Debates between Lord Faulks and Lord Lipsey during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 22nd May 2024
Media Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stageLords Handsard
Wed 12th Jul 2023

Media Bill

Debate between Lord Faulks and Lord Lipsey
Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I think my interests have already been well and truly declared in this debate but, for the avoidance of doubt, I have been the chairman of the Independent Press Standards Organisation since 2020. I am not sure how appropriate it is for a regulator to extol its own virtues in a debate, and I do not propose to do so, but in view of the very trenchant attack on IPSO from a number of quarters, I think it may be helpful to the Committee if a few facts were presented before it.

IPSO regulates 90% by way of circulation of the newspapers published in this country. There was an attack on the organisation and, effectively, on those who work there. The young men and women who conscientiously look at complaints without any political bias or anything other than the conscientious approach you would expect from young people like that would be surprised and disappointed by many of the allegations that have been made against them.

The decisions that are made by IPSO are all published on its website. Details of the reasoning behind those decisions are available. IPSO provides advisory notices which help people, not only well-known people, but ordinary people who fear intrusion by the press, which I think is a successful aspect of what IPSO does. There is a board and a case committee, a minority of which has press experience. These are people whose identity is capable of ascertainment by looking at the website. Anyone can see what a wide variety of people they are. To suggest that they are somehow in the pockets of the press is unworthy.

Recently, there was an independent review of IPSO by a distinguished civil servant, Sir Bill Jeffrey. I invite critics of IPSO to read his report and his view of its independence. Independence is, of course, extremely important in a regulator.

As to the suggestion that effectively we reject the vast majority of complaints, of course many of the complaints that are made—

Lord Lipsey Portrait Lord Lipsey (Lab)
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Who appointed Mr Jeffrey?

Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks
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The appointment of Sir Bill Jeffrey was the result of a decision by the board. The identity of the board is available to anybody who seeks to find out who is on the board. If by that question it is suggested that Sir Bill Jeffrey was some sort of tame civil servant, I think he would be surprised to hear that, and his history of accomplishment and independence is something which I would be surprised could be satisfactorily impugned.

I was dealing with the suggestion about a vast number of complaints being rejected. Of course, a case has to come within the remit. A number of people are discontented with things they read in the press, but they do not come within the remit of a complaint which can possibly provide a breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The editors’ code comes from a body where the minority is of press interest. Very few people criticise the editors’ code, whether they criticise the press or the regulator.

Online Safety Bill

Debate between Lord Faulks and Lord Lipsey
Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I declare my interest—although I think it has already been declared for me by the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Lipsey—as the chair of the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

We had this debate in Committee, although not with the same actors; I am glad to see both of them now back in their places and restored to health. However, I cannot welcome all the comments they made, particularly not those of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, critical as he was of IPSO. I should tell the House that IPSO is not on the side of the press. It is not on anybody’s side: it is an independent organisation for the regulation of the press that regulates, by circulation, some 95% of both national and regional newspapers.

The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, spoke of how ineffective we were as an organisation and was rather disparaging about the reviews of IPSO’s governance and operations. I ought, at the very least, to maintain a defence of Sir Bill Jeffrey, a very distinguished civil servant in the Ministry of Defence who recently carried out a report on IPSO. I hope that Members of your Lordships’ House, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Lipsey and Lord McNally, will read the report to see in what ways they consider IPSO is still not showing its independence, but I would very much defend Sir Bill Jeffrey’s independence and the way in which he approached the task. I think it unfortunate that he was attacked in the way he was by the noble Lord. I give way.

Lord Lipsey Portrait Lord Lipsey (Lab)
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Does the noble Lord agree that a report which gives as part of its evidence conversations with a sample of precisely 12 complainants cannot be taken seriously?

Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks (Non-Afl)
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The report must be read as a whole. I do not accept at all what the noble Lord has said. It is worth visiting the IPSO website, because he was very disparaging about the number of complaints that were upheld. IPSO is very transparent; its website shows all the decisions that were reached and the way in which they were reached. I invite those who doubt its independence to look at the constituent elements of those who are on the complaints committee and the board, and all the published decisions, in order to decide whether IPSO is indeed in the pockets of the press, which seemed to be the suggestion made by both noble Lords.

Of course, the approved regulator, Impress, has very little work to do. I am sure it does its work highly conscientiously. The code by which it regulates is remarkably similar to the editors’ code, which is produced by the industry, it is true, with contributions from all sorts of people. It varies from year to year. There is very little criticism of the editors’ code. It provides a very sensible and balanced view to make the press accountable, allowing the complaints committee to decide whether there has been a violation of the code.

The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, said that at last it has found the press to be in breach of that code in the recent complaint. It was interesting that the complaints body which I chair was alleged to not be independent of the press. It was roundly criticised by the press for coming to that decision—by the Times, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail. At the same time, it is said that the organisation which I chair is not independent. It is of course independent and will continue to be so.

As for Section 40, before I had anything to do with press regulation, I did not like it. As a lawyer, the idea of somebody having a free hit against anybody is unattractive. Whatever you think of press regulation, I do not think that Section 40 should commend itself to anybody. As they have promised for some time, the Government are quite right to include it in the media Bill, which is to come before your Lordships’ House in due course. It has been a sword of Damocles hanging over the industry. It is not helpful, and I hope that it is repealed. I understand that the Labour Party and perhaps the Liberal Democrats will bring back something of that sort. I understand they may be opposing it when it comes into the media Bill, but that is a matter for them in due course.

Of course, the press should be accountable. Of course, it should be properly regulated. The idea of an independent regulator is to provide reassurance that it is being regulated, as opposed to, until this Bill becomes law, social media—which is not regulated—which provides a source for news which is considerably less reliable than all those newspapers which are subject to regulation.

This is not the occasion to go into further debates about Leveson, but it is perhaps worth rereading the Leveson report and the conclusions that Sir Brian reached—which I have done recently. It must be seen, as all reports, as very much of its time. It is particularly interesting to see the extent to which he promoted and advanced the cause of arbitration. Alternative dispute resolution is very much at the centre of what the legal profession as a whole, and Sir Brian Leveson and his committee in particular, advance as a much better way to resolve disputes. There is an arbitration scheme provided by IPSO, as noble Lords and the House may know. Of course, that is an option which we would encourage people to use—consistent with what Sir Brian and his committee recommended. It is not a substitute for going to court, and if people want to, they should be allowed to do so. However, I think there is a case for courts considering having directions whereby, at first, somebody seeking relief in the court should show that they have exhausted alternative remedies, including alternative dispute resolution. I am in favour of that.

On the idea of being Leveson-compliant—I do not think Sir Brian Leveson particularly likes that expression. He made various recommendations, many of which are reflected in what IPSO does now. I understand there is a great deal of history in this debate. I remember the debates myself. No doubt, we will return to them in due course, but I think we should fight today’s battles, and not the battles of 10 years ago or longer. I think the press is much more accountable and responsible than it was. Of course, as parliamentarians, we will carefully watch what the press do and consider carefully whether this exemption is merited. However, I do not think that this amendment is justified and I hope that the Government do not support it.