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I see the power of the media as a constitutional issue; indeed, a constitutional issue that is more important and more pressing than many of the constitutional issues that the coalition has chosen to address so far. It is a constitutional issue because a free media is indispensable to our democracy. The media mediate information and the public debate. There can be no healthy democracy without a healthy media. On behalf of the public, the media should, indeed, scrutinise politicians.
I am not aware of any country that has found a satisfactory way to accommodate the media within its polity. In the United States the First Amendment guarantees freedom of expression, but the United States has the National Enquirer and "Fox News". So what should we do in Britain? Good constitution-making finds ways to contain power and interest within structures that help ensure that power functions for the public benefit; that scope for the abuse of power is minimised; and that where abuse takes place there can be redress. Our present constitutional arrangements fail to accommodate the power of the media to this standard. In the liberal state to which we aspire we want a very large freedom for the media to investigate, to report, to expose, to challenge, to develop public understanding, to stimulate opinion and also to inform understanding by politicians of the public. We should have the largest freedom of the media consistent with other claims that a free society must also make, including the establishment and the guarding of a legal right to personal privacy and the observation of the limits to tolerance of decent public opinion.
The extent to which there should be freedom of the press will depend upon the extent to which the press is prepared to be responsible. It is best, of course, if there is a culture of responsibility and external restraints are not felt as such. However, where self-regulation fails, legal restraint must operate. There always are elements of the media that are not responsible, and it is not just the tabloids. Grand editors of quality newspapers tell us that they have the right to break the law in what they interpret as the public interest. However, the rule of law is a no less important value in a liberal society than freedom of the press. The law must be sensible and reasonable, and it should contain a presumption in favour of freedom of speech, but that end should not warrant nefarious means such as blagging and hacking.
Self-regulation is essential and it is for the industry to redesign the system of self-regulation to produce a modified Press Complaints Commission or some other body that the industry now believes is the right one to have. That body should articulate standards, secure assent across the industry to them, operate whatever sanctions it can, and negotiate redress for people who are injured, as the noble Lord, Lord Grade, rightly reminded us.
However, self-regulation is not sufficient. We have had 20 years of experience since the Select Committee on National Heritage, of which I was a member, reported on the problem of media intrusion into privacy. The media have had 20 years in the last-chance saloon. The time has come for the state to create a statutory underpinning for self-regulation. Statutory regulation, of course, should be at arm's length from the politicians. There is no new principle here. We already have the Competition Commission and Ofcom, which are responsible for statutory regulation to protect plurality and to ensure that fit and proper people control the media. We have the Information Commissioner, the data protection regime and the law of libel, about which editors grumble, but they should not pretend that statutory regulation is of itself a shocking innovation or a violation of press freedom. The media will no doubt fight against it, but Lord Justice Leveson should now design a statutory system to define the boundary between acceptable conduct by the media and that which is unacceptable, and he should propose sanctions that will effectively deter abuse or punish it if it has occurred. As the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, said, the present crisis provides an opportunity.
However, when scandals have occurred in the past, Parliament has shied away from its responsibility. Clutching the tattered banner of press freedom, politicians have shirked tackling abuse. Only unwittingly did Parliament act in 1998 with the enactment of the Human Rights Act, which incorporated into our domestic law the right to privacy contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. The judges have begun to construct a jurisprudence. That was not a bad way to embark, and we should praise the courage and decisiveness of the judges. However, super-injunctions and opacity are obviously not satisfactory, and the Prime Minister was right to say that it is for Parliament to enact a law of privacy.
We must not, this time, shirk that responsibility. We are wrong if we suppose that the present crisis has already set us free. The closure of the News of the World and the resignation of Rebekah Brooks will not solve anything. The dynamics of the situation remain unchanged. We will still have a mass media. The configuration of it will be different; Murdoch may loom less large; newspapers may continue to decline and new media to grow. But democracy will still require information that can be trusted and a media that enables public debate to be articulated. Competition within the media will still be frantic-indeed, cut-throat. Proprietors and journalists will still want power. Politicians will still seek to mobilise the media for their own purposes-to get their stories out, to spin and to win elections. I fear that there will never be the clear water between the media and politics that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, hankers after. Politicians will still be frightened by the power of the media to inflict damage on Governments, political parties and individual politicians themselves. It will be very difficult to achieve a better pathology, but we must now find better ways to accommodate the media within our evolving constitution and the political life of our country.
Lord De Mauley: I am most grateful to the noble Lord, for whom I have the greatest respect, for giving way. I draw his attention to the usual courtesy to the House of participants withdrawing if they are unable to arrive in time to hear the opening speeches in a debate. Other noble Lords who unfortunately found themselves in the same position as him have courteously agreed to withdraw from the debate. In acknowledging that business this morning moved faster than anticipated, I say with great respect that it is for each of us individually to arrange our lives to be here even if matters proceed so quickly. The House even, unusually, allowed five minutes' grace before the start of the debate. I appeal to the noble Lord to consider carefully whether he should speak. If he insists, it is of course a matter for the House to decide whether your Lordships wish to hear him.
Lord Birt: My Lords, I was going to apologise-I do apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. I was misinformed about the likely start time of this debate, and I was here at the time when I was told that it was likely to start. Of course I will respect the will of the House, and I ask the House whether it wishes to hear my views on this important matter. I detect that the mood is that I should continue.
Baroness O'Cathain: I beg to move that the noble Lord be no longer heard. This is wrong. Despite the fact that we did not say aye or nay, or content or not content, we assumed that the noble Lord would take the mood of the House. Other people came late as well and took not the mood but the convention of the House and did not speak.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, as the noble Baroness says, it is indeed correct that the convention of the House is that if one is not here at the beginning of the debate, one should scratch. However, there are mitigating circumstances. Although I appreciate that people should be here long before the start of a debate, it is difficult if one is told that it will be an hour and a half later. I therefore suggest that rather than noble Lords who were not here at the beginning of the debate giving their full speeches, they should limit their speeches to two minutes. I have been speaking to my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, who asked if she might speak in the gap for a couple of minutes. Personally, I would find that acceptable. I am not a Whip, but I put that forward as a way through this matter.
Lord Soley: Before the noble Lord responds, perhaps I may clarify that part of the problem was the uncertainty yesterday about the start time of this debate, when we were being told by people on the government side that it would start at 12.30 pm. I missed the first few minutes of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, which was not very long, but it was primarily because I had a delay elsewhere. I want some guidance on this. One problem with the House is that we do not have clear start times. It would save everybody a lot of problems if we did. My view is that in a debate of this nature, we should let people speak.
Lord De Mauley: My Lords, perhaps I may respond to the Leader of the Opposition. If noble Lords agree, then in the rather unusual circumstances in which we find ourselves that would seem to be a very sensible suggestion. If, as the noble Baroness suggests, noble Lords could keep their speeches to two minutes, I am sure that the House would be very grateful.
Lord Birt: My Lords, this is profoundly unreasonable. My office called the Whips' Office this morning, not yesterday, and was told that the debate was likely to start at 12.30 pm. I have not prepared a two-minute speech; I have prepared a longer speech, and I am not willing to speak for two minutes. I have never, and would never, wish to be discourteous in any way to this House. Again, I ask the House to allow me to make the speech that I have prepared.
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am in a similar position. I consulted both the Government Whips and the Opposition Whips last night and was told that the debate was likely to start at half-past one. I got here well before half-past one. I am very apologetic to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, but we must have some arrangement whereby the people who are responsible for our getting here too late are called to account. It is simply not fair to proceed on any other basis.
Lord De Mauley: My Lords, the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition suggested a time limit of two minutes. I responded that I thought that that was reasonable, and I hope that the House will agree to go with it.
Baroness Kramer: My Lords, I do not know whether it is appropriate to comment but everyone seems to be doing so. I understand that the convention of the House is that speeches are not read. Although that convention is frequently held in abeyance, it means that your Lordships all have the capacity to consider and present the key points of their statements, perhaps with an opportunity for people to read the full speech on a later occasion.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, surely the circumstances today are quite exceptional. It seems to me that the House would be very interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Birt, has to say. I am sure that he will confine his remarks to a reasonable minimum, but I think that we should hear his contribution to this debate.
Lord De Mauley: I am grateful to all noble Lords. I suggest that we proceed with the debate. If the House wishes to hear the noble Lord, Lord Birt, perhaps he would like to keep his comments as brief as he possibly can.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I do not wish to prolong this. I have no objection should the noble Lord wish to continue and should that be the will of the House, However, if the noble Lord, Lord Birt, is going to speak, then I think that for reasons of equity it should be possible for my noble friends Lord Gilbert and Lord Myners, as well as the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, also to speak.
This week we have witnessed a shameful reckoning for many of Britain's leading institutions. No one who has gained celebrity, or who has been prominent in British public life over these past few decades, will have been at all surprised by recent revelations, for the scale of intrusion into private lives by a number of media organisations and by a variety of means-whether trickery, deception, theft or bribery-has been a commonplace experience for many, as I expect the judicial inquiry will draw out. Phone hacking was but a new and pernicious refinement-a new technological tool of a well plied trade. The perpetrators were not just print media outlets but the variety of agencies and lone individuals who support and serve them.
Yet despite the widespread understanding of this position, almost no one rose to the challenge of confronting it. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, is a rare and honourable exception, as are the Information Commissioner and the Guardian. Now that we know what the police knew, we can see how lamentable was their response. Of course, hacking does not rank with terrorism but it is none the less a most serious matter of public interest when the phones of a multitude of citizens of every kind are targeted and when some are hacked. The police should have mounted a major and vigorous investigation and they must look at themselves and understand why. Another institution-the PCC-has long been a feeble front, unwilling to consider and grapple with the darker forces in the industry that it regulates. It is a pity that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, is not here today to help us understand why. The noble Lord, Lord Grade, will bring invaluable experience to the PCC in the difficult period that it has ahead.
However, the police and the PCC were not alone. Both main parties have been persistent victims of these forces, yet have done nothing. The undercurrent of self-congratulation in the other place this week could not be less merited. In truth, we all understand why nothing was done. It is natural to cower before such great and potentially destructive power. But it was not admirable. Against the background of these long established behaviours, the events of recent months still seem extraordinary. When News Corp wanted to acquire the whole of BSkyB, Ofcom identified many issues and recommended to the Secretary of State that
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It soon became clear that, like his predecessors, the Secretary of State would not bite the bullet; he was willing to allow the takeover to proceed. Luckily for him he was saved by the bell. A single horrendous episode-a bolt of lightning-switched the fulcrum of the debate overnight. Much as it may have disgusted us, the hacking of Milly Dowler's telephone did not raise a brand new issue of principle. Accessing anyone's private communication is in principle wrong. As the person who produced David Frost's interviews with President Nixon in the 1970s, I spent a significant amount of time studying Watergate. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Grade, said earlier, and offer some simple advice to senior News Corp and other media executives: it is not the crime that brings you down, it is the cover-up.
We may now face a gruelling few years as a judicial inquiry unravels these practices, and not just within News Corp. We must await the full evidence that emerges; but it is not too soon to begin learning lessons and to consider what we should do next. Our media concentration rules are archaic. News Corp may not own more than 20 per cent of ITV but it may own a far bigger entity-the whole of BSkyB. We should prize plurality and seize the moment. We must severely reduce the concentration limits in respect of UK media and cross-media ownership. For clarity: I would no more wish to see the Guardian gain a dominant position than News Corp.
Secondly, as a society we must decide what standards we want in our print media. However the information was obtained, Gordon and Sarah Brown should not have to face the involuntary exposure of their young child's severe medical condition, and nor should anyone else.
We have insisted on high standards in our broadcast media for the best part of a century, as many noble Lords have observed. At the BBC, there is a thick volume setting out key values and offering guidance and rules on hundreds of editorial matters, and it is constantly updated in the light of experience. Compare the BBC's guidelines sometime with the PCC's skimpy folio. The BBC's guidelines are not an encumbrance. They are rooted in the public interest and they promote it. No one can suggest that the BBC or the other public service broadcasters which abide by similar principles have not provided a sharp range of opinion, fearless journalism of exposure and real challenge, and creative expression of originality and daring.
A vigorous, pugnacious, sharp elbowed press is a vital part of our democratic tradition, and no one, but no one, would do anything other than fight to maintain it. Finally, if we are to have a press which also behaves ethically, we need a regulator with teeth which can not only frame ethical guidelines but can also enforce them.
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: My Lords, I, too, had originally scratched. I apologise to the House because, like others, I had understood that the debate was to start much later. I am grateful for the short time that I shall take.
I adopt the arguments made by many about the terrible conduct that has led to the creation of the judicial-led inquiry. For me, it is about the debasement of our values. It is interesting to note that three crises have come to light in as many years involving our financial system, our political system with the abuse of allowances, and now our press. That tells us something about the power of the masters of the universe and of big money, and how it corrupts our society.
I want to touch on an important point about the judicial inquiry, which will have two phases. I fear that the second phase, about shedding light on corrupt practices, will be kicked into the long grass and that it is likely to be many years before we get to the bottom of what really has gone on. I therefore urge that through the auspices of our political leaders, the judicial inquiry in its purview will have the opportunity to provide immunity to journalists who have felt ethically compromised by the conduct within their newspapers, and who might be willing to give evidence but do not want to be in fear of prosecution and of mightier powers. We must give them assurances that they will not be vulnerable, because only by doing so are we likely to get to the bottom of the corruption. I hope that our law officers will give guidance on that. It is not a practice that is usually undertaken in this country, but it will perhaps be important if we are to flush out the full extent of the abysmal corruption that has taken place.
I also hope that the inquiry will be properly resourced. Sue Akers, the police officer who is currently undertaking the inquiry into phone hacking, says that the police have 12,800 names to go through and that only 30 or so can be dealt with each week. It will be a monumental task, and I therefore ask that real resources are put into it because of the fundamental role that a proper and ethical press plays in our democracy. Thank you.
Lord Cormack: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, on giving a short, succinct speech that was entirely to the point. I am sure that we were all grateful for that. I will begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Fowler, who has slipped out for a moment, for setting a very high standard for this debate with his opening speech. He was followed by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, who also gave a masterly speech that was very moderate, sensible and balanced.
We need in this debate to set the matter in a historic context. Technology has made a difference, but we have had times when press barons wielded enormous and indeed unwieldy power. One has only to mention Northcliffe-the Napoleon of Fleet Street-and Beaverbrook, to know that there were those in the past who might have done great good but who also wielded enormous power. It is in that context that we
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I was very concerned two years ago, as we all were, by the scandal of Members of Parliament's expenses, which even touched your Lordships' House. The noble Baroness who has just spoken referred briefly to that. During the debates in another place, I made the point that it sometimes seemed that the fourth estate was hell bent on destroying the other three. However, because of that, we must not be tempted into the sort of indiscriminate attack that some of the press-not particularly the Murdoch press in that case-indulged in during the so-called MPs' expenses scandal. In the summer of 2009, one was reminded, from one's historic reading, of Titus Oates-or, in my case, of my memory as a young schoolboy of McCarthy.
We do not need to go down a similar road. My noble friends Lady Wheatcroft and Lord Fowler referred to the press. We have many journalists of high repute. We owe a great deal to our free press in this country. A free and responsible press under the law is as essential to a free society as is a free Parliament. Therefore, during the inquiries that will take place, and particularly during the parliamentary inquiry that will begin next week when the Select Committee has before it Mr Rupert Murdoch, Mr James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks, we must heed-my honourable friend Lord Fowler referred to this-some of the words in the Times leader this morning.
I speak as a former chairman of a Select Committee. It is the duty of such a committee to probe, to examine and to be inquisitorial in the best sense, but not to grandstand or seek personal glory or publicity. It must ask questions and carry on asking them until proper answers are given: and if proper answers are not given, to draw the right and appropriate conclusions. I have great confidence in my honourable friend John Whittingdale, who chairs that committee. I do not know all the members of the committee, because many entered the House only last year. However, I would say to them all, "On your shoulders rests a very great responsibility. In a sense, you are acting for Parliament as a whole, so ask the questions, pin down your witnesses, but resist the temptation to score cheap points".
As I said, a free press is as necessary to a free, functioning society as a free Parliament, but I was very taken by some of the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, when she talked about values. She referred to her late husband, very movingly I thought. What has happened in this country over the past two or three decades is a loss of values. Children are being brought up in an atmosphere where they are not taught the difference between right and wrong. It is an inevitable progression from that childhood that in adulthood young men and women will be tempted to think that anything goes, so long as it produces the appropriate result. That is the culture that underlies
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I believe that out of all this, good must come, and it is essential that we all play our part in trying to ensure that it does and that we see an end to the manipulation and a proper regard and mutual respect between the media, politicians and the great British public, to which both Houses of this Parliament are answerable and to which the press also should be answerable. I very much hope that there will be a reawakening of a proper sense of moral probity and right and wrong as a result of what has happened to families such as the Dowlers over this past week. It is unthinkable that that should have happened. It must never happen again.
A heavy responsibility rests upon us, but we have to see this in its historic context. We must not panic because there is no situation that is not made worse by panic. What we have to do is to try to ensure that in the future there is a properly regulated press that is not inimical to the idea of a free press. I am not sure that I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Grade about self-regulation. Other professions are not self-regulated in the way that he seemed to imply, but, obviously, he speaks from great experience, and one wants to be able to consider with great care, after this debate, what he said. I believe that we need to have a press complaints commission-and this is no criticism of my noble friend Lady Buscombe, who sadly is not in her place-in which we can all have confidence and trust. Trust is the lubricant of a free society, and it is sadly lacking at the moment.
I am comforted by two things. I never subscribe to Balfour's dictum that nothing matters very much and most things do not matter at all, but I think there is something in the words of the late, great Viscount Willie Whitelaw who said that things are never quite as bad or as good as they seem.
Lord Soley: My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, who has a long and distinguished record, on what he has been doing recently. To repeat what I said earlier, my apologies for missing some of the opening comments for the reasons I explained. Let me come to the heart of the issue. I do not think at this stage that I want to address the issue of what we do about the Press Complaints Commission. As an investigation has been set up into that, today we need to identify some of the key questions that have been asked over time and need to be answered.
The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, will recall that in 1992 he chaired an official committee of the House of Commons on my Freedom and Responsibility of the
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The trick in this is to get the right balance between freedom of the press, which we all want, and the responsibility which we know has gone badly off the rails. It is possible to have a statutory model, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Grade, indicated, is the model of the electronic media, television and radio. But there is also the Advertising Standards Authority, which has a statutory back-up through Ofcom if it is necessary.
One of the first questions that an investigation has to answer is: should we have a statutory or a non-statutory body? It is a difficult question. I think that statutory regulation can be done without losing press freedom. It is perfectly possible to do it, although there is an argument about desirability and some of the issues around what is a newspaper and what is not a newspaper. There is a problem in that area.
We have been faced with unaccountable power by large media groups. This applies not just to News International, but to other groups too. What has been happening is not new. One of the reasons I stress this is that when people say that politicians did not fight this issue, actually, a lot of us did. A lot of us got a lot of flack for doing so, as many people will know, in the other House and in this House at times. Certainly, I have had things happen to me which should not have happened by a decent press, but, curiously, at the end of the day, I did not feel intimidated. Why? It is because I am a fairly experienced politician and a fairly experienced public figure, and at times you shrug your shoulders. But you do it about things that members of the public should not have to shrug their shoulders about. If my kids are photographed over the garden wall I can deal with that in my own way with the journalists involved but an ordinary member of the public cannot do that, which is something we need to emphasise.
On privacy, a key question for the committee concerns the balance between the need to know and the desire to know. Do we want to leave it to the courts to decide the balance between Articles 8 and 10 of the European convention-privacy and the right to free speech-or do we want a separate privacy law? That key question must be answered. I have referred to the power of the press in this House and in the House of Commons on previous occasions. I have publicised all of this and it has been in the public domain for some time. I mention again the case I took up against the then editor of the Sun, Stuart Higgins, and the gross harassment and bullying that was happening at the Sun. I have to say to people who work for News International that I do not believe that it was not known; I do not believe that it was not known to Rebekah Wade; and I do not believe that it was not known to Rupert Murdoch.
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That is exactly what happened at News International last week. When I wrote to Rupert Murdoch asking how much was paid, I was told not by Murdoch but by other people that it was half a million pounds. That is a lot of money and you do not get it for having your bottom pinched. There was then some argument about whether it was as much as that, but of course a lot of the expenses were also paid. I still do not know the figure. Did I get a reply from Rupert Murdoch? No, I did not. I wrote to Rebekah Wade, who replied immediately to say-this is how the intimidation can work-"Tell me, Mr Soley. How many cases of sexual harassment did you deal with when you were chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party?". The answer, incidentally, is that I did not get any complaints. But you can see the mode they operated in; it was immediately to try an attack on me without answering the question. But how can you pay out large sums of money without the owner knowing, let alone the editor? I then got another letter from the human resources manager who simply said that he was going to close the correspondence with me.
I turn to the power of the press. The press will often say, "We are here to hold power to account". I agree with that, but of course it immediately raises the other question which the committee will have to look at: who guards the guards? If they do not report what I was doing on my Freedom and Responsibility of the Press Bill, and if they do not report it when I run that story, which was reported on the BBC "Today" programme, by the Guardian and the Independentand then died, you have a real problem on your hands.
I want to end on two points. Ownership is an issue as is the issue of the link between politicians and journalists. Let us remember that in the 1970s an elected politician could expect to be reported in the Times. I do not want to go back to such simple methods, but when that stopped, what happened instead was that newly elected people like myself realised that we had to make links with journalists in order to run a story. That is not going to stop, but even with the new media which will change the nature of this argument considerably, we will need to look at how journalists and politicians work together to run a story.
I want briefly to mention the issue of post-publication. Any controls on the press, whether voluntary or not, need to recognise that they have to be imposed post-publication, not pre-publication. I hope that that will
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Lord Stoneham of Droxford: My Lords, I have to declare an interest as a former group production director and personnel director for News International eight years ago, and a beneficiary of the News International pension scheme. As someone who spent his life in newspapers, I am saddened by the developments of the past few weeks and the impact on the reputations of all those who work in the newspaper sector. The only encouraging factor which should not be forgotten is that it was the determination and diligence of other parts of the press that brought this abuse of media power into the public domain.
The News International I worked for was a brilliantly successful operation, producing 5 million newspapers a night. It had transformed the technology and the restrictive practices of the past. All four of its titles had been revamped into vibrant titles. Journalists went to work for News International because the company valued and resourced them. BSkyB has been a brilliantly innovative business and the group employed some of the best in the sector. It was led by the media genius of his age.
What has gone wrong and what can we learn from it? The key is that one of the paradoxes of market capitalism is that success can breed arrogance and complacency. Rupert Murdoch was too brilliant an entrepreneur to allow complacency, but he bred an arrogance culture which has now undermined his company's reputation. Too much market power was connived at and ignored by the political establishment of this country. That fed the arrogance of people who thought they were untouchable. It led to overdominant power, where pricing policy, promotional spend and cross-subsidisation of titles all hinted at anti-competitive activity, which was suspected but was never exposed. It meant that established politicians cowered rather than face up to them; it has clearly made some of their staff think they are above the law; and it seduced and compromised the police. Arrogance has grown as they became more dominant and became less subtle.
One of the signs of the changing judgment in the company was the ill-judged decision by the Sun to ditch Gordon Brown's Labour Government in the middle of the Labour Party conference in 2009, just as it had abandoned John Major ahead of the 1997 general election. It was arrogant; it was ill judged; it was an incitement to the understandable ill will and resentment which has boiled over in the past couple of weeks.
What do we need to do? First, we have to grapple and challenge ownership and size in the media sector. It is the key issue now. The current mood in the
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Last December, the Business Secretary, whom I am sad that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, did not mention in her roll of honour, almost alone questioned the dominance of the Murdoch empire. He was prepared to ask whether it is right to accept that 40 per cent of the market is too much for Tesco but not to apply the same principle to News International. News International has become almost too dominant in newspapers. Until a few days ago, we were prepared as a country to complement that press dominance with a similar dominance in broadcasting, where Sky last year spent 50 per cent more on television than the BBC. The figures are stunning: £6 billion against £4 billion.
It is clear that corporate governance is not working in the press media. Did anyone in News International evaluate the damage done to its journalistic brand by compromising journalistic integrity and engaging in criminal behaviour? It is clear they did not. It has compounded that by condoning a seeming cover-up at a senior level. I hope that the recent appointment of a former Labour Home Secretary, David Blunkett, as adviser on corporate social responsibility will not prove too burdensome for him.
This matter is not confined to News International. Other media groups are noticeable by their silence. Why are they not declaring that none of their journalists phone-hacked, bribed policemen or illegally processed personal data? The silence suggests that they know they cannot or they fear the worst.
I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Grade, said. There are others, however, calling for the abolition of the Press Complaints Commission. It needs a thorough revamp; it needs to be strengthened; it needs greater independence, proper investigation powers and the ability to enforce corrections and sanctions. If this model can be applied to broadcasters, why cannot it be applied to the press?
It was clearly not in the public interest that Vince Cable was silenced on media issues by the Daily Telegraph in December last year. The PCC declared that the Telegraph conducted "unacceptable subterfuge". Did Vince Cable get a fulsome public apology from the Telegraph? Did the journalist get disciplined rather than promoted? I simply do not know-and that is why the current system does not have public credibility.
Baroness Buscombe: I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. In declaring my interest as chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, I can confirm that the Daily Telegraph had to publish a full, half-page apology.
The danger in the current mood of hysteria and sanctimony is that it will lead to restrictions on the freedom of the press. I welcome the recent speech of the current Deputy Prime Minister. We need now a structure of regulation which preserves media freedom while curbing abuse and, particularly, deals with concentrations of unaccountable and uncontrollable power in the media.
Lord Imbert: My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Birt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, I, too, apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and the two noble Baronesses who followed him for not being here at the opening of the debate. In my relative infancy as a Member of your Lordships' House, I took the advice that I was given by the same source as the noble Lord, Lord Birt, that the debate would start between 12.30 and 12.45. I decided to get here 30 minutes earlier-frankly, that was only to ensure that I got a seat-and the debate had already begun. I apologise to your Lordships and, particularly, to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler.
I share the revulsion that has been shown over the disclosures of the phone hacking practices of the News of the World and, who knows, maybe other sections of the media. As a former police officer, I am also appalled at the allegations-particularly if they turn out to be true-that police officers sold information to a newspaper or newspapers owned by News International. Whether it is illegal phone hacking or, equally, the unlawful selling of information to the press by serving or former police officers, we are all hanging our heads in dismay at such disgraceful activity, and the sooner we get to the bottom of this the better it will be for everyone.
It was therefore with great relief that I heard that the Government had asked Lord Justice Leveson to undertake a thorough and public inquiry to do just that. The terms of the inquiry are wide-ranging, as they should be, and all noble Lords will be aware of the scale of the inquiry following the Statement on phone hacking given in another place on Wednesday of this week, just two days ago, and repeated in this Chamber by the Leader of the House the same afternoon. I am sure that we are all relieved at the extent and terms of the inquiry.
In the mean time, the police inquiry by a completely new team, led by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, into the phone-tapping allegations will continue and, undoubtedly, the learned judge will examine that most carefully. He will also, we hope, establish the truth as to why the initial inquiry was not continued. We all hang our heads over these dreadful events and allegations and until the matter is cleared up- particularly, from my point of view, the allegations of police corruption-my once proud boast that I served for nearly four decades in what I thought was the world's finest police service, the Metropolitan Police, will seldom pass my lips again. I, like the present commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and the vast majority of present and former police officers, not only in the metropolis but throughout the whole country, will pray that guilty parties, whomsoever they may be, will be identified and soon join the ranks of the unemployed-dare I say it, during Her Majesty's pleasure.
I have spoken recently to Sir Paul Stephenson, the present Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police who in my view is a man of the highest integrity. Sir Paul demonstrated his determination to get to the truth of the allegations of police involvement by immediately asking the Independent Police Complaints Commission to carry out an independent and thorough investigation. One important point that I would wish to make is that, until that investigation has been completed by Lord Justice Leveson, I ask that noble Lords do not assume that police have acted in an unlawful and deplorable way. If there is a guilty party, he or she will be hunted down relentlessly and have to take their punishment. But it does seem true that, as they say, if you throw enough mud, some of it will stick.
In this country, we are fortunate that we have a police service where integrity, determination and honesty are the order of the day, and if any police officers do not contribute to that, they should look for some other job. I was going to suggest that perhaps they should go into journalism. [Laughter.] I hope that that will be struck from the record! It is unfair that revelations about phone-hacking practices of some sections of the media have been used to level accusations at the police service as a whole. Am I wrong in thinking that an organisation that would sink so low as to intercept messages made to and from those who were already suffering awful heartache and tragedy would not stop at making accusations against others to divert attention from themselves? But I know that Lord Justice Leveson will look at this with his usual thoroughness.
To finish, I must, perhaps ill advisedly, make a comment about the proceedings in the Home Affairs Select Committee earlier this week, when it questioned serving and former senior officers of the Metropolitan Police. I expected a professional, probing and searching examination to take place, to help discover the true facts about why the original investigation did not continue, the relationship between News International and senior officers and the question of illegal payments or inducements to one of the former officers. What I did not expect to hear were members of the committee laughing at their own somewhat weak jibes.
This series of allegations is of the utmost seriousness, but I could not help the feeling that the committee was enjoying the outing. I imagined, wrongly I hope, that at the closure of the committee's questioning, its members would hie off to the bar and enjoy a repeat of some of their own comments. I am pleased, as all honest police officers will be, that the inquiry where witnesses will be summoned to appear and be examined under oath will be far more rigorous and searching. In the short debate following the Statement by the Leader of the House on Wednesday, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, commented about the worth of the time spent by that Select Committee. While admitting that I have no experience of the workings of such committees, could I seek your Lordships' indulgence for my impertinence by suggesting that perhaps members of such a committee might benefit from a course on the art of interrogation?
My final words are thanks and congratulations to the Government for appointing this wide-ranging inquiry. We look forward to the outcome of the enquiry by
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Perhaps this is why politicians are struggling to keep the issue reined in. It is not simply to do with legality. I am just a newspaper reader, thankfully not a victim, and like most readers I have few answers but many questions. Here are just three. How widespread was the collapse of leadership within the press? Why were there, seemingly, so few Deep Throat-type characters in our newsrooms revealing these practices? Have other institutions had similar troubles?
First, how widespread was the collapse? The best evidence I can find comes from the Guardian column called Media Monkey. On 1 May 2002, Media Monkey wrote a report on the Guardian's website on the newspaper industry's Princess Margaret awards. These awards are colloquially called the Shaftas, as they are for the worst journalistic mistakes that year. The 2002 awards were sponsored by Vodafone. The evening was attended by Piers Morgan and the Sun newpaper's then showbiz editor Dominic Mohan, who is now the paper's editor. Media Monkey said:
"Ring, a ring a story. How appropriate that the most glamorous event in the showbusiness calendar should be sponsored by a phone company. Mohan went on to thank 'Vodafone's lack of security' for the Mirror's showbusiness exclusives. Whatever does he mean?".
I am afraid that this was to an industry audience, which unfortunately leads to the inevitable conclusion that there was widespread collapse in the leadership within the press. However, did Vodafone take any action as the sponsor of the awards? With so much of our lives moving on to smartphones, the lack of proper security systems for mobile phones must not be lost in this debate. Also, if you were a member of the audience, who do you report this to? Do we need a kind of Crimestoppers for whistleblowers?
Secondly, there is the lack of a Deep Throat. It is a shame that the UK has adopted the word "gate", from Watergate, for our scandals but, seemingly, does not have whistleblowers of the Deep Throat kind or more investigative journalists in the Woodward and Bernstein mould. I believe that deeply embedded in the nation's psyche is the idea that you do not snitch. Along with institutional cultures of fear if you speak out, that makes a toxic mix. We need more whistleblowers, not leakers. Whistleblowers speak out in the public interest. I hope that through this inquiry, we will rediscover what is genuinely in the public interest-not what is interesting to the public or to the political advantage of some.
Gordon Brown was right to question the public interest in revealing his son's condition but that is precisely why it could have been stopped, as it was a clear breach of the Press Complaints Commission's code. The idea of the media wielding such power over leading politicians that they do not use the code is
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The public interest also does not equate to political advantage, so for politicians it is about limiting leaks while preserving whistleblowing. Christopher Galley was sacked from the Home Office for leaking information to politicians. Politicians need to be very circumspect about documents that are leaked by civil servants because they supposedly contain information in the public interest. Governments need to be able to trust civil servants, and politicians and the media should not provide incentives for conduct by civil servants that may not be illegal but amounts to professional misconduct.
Unfortunately, the culture of silence in newsrooms has been found in other institutions: the Catholic Church; the BBC and ITV over telephone voting scams; HBOS, which made the whistleblower Paul Moore redundant after he warned of reckless lending practices; and Bristol hospital, when consultant anaesthetist Dr Stephen Bolsin broke ranks to expose high death rates among heart surgery patients who were children. Interestingly, Dr Bolsin said why he broke the silence:
"In the end I just couldn't go on putting those children to sleep, with their parents present in the anaesthetic room, knowing that it was almost certain to be the last time they would see their sons or daughters alive".
Along with the noble Lord, Lord Glasman, I believe that the public feel that there is a crisis of leadership in our public institutions and are wondering who to trust. Alas, the Anglican Church owns $6 million worth of shares in News Corporation, so I doubt that the archbishops are able to step into the gap. Despite this leadership vacuum, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a modern-day separation of powers between the press, politicians and the police, to rediscover the meaning of the public interest and to find out how profits, readership and popularity came to matter more than honesty and integrity.
I believe that eventually the truth will out. America looked back on Watergate and saw the truth come out as the result of the door to an office being left inches open so that a security officer realised that someone had been in there. This nation will look back at "Hackgate" and see that the truth came out because Prince William and his contact were not available to speak directly so left voicemail messages. The royal household also had the discretion to know who holds what personal information, and inadvertently that discretion will have served the nation oh so well.
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, one of the things that we certainly have to do is reform this House so that we do not have a repetition of the intolerable debacle at the beginning of today's debate. This should be perfectly simple to arrange. The Front Benches should get together, and it is simple to agree that business of certain types will not start before a certain time so that everyone knows where they are. It is beyond me why we have not done something like that before.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am sure that in the past, although it may have slipped his notice, my noble friend Lord Gilbert has been told that times given for the start of particular items of business are an assessment and may not be relied upon. In asking everyone else who is here to wait for up to an hour, I feel that my noble friend is being a little unreasonable.
Having got that off my chest, I want to say how much I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge. She said, and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, put forward the same sentiment, that you had to have public servants you could trust. I am afraid there is one very prominent public servant I do not trust. My speech can be read in an article of 16 March 2009 in the Independent over the by-line of Mr Stephen Glover:
The black mark on Miss Colette Bowe's copybook is that when she was director of information at the Department of Trade and Industry she leaked a letter from the Attorney-General. She was not a young, fledgling secretary; she was the director of information, a senior official. Not only did she leak the Attorney-General's letter, an unspeakable thing to do in the first place, she edited it tendentiously, as the Select Committee found. She edited it in order to do as much damage as possible to another serving Cabinet Minister, the then Mr Heseltine, in pursuance of a feud between him and the then Mr Leon Brittan-he might have had his K by then, I am not sure.
The committee of which I was lucky to be a member, which had seven Conservative members and was chaired by a former Conservative Chief Whip, found Miss Bowe's conduct, "improper, tendentious and disreputable". I say again, "disreputable". I was horrified when I discovered that Miss Bowe was about to be appointed chairman of Ofcom-by a Labour Minister, I am afraid. I found out at the very last moment. I managed to buttonhole
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The next day I wrote to the editor. A month later, I had had no reply. I sent a second letter to the editor. A month later I had still had no reply. I sent a third letter saying that I was referring him to the Press Complaints Commission. Noble Lords would be surprised how quickly he replied: the next day. I do not share the pessimism of everyone in your Lordships' House about the effectiveness of the Press Complaints Commission; it certainly scared the pants off the editor of the Financial Times in March 2009. I got an answer, and a correction that said that she was not cleared of all wrongdoing but was one of five civil servants who had been severely criticised by that committee. It was probably the most heavyweight departmental committee that had ever been set up at the other end of the Corridor. It was stuffed full of privy counsellors, Ministers, future Ministers and, as I say, its chairman was a former Conservative Chief Whip. It took a very dim view indeed of Miss Bowe.
My second concern is therefore how this report came to appear in the Financial Times. Who told the Financial Times that Miss Bowe had been cleared? I wracked my brains over that. When presented with a conundrum of that sort, I usually say, "Cui bono?". Who benefitted from this thoroughly misleading report? It was not a question of exaggeration or a controversial interpretation. This Select Committee report could not conceivably be read without realising that criticism of Miss Bowe is in paragraph after paragraph. Cui bono? I consulted many friends: "Can you think of anyone other than Miss Bowe who might have got in touch with the Financial Times to tell it that she was cleared?". I cannot. I cannot prove anything, but I have the greatest suspicion. I am afraid that there is a prominent public official in whom I have very little trust. That is a very sad thing to have to say.
I thoroughly endorse the Prime Minister's determination that we should have the highest standards in every aspect of our public life that deals with the press. I shall be writing to the learned judge, drawing his attention to my remarks today and this article in the Independent, and asking him to take account of the need to consider the position of Miss Bowe. I might be asked why I have not previously raised this subject. The answer is quite simple: it is only very recently that I realised that Ofcom had responsibility not only for such things as wavebands, who owns which television station and so on, but for passing judgment on the moral fibre of people who own parts of the media. I apologise; I did not know that and it changes things. Miss Bowe is in charge of the public body that has had that responsibility given to it.
I shall quote briefly from page 7 of this morning's Daily Telegraph-a story by Mr John Bingham about Rupert Murdoch's daughter's "attack on Rebekah Brooks". I wholly endorse the message sent by the
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Lord Myners: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, not only on securing this debate but on the campaign that he has waged for such a long time on press responsibility and accountability. I have three interests to declare. First, I was chairman of the Guardianfor 10 years. I am hugely proud of the work that Nick Davies and Alan Rusbridger have done in exposing what has allegedly happened at News International, particularly against the opposition of many others in the media, including the Press Complaints Commission. Secondly, I have worked with Mr Jeremy Darroch, the chief executive of BSkyB. I will come to that subject in a moment. Thirdly, I have met Mr Rupert Murdoch only once in my life. That was in 1990 when he came to me in the City, desperate to raise additional funds as he had almost landed News Corp on the rocks as a result of foolhardy financing strategies. I did not save him by providing more money but others did.
I have very little to add to the general debate to which noble Lords have already contributed. Proper process will now be followed here in the United Kingdom and elsewhere to investigate questions of criminality, morality and probity. Your Lordships' House has adopted the right moderate tone today. However, I cannot avoid noting that the Prime Minister and the Government vacillated on many issues to do with News International at every critical decision moment and had to be dragged to the right decision when it was so obvious that there was no alternative, rather than providing the leadership that we might have expected. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport bent over backwards to do everything he possibly could to facilitate the acquisition of BSkyB by News International. He took every possible action to ensure that the matter did not go to the Competition Commission but rather negotiated in private with the Murdochs and with News International. That was clearly a very poor judgment by the Secretary of State.
I was going to say that I was sad that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, was not in her place. She then appeared in her place and she has now again departed from her place. I think she might follow that same chain of events in terms of the chairmanship of the Press Complaints Commission because it is clear that the Press Complaints Commission, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, said, needs a completely fresh start with a new vigour and intention, which is clearly not there. I felt for the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe,
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Other things need to be done. The Communications Act 2003 is clearly, with hindsight, deficient: the public interest test is too narrow, as are the restrictions placed on cross-media ownership. That Act did not anticipate the advent of digital media and consequently it needs to be revisited as soon as possible. In the mean time, Ofcom needs to look seriously at the fit and proper test, and in particular to articulate the criteria and processes that will be applied in the future in exercising "fit and proper" as a test because there is a lack of specificity and clarity. We also need to address the issue of privacy. We are reminded at this time of the importance of ensuring that the BBC continues to be properly funded in order to provide an independent and reliable source of information and comment.
I want to focus on corporate governance. The governance of News Corp, an American company, is not a matter of great concern to this House. The company is run on hereditary principles and is controlled by the Murdoch family, even though they have a modest equity interest in the business as a result of the use of shares with super-voting rights. The board of News Corp has clearly been very ineffective. However, I want to turn our attention to the board of BSkyB, a company in which News Corp has a 39 per cent equity interest. This company is chaired by Mr James Murdoch. A significant number of the directors on the board of BSkyB are related to News Corp or do not pass the test of independence as defined by the Financial Reporting Council's governance code. Mr DeVoe, Mr Evans, Mr Mockridge and Mr Siskind have all previously worked for News International while Mr Leighton and Mr Nasser are judged not to be independent by length of service. Clearly, the proportion of BSkyB board directors represented by those who speak for, or are sympathetic to, the interests of News International is disproportionate to the equity ownership that News Corp and News International have in that company. BSkyB will announce its profit figures on 29 July. I urge the board of BSkyB to reflect over the next fortnight on the governance of that company as a matter of priority and-this is important-to consult with other shareholders.
BSkyB's corporate governance page on its website talks about all the normal committees that you would expect there to be in a public company-the Audit Committee, the Nominations Committee and the Remuneration Committee. It also has a committee that I have never seen before-the Bigger Picture Committee. It is not entirely clear what the Bigger Picture Committee does but it is pretty clear what the Bigger Picture Committee should now be doing. All directors of BSkyB, in accordance with best advice from the Financial Reporting Council, should stand for re-election at the annual general meeting this summer, including Mr James Murdoch. The board should seek
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The shareholders of BSkyB other than News Corp hold 60 per cent of the voting rights. It is within their power to secure these changes and ensure that in future News Corp's representation on the board of BSkyB is proportionate, but not so great that it can dominate the board of directors. It is important that BSkyB in these circumstances establishes an appropriate distance from News Corp as a shareholder. Fortunately, at last year's annual general meeting, a number of major institutional investors did vote against Mr James Murdoch's re-election as a director-Aviva, Baillie Gifford, Legal & General, and Co-operative Asset Management. I hope that they will again be given the opportunity to vote on Mr Murdoch and will again conclude that they should vote against his re-election; and I hope that others will join them. One of the things that we learnt from the banking crisis was that the failure of boards was at the heart of what went wrong in those companies, and the failure of shareholders who look after our savings and our pensions properly to engage was one of the great deficiencies. There is an opportunity here for the great investment institutions of Edinburgh, London and New York to show that they have had enough with the way that the Murdochs dominate BSkyB and they should ensure that the company has an independent board of directors and a truly independent chairman.
Lord Wills: My Lords, I am grateful for this unexpected opportunity to speak. I, like others in my position, consulted the Government Whips' Office and was given the same advice. However, I was very grateful for that advice. I have found the Government Whips' Office to be invariably helpful, supportive and extremely invaluable to a novice such as me in your Lordships' House. It was my judgment that proceedings on the Live Music Bill would continue for rather longer than they did, and I can only apologise to the House that I was not here at the beginning-and particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for missing his speech. I am grateful for this opportunity and I will try to keep my remarks as brief as possible. In any event, a lot of the ground that I would have covered in the rather longer speech that had I prepared earlier has already been covered by other noble Lords-rather better than I would have done. In any event, the Leveson inquiry will also cover a lot of these matters.
Some commentators have suggested that this issue is of concern only to the Westminster village. To those commentators I suggest that they read the book, Flat Earth
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We have been warned. That is all the more reason to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, not only on securing this debate but for his indomitable pursuit of these issues in times when this was not as popular a cause as it has now become.
For all the shock of the recent revelations, I hope that as we proceed we will never forget that not all journalists are bad or behave badly. There are many decent, honourable professionals who do not break the law, who make fair-minded judgments and who respect the truth and the ethics of their profession.
We should be wary of any further statutory interference with the freedom of the press. For all the problems that we have heard about today and elsewhere, a free and plural press is one of the most fundamental guarantors of our liberties and we interfere with it at our peril. I hope that the Government will think carefully before they rush into any law on privacy. The current arrangements allow the courts to balance Articles 8 and 10 under the Human Rights Act. It is a flexible, pragmatic arrangement to balance the sometimes conflicting imperatives of freedom of expression and privacy. That arrangement is not demonstrably the worst option, and it should, in my view, be left alone longer to see how it works before rushing into any new legislation, with all the risks of unintended consequences, particularly in the current climate.
That does not undermine the case for greater regulation, not least because few have the resources to seek redress in the courts. Self-regulation has manifestly failed. That is not necessarily a criticism of those who have given exemplary public service by serving on the regulator; it is just a sad fact. I hope that, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, said, the Government will give due consideration to a thorough revamp. We need better regulation-and not self-regulation. Every time that any Government have even whispered about tightening regulation, the press has reacted vigorously with dire warnings of threats to investigative journalism. That is self-interested nonsense.
Broadcast television is tightly regulated. With all respect to the noble Lord, Lord Grade, who once employed me-although I was far too insignificant for him to be aware of that fact-and what he said about the difference between press and broadcast regulation, broadcasting, in pursuing investigations, is tightly regulated and circumscribed. In my view, that has not prevented it doing a far better job than the print media in holding the powerful to account. There are, of course, honourable exceptions, such as Nick Davies, but where in the print media do we find exposures such as "Panorama" provided recently on abuse in care homes? There has been a whole series of undercover investigations by the Channel 4 "Dispatches" programme. There is no reason to think that better, tighter regulation of the press will in any way hamper freedom of speech.
I conclude with a plea to the Government. Whatever emerges from the Leveson inquiry, whatever recommendations are pursued, they must be properly resourced. There is no point proclaiming the objective without willing the means. The Information Commissioner's Office, which did such an excellent and courageous job under Richard Thomas and his successor, Chris Graham, in revealing the extent of breaches of the Data Protection Act, needs to be properly resourced. The previous Government, in difficult economic circumstances, found the means to give that office extra resources. I hope that this Government will do so. I hope that the revamped Press Complaints Commission will also be properly resourced. We have an opportunity to change the culture of our media and our politics for the better. I hope that we now take it.
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the House for allowing me to contribute briefly to the debate in the gap. I say in my defence that I have been here from the beginning and have heard all of the debate, including my noble friend's remarks.
I shall focus on the future structure of regulation of the press. My career has been in the City, and I began under a self-regulatory regime. The arguments in favour of self-regulation were that it was quick, flexible and there was a community of interest in maintaining high standards and therefore the rotten apples would be thrown out. In contrast, the argument went, a statutory regime would be slow, the cops would have to catch up with the robbers, and it would shackle the City and impose a competitive disadvantage. Some echoes of those arguments are present in our discussion of future press regulation. Over 15 years, it became clear that self-regulation did not, and perhaps could not, command public confidence. "Letting off one's friends over lunch" was the phrase used by the self-regulatory regime. Over 15 years we had to move in two stages to the full statutory financial services and markets regime of the 2000 Act.
Therefore, I hope that Lord Justice Leveson will look at these developments, for I have to agree with the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill of Bengarve, that it is surely not beyond the wit of man to devise a statutory framework that carries within it the necessary safeguards for press freedom. I hope that Lord Justice Leveson will also look at qualitative aspects. Would I be alone in thinking that some of the problems in press reporting in recent years have arisen because licence has increasingly masqueraded as liberty, prurience has increasingly masqueraded as public interest and personal prejudice has increasingly masqueraded as fact? These are big issues and difficult lines to draw but they are surely worth detailed discussion and debate in the months ahead.
Finally, this issue is very widespread. I absolutely understand and share the revulsion about the Murdoch empire and the News Corporation activities, but today's Times carries an obituary for one Peter Dunne, a photographer who,
"Dunne was ... quiet and faultlessly professional. His ability to remain clam under pressure may have been inherited. His great-grandfather fought at Waterloo ... For all his understated elegance and good manners, though, Dunne did not lack the rat-like cunning his business demands. At crime scenes, he trained reporters to lift 'Do Not Cross' police tapes", and usher him onwards with a 'Through you go, sir'. 'Thank you, sergeant,' he would reply. He carried a clerical dog collar with him at all times, slipping it on to acquire the aura of impeccable respectability needed to gain access to people and places where the press was not welcome".
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, this has been a good and very important debate. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, very much captured the mood of the House, and I take this opportunity to applaud him for his courage and fortitude. My noble friend Lord Prescott and he make a formidable and winning pair. Their alignment is such that anyone-indeed, everyone-should have expected that their success would be assured. In this House, principle brings political opponents together, and long may it be so.
I also commend my noble friend Lady Royall for her salient remarks. I think that in what she said about decency and propriety she spoke for all of us. There was an echo around this House and many nodding heads, as I see now.
For those who thought that this debate might, following the debate in the other place, show this House as being behind the curve of events, the continuing developments at News International only this morning demonstrate clearly that that is not the case.
In such a press of events, it is easy and tempting to be dazzled by the day's headlines-easy but wrong. This whole set of events-this whole combination of circumstances-is such that we need to stand back, think and consider the end that we aspire to achieve and to work out what we now need to do. In this, we are enormously helped by the establishment of a full, proper and thorough inquiry into the whole matter, and helped still further by the very welcome appointment of Lord Justice Leveson to head it.
Lord Justice Leveson is a fine lawyer and will bring to the inquiry all his considerable wisdom and judgment. I believe that it could not be in safer or better hands. He will, I am sure, have the ability to set the procedure for the inquiry, and I am sure, too, that he will give proper consideration to the comments made so well by my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. He will have an opportunity to invite both the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General to consider what proper orders may be made if he should so need them. I very much hope that in coming to his deliberations he will have an opportunity to read this debate.
The range of issues before the inquiry is enormous, from the conduct of journalists at the News of the World, with criminal investigations and prosecutions which may now follow, together with the issues around the complex subject of media regulation. However, I have to share with your Lordships one slight anxiety.
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The ambit of the inquiry that the Prime Minister has rightly indicated in the draft and announced, is wider. It is not limited to the acts and omissions of News International but will apply more broadly and may include not only the examination of the acts of other newspapers but may extend to documents held by others, including e-mails and papers held by the Government and elsewhere. Therefore, it is essential for the protection of that information and evidence that the terms of reference should be published without further delay so that the inquiry, when it is constituted, can receive the proper information.
Although this is a significant debate, it may be neither the time nor the place to range into the minutiae of the steps that we may take. However, I wonder whether your Lordships would allow me to scope out some of the things that we may consider.
The noble Lord, Lord Glasman, in his most moving speech, mentioned David and Goliath. Your Lordships will know that David needed faith, a good aim and the right stone-well shaped, perfectly weighted and balanced. The stone on this occasion was the rule of law. There are those who believe that the writ of the rule of law should not run and that if you have power, wealth and influence you can avoid the law, Parliament and regulation and be free from the burden of acting fairly, decently and in accordance with good manners. I hope that when considering what has happened in the past 10 days those who have hitherto held that view will know that they need to think again. The law is what we in this House use to set the proper boundaries, and I hope that we will take that opportunity now. We can, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and my noble friend Lord Prescott made clear, take this opportunity and put it to good use.
What have we learnt about the legal process that we now have? We have learnt that the test of fitness needs to run throughout the process and that we must make it plain that if bad faith is shown and assessments are made on the basis of gross misrepresentations, those who make those misrepresentations will have the decisions that have been made in their favour vitiated. No one in this House believes that if the then Secretary of State, Dr Cable, knew what we now know of the facts, he would even for a moment have limited the European notice to simply plurality. The matter is worrying because the current Enterprise Act is predicated on good faith. It is why the Act provides that the Secretary of State has only one bite of the cherry if a European intervention notice is to be served. The Secretary of State of the day is put to his or her election when drafting the notice and has to identify the basis on which a merger should be tested, plurality and broadcasting standards being set out in Section 58.
What, however, of the general public interest? What of good faith? What of the fitness of the person? Only one notice can be issued and the parameters of that
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It has taught us a very important lesson because it has disclosed what I suggest to your Lordships may be a terrible flaw. These recent allegations and revelations should make us think again about the whole process. If no new notice could have been issued, where would we be? I believe that we would have still been able to rely on equity, on the common law which says that he who comes to equity must come with clean hands, and that you cannot take adventitious advantage of your own bad faith to secure for yourself a good. But that would have had to have been argued; it would not necessarily have been the process as a matter of right. Surely we must take an urgent opportunity to fill that gap and fill it quickly. We have to ensure that those who are entrusted with our media are fit and proper persons to do that, and we have to look at how we can craft legislation for that purpose. I very much endorse all that was said by my noble friend Lord Myners in that regard. We now have to consider how to toughen broadcasting standards. We have to look at corporate governance, not just at criminal conduct. We need a proper debate on the concentration of media power being in too few hands, and therefore we greatly welcome the inclusion of this issue in the inquiry's draft terms of reference.
It is clear that the powers of the PCC are simply insufficient and that a more robust process, and a different form of independent regulation, now needs to be considered. What was said by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, merits more careful scrutiny, supported as she was so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, my noble friend Lord Soley and others. It is clear that whatever form this new regulation takes, it must have teeth and be capable of holding those who transgress to account. It must be able to bring them quickly to book.
We need transparency. I was very taken with the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, that there should be a requirement that contact with journalists should be recorded. I was very impressed by what the Prime Minister said when he called for a new form of total transparency. Perhaps the noble Baroness will say whether her right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and the Prime Minister, would publish a record of all their meetings-personal, professional and social-with James and Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks, as my right honourable friend the leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, and the shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, have suggested that they are willing to do.
I very much agree that this challenge is bigger than party politics. We must join together to do everything we can to restore confidence. The new mood of comity is important and needs to be maintained. I was saddened by the few elements of party politics that touched at least one speech, but I am sure that on mature reflection it will be seen that our comity needs to be maintained. We have a chance, as others have said, to use this terrible set of events as an opportunity to cure the flaws that the allegations and revelations have disclosed. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to assure us that the gaps we have identified in the debate, which have been highlighted so carefully and cogently, will be addressed quickly so that we can make it far more difficult for those who would abuse our system with impunity to do so in future.
These issues would all benefit from harder and longer thought. None of us envies the job taken on by Lord Justice Leveson, who will have to consider all these and similar issues. It is of real importance that the work be done fully, thoroughly and comprehensively. We on these Benches are confident that the inquiry will do that. The twists and turns of events in this matter-no doubt there are many more to come-mean that the inquiry has an enormously difficult task. However, for the future of the media in this country-I join all those who applauded the brilliant journalists we have, who will also have been distraught at seeing their profession so besmirched-of politics, of the police and of justice, we need to find a way forward. We believe that the Leveson inquiry will help us to secure that.
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Fowler for securing this debate and I commend his persistence. We should all be delighted that he resisted the temptation to jump in the Thames.
The debate is self-evidently timely. Events have moved so quickly over the past few days, with dramatic developments even today, that perhaps we should have installed rolling news in the Chamber. However, it is useful to have the opportunity to pause and take stock of where we are. The many learned, passionate and-sad to say-sometimes personal contributions we have heard today leave no one in no doubt about the strength of feeling in this House on the way that it has become apparent that the News of the World behaved. As the Prime Minister said on Wednesday, the whole country has been shocked by the revelations about phone hacking. As they became more detailed, numerous and shocking, it became clear that a fully independent, public inquiry would be the only way to set about tackling these issues with the depth, seriousness and integrity required. This is why the Prime Minister set out details of the public inquiry that will look at all these issues. The inquiry must be robust, and it must command public confidence. Its aim must be to get to the truth and it must begin its work quickly.
We have to acknowledge that there are difficulties around conducting a public inquiry when live criminal investigations are under way, and for that reason the inquiry will be divided into two parts, as noble Lords have already mentioned. Part 2 of that inquiry will be
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There are other matters that can be considered without being hampered by ongoing criminal investigations, and these matters will form part 1 of the inquiry. As noble Lords will all now know, it will be led by Lord Justice Leveson, one of the most senior and well respected judges in the country. The inquiry will be set up under the terms of the Inquiries Act 2005, which means that it has the power to compel witnesses to appear and to give evidence under oath and in public.
We want work to begin as soon as possible, but there are a number of practical and logistical matters that we are helping Lord Justice Leveson to finalise at the moment. Of course, and this is a key point, how the inquiry itself is run, who it hears from and who it seeks advice from are entirely matters for Lord Justice Leveson. As soon as the practical matters are settled, Lord Justice Leveson and his panel will look into: the culture, practices and ethics of the press; their relationship with the police; the extent to which the current policy and regulatory framework has failed; and the extent to which there was a failure to act on previous warnings about media misconduct. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, asked who guards the guardians, and that echoes exactly the phrase that Lord Justice Leveson has said will be at the heart of his inquiry. He and the panel will also make recommendations for a new, more effective policy and regulatory regime that supports the integrity and freedom of the press, the plurality of the media and its independence from government while encouraging the highest ethical and professional standards.
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: In that first stage, will the inquiry also investigate the role of telecommunications companies that may have divulged information to the police and, in turn, the media without going through the appropriate procedures?
There will also be recommendations on how future concerns about press behaviour, media policy, regulation and cross-media ownership should be dealt with by all the relevant authorities whether that is Parliament, government, the prosecuting authorities or the police.
The Deputy Prime Minister recently clearly set out the three guiding principles for future reform-my answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, is yes. First, the freedom of the press is vital and that liberty and democracy are founded on freedom of expression. We have heard from all sides of the Chamber today how important your Lordships feel that freedom of expression and the freedom of the press are. Secondly, our media must be held to account ensuring they act within the bounds of the law and decent behaviour, with politicians and police equally accountable for
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I now turn to BSkyB. As we know, News Corporation has withdrawn its bid to purchase the remaining 61 per cent of shares in BSkyB which it does not already own. This is a decision taken by News Corporation but, of course, it will have been aware of the strength of concern from both Parliament and the public about the bid and the circumstances surrounding it.
I want to make the point that the Culture Secretary has at all times sought and followed advice from the Office of Fair Trading and Ofcom, the independent and expert regulators. He has been as transparent as possible, publishing much more than required to do so by legislation and ensuring that he acted within the law. But of course I take note of the comments made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, in connection with that.
The future for News International in the UK is a matter for News International. The nature of our press at the moment is that anyone can start or run a newspaper and we do not impose any licensing scheme. This freedom means that, as well as our national newspapers, we have a great many smaller and more eccentric publications. We welcome the partisan approach that newspapers take but the key point for every publication-no matter how big or small-is that it must abide by the law of the land. We expect our newspapers to be truthful, not to mislead us and to observe standards of decent behaviour. The inquiry that is now under way will look at ways of ensuring that newspapers do that in future. Once again, as various noble Lords have reminded us, most journalists and people who work on newspapers are honourable and professional.
It has been disturbing to hear of the involvement of the police and we have heard some extraordinary things from the Met this week. We have had inputs from my noble friend Lady Doocey, the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, and others who have spoken about police involvement. Again, I echo their words of support for the courage and professionalism of the vast majority of people who work in the police force. We understand that the media and the police need to have a good working relationship. It is, for the most part, a mutually beneficial relationship but allegations have been made during this scandal that some corrupt police officers may have taken payments from newspapers in exchange for access to privileged information. These allegations have undermined that relationship, fractured public trust and led to a belief that that relationship can be too close.
The Metropolitan Police are as determined as we are that these police officers should be identified and referred to a fully independent investigation that will be convened by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Additionally, the Home Secretary has commissioned a report from the Independent Police Complaints Commission on its experience of investigating
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The Prime Minister also reported on Wednesday that Sir Paul Stephenson is looking to invite a senior public figure to advise him on interaction with the media and the ethics that should underpin his force, including advising on how to ensure maximum transparency and public confidence, and how arrangements are working. We understand that the commissioner has committed to putting in place a system of recording and making available to the public the contacts of Metropolitan Police officers with journalists.
It is clear that the press will be under closer scrutiny than ever before, and we heartily welcome the inquiry led by Lord Leveson and wish him well as he begins his work. We would advise him, as my noble friend Lord Fowler has said, to use the great expertise in this House, including that which we have heard today in this debate.
Picking up on one or two points from the debate, as we came into the Chamber, the breaking news was of the resignation of Rebekah Brooks. Obviously, that is a matter for her and for News International but we do not see any reason why her resignation should interfere with her co-operation with next week's culture Select Committee, the forthcoming inquiry or with ongoing police investigations.
The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, referred to the Metropolitan Police's employment of Neil Wallis who was arrested yesterday. The Home Secretary is concerned about his employment and she is looking into the facts of that case. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, and the noble Lord, Lord Davies, referred to privacy. A joint parliamentary committee is being set up to look at the issues that came out of the debate on super-injunctions and privacy. How that committee will work with the inquiry by Lord Leveson is a matter for them but it is an issue that has been taken up and action is being taken.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies, asked what is to happen while we wait for the outcome of the inquiry. The PCC is still in place, of course, and we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Grade, about its valuable work. However, we have also heard of other aspects from other noble Lords. The press is certainly aware of the much closer public scrutiny that it will now be undergoing, so we hope that, together, they will influence moves towards a more honourable press.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, mentioned the inquiry being conducted by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers and expressed concerns about the level of resources it would receive. We understand that it is for the commissioner to decide the level of resources, but the Prime Minister has been personally assured by the commissioner that the investigation is fully resourced and that it will be thorough and robust. We understand that currently around 45 officers and staff have been assigned to it.
The noble Lord, Lord Myners, asked whether the Communications Act 2003 will be revisited. I can assure him that work is already under way and that new legislation will be brought forward in the future.
Lord Myners: Perhaps I may ask one question before the noble Baroness reverts to her prepared text. I think that only one question was directly addressed to the Minister in the whole debate, and that was from my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland. It was about the future recording of contacts between Ministers and the press. Does the Minister agree that it was most unwise of the Prime Minister to accept hospitality and gifts from Ms Brooks over Christmas when one of his colleagues was involved in a judicial review of her employer? Does she also agree that the holding of a meeting in a flat above No. 10 does not render it a meeting that should not be recorded because it was held on private premises? Does she further agree that, in future, the Government need to be much more open about their own contacts with the press?
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, at this stage I would not wish to comment on the particular issues that the noble Lord has raised, but I can assure him that government Ministers have now all been asked to log their contacts with the media. That is ongoing, so for the future that should all be in place. If there is anything more to add, I shall write to noble Lords. I must apologise, as I am clutching a piece of paper to reply to this point. It would have been extremely remiss of me to sit down having left the question unanswered. Again, I apologise.
I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. It has been in the best traditions of your Lordships' House. It was considered, incisive, informed and passionate, and the contributions have added a great deal to the national debate. All sides of the House have expressed the will to work together in this instance with, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said, singleness of purpose. That message was echoed by her colleague, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland. All sides would wish that to be the case because we all have much to gain from the resolution of the unhappy matters that have been going on recently.
Lord Fowler: My Lords, the Minister referred to the resignation of Rebekah Brooks, and then there was a significant pause. I thought she was going to say that
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Outstanding and powerful speeches have been made in this debate, thus establishing my point that there is great experience in this House, direct experience of the media and experience of much more, although the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, and I will have to get back to our usual hostilities on some simple party political issue such as the future of the health service-there are quite a lot of others.
I do not intend to try to sum up every speech but simply refer to some common themes that have run through them. One is certainly the position of the Press Complaints Commission, where I think there is virtually unanimous agreement that reform is urgently required. An effective and independent mechanism is needed, a stronger commission, a commission that must have teeth, and a commission where journalists have a fear of the consequences if they transgress the code of that commission. That is not the case at the moment and almost self-evidently has not been. Whether it should be statutory is another question which the inquiry will have to examine carefully and which will continue to be discussed outside this Chamber, not least on our Back Benches.
A second theme was the relations between press and politicians and Ministers. Again, I think there is agreement on all sides that there must be more separation. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, did not like my phrase "clear water", but I think he would agree that relations must be on a better and more proper basis than we have seen in the time that he and I have been in Parliament. The relations have been too close, which, apart from anything else, is demeaning for politicians.
Thirdly, there has been overwhelming agreement that we must simply clean up the undoubted illegality which has taken place and prevent the insupportable intrusions that have been quite unjustifiably made into our private lives. The noble Lord, Lord Imbert, joked that policemen who are unsuitable for the service might find a career in journalism. I have to point to the report of the Information Commissioner, which stated:
Lord Imbert: I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and to those many honest journalists that we have in this country. It was unseemly of me to have made that comment, but I frankly just could not resist it. However, I apologise to those honest and determined journalists, many of whom I admire.
Lord Fowler: That is very kind, and I am sure that journalists around the country will be very grateful for that. If I may speak on behalf of my former profession, I think we regarded his comment as a joke and not a bad one at that, so I do not think that any apologies are necessary.
The Information Commissioner went on to say that the unlawful acts are almost invariably committed by parts of the private investigation industry, including private detectives, many of whom-I regret to tell the noble Lord this-are ex-police officers. So there may be some way to go. In pointing that out, I do not mean to get back at the police service simply because I used to be a journalist. However, I think we can all agree-this was another theme which came out of the debate-that it is absolutely in no one's interest that the police should be in bad regard and that relations with the police are of the utmost importance in this country.
The fourth theme, which came out of a number of speeches, particularly at the end of the debate and from the speech of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, was that we need to revisit the public interest test and, frankly, all the legislation in this area, not least the Communications Act 2003. That would be to the benefit of everyone concerned.
Our aim in all this must be to preserve and strengthen the public interest. As the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said, we now have a real opportunity to get things right. I agree with that entirely. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, that we will be judged by how we do that. We must not fail that test.
That is the challenge, a challenge that is recognised on all sides of the House. I very much hope that we can keep this bipartisan approach to finding solutions together. If we can do that, it will be far more effective and far more in the public interest. With that, I beg to move.
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