears didn’t prove to be borne out and I hope the fears of the newspapers won’t be borne out, they will enter into the system and it will work properly.
Q454 Chair: We understand that both you and the Government are hopeful, still, the newspapers will decide to go down that road but you also have said, as did Oliver Letwin, the status quo is not acceptable. If they decide that they do not wish to take part in the system that is being set up through the Royal Charter and instead they are just going to set up their own regulator and risk exemplary damages if that is awarded by the courts, are you content to allow them to do that?
Ms Harman: Content to allow them to-
Chair: To not take part in the recognised system through the Royal Charter and the recognition body but just to remain outside and take the risk of exemplary damages.
Ms Harman: I think that when the Prime Minister was talking to the House on 29 November, he said, talking about the Leveson report, that if that is not done, i.e. that they don’t take up the opportunity of independent regulation, "Regrettably full-on statutory regulation will have to be introduced because we cannot maintain the status quo". He says, "I think that’s the right approach". Nobody wants to go down that path. The exemplary damages framework is for incentives and disincentives, but it stands to reason it is incentives and disincentives for a system. If the system is not there, the incentives/disincentives are, I think Mr Letwin would say, otiose.
Q455 Chair: Mr Letwin did say at the end of the day it was a matter of choice for the newspapers. He said that he thought there were very strong incentives but that we were not going to have a system of compulsion. If they did not wish to take advantage of those incentives then they had that right. You seem to be suggesting they do not.
Ms Harman: I am just saying what Leveson said, which is that he was putting forward a system that was a framework, within which there would be independent selfregulation, but if that didn’t transpire then there would have to be, as the Prime Minister says, full-on statutory regulation. So I understood that to be the Prime Minister’s position, unchanged. I don’t want us to go down that path because we are still very strongly on plan A and I don’t want us to be in the mode of, "Well you’ve got to do this because otherwise we’re going to do that". I think our mode should be, "We hope you do this because it would be better all around and a proper, fair balance". I would rather not look over the edge of that precipice. I can see why you are asking me to do it but I would rather not because I don’t want the press to feel discouraged and with their backs against the wall. I would want them to think that is a good and workable system, which is what we think, in their interests as well as in everybody else’s.
Q456 Chair: I understand that but you will forgive me for pressing you slightly. We have probably two years under the present timetable until the next general election. Let us say that two years have passed and the press have not applied for recognition through any part of their regulatory body under the Royal Charter system, so there is a regulator but it is not Leveson-compliant, it is not recognised, and we go into a general election. Would you, as the Labour Party Spokesman, have in your manifesto that unless the press sign up to a Leveson compliant body, you would legislate?
Ms Harman: I understand it to be the position of the Prime Minister, the Deputy Minister and the Leader of the Opposition that this is what they want to happen and that they support what Leveson envisaged if this doesn’t happen. So I don’t think that there is a difference between the parties on that. We all want this to work. We all think this is proportionate and workable and that is the plan we are on at the moment. I don’t think it is any part of our argument to make this work, the fact that a stick is being carried. I am just, therefore, answering your question in a factual way, which is that that is what Leveson said and that is what the Prime Minister, the Deputy Minister and the Leader of the Opposition said.
Chair: Okay. I suspect some of my colleagues may wish to press you on it again.
Q457 Paul Farrelly: I just wanted to look at the way forward, Harriet, which I did in the previous session before you arrived. I just wanted to pick up on two things first. We learned and understand that before the draft Royal Charter was published there were to-ings and fro-ings between Oliver Letwin and certain elements of the press, and indeed some of the newspapers were rather frustrated at being frozen out of that and took their own position at the end of the day. What was your experience in the run-up to this agreement? Were certain elements of the newspapers-News International, The Telegraph, The Mail-engaging with you in the same way as they were engaging with Mr Letwin?
Ms Harman: I can’t really speak for how they were engaging with Oliver Letwin or Maria Miller or indeed the Prime Minister but I had many meetings with newspaper industry representatives, mostly editors, right from the beginning of 2012. Because my argument to them was that change was going to come and what would be important is for them, instead of just resisting change, to work together to propose to Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry what would be a change that they felt happy about. I was meeting them on regular occasions and, in fact, I just counted up the meetings that I had with newspaper industry representatives, which was 33. Those were regular meetings. That was from February 2012 and that compares to 27 meetings with Hacked Off.
Paul Farrelly: I think we are waiting for publication of the Government’s meetings still, which has been a bone of contention.
Ms Harman: The ones that have published so far are-Maria Miller has had 18 meetings with newspaper industry representatives and four with Hacked Off. I think at the end of the day, whoever has met whom, the point is we have a product now. The product is the Royal Charter, the accompanying statute and now everybody can look at it and ask, "Does it deliver a proportionate, workable system?"
Q458 Paul Farrelly: Precisely, but this is why it has been important to look forward. One of the complaints that has been made by some of the newspapers in a self-serving way, one might think, is that, "Oh, Hacked Off, they were the ghost at the pizza-or the non-pizza-feast and we were not there" but many people would retort, "Well the press was there. They were represented by Oliver Letwin". Would you think of a reasonable comment?
Ms Harman: I obviously heard the complaints about the press complaining they had been squeezed out and that Hacked Off was at the centre of events. Also there were complaints from Hacked Off that they had seen Paul Dacre leaving Downing Street. I said to any of those complaints that came, "Don’t focus on who has spoken to whom; focus on what it is that Leveson has proposed and how we put it into practice". I think you can just go round in circles. All I can say is from my point of view I was concerned to listen to the newspaper industry and to meet them on a regular basis, not just once but during the process, to go back and talk to them again about how they felt the process was evolving. I can explain to you what I did but I do think that the issue is not the process here. The issue is the product now, which everybody can see, and how we put that product into action. In a way, the conspiracy theories that were on both sides didn’t help. I found that I had met the newspaper industry more than I had met Hacked Off.
Q459 Paul Farrelly: Before we just look briefly to the future could you help me nail another straw man-or straw woman? Again, the cry has been that all of the practices that were exposed were subject to the laws of the land, and in some way they were illegal-this changes nothing. Would you say that that completely misses the point because even though the McCanns had the remedy of going to the law and suing for libel, with the aid of a conditional fee agreement-much more difficult these days-it should never have got to that point? They shouldn’t have been treated in such a way and the editorial code should have been applied and enforced by media organisations, so it should have never have come to that. It was all about behaviour, not what legal remedies might be there at the end of the day.
Ms Harman: I agree with what you have said and I said right at the outset that I felt there were two major problems. There was a sense of invincibility, because there was too much of a big media monopoly in the hands of Murdoch that gave his empire a sense of invincibility and power, owning too many of the newspapers. I know you are not looking at that in this inquiry and Leveson didn’t look at it in a huge amount of detail. The other one, I always said, was that I felt there was a sense of impunity, no accountability to a complaint system, that led to a culture of ignoring the important professional standards that are in the editor’s own Code. I think if you have a culture of impunity, practices develop that then are on a continuum-breaches of the Code, breaches of the civil law and indeed breaches of the criminal law. We know from the evidence that has come to the Leveson Inquiry that there wasn’t the right relationship between the police and the press either. So I do think, and this is the one thing I would disagree with from what Oliver Letwin has been saying, the lack of a proper redress for complaints under the Code did create a culture that allowed the wrongdoing, which Leveson then looked into, to proliferate. I don’t agree with those people who say, "Oh, well, if that’s in breach of the criminal law, why do you need to change any of this, because the criminal law should apply to it or the civil law should apply to it?" Yes, we want the proper enforcement of the criminal law that there has not necessarily been in the past. We do want accessible civil law, which there hasn’t been, but we also want a proper complaint system for people to just get redress for inaccuracy-something misleading-for harassment that is short of a tort but is in breach of the Code.
Q460 Paul Farrelly: Okay. Just looking forward briefly, when would you like to see the Charter signed, sealed, delivered, so that the work can start?
Ms Harman: The Charter is going to the Privy Council, as you know, on 8 May. There are some legal issues and I know that the Government want to talk to us about commencement. This is about sequencing of commencement with the people and incorporating bodies-it is quite technical-but as soon as possible I think we want it. There is then the Commissioner for Public Appointments, who will need to appoint an Appointment Committee who will need to appoint the Recognition Panel.
Paul Farrelly: Yes, I am coming on to that. Very briefly, because other people will-
Ms Harman: As soon as possible is the answer.
Paul Farrelly: That was the answer we had.
Q461 Paul Farrelly: The answer we got from the Secretary of State, which was a little bit more helpful, was she would like to see the Appointment Panel in place some time going into the summer. Would you concur that we need to move?
Ms Harman: Absolutely; as soon as possible. Yes, we want to get this in place as soon as possible.
Q462 Paul Farrelly: The Recognition Panel appointed by the end of the year? Earlier than that?
Ms Harman: Earlier if it can be done. Obviously there has to be commencement, then there has to be the Commissioner for Public Appointments appointing the Appointment Panel, and then the Appointment Panel appointing the Recognition Panel, but that shouldn’t take much time. They will need to get on with it and I hope in parallel, the newspaper industry through their foundation group will be getting themselves into shape for the structure of the regulator that they want to propose, so that by the time the recogniser is in place, they are ready with their regulator to submit their application to the recogniser for recognition.
Q463 Paul Farrelly: One final question, as you mentioned the recognition group. Do you find the inclusion of Trevor Kavanagh of The Sun an odd appointment?
Ms Harman: The point is that this is independent self-regulation and the whole point about it is politicians, having set the framework, do not interfere with the regulator; so we have to have a self-denying ordinance on that. We have to set the framework within the system and then keep faith with the spirit of the system; therefore, I am not going to comment on that. I will just leave you to guess but basically I do think it is quite important that we let them get on with it and we do not all be mini-regulators working out whose complaint is justified or whose is not. We have to go with the spirit of this.
Paul Farrelly: You have just clarified self-denying ordinances as "no comment" for me. Thank you.
Q464 Jim Sheridan: Harriet, the group of people we should never forget during all this is the victims, and you have said yourself that you have had a number of meetings with Hacked Off who claim to be, first, representatives of the victims. What are the victims’ views on all this?
Ms Harman: I think that the victims’ view was that something needed to be done, which is why they were prepared to give evidence to Leveson, which I think was an enormous ordeal for them. To put yourself back in the public spotlight when you felt so bruised by the public spotlight was testimony to their belief that there needed to be change, and they said that they wanted the Leveson proposals to be proportionate and reasonable and that they would back them. When Leveson came out with his report, they said they wanted Leveson implemented so that is what their position has been. The thing is that Hacked Off does represent the victims. Without Hacked Off, those victims would have just been people who find themselves horrifically caught up in something that is completely beyond the experience of their usual life. I think the thing that Hacked Off did is provide a sort of self-help network, which enabled them not to just be victims of something terrible that had happened to them individually but people who could work together to be agents of change. So I could see the support that the victims drew from each other: the McCanns, the Dowlers, Baroness Hollins. Somebody had to get them together to enable them to talk to each other and then have the courage and confidence to be agents of change, not just victims. That is what they thought. They wanted to see Leveson implemented. They did not like the idea of a charter. They wanted to see a statute but we urged them, if that is the way we could get all-party agreement-we had originally wanted a statute-let us go for Charter plus statute, so that is what they wanted.
Q465 Mr Bradshaw: Some people might say that it is quite a formidable achievement for Hacked Off, given the disparate nature of all of the victims, to have held this group together in such a cohesive hold, and in fact helped you and the Government towards a final conclusion, no?
Ms Harman: I think it was very important. We could have all sat back. We have all been thinking about this for years and thought what would be a fair settlement, but having in your mind people whose lives, as the Prime Minister had said, had been turned upside down and to have those actual people there and to walk just a few steps in their shoes as you hear what they have been through was a very important reality check. This was not a theoretical exercise; it was an exercise where we wanted to protect people in the future from what happened to them, and I think Hacked Off was very important in bringing them together.
Q466 Mr Bradshaw: Could I ask you to give your view-the same question we have already asked Mr Letwin-about the whole cost issue here, because we still hear these concerns expressed including by the local and regional press, that the system as devised will make things more costly for them, whereas proponents of the Charter argue that it will actually reduce potential cost on them? What is your view?
Ms Harman: I agree with what lay behind your question earlier on, which is that it might enable the local press to be bolder because if they are in the David and Goliath situation that they might be, they know that they will be able to justify what they have published without taking a massive risk on cost, which could put them out of business. Obviously it is down to the regulator to frame the arbitration process and they need to frame it in such a way that it is not overly legalistic, not overly expensive. Of course, there are in the recognition criteria provisions for claims and complaints to be struck out. It is really down to them to make an effective and workable system.
Q467 Mr Bradshaw: Why do you think the newspaper industry collectively is still claiming this will be more expensive, when all of the expert opinion that we have heard would seem to suggest that the system, particularly for local and regional papers, will be much cheaper and in that very important effect quite liberating?
Ms Harman: I think it is paradoxical that they are claiming it is more expensive because this proposal for an arbitration system came from the newspaper industry to Leveson. It was not something that we or Hacked Off or anybody else have put forward. They put it forward but then parts of the newspaper industry said it was a bad idea and too expensive and then that became a bit of a breach. However, I think in terms of where we are now the important thing is to make it workable, to make sure there is a proper filtering system. Nobody wants the newspapers to be tied up with a whole load of vexatious complaints but I think they can do a very quick filtering system-the same as, obviously, if somebody complains to them, to a particular newspaper, they have to filter it and work out whether or not it is justified.
Q468 Mr Leech: It just occurred to me that I should probably have declared an interest for my question-
Ms Harman: It was your question?
Mr Leech:-to the Secretary of State, because I have a blog myself. I think you heard my question to the Secretary of State on the impact on bloggers and how the changes affected online publishers. What is your view on whether or not bloggers should be allowed to sign up to a regulator and thereby potentially avoid costly charges if they overstep the mark?
Ms Harman: The regulators are allowed to offer membership of the regulator on different terms to different sorts of publications so it is perfectly possible for a regulator that comes forward to have a scheme for bloggers. So it is permissive and it is for them to decide whether or not they want to allow bloggers to join. You heard what Maria Miller said about dealing with small publications and bloggers. There are some issues to be sorted out in practical terms but nobody really wants to deal with very small publications or very small blogs, so it is a question of defining size as much as anything. I thought you were going to declare an interest because it was you who asked the Prime Minister the question that he answered about what happens if the system does not work.
Q469 Mr Leech: I was going to come on to that question now. That was my next question and it was, do you feel that if newspapers do not sign up to the new regime, the Government should then take a more "stick" approach or a more "carrot" approach to take it to the next stage?
Ms Harman: The difficulty is that by answering that question it is using the stick, and I do not want to be doing that. I do not want to be evading answering your question but I do not want this system to be born out of coercion. I want the system to be born out of cross-party agreement and consensus, and the more you talk about what will happen if somebody does not do this, and then they will have to go to full-on regulation, it just creates the wrong environment.
Q470 Mr Leech: Is there not a danger though that the newspaper industry just calls the bluff of the Government and just does not sign up, particularly for that reason-that they know that the Government does not want to then take it further and come down even harder on the press?
Ms Harman: Obviously, you will have to ask them about that but I think that it is important to them that this is cross-party agreement, that it involves the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition all coming in behind a way of implementing a public inquiry, and that weighs upon them to think how they respond to that. The idea that they will just think, "Well, do not worry because if we do not go into it, they will do nothing about it"-I think they are probably having a more elevated thought process than that.
Q471 Mr Leech: Isn’t there evidence that in the past that is exactly what has happened? We have had the debates in the House of Commons where we have talked about there being last chance after last chance, is there not a danger that the press just thinks, "Well, we will just sit tight and nothing will happen again"?
Ms Harman: We have a new process and that process, if it works, will be sustainable.
Q472 Mr Leech: I am talking about if it does not work. If no one signs up, if no newspaper signs up, and no timetable is set up by the Government for doing anything if nothing happens, what happens then?
Ms Harman: I hope they will sign up. I can’t add any more than what I have said and what the Prime Minister has said to you. We have done our bit, I think, at this point by setting up a framework, and to be spending all our time working out what will happen if the framework that we have in good faith set up does not work is not the right thing for us to be doing at this point. This is quite constitutionally sensitive and difficult. We have all felt that and that is why we thought it was so important to have cross-party agreement even though we have our own view. We put forward our view to Leveson. It is not what the outcome was but this is very constitutionally difficult and just simply showing up here and answering a question-I do not want to do that if it interferes with what I think is an important constitutional moment. I think that on a voluntary basis, I want the newspapers to feel that this is a system that they can go into and make work not because they have been told there is a stick behind it, but because it is the right thing to do.
Q473 Mr Leech: Finally then, I accept that point but at some point we might then have to decide that we have to do something differently. Would you put a timescale on when the media should sign up to the regulator or not sign up to the regulator, so that then the politicians can look at whether or not they are going to do anything else?
Ms Harman: There are various timescales envisaged within the Charter. There obviously has to be the commencement. Then there is the timescale, which is not mapped out but which is for the Commissioner for Public Appointments to do his work. Then there is the provision for the Recognition Panel to inform Parliament if the system is not covering all significant publishers and that is within a year. Then there is the exemplary damages coming into effect. That is also within a year and then after a further three months, the Recognition Panel informing Parliament if there is no recognised regulator. We are at the beginning of that process but I want us to crack on with it and not be up against those deadlines. The main thing is we do not want to end up with the status quo and I think that it is important we have a strong free press, but I do not think the press can hold those in power to account if they are abusing their own power. I think this strengthens the press because it strengthens their legitimacy and their moral authority, which has been undermined by what has been shown in the Leveson Inquiry, so I hope they will embrace this and feel it is a step forward.
Q474 Steve Rotheram: Harriet, I think you were here earlier when the Minister gave his explanation of the regulatory system around the local and regional press; I wonder whether you agree with what he had to say. Despite the fact that both Leveson and the Deputy Prime Minister said that the local press should not be punished for or paying the price for a problem they did not create, do you understand the concerns that certain editors of local and regional newspapers have about what is proposed in the Royal Charter? If you do understand that, what comfort can you provide to perhaps dispel some of the myths that may have grown up about what is proposed?
Ms Harman: I think the key thing that has been touched on is the question of the arbitration system, and I am sure the regional press through their organisations and individually will absolutely want it to be as lean as well as effective as possible, so I think that that is about how they shape it. It is not for any of us to shape it at this stage. It is to be shaped by the regulator. The arbitration system will be shaped by the regulator but I also think that everybody always thinks in this that they are being made the victims of a problem somebody else caused. It was the whole of the newspaper industry that did not have proper enforcement of the Code and, therefore, all of the newspaper industry should be recognising that there needs to be a code that is properly enforced, and that goes for the regional newspapers as well. Obviously, the headlines have been in relation to the News of the World and such like but it is important for the local press as well to know that the Code really matters, and to comply with it.
Q475 Chair: We may have to stop in any case in just a second. I quite understand your reluctance to confront the real failure, if you like, if nobody wants to sign up and you have explained very clearly why you think it would not be helpful to speculate in that circumstance at the moment. But let us say that almost all of the newspaper industry do eventually come around to this view and accept that it is in their interests, but one publication stands outside. Does that matter?
Ms Harman: I think it is important for all newspapers to be part of the system so that if you are somebody in respect of whom the Code has been breached, you do not have to ask yourself, is this newspaper inside the regulator or not. Something has happened in relation to you and you make a complaint and it is dealt with, rather than not dealt with because the newspaper that has done it is not in the complaint system. So I do think it is important that they all be part of it, and there is no reason why any of them should stand outside it. Just about all of them have agreed that the status quo is not an option and this is the alternative and therefore, they should all be getting into it. So obviously it is important that they are all in it, but you will see what the provision is in the Charter, which is, regarding significant news publishers, there is a trigger that basically says that the Recognition Panel has to inform Parliament, and at that point people would have to think about it.
Chair: I think that perhaps that is about it, unless anybody else has anything? In which case, we will adjourn for the vote. Thank you, Harriet.