Lord Hunt of Wirral debates involving the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport during the 2019 Parliament

Thu 23rd May 2024
Media Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & 3rd reading
Wed 22nd May 2024
Media Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stageLords Handsard
Wed 28th Feb 2024

Media Bill

Lord Hunt of Wirral Excerpts
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for their understanding and flexibility today. This is my first wash-up.

Lord Hunt of Wirral Portrait Lord Hunt of Wirral (Con)
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You look very clean!

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Yes, I feel very clean at the end of it—thoroughly washed.

I am grateful to noble Lords who have given this Bill considerable scrutiny in pre-legislative scrutiny and during our debates on Second Reading and in Committee. As I have said throughout, it has been amended through the pre-legislative scrutiny it received. I am glad that we have been able to reflect some of our debate in Committee and amend it further. I am grateful to noble Lords for their understanding and recognition of the great support and demand that it has from the media sector, which we all cherish and which we know will play its very important part in the election campaign that is now under way. I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, on the Benches opposite and the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, and her noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, who spoke from the Front Bench for the Lib Dems. However, noble Lords from across the House have given it robust scrutiny, including today in this swifter form.

I will briefly pay tribute to my honourable friend Julia Lopez, the Minister for Media, Tourism and the Creative Industries in another place, and indeed to my right honourable friend Sir John Whittingdale, who covered her maternity leave for parts of the Bill. They have both played an important part in it. I thank my noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston, who chairs your Lordships’ Communications and Digital Committee and has given careful consideration to this Bill and, with other members of her committee, to many of the other issues that are related to it.

I have already had the opportunity to thank the Bill team, but I repeat my thanks. They have worked particularly hard in the last 24 hours, but this is the culmination of many years’ work since the Bill was first produced in draft form and laid for pre-legislative scrutiny. I am delighted that their hard work means that we will be able to send it on its way to the statute book. It is perhaps appropriate to finish with some words from Bruce Springsteen: “Come on, let’s go tonight”.

Media Bill

Lord Hunt of Wirral Excerpts
Lord Black of Brentwood Portrait Lord Black of Brentwood (Con)
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My Lords, it will not surprise many colleagues to hear that I oppose this group of amendments. I declare my interest as deputy chairman of the Telegraph Media Group and director of a regulatory funding company, and I note my other interests as set out in the register. I have been very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for taking the time and trouble to talk these amendments and other issues through with me, and for his ongoing commitment to constructive dialogue, which I welcome. I wish him well and hope that he is better soon.

I will have some specific comments to make about Amendment 87A, but the main reason that I am opposed to everything in the group is that all the amendments derive their terms of authority from the concept of an approved regulator. That concept is something that I, as I have made clear many times in this House, find abhorrent and anathema to any concept of a free society, because, whatever Sir Brian Leveson may now say, the approval derives its authority from the state. I know that there will always be those who resort to sophistry to claim that the method of approval through the Press Recognition Panel is apparently independent of the Government but, in my view, that is plain nonsense. The concept of approval is set out in legislation: the Press Recognition Panel derives its authority from a royal charter, the terms of which are set by the Privy Council, the ultimate expression of state power and authority. It also receives taxpayers’ money, so it is in part funded by the state and therefore in part accountable to it. It is a state body. Regulators that seek approval from it are therefore irrefutably state-approved, and that is repugnant in a free society.

The press can never be free of the state in any form, whether Parliament, Government, Privy Council or a faux-recognition body doing their bidding if it is involved in any way in content regulation. That is why successive post-war Governments of all political colours, dating back from the Attlee Government in response to the first Royal Commission on the Press in 1947, have, for 65 years, up until Leveson, backed self-regulation by the industry. Section 40 and the introduction of the concept of approved regulation sought to change that by introducing the first form of what is, in effect, licensing since 1695. Fortunately, better sense has prevailed since that legislation was rushed through Parliament without scrutiny or consultation. We have looked into the abyss and decided not to fall into it. That is why Section 40 must go in its entirety. Whether it be carrots or sticks, the approval of content regulation of a free press is alien to a free society and the proper functioning of parliamentary democracy.

Amendments 84 and 85, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, seek, perversely, to retain the incentive for publishers to join a state regulator, while repealing the provision that would effectively bankrupt publishers that print the truth. But even this leaves publishers with an insidious choice between shielding themselves from government influence and limited protection from SLAPPs. As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and I have discussed, it is of course right that Parliament takes an interest in press regulation; no one disputes that. If noble Lords or Members in the other place want to have that debate, let us do so, but this Bill is not the place for it. This is an important Bill, and it is important that it goes through in the wash-up in its entirety, including the Government’s manifesto commitments.

The media world has moved on in every possible way since the Crime and Courts Act 2013. The way in which the press operates and is regulated has fundamentally changed, and its long-term future is probably under greater threat than ever before. We need to get rid of Section 40, lock, stock and barrel, and not keep it lurking in the dark like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, as these amendments would do.

A whole host of international press freedom organisations, including the authoritative Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, Global Witness, and English PEN, have pointed out another reason for getting rid of Section 40 now: the signal it sends throughout the world. In a statement released yesterday, they said:

“Repressive regimes will be sent a clear message that the UK stands squarely behind freedom of speech. Freedom of speech with no strings attached. That message is critically important in the uncertain and dangerous world we all now live in … Never again must the UK go down this dangerous road”.


I want to say a particular word about Amendment 87A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Wyre Forest. I must admit that I was slightly surprised to see that he has put an amendment down relating to, in effect, a statutory right of reply to inaccuracies, given his own track record. Those he falsely accused of crimes —with stunning inaccuracy, to put it mildly—never had a right of reply.

I do not think any serious proposals in this area have been put forward since the mid-1980s, when our former colleague Lord Soley introduced them in a Private Member’s Bill. There is probably a good reason for that. Since 1990, there have been mechanisms for the redress of inaccuracies through a system of independent self-regulation, operating under a tough code of practice, on top of the laws of defamation. Today, IPSO has a strong record of getting inaccuracies corrected in a timely and prominent manner, along with an apology if appropriate. Furthermore, there already exist carefully delineated circumstances where the law provides for a right of reply—for example, following a defamation case—and data protection law, in addition to the Defamation Act, requires inaccuracy to be redressed. So, there is simply no need for such a measure as that proposed by the noble Lord.

Quite apart from that, the noble Lord’s proposal is wholly impractical. It would have the same effect as Section 40, had it been implemented, in simply allowing individuals to launch spurious and unfounded complaints against newspapers in order to gag them. It would be another version of SLAPPs, but without even having to bother a court to look at the merits of the case. It would be used by the rich and powerful to close down ongoing investigations and muzzle the press, and in doing so would weaken the public’s right to know and undermine investigative journalism. Frankly, this is simply another attempt to find some way to bully the press into a system of state-approved regulation.

It is time to move on from debates that are long past their sell-by date, to recognise the fundamental changes in the media in the last decade, to turn our backs on any attempts to impose state regulation on the media, and to get rid of Section 40 lock, stock and barrel. This Bill is an important piece of legislation for so many organisations and areas of the creative economy, and it is very important that it now goes through.

Lord Hunt of Wirral Portrait Lord Hunt of Wirral (Con)
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My Lords, I strongly support my noble friend, but first I declare my interests as set out in the register. As colleagues will know, I was the independent founding chair of the Independent Press Standards Organisation. I have listened carefully to the speeches that have been made, but I strongly agree with my noble friend that we are really going back over the debates we had a decade ago.

I want to go back to the first principles that my noble friend enunciated. In many ways, free expression is the bedrock of our society, but it is also a privilege—one not enjoyed by many millions of our fellow human beings, and which therefore must be matched by a sense of public duty and responsibility.

We are all familiar with all those egregious cases. As chair, like my noble friend Lord Grade, of the Press Complaints Commission, I found that it was powerless in many cases. I had to have face-to-face meetings with victims to hear for myself their harrowing accounts of their experiences. The PCC was powerless in many cases, particularly where criminal acts had taken place; it was up to the police. One of our sadnesses was that the police seemed so slow to act. Most of the phone hacking cases have now been resolved in the civil courts, but that should not blind us to the fact—I say this to all those who have spoken—that serious criminal acts took place, not just regulatory breaches. So far as regulation is concerned, the key question we have to answer is how to police culture and standards while maintaining independence of thought and deed. It is a very difficult balance.

The rock on which the system is built is the editors’ code, a living document that, as I understand it, is still recognised right across the world as an excellent code. I believe that IPSO has been very effective at holding publishers and publications to account. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, said that IPSO had not been effective because there were a relatively low number of adverse adjudications, and those who have mentioned that have given specific examples. However, press behaviour has improved over the last period. The Press Recognition Panel, which has been lobbying us—lobbying me all the time—pretty hard, largely in its own interests, is funded by the taxpayer, as my noble friend pointed out. I am all for trenchant, highly politicised contributions to this important debate, but I wonder whether it is fair to ask the taxpayer to fund them.

Viscount Astor Portrait Viscount Astor (Con)
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My noble friend says that the PRP is funded by the taxpayer, but IPSO is funded by the newspaper industry. Which does he regard as the more independent process?

Lord Hunt of Wirral Portrait Lord Hunt of Wirral (Con)
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When I gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry, Lord Justice Leveson pointed out to me that it was up to the industry to fund the regulator. When I first gave evidence to him, he asked me to sit down with the main newspaper groups and find a way forward whereby they would fund an independent regulatory process. My noble friend is quite right: it is very important that the industry itself funds the regulator, but the regulator should be independent. That is what I reported in my second line of evidence to the Leveson inquiry, and that is what I believe I managed to achieve.

The proponents of statutory regulation invariably nod sagely and sympathetically when I say all this, but honestly, they have no answers. I believe that state interference is not the answer. I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Watson—he sits on a committee with me and I have great respect for him—that Amendment 87A is state regulation in all but name. The system proposed would grind the free press into the dirt with both statutory interference into editorial decision-making and the prospect of endless and often frivolous litigation. Experience also tells us that the principal beneficiaries of such an arrangement would be not individuals who had been misrepresented or traduced but deep corporate pockets and their expensive lawyers, who want to challenge the press at every turn in a war of attrition.

Lord Hunt of Wirral Portrait Lord Hunt of Wirral (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register and, in confessional spirit perhaps, remind noble Lords that I was the founding chair of the Independent Press Standards Organisation. I strongly support the Bill in principle and am delighted to follow my noble friend Lord Black of Brentwood, who is an indefatigable campaigner for press freedom. Like him, I welcome the fact that my party is, somewhat belatedly perhaps, acting on its repeated manifesto commitment to abolish Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.

We hear a lot from critics of the press about how the newspapers can and should be accountable to politicians and Parliament. But let us not forget the vital role that a free press plays in holding us—Parliament and the politicians—to account, too, in its unique position as what my old schoolfriend Sir Brian Leveson termed a critical witness to events. A free press is vital to our nation. As fake news continues to spread across the e-media, our traditional publishers and publications continue to play that so-important role in holding power to account, exposing all forms of hypocrisy and improper behaviour.

In the 10 years since I departed from IPSO, the ever- diminishing piles of newspapers in newsagents’ shops silently testify to the continuing decline and influence of the printed press, the local and regional press in particular. After a period of frenzied and desperate consolidation, that has all but vanished across vast tracts of our nation. In this age of rampant fake news, the consequential loss of accountability should alarm us all.

I vividly recall the debates we had at the time of the Leveson report, before and after I took over the reins of the old Press Complaints Commission. There was general agreement that the PCC was a complaints handler and not a regulator, and that it urgently needed to be replaced by something more powerful. I engaged fully with Lord Justice Leveson and his inquiry. When he published his final report in November 2012, Sir Brian restated his desire for

“the industry to work together to find a mechanism for independent self-regulation that would work for them and would work for the public”.

Having read the report from cover to cover, I expressed my hope that it would be implemented in full. In almost all respects, the Leveson report has been implemented.

The attempt to find a solution that was fully acceptable to all broke down principally on the question of how, or indeed if, a new regulatory structure should be validated. When we first discussed this legislation, various voices, including my own and that of my noble friend Lord Black, warned that the major newspaper publishers would not and could not be coerced into anything that smacked of statutory regulation. Our warnings may have been unwelcome—indeed, I think it is the only time I have been heckled in this House—but they were founded in truth.

For the Prime Minister of the day—now the Foreign Secretary, my noble friend Lord Cameron—and the press media, using a statutory body for that purpose was a bridge too far. The use of a royal charter at least limited the legislative basis required to underpin the new system, but Section 40 was deemed a necessity, supposedly providing both an enticing carrot and a persuasive stick.

Noble Lords have received a number of lobbying messages from the taxpayer-funded Press Recognition Panel, which has recognised the organisation Impress, which mainly regulates micropublishers, but to which IPSO has never applied for recognition. The tone of these messages was strikingly partisan and almost polemical in places. The thrust of the argument is that IPSO has failed because of the relatively low number of complaints it has upheld. I confess that I have not kept in touch with every detailed aspect of IPSO’s operation since I departed 10 years ago; I rely on my noble friend Lord Faulks for that, as he is the present chair. However, I do know that progress should be measured not by complaints upheld, but by behaviour improved.

When asked about the relationship between politicians and the press, the late and much-lamented former leader of the Liberal Democrats, that fine and witty man Charles Kennedy, responded ruefully but with a characteristic twinkle in his eye: “Dogs and lamp-posts, dogs and lamp-posts”. He did not enlighten us on which was the dog and which the lamp-post, but we must surely work that out for ourselves. Personally, I think the casting swaps over not infrequently.

Section 40 has never been activated. Had it been, it would have been ineffective at best and, far more likely, counterproductive at worst, with unforeseen and unforeseeable consequences that would have necessarily impinged on press freedom, while doing nothing for the individual citizen. I wish it could have been dealt with earlier. Let us crack on with removing this unnecessary and potentially damaging measure once and for all.

Football: Abuse and Violence

Lord Hunt of Wirral Excerpts
Monday 12th December 2022

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Technology is indeed helping in football, as it is in many sports. That is a matter for the football authorities, but I will certainly reinforce the noble Lord’s point.

Lord Hunt of Wirral Portrait Lord Hunt of Wirral (Con)
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Would my noble friend like to take this opportunity to congratulate the England team on a 26-run victory over Pakistan, in circumstances where everyone respected the umpire and the way in which the cricket was played there?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I most certainly would. My noble friend makes an important point about good behaviour, which we see across a number of sporting forms.

Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill

Lord Hunt of Wirral Excerpts
Lord Hunt of Wirral Portrait Lord Hunt of Wirral (Con)
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Wow. My Lords, may I first draw attention to my interests as set out in the register, in particular as a partner in the global commercial law firm DAC Beachcroft.

It is a privilege to follow my noble friend Lord Vaizey of Didcot, who has accomplished a tremendous amount in the area we are now discussing. I pay tribute to him. Whether or not I express some dissatisfaction with having to agree to cookies, which I think had something to do with him, I must acknowledge that, as he stressed, access to reliable, high-quality telecommunications infrastructure is now an essential service. This has never been felt more keenly than in the past two years, with so many of us being reliant on our mobile and broadband connections to work from home and connect with our loved ones.

The intention of the reformed code in 2017, as my noble friend Lady Harding of Winscombe explained, was to bring rents in the telecommunications sector down so that they would be more in line with other utilities such as gas, power and water. The explanation to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, as to why things went wrong is simply this: the market had become inflated and leasing arrangements ever more complex, leading to a significant and deleterious impact on improvements in connectivity. The code, as it stands, is just not working, so the proposed modifications in the Bill are to be greatly welcomed. I just want to concentrate on telecommunications infrastructure.

Under the current system it seems that, too often, operators and landowners are left with little choice but to argue over technical legal points of interpretation, which comes at a cost to both sides in terms of the financial and wider impact of dealing with formal litigation. I have to say that this is of great benefit to solicitors and professional advisers, but benefits no one else.

We have also seen, as my noble friend Lord Vaizey just pointed out, the emergence of large-scale and well-funded intermediary landowners, who he described as “land aggregators”, opportunistically buying up thousands of leases with a view to leveraging them for their own profit. A significant number of the technical legal arguments that seem to be emerging over the existing code are the direct consequence of their intervening influence as they seek now to resist the new valuation regime.

The emergence of this sector is all about profit and, as far as I can see, serves no useful social purpose whatever. I am reminded of the claims management companies—other noble Lords may also recollect them—that sought to create a compensation culture until they were effectively regulated. The market has created this situation, which others are seeking to exploit. Such behaviour undermined them and now undermines civility in society.

The purpose of these further modifications to the code, as I understand them, is to try to avoid these pointless skirmishes by simplifying and clarifying the statutory regime and by ensuring that every existing telecommunications installation has a clear and relatively straightforward road to renewal and a consistent basis of valuation. Without these modifications there is a real risk that existing sites will have to be removed and an application to rebuild them made, with all the consequent costs and delay of removal and reinstatement, as well, of course, as the break in coverage for the end users—in other words, unnecessary cost and inconvenience all round. That would make a mockery of the stated intention of the code and these modifications, which is to speed up connectivity.

I stand between my noble friend Lord Vaizey and the Minister, to whom a lot of tributes have been paid. I echo them, but the Minister now has a heavy responsibility to justify our faith in him. As he knows, I believe that further tweaks to the drafting may be needed to ensure that the intention to speed up connectivity is crystal clear in the Bill and, in due course, the Act. We must not miss this golden opportunity to get the code into good order so that the focus can rightly be on building world-class infrastructure and connectivity, as opposed to further endless litigation and delay. I therefore strongly support the Bill and look forward to participating in all its stages.

Creative Industries: Covid-19

Lord Hunt of Wirral Excerpts
Monday 26th April 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Hunt of Wirral Portrait Lord Hunt of Wirral (Con)
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I declare my interest as a former member of the Advisory Committee on Pop Festivals and my other interests as set out in the register. As the Minister knows, festivals are often a major foundation of artistic activity outside our great cities, but many of those planned for this summer are already being cancelled because of uncertainty over Covid. Do Her Majesty’s Government have plans to assist?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The Government recognise the importance of the live music sector more broadly, and music festivals in particular, which is why more than £34 million from our cultural recovery fund has supported festivals, including Boomtown, Shambala, Glastonbury and Deer Shed. As I said in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, we are aware of the wider concerns around indemnity for live events and are trying to understand the market failure and how it impacts on different forms of live events.

Music and Performing Arts Students: Visas and Work Permits

Lord Hunt of Wirral Excerpts
Thursday 11th March 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

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Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The Government absolutely agree with my noble friend about the importance of touring for students, both within the EU and more broadly around the world. He will be aware that our rules for touring creative professionals are more generous than those of many EU member states. The working group to which I referred met for the first time on 5 February to try to get clarity on the issues impacting creative professionals and how best to support them. I reassure my noble friend that we are working across government to address the important issues he raises.

Lord Hunt of Wirral Portrait Lord Hunt of Wirral (Con) [V]
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I strongly support my noble friend Lord Black. This could and should have been resolved by now, for it is self-evidently in the interests of all concerned that frictionless visa-free arrangements—[Connection lost.]

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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My noble friend kindly shared his question with me ahead of time so, despite the technological glitches, I will endeavour to answer. First, we remain disappointed that the deal we proposed in this area, which met the needs of our extraordinary creative industries, was not agreed by the EU. We understand the concerns of the sector and we are working at pace to address them so that touring can resume as soon as it is safe.

European Union: Visa-free Touring for Musicians

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Tuesday 19th January 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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We are absolutely determined to make sure that we protect all parts of the cultural and creative ecosystem. As I have said, the Secretary of State is meeting organisations tomorrow and we continue to work closely to understand their needs, so that as soon as touring can recommence after the pandemic we do so with confidence.

Lord Hunt of Wirral Portrait Lord Hunt of Wirral (Con)
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My Lords, touring is not peripheral to the arts but central and vital—the basis of a major export industry and a vital showcase for the United Kingdom. If we could just lay aside the unfortunate blame game of recent days, can this please be sorted out as a matter of the utmost urgency?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I can say only to my noble friend that I hope that the Secretary of State’s round table tomorrow constitutes utmost urgency.