Baroness Hollins Portrait Baroness Hollins (CB)
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My Lords, I will also speak to Amendments 84 to 86 in my name, and my comments will be relevant to other amendments in the group to which I have added my name.

At the heart of these amendments are the recommendations of the Leveson report, which followed a 12-month public inquiry ordered by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, in 2011. I received clarifications from Sir Brian Leveson that are highly relevant to the debate, and I will share them with the Committee before I speak to the details of my amendment. First, I declare an interest in that I gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry about the personal and family impact of unacceptable behaviour by the media, and I am co-party to a civil claim against a newspaper group about alleged hacking of personal data. The claim is at the pretrial disclosure stage.

The Leveson report recommendations aimed to balance press freedom with the rights of the public. The chair of the inquiry, then Lord Justice Leveson, proposed a new regulatory framework that was independent of political influence and would protect people affected by press wrongdoing. Although some legislative progress was made, those recommendations have been returned to repeatedly in this place over the past 10 years, with some noble Lords asserting seriously flawed arguments against reform—for example, that Lord Justice Leveson proposed state regulation or that his recommendations would imperil the survival of news publishers.

Sir Brian Leveson himself has never publicly responded to those arguments. I wrote to Sir Brian to put these oft-repeated arguments against reform directly to him. I was grateful to receive a detailed reply from him and, furthermore, I am grateful that he has agreed that I and other noble Lords might quote him in Committee today. I have put this correspondence into the hands of the independent body established by the royal charter, the Press Recognition Panel. It is now available on the Press Recognition Panel website for those interested to read it in full. It is an extremely helpful letter that forensically takes apart falsity after falsity. First, Sir Brian makes it clear that the principle behind Section 40 did not originate from campaigners or politicians but was inspired by the testimony of a national newspaper editor. He describes testimony from a national newspaper editor who could see merit in a framework that encouraged parties to seek out low-cost arbitration, rather than the vast expense of court proceedings, and how this could protect publishers from rich and powerful litigants and, at the same time, protect ordinary people from rich and powerful publishers.

That is the symmetry of protection that lies behind Section 40. Some noble Lords, even speaking on behalf of the Government, have claimed that Section 40 would force publishers to pay costs, win or lose. But Sir Brian explains in his letter that this is not true. Other noble Lords will cover this point in greater detail, but I am going to quote briefly from his letter. He says:

“Neither my recommendation (nor, as I read it, s. 40) ‘forces’ news publications to pay costs when they win”,


“the Act does not require an adverse award of costs against a successful organ of the press which is not a member of an approved regulator”.

I put to him the argument made by some that the recognition system constitutes state regulation. He replied:

“I simply do not understand how this assertion can be made”.

He continues:

“As I understand it, the Royal Charter was specifically designed to ensure independence—independence of the press and independence of politicians”.

He then concludes that

“the suggestion that it is some kind of ‘state regulator’ of the press flies in the face of all that it was set up to do”.

Another argument commonly made is that the problems the inquiry addressed are now out of date. Sir Brian is scathing on this point. He says:

“My Inquiry was set up … to make recommendations inter alia for a new more effective policy and regulatory regime which supports the integrity and freedom of the press … while encouraging the highest ethical and professional standards. Allegations of libel, invasions of privacy, misuse of personal data remain equally as relevant today and are as pressing as ever”.

I conclude from that that the reason that national newspapers are opposed to the Leveson recommendations is because they are opposed to the principle of accountability. It was never about political interference nor the financial risk to publishers, objections which Sir Brian Leveson confirms in writing have no basis in fact.

My Amendments 83, 84, 85 and 86 would allow the partial repeal of Section 40. They would ensure that publishers inside an independent regulator would be protected from vexatious litigation while allowing the part of Section 40 which would disadvantage unregulated newspapers to be repealed. In other words, these amendments would retain the carrot of Section 40—that is, the protection it affords regulated publishers—while dispensing with that element which would provide access to justice for victims of press wrongdoing to which national news publishers so vehemently object. It is a heavy compromise, designed to meet concerns of the national press that many of us find somewhat disingenuous. However, given the Conservative Party manifesto commitment to repeal Section 40, it is a way, perhaps, of ensuring that we can still make some progress. If my amendments are accepted, there will be no detriment whatsoever to the interests of the national press, even if it declines to join an independent regulator.

In addition, my amendments support regulated, independent and local newspapers in addressing the threat of vexatious litigation known as SLAPPs. If His Majesty’s Government oppose them, can the Minister explain what specific objection could justify blocking the prospect of such a potent defence against SLAPPs for the local press? Indeed, my amendments go further than Section 40 in protecting press freedom from SLAPPs. They would also protect individual journalists from the threat of litigation where they have written for regulated publishers.

This package of amendments which I am supporting today would introduce unprecedented protection for our free press and the journalists working every day to expose the truth. These amendments would all retain compelling incentives for newspapers to abandon the industry-controlled IPSO and join a genuinely independent and effective regulator instead, and in doing so, they would protect members of the public who have been affected by intrusion, harassment or lies at the hands of the press. They would do so without threatening detriment or disadvantage to any publisher which refused to do so other than the reputational consequences of declining to make themselves accountable for what they publish.

Over 200 local and independent newspapers have sought the protection afforded to them under Section 40 by joining Impress, the independent regulator approved by the Press Recognition Panel. Your Lordships should not be in any doubt: repealing Section 40 in full would undermine the freedoms and interests of local and independent newspapers.

I commend Sir Brian on his intervention. He does not engage with the politics of the matter but has chosen to engage on the accuracy of the debate. He was sufficiently concerned to respond to my letter and to remind us of the facts. I hope that His Majesty’s Government are listening and will take the opportunities offered by these amendments to think again. I hope that the next Government will have higher aspirations for a safer and more ethical culture and an accountable press. I beg to move.

Lord Lipsey Portrait Lord Lipsey (Lab)
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My Lords, I speak in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, whose name was to the amendment just so ably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins. He had a back procedure this morning, is in great pain and has gone home. As he and I have been comrades in arms on this, I am glad to make myself a poor substitute for the great man.

Since we started this debate on the Bill this afternoon, the whole picture has been dramatically transformed by the Prime Minister’s announcement. There is to be a general election on 4 July. Why so? The Bill cannot complete its parliamentary passage by next Thursday, when the House is dissolved. That has a straightforward consequence: it goes into a procedure—I think it is called wrap-up, or it might be wind-up or whatever.

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Lord Lipsey Portrait Lord Lipsey (Lab)
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I thank your Lordships very much. It goes into a procedure, called whatever everybody shouted a minute ago, and the fate of this clause, along with the rest of the Bill, will depend on what arises from that procedure.

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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.